Inside Notion's 'secret' San Francisco office, where the startup hides from VCs that were literally knocking at the door and employees take their shoes off before entering

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSherlock, one of Notion’s office mascots, looks out over a sea of shoes belonging to the company’s employees.
  • Notion is an enterprise software startup that offers an “all-in-one workplace” to help you keep your work management tools, like Slack and Google Docs, organised.
  • With over a million users, the company has garnered some buzz in Silicon Valley’s investor scene, so much so that VCs were showing up at the company’s former office asking to invest.
  • Notion has since moved into a new office space, and to avoid any unexpected visitors, the company decided to keep its address hidden from Google Maps.
  • We paid a visit to Notion’s “hidden” new office in San Francisco’s Mission District, where employees take their shoes off before entering, walk around in socks on heated floors, and drink Kombucha on tap in a high-ceilinged building that was once a garage.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

What do you do when your startup has drummed up so much buzz that VCs come literally knocking on your door clamoring to invest? Don’t tell Google your new address when you move into a new office.

Silicon Valley investors have aggressively sought after Notion, an enterprise software startup that offers an “all-in-one workplace” to help you keep your work management tools, like Slack and Google Docs, organised.

Why the hullabaloo? With over a million users, including Hearst Media, and being the go-to platform for thousands of startups, Notion has lofty goals for its product to become “as ubiquitous as Microsoft Office,” CEO Ivan Zhao told Business Insider in an interview earlier this year.

VCs apparently picked up on the hype and started showing up at the company’s former office location inquiring about investing. So when the software company moved to a new building four months ago, Notion kept its address on the down-low.

Notion’s new office is in the same neighbourhood it’s been all along: the city’s Mission District. And the workspace has all of the fixings of a Silicon Valley startup competing for the region’s tech talent with out-of-the-box office perks.

Employees take their shoes off when they come into work, walk around in socks on heated floors, and drink Kombucha on tap in a century-old garage-turned-office, complete with exposed brick walls and natural light.

Zhao said he had a lot of say in how the space was going to look and feel. “If we’re going to make software for other people, it should feel more chill,” Zhao told Business Insider.

Take a look inside.


Notion’s office sits in San Francisco’s Mission District, a historically Latinx part of town where trendy retailers and apartments housing tech workers have flocked in recent years.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

But the neighbourhood hasn’t gained as much notability for housing tech offices — that reputation belongs mostly to downtown and the city’s SoMa district, just north of the Mission District.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderHomes in the Mission District.

Notion, however, is one of the Mission’s long-time office tenants.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderZhao, left, and a Notion employee work in phone booths.

About four months ago, CEO Ivan Zhao moved his 25-strong team from another Mission office to this new, “secret” location wedged among residences along a tree-lined street.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Zhao himself moved to the neighbourhood seven years ago, he said, and his goal for the company has always been to stay in the community.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

“It just feels more cosy,” Zhao told Business Insider. He said he’s able to walk to work.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Apart from the company’s unique neighbourhood of choice, Notion’s workspace has all the fixings of a Silicon Valley startup vying for the best of the region’s tech talent with non-traditional office perks.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Strict dress codes are waived, and employees take their shoes off when they enter. Zhao said he grew up in a household with a no-shoes policy.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Most Notion employees wandered around in socks, with some opting for slippers of some kind.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Either way, the floors are outfitted with radiant heating to keep workers’ feet toasty.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderAn employee tries to coax Sherlock over to him.

And foot cushions were placed beneath most desks for workers to prop their feet on.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Employees work at desks grouped together in rows against one wall.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

A couple of office mascots keep them company.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderFig, who is blind, knows his way around the office by instinct.

The nature of the building takes the open floor concept to the next level.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderConference rooms and a potential yoga studio are up a flight of stairs opposite the desks.

The structure used to be a garage, with part of it serving as an apartment to a family with five kids and two dogs.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderMarkings on the wall record the growth of the former tenants’ kids.

The former garage’s high ceilings and natural lighting make for a modern, cosy vibe.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

A communal dining area of picnic-style tables sits behind the rows of desks so workers can eat together.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

But another, perhaps more enticing, lunchtime option is venturing out into the Mission’s signature burrito scene.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderNotion employees fiddle in the office kitchen.

“I know all the burrito spots,” Zhao said. “I think that everybody in the company knows all the burrito spots.”

Katie Canales/Business InsiderA Notion employee at his desk.

And of course, there’s Kombucha on tap.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

The company’s former Mission location is where they had some venture capitalists showing up wanting to invest.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

The company politely declined time and time again, though Zhao told Business Insider in a previous interview in early 2019 that he isn’t “anti-VC.”

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider


Notion accepted an undisclosed amount of venture capital in a seed round and has been profitable for over a year now.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

Source: Business Insider and TechCrunch


And this summer, Notion announced that it was raising $US10 million in a new funding round with an $US800 million valuation.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderConference rooms are located up a flight of stairs in the office.

Source: Business Insider


The extra capital was used to close out convertible notes, a form of short-term debt financing, that were given to early investors.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderA common area in the Notion office.

Source: Business Insider


The company is also still focused on maintaining a small team. Despite the low headcount, however, Zhao said this new office space is not quite big enough for company operations.

Katie Canales/Business Insider

So he and his team are already on the lookout for a new office location in, unsurprisingly, the Mission.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderA view of the main office space from the kitchen.

“You walk by and there are still truly neighbourhood people,” Zhao said.

Katie Canales/Business InsiderSherlock and his human.

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