IVAN ZHAO from company


Ivan Zhao

CEO and Cofounder, Notion

Productivity startup Notion is taking on Microsoft Office and reinventing documents for the modern era by making them collaborative, customizable, and built for the cloud.

Founder and CEO Ivan Zhao, who grew up in a tiny province of China, taught himself to code so that he could enter programming contests. He won often enough — including second place in the prestigious International Olympiad in Informatics — that he could use his awards to pay for his advanced education.

That childhood love of coding inspired his startup Notion, which wowed Silicon Valley when, for years, it chose to grow itself the old-fashioned way: Through paying customers and a profitable business model instead of VC funding. It took a $2 million seed round of funding when it launched in 2016 and not another penny more until it raised $10 million in mid-2019 from three angel investors at an $800 million valuation.

Traditional VCs were literally knocking at its doors and being turned away until April 2020 when Zhao and his cofounder, Akshay Kothari, finally agreed to sell a tiny stake. They raised $50 million for just 2% of the company, which leapfrogged them to a $2 billion valuation.