Startup Story Interview with Noah Bragg, Founder of Potion
While the startup ecosystem is thriving right now, building a successful startup is no easy task. In fact, 25% of businesses fail within their first year. So how do you ensure a startup’s success? Every second Friday of the month at lunchtime, Go, Go, Startups! will be hosting startup stories on Clubhouse, where early stage startup founders discuss their journey and share advice.
Last month, Growth Channel and Jingle teamed up to interview Noah Bragg, the Founder of Potion. Potion easily turns Notion pages into functioning websites. We learned more about his startup journey, biggest obstacles, and most successful strategies. Here are the top 5 insights from our interview with Noah:
1. Every project, regardless of its success, can be a learning opportunity
After graduating, Noah and his college roommate built CoffeePass, an app that allowed customers to place orders ahead of time at their favorite local coffee shops. What began as a part-time project quickly turned full-time as the app grew. However, although about 30 coffee shops were using CoffeePass and multiple customers were ordering daily, the scale of the project became an issue. Because local coffee shops typically have small margins, CoffeePass couldn’t charge high fees. To be sustainable, CoffeePass needed dozens of shops to use its service. Without the means to gain enough volume for long-term success, Noah and his roommate decided to sell CoffeePass.
“I definitely learned a ton from that experience,” Noah said. Through building and growing CoffeePass, Noah learned that aiming for a large business, raising seed money, and interacting with venture capitalists wasn’t the route he wanted to take.
After CoffeePass, Noah decided he wanted to focus on a smaller-scale online business that worked better for his family. He didn’t want to build a business that required a huge scale to bring value and be successful. Noah first built an app on top of the platform Intercom. After working on the product for a few months, Noah quickly realized the opportunity wasn’t big enough for a sustainable business.
Before creating Potion, Noah looked towards various channels, like Twitter and Reddit, to gauge the demand and growth potential for a product built on top of Notion’s platform. Notion is a note-taking app used by individuals and professionals to streamline content creation and organization and improve team collaboration. When asked what made him choose Notion instead of a different platform, Noah replied: “I was kind of drawn to how much people loved Notion.” Noah discovered people were passionate about Notion, and the word of mouth was strong, so he decided it would be a great opportunity to build something useful for the Notion community.
2. Leverage marketplaces and communities that already exist
“I think there are lots of benefits with building a business on top of someone else’s platform because they kind of do some of the marketing work for you and they probably have some kind of marketplace where people can find your app.”
Noah noticed that Notion users needed an easy way to turn their Notion pages into websites, so he designed Potion to solve that problem. By building a product that enhanced the experience of using Notion, Noah was able to tap into Notion’s passionate, active community and build a loyal following for his product. When it came to promoting Potion, Noah didn’t have to start from scratch. Instead, he was easily able to identify groups and communities related to Notion on various social channels that would likely be interested in his product.
Noah also turned to Twitter to publicly document his journey building Potion. “I love serving other creators and those are the type of people I love to hang out with and talk to,” Noah said. For him, sharing his experiences and wisdom with other creators made a lot of sense. He started uploading daily behind-the-scenes videos of Potion’s progress and tutorials explaining how to use Potion to Twitter and YouTube. Through this process, Noah has gained thousands of Twitter followers who are now interested in his product and want to see him succeed with his startup journey. He even estimated that around 80% of his customers started using Potion because of his videos while building in public.
3. Experiment, experiment, experiment
Noah found that finding the right growth channels was the hardest part of starting his business, especially because the market is incredibly crowded. Although it took a lot of patience, he experimented with many different strategies until he found the methods that worked best for Potion. He wasn’t afraid to experiment with multiple different channels and see what stuck.
“It seems like you just have to keep trying, trying, trying, and you’ll get no, no, no, that’s not working,” Noah said, but “eventually you’ll get a yes.”
4. Venture capital isn’t for everyone — and that’s okay
After going the VC route with CoffeePass, Noah chose not to pursue venture capitalists with Potion. “It’s very risky,” Noah mentioned, explaining that the chances of success with VC weren’t very high. He didn’t want “all the pressure of having to create a really big business,” because it placed unnecessary stress on him to grow Potion at an accelerated speed. Despite not engaging with venture capitalists, Noah was able to successfully launch and grow Potion.
5. Don’t forget about your marketing
When asked about what he’s working on now, Noah explained that he’s currently focusing more on marketing Potion, instead of building new features for the app.
“I think the product is at a spot right now that it could be valuable to a lot more people and I definitely have to be careful of this as a builder and a maker. A lot of times I just want to go straight to adding more features and building the product, so I’m really trying to be intentional about spending some more time to figure out the marketing side.”
Although Noah doesn’t have a marketing background, he’s learned the importance of finding traction channels and new audiences, instead of focusing all his energy into growing the product. At the end of the day, a product won’t be very successful unless people actually know it exists and understand its unique value.