The Rollercoaster Podcast with Nikunj Kothari

Cristina Cordova - Platform & Partnerships at Notion

December 17, 2020 Nikunj Kothari Season 1 Episode 4
The Rollercoaster Podcast with Nikunj Kothari
Cristina Cordova - Platform & Partnerships at Notion
Show Notes Transcript

For this episode, Nikunj chats with Cristina (@cjc). Cristina currently leads the platform and partnerships team at Notion. Prior to this, Cristina was at Stripe where she joined as the first business development hire and the 28th employee. Over her seven years there, she ended up growing her team, leading partnerships overall, and also leading efforts on new products like corporate card.

In this episode, Cristina talks about her journey in leading partnership teams at various organizations. Some highlights being:

  • Growing up home alone from 7th grade to 9th grade
  • Love for debate club growing up and joining Stanford aiming to be a lawyer
  • Pivoting to tech by being an intern at Tapulous
  • Leaving Google to join Pulse as their first employee
  • Being the first business development hire at Stripe and her 7.5 year journey
  • Joining Notion this year to lead Platform and Partnerships

Thanks for listening — if you like what you hear, please review us on your favorite podcast platform. 

Check us out on the web at http://rollercoaster.life/ or get in touch with us on Twitter @rollerpod or emailing me at [email protected]

Music: Nowhere land & Wholesome by Kevin MacLeod.
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 Nikunj: [00:00:28] Today I chat with Cristina Cordova. Cristina currently leads the platform and partnerships team at notion. Prior to this, Cristina was at Stripe where she joined us, the first business development hire and the 28th employee. Over her seven years there, she ended up growing her team, leading partnerships overall, and also leading efforts on new products like corporate card.

In this episode, Cristina talks about her love for debate club growing up, her pivot into tech through an internship at Tapulous, being the first employee at pulse, growing a team at Stripe and what she's most excited about at Notion.

 

Welcome to the podcast, Cristina, how are you doing today?

Cristina Cordova: [00:01:13] I'm doing really well. Thanks for having me.

Nikunj: [00:01:15] I thought an interesting way to start the podcast would be to hear how you actually lived through what I call every child's dream or nightmare, which is living completely alone from seventh grade to ninth grade.

Cristina Cordova: [00:01:30] So  I had the home alone story, but extended for a long period of time.  I think the fun period was, maybe a little bit longer, than it was in that movie, but, yeah for me, I was in basically about seventh grade when, my mom said that she needed to go take a business trip to East coast for work.

And that if she started traveling a little bit more, that she would, get paid. More money as part of her job. she started doing that and it started out as being like one weekend, a month, a thing, not that big of a deal. And then it eventually transitioned into her being home one weekend, a month and the rest of the time she was traveling.

so yeah, I ended up being in a position where at that age I was far enough away from my school where, I had to take a taxi. I, walked to the grocery store, which was thankfully close enough. I would order , countless pizzas to myself and, soda and all that kind of stuff, all the stuff that you normally wouldn't be allowed to have, every single day.

and, that was my life for basically two years. Now as a parent, I look back on it and think that was wild and never something I would put my own child through. but it really did help me grow up really fast. I was already pretty independent before I think, I talked to my mom about it now and I'm like, why did you do that?

the crazy and, She looks back on it and says, I knew you were, someone who could handle it even at that age. and I think it just pushed me in a direction where I just felt like, I should, be able to handle those kinds of things and, grow up a little faster.

it didn't have kind of the classic childhood, I think for a lot of folks, but, yeah, definitely shaped me in a lot of good ways.

Nikunj: [00:03:21] That must have been very fun. But also a big learning experience, as you said. What were some of your early passions growing up?

Cristina Cordova: [00:03:30] Growing up, I would say I really loved doing speech and debate. That was  a big thing of mine in, junior high and high school. I loved doing, Lincoln Douglas debate in particular. it's, basically one-on-one debate on a particular subject.

one person takes the pro stance. One person takes the con stance.  it is   the peak of intellectual competitiveness in a way. As a result,  when you would lose, I feel like you would feel, yeah, just like it was just not a feeling you'd want to repeat.

it was something that just made me really, competitive and wanting to, beat my opponent in so many ways. And, it was also something where I just loved, the people I ended up getting to hang out with. My debate team had some of my closest friends

I think it just really brought you,  closer, to a good set of folks. And that was for the ages when I didn't have much of a family,  my family in a way, just because I would see them so often outside of regular school hours. and I also had a big mentor in my debate coach as well.

 someone who tried to get me to stop taking life so seriously. so someone who is just you're a kid, try to be a kid. and, that was, I think really helpful for me at that age. I did soccer from the time that I was  age seven to, the end of high school.

that was also something I really love. I  basically travel through all of California doing that. And, again, really liked the competitive, aspect to it. and. the fact that, I don't think I was ever the greatest on the team. And, so it was always something where  you realize that there are people who are  better than you.

And you just have these  skill sets that, in a lot of ways you can't necessarily match. that you're, that you can keep striving, for being the top of your game there. and the other thing I did. a lot growing up, was art to actually, so throughout high school I did  sculpting and oil painting.

so my hands were  terrible all the time. either covered in paint or scraped up from doing  metal work and all this kind of stuff. and that was where I feel I got more of my creativity out  as someone who's younger and, just got me thinking about different things that I could do.

and, opened my eyes into, different paths that people could have in being successful.  I would say those were the three things that I did a lot growing up that kind of, defined, my experience.

Nikunj: [00:05:56] Were those experiences what pushed you to  become a lawyer as you entered Stanford? 

Cristina Cordova: [00:06:02] When I was growing up and I think this is what a lot of kids are told by their parents, but my mom was , two things. She was , you've got to go to Harvard and you've got to be a doctor or a lawyer. And I felt like that was , the assured path to, at the very least  middle-class security, right?

you wouldn't have to worry about, money as a family and that you would have a good job. And, and college, for her, like for someone who. Never went to college. That was  the path, for her. And so if you're going to go to college, you might as well go to the best college.

and by the time I was a teenager, there were two things. Oh, I was basically  too afraid to apply to Harvard. That was  the reality. So I didn't even apply to Harvard.  I never even really thought about Stanford as an option again,  I didn't think I was going to get in and, my debate coach, basically placed a bet with me that he knew I was going to lose.

And he said that if I, lost the bet that I would have to apply to Stanford. So that's how I ended up applying to Stanford. And, I ended up getting in and going and that was great. And, so I was on my path knowing that I wasn't, super into science, that, and that I really loved doing debate.

And that kind of felt like being a lawyer, at least what being a lawyer on TV was like, that, I should go do that. And, I majored in political science, which was the feeder major into, folks who wanted to go to law school ultimately. And I got to my junior year, where I ended up taking an intro to American law course.

And so when I was in this class, my junior year, it was my first realization that if you wanted to do anything like these, landmark Supreme court cases or those kinds of things, you're  in your late forties, fifties, when you're trying those casesand that's when you have the pinnacle of your career.

And for me, I was an impatient person, I would say. I just felt I knew I wanted to be successful. I knew I was very achievement oriented, but I didn't want to wait. And that was the thing where I was just like, this is just too slow. I don't want to go to law school for another three years and then be an associate for a decade.

And then, maybe become a partner and then do this. I feel  I wanted to be in a place where I feel like I could. Yeah. Be someone who was young and make an impact and do things. and so that was what eventually got me thinking about, Silicon Valley and working in tech.

Nikunj: [00:08:28] In India, you have to be an engineer or a doctor and that's it. There's no other parts. And so it sounds very similar to what we were told growing up. And, you alluded to this, so is it  your impatience  got you to be interested in tech and give up your career of being a lawyer?

Cristina Cordova: [00:08:45] I think so.  I think for me, I looked at the world and said, what are the things that I could do with who I am today and where could I be in a place where, I could learn the fastest, and be at the top of my field without having, 20 years of experience.

And, I happen to have a friend who was interning at a tech startup in Palo Alto at the time, while she was in school. And, she was just telling me about the kind of project she was working on. And I was just , Oh, they , let an intern do that. , when I had internships, it was like the, not the getting coffee variety, but  maybe one level above that.

And, This friend was , writing pitch decks for partnerships and doing a bunch of other things, like that. And they, gave her free reign because, they just needed people to go do things, They didn't have a lot of people didn't have a lot of resources. So people who are earlier in their careers get access to doing a lot of work that, you would think people.

Little a little bit later in their careers would get access to. and that was the first time I was just like, Oh, that sounds really interesting. And that sounds cool. And I would love to learn how to do that. And, she ended up, going on study abroad the following fall and it was like, Oh, I'm going to be out of school.

And they would really love someone to replace. Me, would you like to do this? And so she basically referred me into that job and that was my first, tech startup job senior year. And, yeah, I very much felt Oh, I'm working here. And I'm going to do as much as I possibly can to.

achieve, feel like I am  making an impact. even though I'm just  the intern and I was an unpaid intern, it was  even worse.  I gave up a  paying internship that wasn't an area that I wasn't  super interested in long-term so that I could go and be a tech startup intern for free.

And thankfully after three months they started paying me. But, it was definitely one of those chances I took because I was just like, You don't really get a chance to go do these things that often. And I had enough knowledge of, the company and what they were doing from my friend working there that I just felt it was , worth it to take that risk.

And I feel like taking a lot of educated risks was the other piece of my career that ended up working out really well.

Nikunj: [00:11:07] and this was at Tapulous right. You intern there for a year, and then you finished college and ended up going to Google, but you left Google very quickly to join, pulse as their first employee. What gave you the confidence to join this tiny startup?

Cristina Cordova: [00:11:25] Again, I think I felt like I had data points, so that kind of helped me make that decision. the founders of pulse, one of them was, a TA in a class that I was taking in college. and I, because I was working, at a job that entire year.

I would always try to get all of my schoolwork done at the beginning of the week and then work the last half of the week. And so I would bug the TA of the class just being like, Hey, have you posted the homework yet? I really want to get the homework done. so I didn't have to think about school for the rest of the week.

and that happened to be, Akshay, the CEO of pulse. And, he had started this app and another class that he was in and he was like, Hey, do you know anyone who might be able to help us with business stuff for the company? as we're getting this set up. And, so I ended up finding five or six referrals for him, through people that I know.

And then he replied basically saying, no, that was  my way of asking you if you were interested in working with us. and I said, sure, I have a month between when I graduate college and when I'm supposed to start my, quote unquote real job at Google. so I'm happy to help you out in that month and see where things go.

And so I was able to try before you buy, Test the job out, get to know ankit, the other  co-founder of Pulse, who I didn't know before, and really understand  what working there would be like. And, I had always thought that, Google was  the pinnacle of working at a tech company.

And so I should go and do that, this was of the time where everyone was like, how could you not take a job at Google? And, all that. And I started my job at Google. And, the founders of pulse really wanted me to stay, but I decided not to. And they did a really smart thing, which was, when I had started working at Google, they would send me G chats while I was at work.

just sending me a little messages, Oh, , how's it going over there? what are you up to, just, all that fun stuff. And. I was pretty bored in the work that I was doing. I had  more of a backend operational job, which didn't necessarily suit my skillset in any way.

And I eventually called up my mom and I was like, I just think I'm going to leave.  this, is just not the right job for me. And at one point Google, after I told them I wanted to leave, they were just like, you have to stay in this job for a year, but maybe you can look for another job, within Google, after that year is up.

And I just remember thinking  a year is a very long time. And if I were Google looking back at it, some new grad who was just like, I'm not happy.  I want another job.  I would have totally treated me in the exact same way. but for me it just wasn't the right fit and it wasn't, The kind of job where I felt like I could stretch myself.

 yeah, I decided to leave and join pulse and, I think it was certainly one of the best decisions I've made from a career standpoint.

And I think one of the things that made me feel comfort around that decision was  two things, really, one was that pulse was raising around a funding. And so I looked at it as I'll at least have two years of a job and if it doesn't work out, I can go somewhere else.

and then two, Was something that someone told me, and I can't remember exactly who, but they were just , Google will always take you back, if you want to go work at Google or work at another  big tech company at some point, because this doesn't end up working out,  you can go do that.

 you can always kind of hop back into these larger companies. And, and so that kind of made me feel, But it wasn't this huge risk that I was taking with my career, even though, leaving a job after seven weeks, it doesn't look great, on your resume

Nikunj: [00:15:07] you talked about 10 years ago, but even today, if I tell my parents that I'm leaving, or I have an offer from Google and I'm joining a tiny startup, they'll definitely tell me to join Google so completely understand. but you're joined Pulse in early days, what was your role there?

Cristina Cordova: [00:15:24] Yeah. I remember trying to figure out, what do you call someone like me? And, I had never worked  full-time for a tech company. I didn't really know, but I was thinking of the person at, Tapulous who had the job that was , most like mine,  the guy who was doing, all the music deals for Tapulous.

So basically acquiring music rights for them to play within the app. and I was like, Oh, someone needs, to acquire content for pulse. And so that's a similar thing. And his job was  business development. So I'll say I'm doing business development. and it turned out I was doing, a bunch of other things too.

I was doing  support, just helping set up the office, just all the things  that you do. And I think the thing that just made me so comfortable with that was that the CEO of Tapulous every day he would go and he would, he would take out the trash to the curb.

and it was  one of those things that you're like, he's a CEO and he's taking out the trash to the curb. It's just everyone here has to do things that are not like in their job scope or responsibility and you do it because you're trying to  make a company that people like to be a part of.

so yeah, that was what I stuck with.

Nikunj: [00:16:33] Working as a biz dev at a very early stage bay area startup must've been pretty hard trying to clinch deals with traditional media companies that are on the East coast. How did you navigate that?

Cristina Cordova: [00:16:47] So I would say, at that time I was 22 maybe. And, I had realized at that point that the people that I was reaching out to at these companies, whether they were, equivalent  BD leaders within their companies or, audience development, folks, those kinds of things.

they all tended to be  quite a bit older than I was. And and then most of them happen to not be in the Bay area, for the most part. And so I tended to do a lot of reaching out to people cold on, LinkedIn or, trying to sleuth what their email address was and, and send them cold emails, classic stuff.

When you don't really have any connections, you don't have any way to make your way into these companies. And, I think one of the things I was  pretty insecure about was my age worrying that these companies, wouldn't want to work with me because I was so young and, that it would look like we weren't  a serious company in a way.

And, so I would, at that time, I think I  hid my graduation year from college on my LinkedIn. I  took away any  notes of being an intern anywhere, all that kind of stuff. And, it was only when I would go on these trips to New York. After typically we had signed deals with partners. Where they would actually meet me and realize that I was so young.

 I remember inviting a bunch of publishers to  a party that we had in New York for. For content providers and  several of them noted, wow, you're really young. And at that point I was okay with it because they had already signed a deal with us. So I'm probably pretty awkward at that point to pull out.

But, yeah, this was in the day pre  video conferencing being such a big thing and all that kind of stuff. we were doing deals over the phone and email and, I think that was actually one of the things that gave me, a lot of confidence that I could effectively, act older and more mature, than I really was.

But, yeah, I just try to , Really quickly learn and iterate from my conversations with these folks to, to really build up. the fact that, we were  a really growing fast application. They wanted to get on, on board with us, all that kind of stuff. And, I think thankfully I iterated fast enough that I was able to perhaps act older than I was.

Nikunj: [00:19:20] I think in this remote age, one of the great levelers is video conferencing where you don't have to travel, you're  treated equally, or at least they might mention how young you are, but they're still treated equally. but you eventually left Pulse to join Stripe as their first, Biz dev hire.

How did you go from a media background at Tapulous and pulse to joining an API company like Stripe?

Cristina Cordova: [00:19:45] I remember, sending all of my emails to the pulse partners that we were working with and saying Hey, I'm going to go join another company. Here's the person you should contact, going forward. And a bunch of them reached out, ask where I was going. And I said, Oh, I'm  joining this company called Stripe.

And a bunch of them replied being , Oh, okay, I'll probably never talk to you again. So yeah, I was, I was going from. one industry to a completely different industry that I had no familiarity with at all. and the reason was , just purely, the fact that I had happened to meet, Stripes CEO at a local Palo Alto, barbecue, and got to know him over the course of several months and, And then got to know other folks at Stripe at the time.

and I've just felt  every single person I met there was just extremely smart.   for most of them, this was  their first job I want to say. so they weren't  super experienced, frankly neither was I that at that phase, and I just felt that they were really talented. so it was just  this, crazy group of MIT and Harvard dropouts, who decided to start, tinkering on this thing. And I think when I was around them, I felt really  positive and inspired and, that at the very least,  I'd be working with talented people.

So I, my calculus at the time was pretty similar. I was , at the very least I'll have a couple of years of working with  really fun people. And if it doesn't work out, I can always, go back to Google. and I eventually decided to make that change, but, honestly it wasn't, really with industry. In mind. I was primarily making the move because of people. And I would say that's probably where I make, or why I make most of the moves that I do.  I really want to be around  talented teams. And if they have interesting problems, I can get interested in them, and I think it's more so are the people I'm working for really passionate about what they're doing, because if they're not passionate about what they're doing, , why should I be right?

And so you can get people passionate. About so many different things that don't even seem interesting. I didn't wake up out of bed every day and say, Oh, payments. I'm so excited. I woke up out of bed because I was excited about what we could do for businesses. So you think about the average business that doesn't have access to these kinds of tools and we could, you know.

Make their business so much more powerful, so much easier for them. that was an experience that, I wanted to deliver. and I also really liked working with some of our early partners. They're , I really love working with developers. Developers  read the manual, for the most part, right?

unlike a lot of customers and two, I think they are, They're so creative and they want to build what they see in the world. And I think if you can empower those kinds of people that can build really powerful things that are really exciting. And I think for me, that was what sold me, but I don't think I really got that at the beginning.

It took me a while, to realize it. And I was mostly  feeding off the passion and the energy of the people who were there.

Nikunj: [00:23:01] As a biz dev person,  it's one thing to let media companies share their content with an app. And another to have companies change their entire payments processing to a start up like Stripe. How did you convince some of the early partners to move to Stripe?

Cristina Cordova: [00:23:18] For pulse, they could partner with lots of, folks like us. So they didn't have to choose, they could spread the wealth, I think for Stripe. what we were trying to do was to get either exclusive deals or, highly preferred deals that were in our favor.

And so you're right. We had to very much kind of push these companies in a different way. They were taking a bigger chance on us. And it's also just payments is not something you want to screw up. And when I joined stripe at 28 people, I would get on the phone with people and they would be like, Oh, so tell me more about square and I'd be , ah, that's a different payments company. Yeah. and here's how we're different. And, we didn't have much of a name for ourselves. And so I think what I really tried to focus on was the experience. And so I would create these  mocks of What their current experience was without Stripe and what their experience could be with Stripe.

and then once we got a few of those first partners to bite, then it was really about telling the story about those first few partners to the rest of the folks out there. So I remember working with, Xero's, CTO. they build an accounting application that also allows invoicing and, they were trying to enable Stripe within their flows.

And, we signed a deal. Their CTO started  hacking away at the beginning of the weekend and finished his, end-to-end  Stripe integration  by the end of the weekend. And so that ended up being the story that I would  repeatedly tell  every single partner when they would be , how long is this going to take?

 we already have, something integrated that's working. , why should I replace it with Stripe? And I'm just , okay, the CTO of zero took, just a weekend to do this integration. that's all it'll take. happens to be  a generally, very good engineer and, probably has an easier time at things than other folks.

But, I think that really told the story to a lot of folks. And then when you start having, data points,  conversion improvements, more merchants having an easier process to sign up for your application. I think those were the things that really I ended up selling, the story for us at the beginning, we just had to try to find partners who really cared about the things that we cared about.

So finding a partner like Shopify that really cared about the merchant experience and was able to say, Hey, yeah, this looks  it'll be much better than what we're offering today. This sea of payment gateways, and pushing that down to just default the user into Stripe, because we know that experience is so much better for them.

and when you had companies that were of the same,  mindset and thesis, I think that really enabled you to grow to the next set of partners, that were even more critical to us. and then, picking the right partners,  picking a Shopify that at the time was , just as small as we are really.

And, and seeing if they would, continue to grow and then they just happen to have the exact same growth trajectory as you do over the next decade. that's really powerful to see if you can take the right chances on the right partners, because at the beginning you can't necessarily work with everyone. You have to prioritize

Nikunj: [00:26:16] How did you even get intros to these early stage companies or early stage partners? Did you cold email like you did with pulse or were there other channels that were helpful?

Cristina Cordova: [00:26:29] Fairly cold emailed. thankfully  stripes, developer, presence, I think was strong enough where we would launch somewhere, a new product on hacker news or something, it would get to the top. You'd have a bunch of developers who would sign up for Stripe.

And maybe wouldn't actually go through the process of integrating with that and  developing with it. so when I was interested in partnering with a company, I would  always look them up in our system and say Oh, can I find a developer who , happened to spot something that they found?

Interesting. Yeah. Even though most of the cases, they wouldn't necessarily have gone live with us in any way and then use that to find the right person in that organization. and at the very least, they've heard of your company, they can try to find the right connection.

but the rest were definitely still classic,  cold emails. I emailed every e-commerce platform and every booking platform and every invoicing platform. And I just went down the list, to find every single one and try to get them on board. And I think in a lot of ways, it's just it's just a lot of hard work ultimately.

Nikunj: [00:27:32] You spent seven and a half years at Stripe taking on a wide variety of roles. And you had to also learned to grow and build your own team. What was that transition from being an individual contributor to a manager like?

Cristina Cordova: [00:27:46] It was a tough one. It was my first time managing people who were doing exactly what I was doing. I'd managed people before at Pulse who were doing different things. That was actually quite different, Because I had actually been in the role for, I want to say almost a year or so before I hired my first person.

and so I had a keen sense of what the role required and what we needed to scale, but I didn't necessarily have the  grand vision and ambitions of what are we going to be  at 10 people? what are the deals that we're going to be doing at that phase? and I think the hardest part for me was to step back from doing the work,  being amazing and execution and saying, it's okay if I'm not as good at execution, because I'm going to spend more time on  strategy and planning and hiring.

and that was an experience for me that, really Enlightened me that was critical.  at a certain point in my career or cared less about what I did as an individual and more about what my team did and that I really needed to be focused on making sure my team was successful.

and as a new manager who was trying to find people who were experienced and could add a lot of value to the team, because I was still quite young at that point, I'm , 23, 24, At that point, I was trying to hire people who had some previous business development experience. And, it's rare that you go into a, your first job being a BD job.

And so everyone I was trying to hire was older and more experienced than me,  post MBA and whatever it might've been. And, I definitely had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I was  trying to act like the manager, in a very  official manner. I eventually got to a point where, my team was just , share what your problems are,  be vulnerable with us.

and I think that was, a lesson I eventually had to learn that I wasn't the person who was supposed to solve all the problems that they were supposed to help solve those problems with me. And then. And I needed to share what those challenges were versus hiding them and trying to solve them by myself in a corner.

I think that was the first two years I would say of managing were probably the hardest for me. and then after that, I think once I learned some of those early lessons from managing that team, I think it just came a lot more naturally once I realized I just needed to be real and honest with people. and, yeah, and I was able to build out my team and I think we were pretty successful in that endeavor, but, but yeah, it wasn't something that was overnight.

Nikunj: [00:30:26] what were some others growing pains that you had to deal with from being employee 28 to now thousands of people?

  Cristina Cordova: [00:30:33] I think what the org was looking for over a longer period of time changed.  it changed from wanting people who got stuff done to wanting people who, could hire really fantastic people who could inspire others. And, who could, manage up effectively, That was never a phrase that was ever uttered within the company, but yeah, that's what people wanted. You would go to these status, update meetings and present to the leadership team about the  big projects that were going on. And it was your job to, in a lot of ways, make them feel like everything was going to be okay.

And give them confidence in you and in your org. And, that was something that at the beginning was, not necessarily part of the job requirements. and then I would say another big change was realizing when, you needed to let people go. And, whether that was within to another role within the company because what they wanted to do was changing and evolving, or out of the company.

And, those were definitely, harder situations for me. especially, I think it's easy with  totally bad hires. I think you can get those out of the company relatively quickly. I think what was harder was more of the employees who were doing fine, but not great. And when you start thinking about how that person is taking up the space of someone who could be doing really great, and wouldn't, you rather have someone who's great in this role?

That was, I think, An evolution that the company went through that at the beginning. Fine. I think probably for the first few years of the company would have been fine, and that person could have stayed. And then over time it ended up being that , really we should be trying to find the best and thinking about how our kind of talent strategy changes over time to find the best people.

And yeah. And make sure you're forming the right orgs, to be able to do that.

Nikunj: [00:32:40] This year you transitioned to lead, platform and partnerships at notion, what convinced you to leave Stripe?

 Cristina Cordova: [00:32:47] I'd say a few things. I think there was one that was  a feeling or a moment. and then certainly other things that kind of added to it, but, I happened to invest in notion. And so notion had invited me to, the holiday party of whatever year that was. And, I went to the holiday party and it was in their office and it was, them plus ones and some, friends of the company like me and.

the thing I liked most about it was just how small and warm and  intimate, it felt compared to being at a gigantic tech holiday party w where you're like searching around for someone that, because it's so big. and that was a moment where I was just like, huh, it's so funny.  I run an org now that is as big as the team in this room. the experience that I really wanted next in my career was to be, a leader at a fast growing company. Instead of someone who was managing  a great, operating, fantastic org. but, wanting that kind of  feeling of, being able to  touch and feel the product and have your fingerprints all over it before it gets out to see the world again.

and that, basically the. the bigger that you grow, the less likely that you have, the opportunity to do those things. so that was one moment where I remember standing around at the holiday party and thinking , Oh, would it be nice to, be here as an employee?

And then second, I had heard from Akshay and Ivan that the company was starting to, think about building the API. and I don't think you ever want to be a BD person at a company where you're just  really struggling to get engineering resources. It's  a terrible job. When you have a company that is building  technologies that actually enable partnerships that enable, platform, elements to the product and how you can interact with the rest of the world.

then that creates a really great opportunity. and given that's basically where I spent so much of my time at Stripe, they were starting to think about who could lead this effort internally. And, I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity to take that role. and even though it wasn't necessarily great timing,  I was leaving Stripe in the middle of a pandemic, as we were starting to work on some  brand new products, and I had just hired a bunch of people. I, decided to make that move because I really didn't want to miss out on that specific time to be at notion and have, a hand in building some of those products early on.

Nikunj: [00:35:26] What got you most excited about, building this next collaboration platform?

Cristina Cordova: [00:35:31] I think, the thing that got me most excited was actually looking at people who are not developers and happen to do just really crazy things with notion. if you happen to just search for kind of notion videos on YouTube, or check out some people sharing their own,  workspaces publicly, The things that people do with notion, we're  crazy to me, just  the workflows that they have, the things that they do.

and I was just using notion in this  piss poor use case of taking my own personal notes. and so realizing that there was just  so much power in the platform and that you could do so much with it. and that notion in a classic sense called these people toolmakers right there.

They're making their own tool. They're making their own software using, workflows in notion. it made me really think about the power of how you could add developer use cases to the platform, and create a whole new kind of type of toolmaker, a toolmaker that has technical capabilities and is able to integrate with other pieces of software.

Second knowing that notion is  a work place, collaboration tool. the fact that is that it is  such a siloed product is crazy. you use so many other tools to run your business and for notion to work really well and really seamlessly, It's clear that we need to be working with all the different services that you use to run your business.

so I think it was great to see that it was basically  a top customer feature request, as well as, something that could enable a ton of. Partner use cases that would then empower all of these fantastic non-technical users to start having all of these integrations that they could start taking advantage of.

so I thought about just really the possibilities of blending, this  amazing community of tool makers with developers, partners, people who are, who could build integrations, and what a great kind of  marriage that could be for the long-term success of notion and being able to be part of that, I think would be great.

Nikunj: [00:37:38] I saw that you launched the beta for the notion API today. What more should we expect from you and notion and this upcoming year?

Cristina Cordova: [00:37:46] Yeah, we just opened up the beta to our first set of users. So we're really excited, that they have the opportunity to start developing and, can give us feedback and all the things we did wrong and all that fun stuff. And, our hope for the next few months is that we incorporate a lot of the feedback, whether it's on documentation or feature implementation or those kinds of things, want to get everything into a place where it feels , things are moving quickly are, properly documented.

Give you everything you need as a developer to get up and running. but more importantly that we're actually using this time period. while we're in private beta to actually figure out what to build next. building a kind of new set of features that are going to empower, both business users, personal users, and, people building integrations as well.

our partners. our hope is that. In the spring, we actually, aren't just releasing what we have today, but in public, but actually we're releasing what we have today and so much more, to the rest of the world. I'm excited to see how much we build in the next few months, so that we can test it all out and make sure that we get up and running and, start really making an impact with our users.

Nikunj: [00:39:00] The collaboration space is really heating up, with  lots of new entrants, practically springing up every day. How do you and notion think about competition?

Cristina Cordova: [00:39:10] I think we look at competition as, something that's always been there. Notion was not new to this space in a lot of ways. And, we won't be the first player. We won't be the last player that kind of is an entrant in this space. In this space. but I think all collaboration tools are seeking the same thing from our customers and that's, time, right?

we're in, a space where we're all, at home all the time nearly, and using these business tools far more than we use other tools and software products out there today. And so when you think about, I spend more time in notion than I do in Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.

it feels crazy. And, the fact that most business tools happen to not be as good as the consumer products you're using. it's a shame. So I think what. We think about is how can we make a product that people want to live in day in and day out, both for personal usage, as well as for business usage.

And I think that approach is somewhat unique and a lot of the competition that we're seeing out there today. and just trying to make a really delightful experience that works with all the different tools that you use to run your business. yeah, I'm excited. To see what people do with the platform, and how that really changes the use cases for notion.

But I'm also excited to see, how we both integrate with competitors with the platform, and how, the platform starts making an impact in terms of how we're able to compete at a grander scale.

Nikunj: [00:40:42] I'm super excited for the API. I'm going to sign up for the wait list soon. Yeah, we always end our show by asking our guests to share a time that felt like a roller coaster. And what did you learn from it?

Cristina Cordova: [00:40:55] There was a time, when I was at stripe. And, it came time where I'd built, a pretty good team the team was doing really well. And it was, the time to hire the, big leader, for partnerships overall within the organization. and I had led, a big part of that org for a very long time.

And, I think having that conversation was definitely, the low part of the roller coaster, where. I realized that what the company needed at that point in time is what I was referencing before. It's this, need to hire very senior people and need to have someone who's very senior in that top spot to be able to hire those other really great, talented people that you want to bring on board.

and at the point that happened, it was a harder conversation for me to have with my manager at the time. but it was something that kind of  looking back on now. It was definitely an understandable conversation, a conversation where, if you look at where, Stripe was at that time and still is, a company that's doing extremely well, I'm going to need to grow extremely fast, hire really talented people.

And if you're in a position where you can hire the best of the best, then why don't you. and I think that, that was something for me that was  hard to come to grips with for awhile. and eventually, I got to a place where I realized that was just the name of the game for that time.

There was , no one anywhere close to my age, that was in the position that I was in, at that time. And that I should be proud of the work that I had done. And, the fact that the company is doing really well and is going to hire above you doesn't change that. and so I always like to talk to people who are new to this role today, who asked me for advice, about being a BD leader.

and I try to tell them that if you do really well, in this role, you're probably going to get layered. And if you don't do really well in this role, you're probably gonna get layered. And, that's just kind of part of the role as someone who's joining and yeah. a very fast growth company and, doing well or not doing well, it doesn't really change the outcome and in a lot of these situations and, I think you have to go with the flow and find the right fit.

And I eventually decided to make a move within the organization to have  more of a GM type role. and actually that was one of the great experiences that I had, in my time at Stripe. And ended up working out really well for me. I had a great opportunity to manage new and different types of people and all those kinds of things.

So I try to take those opportunities where it feels  something's like a door is closing in a way, and then just try to find another door that can give you  more learnings and a better experience.

Nikunj: [00:43:52] Thank you for taking the time today for sharing your incredible journey. I'm sure everyone's going to really enjoy it.

Cristina Cordova: [00:43:58] Sure. Thanks for having me.