Hi Reddit, I'm Alan Chan, co-founder & CEO of Heptabase.

Proof: https://imgur.com/tr0eieu

Heptabase is a visual note-taking tool that helps you make sense of your learning, research, and projects. Think about when Notion and Figma have a baby.

We began developing Heptabase in May 2021 and have since released over 400 versions in just 2 years. We have a community of 12,000 users in 100+ countries who love using Heptabase. You can check some of their reviews on Product Hunt.

We created Heptabase with the goal of building the best tool for learning and research. Design is crucial to us - we want you to get into the flow of learning and expand your thinking as soon as you enter the app. All features are carefully and cohesively designed around a better method for learning and conducting research that works extremely well for us, and we believe it can work for almost anyone.

Our ultimate vision for Heptabase is to create a contextualized knowledge internet that allows everyone in the world to effectively establish a deep understanding of anything they want to learn or research.Some fun facts of Heptabase:

- We have three co-founders and three employees. We hired all employees from our user base.

- We have been operating as a fully remote company since day one.

- Our original name was "project-meta" in 2021, and boom, Facebook became Meta. We changed the name to Heptabase because we love the science fiction Story of Your Life. In the book, there is an alien species called Heptapod that can speak a visual language that connects events from the past, present, and future.

- We raised nearly $1.7 million in seed funding from Y Combinator, HOF Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Moving Capital, and several other investors in early 2022. However, we have not spent any investor money over the past two years. All company expenses are fully funded by our revenue.

Feel free to ask me anything about Heptabase, learning, startups, or anything you have in mind.

Comments: 109 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

gfxd31 karma

I am from India and frankly, 12 USD/month is beyond my spending capacity.

  • Will you be open to Purchasing power parity based pricing? (Recommend Parity Deals - available for stripe and other gateways)

  • Also, I currently use Notion for Education and my students love it (Thanks @notion for a generous free plan). Please consider a free plan for education. Once students get used to a system, they will perpetuate it into a culture.

alan_chan_tw14 karma

Yes, we will consider doing that. Thank you for sharing ParityDeals; it looks very useful and might save us some time re-implementing the entire billing system. We will also have an education plan in the future, but it is not our current top priority compared to product building.

Blinky_12 karma

What does your product do? Who is your target market? Who or what are your main competitors and what advantages do you bring? What is the cost to me?

alan_chan_tw5 karma

What does your product do?

Currently, Heptabase is a tool that helps you learn and research complex topics visually. You can create whiteboards that are designed for complex knowledge work instead of just drawing or brainstorming. For example:

You can place your rich-text note cards on a whiteboard, reuse cards across whiteboards, break down large cards into smaller ones by dragging blocks out of them, arrange cards into mind maps and sections that support auto-layout, organize whiteboards into a hierarchy, link whiteboards to each other, etc. We also support adding other file types such as images, audios, videos, and PDFs to a whiteboard. For PDF files, you can create highlights and annotations and easily drag them onto the whiteboard to make sense of them alongside other knowledge.

It's impossible to list all the features Heptabase has in a comment. I suggest checking out this post to learn more. What I can share is that most of the features are about bringing the information you need to make sense of into Heptabase and giving you the power to turn it into a structure that actually makes sense.

Who is your target market? Who or what are your main competitors and what advantages do you bring?

Our initial market is product managers and researchers (from industry and academia), essentially individuals who need to dedicate a significant amount of time to consuming a large amount of information in order to produce better research work. We have conducted several hundred user interviews, and the majority of users use Heptabase for learning, research, and planning. In this initial market, our primary competitors are other note-taking, whiteboarding, and mindmapping apps.

At the moment, we have three advantages, in my opinion:

- Design: We've put a lot of effort into creating great design and UI/UX that focuses on helping users learn and conduct research, rather than bloating it with hundreds of features that can do too many things and lose focus. Most people just want a tool for focused thinking and are intimidated by the number of things they need to learn and set up in other "second-brain apps" before they can actually start spending time "making sense of complex topics." In Heptabase, you can get into the flow of sense-making on day one, and we make the entire process very fun and intuitive. This also reflects on our customer retention — over 70% of our users who subscribed in January 2022 continue to use Heptabase after 20 months. We've grown to over 10,000 paying users with $0 marketing expenses and purely through word-of-mouth.

- Technology: Both our rich-text editor and whiteboards are incredibly powerful and intuitive to use. Most companies excel at one, but we excel at both, according to many of our users whom you can find in our Discord community. We also bring together the best capabilities from local-first apps and cloud-first apps. Heptabase syncs data across desktop, mobile, and web on all platforms in real-time with granular version control of your notes, while maintaining full offline access so you don't need an internet connection to use it.

- Long-term: I suggest just check out this article.

What is the cost to me?

It costs $11.99/month (monthly subscription) or $8.99/month (yearly subscription). You can cancel your subscriptions anytime and still have access to everything. You can export everything into markdown + YAML so that you can use it in other apps.

dank_the_enforcer8 karma

What is this, exactly? Can you TL;DR or give some use-cases that are in plain language?

I clicked on your link, but it's pretty overwhelming. It might be helpful to start simple, and have some sort of animation that explains how things start with the basics. I'm not really sure what field this is for (or multiple fields?) as this is in the AMA subreddit. Sorry if I'm missing the obvious!

I've been working on projects for 30 years, so of course there's project management involved! I clicked on your link and it says "project management." Great! Then right below it, "Keep track of tasks and ideas at different stages." Which doesn't really make a lot of sense out of context. And the example, the very first thing anyone seems, is wildly vague and dense. Stop drawing dead fish? What does that mean? (And by the third image, it's so dense that the words are literally not readable, at least on my laptop. The site should account for different image sizes.)

I guess what I really wanted from your link is some idea about whether or not this might be useful for me, for my projects, for my team, and for what we do. And I'm baffled and clueless. And I'm not really sure how taking notes on readings is related to project management. Maybe I've been doing project management wrong for all of these years!

alan_chan_tw2 karma

Heptabase is a visual note-taking tool that helps you make sense of complex topics.

In Heptabase, a card represents knowledge, while a whiteboard represents a topic. You can take rich-text notes on individual cards, and all cards are stored in the Card Library, which serves as your knowledge base.

To better make sense of a complex topic, you can create a whiteboard and place relevant cards on it to visualize their relationships. You can also create nested whiteboards for sub-topics. You can reuse cards across different whiteboards, just like how the same piece of knowledge can be referenced in different topics and fields.

If you want to learn more, I recommend these guides:





Groove_On6 karma

Hey Alan! It's Sam (Sams_Here) from Discord.
I have had the unique opportunity to watch the growth of Heptabase since being an early Alpha user/tester.
You and your small team have been able to move HB to a full blown desktop /web/ and mobile app at lightening speed.
The press has been great and user growth is phenomenal and steady.

My questions are: How do you balance a small team with such large growth and what indicators of support and development guide you to growing your team going forward? What positions do you feel you need to fill next? - Thank you!

alan_chan_tw3 karma

We work really hard to balance it, and when we feel constantly burnt out by the current workload, we consider hiring a new employee. I think the next position might be another engineer, but who knows? It really depends on what we feel is the most challenging in the upcoming months.

Our development is guided by two things: one is how far we are from our vision and how we can get closer to it faster. The second is what our current retention number is and how we can make it even higher.

dafais6 karma

I'm an early adopter of heptabase but keep going back to Notion to create databases that are relational and can be displayed in infinite different views and can be automated using buttons.

What is your vision for heptabase to match this capability or to help me conceptualise a different way of seeing the information that I want to see?

alan_chan_tw7 karma

We've started addressing this earlier this year. We now support adding tags and properties to cards. Each tag is like a database (where you can create tables and kanban views for it), and you can reuse properties across tags. You can follow these two guides to see what we've built so far, and there is more to come, such as creating relation properties that you can associate with cards under another tag, and supporting more types of views.



urchin20231 karma

I would like to inquire whether the tables created within tags can be exported as Excel or CSV files in the future?

alan_chan_tw1 karma

Yes, we will support that in the future.

FagNeato5 karma


alan_chan_tw7 karma

I think the most common problem I faced is that there's a lot of noise in this market. People request thousands of features, and we need to have clear guidelines on "what not to build." The solution is actually quite simple — we make it clear both internally and externally that Heptabase is a tool for making sense of complex topics, and we won't build anything that's not helpful for this purpose until we solve this problem really, really well.

Money is not a constraint as we are already profitable. If I can only pick one thing to build next, I'll choose to build a collaborative platform on top of Heptabase that empowers people to discuss and research complex topics together using our card-based system. I'm a big fan of the Polymath project and I see many limitations with the blog interface that we can address with a new design.

frictiongatekeeper14 karma

I've only just started using the product and absolutely love it, so much that I immediately paid for a 1 year subscription! I'm also a member of Tom Solid's Paperless Movement who highly recommend the software for PKM. I'm really only at the beginning of the learning curve but already realise the potential to remove many blocks to my creative process. I have a problem though with what appears to be a conflict (between my os(windows 11), my browser (Vivaldi) and Heptabase) with the use of speed keys. Could you point me in the direction of some way to figure out a solution to this hurdle please? Great product by the way, very intuitive!

alan_chan_tw1 karma

You can reach out to us through our in-app support and we'll assign an engineer to look into it.


ledtorch3 karma

How can a founder determine whether it's the right time to raise funds, or if the focus should still be on building the product?

alan_chan_tw7 karma

I think the right time to raise fund is when you meet the following conditions:

- Your company has early signs of success (great user retention/growth/team/insights) that are enough for the investor at your company's stage to bet on you.

- The investments can be really helpful for your company.

In my case, it took me less than two weeks to close funding and get back to building products. One of the core reasons is that our product has a really good user retention, and we have a clear plan on what we need to do to achieve our long-term vision.

Michael-Tseng3 karma

How can heptabase be used to understand complex physics and mathematics concepts, or would you say that pen and paper is still the best way to gain a deep understanding on those topics?

Are there any capabilities AI has enabled us to come closer to the contextualized knowledge Internet you're visioning? Is heptabase planning to use AI in the product besides the chat interface now?

Why does heptabase choose to operate as a remote startup since day one?

alan_chan_tw3 karma

I would say that the strength of Heptabase in understanding Physics and Math lies in its ability to reuse concepts across different whiteboards. During my time in university, I double-majored in Physics and Math, and one thing that consistently amazed me was the interconnectedness of the concepts taught in different courses. For example, when writing mathematical proofs, most of the time you're applying the same techniques but combining them in different ways. Or when solving a Physics problem, a lot of the time you're solving a similar type of differential equation, just with some variable differences. If you use Heptabase to learn these topics, you can simply abstract these techniques into cards and reuse them across different contexts, so that you can gain a better visual understanding and notice those hidden connections in different subjects, leading to new insights.

I'd say pen and paper are still very useful when learning Physics and Mathematics, and are not replaceable by Heptabase. If I could go back to university, I'd use pen and paper to derive equations and draw diagrams, and use Heptabase for preserving the insights I've found and the knowledge I've learned for future retrieval.

abecc22 karma

What’s your tech stack? How were you able to recreate so well your complex web based desktop experience in mobile? How is it that fast?

alan_chan_tw2 karma

Our current tech stack is React + Redux + Electron. I don't think we'll use this tech stack forever; it's just the best setup for our needs at the current stage. As for the development speed, I'll give credit to our engineers — they are smart people working really, really hard.

cinemachick2 karma

From a cursory glance at your website, it looks like this is a way to arrange notes in a nodal format vs. a bullet-point list or whiteboard. Is this app meant for live note-taking, real-time collaboration, or sorting dense text into sections and connections? Do users tend to use this like a flow-chart (linear progression from one end of the page to the other) or a hub/tree system (start at a central node and work towards outer branches)? What advantage does this serve users beyond breaking up text and having visible connections between topics? (not meant to be rude, genuinely curious)

alan_chan_tw1 karma

It's mainly a tool for learning and research. You can find the core methodology here:


You can also checkout this comment:


CuriousWord2 karma

You often describe Heptabase as a design-focused company in the mold of Apple.

Yet when looking at companies that fit this bill, Arc comes to mind. So is Figma, especially their FigJam product. A user can simply see design in their products being functional, delightful, and sometimes a little playful.

Do you think Heptabase embodies that kind of design philosophy?

From using the product, the design seems to fulfil only the functional aspect. Some could argue delightful after spending much time discovering their own work flow. Not delight from UI interactions though and can’t feel the playfulness too.

alan_chan_tw3 karma

Yes. We're a design-focused company. I've received countless thank-you notes from users who really love Heptabase's design, so I'm confident in saying that. However, we definitely see that there are a lot of design improvements to make, and we will improve them over time, just as we have done in the past two years. You might have a different subjective experience, and I totally respect that. I’m more than happy to jump on a call with you and hear your thoughts on how we can improve the design to make it more enjoyable for you to use.

abecc22 karma

How hard is it to raise VC money for prosumer knowledge tools like Heptabase? What was the biggest challenge?

alan_chan_tw3 karma

I think in early-stage fundraising, it's less about the prosumer tool but more about the team and early traction. I honestly think fundraising is not the hardest part — building a product that has a really high retention rate is. If you have a really high retention rate, and you're raising from good investors, fundraising should be much easier.

mrpuffwabbit1 karma

As a long time user of a competitor's product, what is the difference between your app and Marginnote?

alan_chan_tw3 karma

From what I know about MarginNote (and please correct me if I'm wrong, I haven't checked it out for a very long time), it focuses on a niche "reading and annotations" use case, where you drag out highlights and annotations to the board and organize them into a mind map structure. In this specific use case, I think MarginNote provides a very comprehensive set of features, which makes it powerful but can also be overwhelming at times. Heptabase can achieve the same thing in a simpler way, but of course, it is not as comprehensive.

Heptabase's strengths lie in its capability to work on general learning or research projects. For example, if you're working on a climate change project and you have many ideas in your mind that you want to jot down and write, as well as other materials on your computer that you want to pull into your boards, and you want to connect and make sense of them in a more flexible manner instead of forcing them into a mindmap structure, I believe Heptabase works much better than MarginNotes.

Additionally, Heptabase offers unique systematic designs such as nested whiteboards (creating whiteboards inside whiteboards), card reusability (a card can be placed on multiple whiteboards), a centralized card library (displaying all of your cards), and a robust rich-text editor that supports all types of blocks in a card, among others. These designs give you the flexibility to organize and make use of your knowledge in a way that actually matches how your brain works.

For more info, I suggest checking out these links:

- https://wiki.heptabase.com/tutorials-created-by-our-users

- https://wiki.heptabase.com/version-one

- https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/17colc2/comment/k5ronpa/?utm_source=reddit&utm_medium=web2x&context=3

scavengerjawa1 karma

Do you plan to add drawing? Like with apple pencil or even the mouse (and ocr too) What about themes other than the standard? I’d enjoy kinopio-like aesthetic features

alan_chan_tw2 karma


abecc21 karma

Do you plan to stay focused on building the best product for individuals or you plan to expand to serve businesses as well? A common problem with these types of tools is that it’s hard to sustain a business primarily focused on serving individuals. So most of the time they shift the focus towards serving businesses and team needs neglecting the needs of individual users.

alan_chan_tw4 karma

At the moment, we have sustained our entire business by solely serving individual users and don't need business users to sustain the company. In the near future, we want to expand to a multi-user use case, and it will be a platform for everyone to learn and research complex topics together. To be clear, supporting a multi-user use case is not equivalent to "selling to businesses." We will only consider selling to businesses when we have the best product for individuals and enough company resources to support business customers.

It has been my dream to use a tool like Heptabase for many years, and I know more than anyone else how much a tool like this can change the lives of individuals. We will never neglect the needs of individual users.

Ethan_LuJiang1 karma

Hey, Alan, I want to know how you usually record your highlights notes. Will you rewrite the highlights in the annotation part? In addition, how do you place your highlight card title? In Highlight area or annotation area?

alan_chan_tw1 karma

I sometimes make some revisions, but not many. I typically put the title in the highlighted area.

badjerphoenix1 karma

Loving the app so far. Used it back when it was Meta. Exploring the app again to help with my learning needs plus various other reasons

My Qs:

At the moment the usage of mobile is limiting

  1. When do you think the team will begin to focus on mobile?
  2. When you think of mobile what do you visualize as the end result/ how do you think it will fit into the rest of the app from a workflow perspective?

PDFs: Other TFTs with PDF features I have used connect things up like HB is doing but fall short in some areas

  1. Annotations that existed prior to being uploaded to these apps are lost once uploaded to the app. So you have to start from scratch. The annotations can only be created in their app. Does/ will HB allow PDFs to be uploaded & honor annotations from other PDF editors?
  2. In apps as listed above you cannot export any highlights created in said app. You may have created many annotations but if you export the app to others/ for variety of other reasons it is a PDF without highlights. Does/ will HB allow PDFs to be exported with the annotations that were created in HB?
  3. Will HB add features to the PDF reader to make it more visual/ connected like the rest of the app. IE visual links like Liquid Text does with their ink linking (or would 100% love an integration)?

Thanks. BTW your team is dong a great job/ love the progress that has been made

alan_chan_tw2 karma

I'm not sure which version of our mobile app you are using. We launched one in March which only supports capturing, and that one is definitely very limiting. We've launched a full-featured mobile app in August and have been improving and updating it since then. It supports reading and editing all the notes you have, as well as reading all the whiteboards. You can find what we've been improving through our changelog. Our goal is to eventually make the iPad version fully functional like the desktop app.


As for PDFs: We're not sure about 1 and 2 yet. They're more technical challenges than design choices. As for 3, I'm not sure what you mean. We do support pulling all your PDF highlights and annotations onto the whiteboards.

imustbethedevil1 karma

Definitely not a new idea, what makes yours stands out?

VeronicaWoo1 karma

Why that name?

alan_chan_tw2 karma

We love the science fiction Story of Your Life. In the book, there is an alien species called Heptapod that can speak a visual language that connects events from the past, present, and future. Heptabase = Heptapod + Knowledge Base.

zeldaleft1 karma

With such a robust and flexible product, you must have billions of user stories and nearly infinite "happy paths". How are you managing to test comprehensively, and what has your strategy been for scaling testing and automation?

alan_chan_tw2 karma

Aside from some unit tests, we have an employee manually test the entire product before every new launch, and we use blue-green deployment so that the entire team can use the product before we officially release it to the users. This process is not perfect, but it is sufficient for our current stage.

-comment1 karma

Hey Alan, thanks for the ama. In my experience, investors give you cash to spend to speed up growth. Obviously it’s awesome that you all are already profitable and focused on finding product-market fit rather than just building a product with no sales. But how have conversations gone with investors when they provide funding but then it’s not used? For context, I’m in the startup space so this specifically was just an interesting piece to me with the info you provided. Understandable if you have to keep some info confidential. Also congrats on the early success and best wishes as you all keep building your dream.

alan_chan_tw2 karma

In the current market of 2023, the advice we received from YC partners and other investors is to pursue a good "profitable growth rate" instead of "growth at all costs." The definition of profitable growth means you are growing fast while ensuring that revenue exceeds expenses, and in that case, you're not really spending investor money.

cemilanceata1 karma

Can you define complex?

alan_chan_tw3 karma

Things that you can't fully process purely by your brain and need to externalize in order to better make sense of.

amber11121 karma

How did you decide whether to return to Taiwan or go to the Bay Area to start Heptabase? If you stay in Taiwan continuously, do you think it's possible to get into YC and tap into the international market?

alan_chan_tw2 karma

I started Heptabase when I was in Taiwan (and incorporated in the US using Stripe Atlas) simply because I had almost no money, and the cost of living in Taiwan is much cheaper than in the US. We got into YC while we were still in Taiwan, and we acquired all of our users from 100+ countries online, so I don't think physical location matters in our case. I'm not sure if this also applies to B2B companies, but for us, the past two years have been dedicated to continuously building products and talking to users online through Zoom calls and Discord. These are probably the only two things that matter in the early stage. By the way, I also did my fundraising completely online through Zoom calls. I've never met any investors physically before closing the deal.

marvdrst1 karma

I started using Heptabase for just some weeks. Love it, but to me, managing daily tasks IS complex, so I would like you to consider to tacle this or do I just go for another solution besides HB?

alan_chan_tw4 karma

We plan to ship a to-do management feature this quarter to help users aggregate todos scattered in different cards and journals. If that's what you're talking about, then yes, we'll tackle it soon.

marvdrst1 karma

Another thought: if things are complex to me, sharing would help tremendously.

Knowledge sharing within a company to me is crucial and should be part of the daily process. Knowledge is way too much in the heads of its employees where it remains until the hop to the next company, where then company left makes huge losses due to that.

What is your opinion on this?

alan_chan_tw2 karma

I completely agree on the importance of knowledge sharing, and this is something we plan to address in the next phase of Heptabase.

Ok-Feedback56041 karma

Is it ad-free?

alan_chan_tw1 karma

It doesn't have ads.

Ok-Feedback56041 karma

So how you generate revenue?

alan_chan_tw1 karma


cire11841 karma

Do you have discounts for non profits?

alan_chan_tw1 karma

Not yet.

amber11121 karma

Before applying to YC, did you consider seeking venture capital in Taiwan? Is mentorship from YC crucial? Would you have avoided seeking funding if you had enough money back then to maintain full control over your company?

alan_chan_tw3 karma

We have two angels from Taiwan. We didn't really seek it, they found us when we're applying to YC and we felt like we can learn a lot from them.

I think YC is totally worth it. Mentorship is just part of the value we got. The community, knowledge base, investor database, branding, and many other things are also very helpful and save us a lot of time.

I would still do YC even if I had enough money. As for fundraising in general, I would always try not to raise too much, so I can maintain better control at each stage.

amber11121 karma

Did you decide to start a business only after becoming proficient in programming? How did you determine the right timing for launching your startup? How did you determine if you had found the right co-founder? Do you still feel it's the right team now, and how do you keep each other motivated? How did you all agree on the total package (e.g., equity) and time commitment?

alan_chan_tw4 karma

I started Heptabase when I had the ability to build the MVP myself. I'm definitely not the top engineer, but I'm capable enough to ship something useful to our first 100 users.

I believe the right timing is when you find an idea that you care about so much that you don't want to work on anything other than it for the next few years.

I love my team. We are motivated by what we are working on and working towards. My co-founders and I have been dreaming of using something like Heptabase for years, and it is wonderful that we can build it ourselves. Also, it feels good to constantly improve the thing we are building and see it take shape, and see the retention curves go up every month.

reneelopezg1 karma

How much importance do you give to UX research and UX in general? I know you have a UX designer onboard (a pretty great one it seems). Does he do all the UX research? (if there is any of it done) Or does he focus more on UI design?

alan_chan_tw4 karma

My designer and I conduct all the UI/UX research. We primarily focus on UX research, which involves conducting face-to-face interviews with users and translating the interview notes into jobs-to-be-done. We then experiment with as many solutions as possible to address these jobs-to-be-done using low-fidelity mockups. Afterwards, we refine the low-fidelity mockups into high-fidelity designs, incorporate our design system, and conduct user testing.

jncc1 karma


alan_chan_tw3 karma

For an early-stage startup, it's extremely important to improve and iterate on the product at a much higher rate. If you can make a quantum of improvements every day, your product will become really good in a relatively short amount of time. We also measure cohort-based retention, so we can see that users are much more satisfied with the new versions than the old ones.


[deleted]0 karma


alan_chan_tw1 karma

You don't have to. It's just a way of picturing the product, but definitely not the only way. By the way, I didn't downvote any comment and have no idea who downvoted it.

DryBodybuilder32160 karma

Hi Alan. This is Daniel. I subscribed Heptabase for almost a year. I have 2 questions: 1. What’s the big problems or obstacles for you self and for Heptabase for now (separate questions, more personally 😂) 2. What kind of teammates or employees Heptabase will need?

alan_chan_tw3 karma

  1. No work-life balance.
  2. Someone who truly believes in our vision, loves our product, and knows how to help us achieve that vision and improve the product at a faster pace.

RainbowCollapse0 karma

Why buying that instead of using chat gpt?

alan_chan_tw3 karma

I think these are different tools for different purposes.

ChatGPT is a tool to provide useful information. Its job is to give you the information you need based on your questions or prompts.

Heptabase is a tool to make sense of complex topics. Its job is to help you deal with an overwhelming amount of information, identify the structure and connections, and establish a deep understanding.

I believe the choice of tools depends on what you are working on. Personally, I use both.