Skip to main content

Founder's Demo



The vision of Heptabase is to create a world where anyone can effectively establish a deep understanding of anything. Our short-term goal is to create the world’s best thinking tool, and our long-term goal is to build a contextualized knowledge internet.

Currently, Heptabase has four main use cases as a thinking tool: learning, researching, planning, and writing. The essence of learning and research is to build a deep understanding of known and unknown things, while the essence of planning and writing is to convert these deep understandings into executable and communicable forms.

I am the founder of Heptabase and also its first user. Since May 2021, I have been using Heptabase for more than two years and have seen it go through more than 350 iterations. As Heptabase’s functionality and user experience continue to improve, I have truly felt how this tool has reshaped my way of thinking every day.

In the Heptabase user community, I receive feedback from different users around the world every day. Some users express their love for Heptabase and tell me how it has completely changed their way of learning and researching. However, there are also a few users who express their struggles with Heptabase and tell me that they are not sure if the visualized note-taking method is really suitable for them.


I take every user’s feedback on Heptabase seriously, which is why I’m writing this article. For users who are unsure how to use Heptabase effectively, I often use a metaphor: using Heptabase is like learning English and mathematics. Initially, when faced with English letters or mathematical symbols, it’s easy to feel lost. However, with a good mentor to help you cross this hurdle and master these letters and symbols, you will discover an entirely new way of understanding the world using these letters and symbols. This is what I hope to achieve through this article.

In this article, I will share how I have used Heptabase to help me learn, research, plan, and write over the past two years. I will also include screenshots of my whiteboards. However, due to the sensitive information related to company operations in many of the screenshots, I intentionally reduced the zoom ratio and made the content blurry. I believe that the experiences and ideas I describe in the article have greater inspirational value than the content of the notes themselves.

I have made a tutorial video based on the content of this article. If you prefer learning through videos, feel free to check it out:

For those who consider themselves not good at note-taking, I also hope to convey an important message through this article: note-taking itself is not the goal, but a process to achieve your goal. To leverage the power of Heptabase, it’s important to think clearly about what your most important goal is, and then develop your unique way of using Heptabase to achieve this goal.

Building a Minimum Viable Product: 2021 Q3​

Product Development Plan​

At the end of May 2021, when I started building the first version of Heptabase, the first thing I did with it was to plan the product development and user research process. The reason is simple: this was the most important thing for me at the time.

I am well aware that resources for startups are limited, and we should avoid wasting energy on unimportant things. Y Combinator is the world’s most well-known startup accelerator, so to figure out what is important, I decided to read articles related to this topic from its Startup Library. The articles I read include the mindset of building products, how to build a minimum viable product, and how to iterate on products, etc.

Before reading these articles, I created a whiteboard called Product Development & Iteration. Whenever I found important concepts or knowledge that I thought were important while reading, I would organize them into cards and spread them out on the whiteboard, making the entire product development methodology instantly clear.


Over the next few months, whenever I encountered product-related problems, I would always open this whiteboard to confirm that I was doing things correctly. Whenever I came across great articles related to product development online, I would also turn the knowledge from these articles into cards and integrate them with my existing knowledge on this whiteboard.

User Interview and Research​

After launching the minimum viable product, I began to conduct user interviews with everyone who wanted to try the product. To do the user research well, I created a whiteboard called User Research, where I stored knowledge related to user research, as well as wrote the questions we would ask during interviews and the purpose of each question into cards. When I interviewed users, I would look at the cards on this whiteboard to ensure that I did not miss important questions.


For each user I interviewed, I created a separate card to record the interview content. Over time, I accumulated hundreds of user interview cards. To identify important patterns and clues in these user interviews, I created three sub-whiteboards under the User Research whiteboard: User Note, Feature Request, and Jobs to be done.


In the User Note whiteboard, I compiled nearly three hundred user interview notes collected over the past year and a half. I spread out these interview cards and compared them. During the interviews, users often made feature requests. I created individual cards for each feature request and placed them in the Feature Request whiteboard. Each feature request card was linked bi-directionally to multiple user interview cards, allowing me to quickly access relevant interview content when reviewing a feature request.

In addition to feature requests, the most important aspect of user interviews was understanding the problems users wanted Heptabase to solve, a.k.a, jobs to be done (JBTD). After conducting these interviews, I summarized the top ten JBTD and seven user personas for Heptabase. I created a card for each use case and user persona, and placed all of them on the Jobs to be Done whiteboard. I divided these top ten JBTD into three sections: Learning, Research and Planning, and Creating and Sharing. Under each JBTD, I created bi-directional links to the user persona cards and all relevant user interview cards. This allowed me to see all the interview records related to any JBTD, providing me with a deeper understanding of the problems users wanted to solve with Heptabase.


User Communication Documents​

In addition to user research, I also spend a lot of time writing texts for users to read, such as important announcements in the community (almost every week), official tutorial documents, email copies, and more. The difficulty in writing these texts is that sometimes I forget what I wrote before. To maintain consistency in important information, I need to be able to see at a glance what I said before. So I created a whiteboard called User Communication & Support to organize the important announcements I made at different stages in the user community.


As for tutorial documents, the challenge I face is that I need to produce a lot of content in a very short time. Some content may have just been outlined, some content is being drafted, some content has been drafted but has not been illustrated or checked for grammar, and some content has been completed but not yet published. For these documents, I created a whiteboard called Product Docs, Tutorials, Wiki, where I put all the articles I need to write. I use spatial relations to distinguish different types of articles and colors to indicate the writing status of the articles.


Personal Writing​

In addition to writing texts for users, I also enjoy documenting what I have learned in my work. For example, I created a whiteboard called My Startup Diary specifically to record ideas or events that I find worth documenting, and I organize them from left to right by year. Many cards are just a couple of sentences long, but as I accumulate more cards, I merge them into an article. To make this process easier, I asked our engineer to develop the right sidebar feature, which allows me to place reference cards on the right side when writing an article on the left.


Because Heptabase has become my tool for writing blog articles, I decided to back up all the blog articles I wrote in the past ten years to Heptabase. I created a whiteboard called My Blog and a sub-whiteboard for each year, and then put the blog articles into these sub-whiteboards. At the same time, I also created a sub-whiteboard for each topic in my blog. Since the cards in Heptabase can be reused in multiple whiteboards, I can place a blog article’s card in both its corresponding year sub-whiteboard and topic sub-whiteboard, which is very convenient.


The following image is a sub-whiteboard related to the “Startup” topic. You can see that all the articles are placed in the same space at a glance, which looks very comfortable to me.


Company Incorporation: 2021 Q4​

Data analysis​

After iterating on our minimum viable product for almost three months, our user community grew larger and our user count increased significantly. I realized that just conducting user interviews was not enough, we needed to incorporate data analysis tools to gain a clearer understanding of user retention rates, engagement levels, how users discovered our product, and their most frequently used features.

As someone with no prior experience in data analysis, I searched the internet and extensively read articles on product data analysis. I found that Amplitude's Mastering Retention and Data Taxonomy Playbook were very well-written. However, the information was overwhelming, and I knew I couldn't fully comprehend it in just one reading. Therefore, I created a whiteboard for each book and wrote down all the important concepts as cards.



The process of creating cards for these two books not only deepened my understanding and memory of data analysis, but also allowed me to frequently revisit them when encountering data-related problems in the next two years. What shocked me was that when notes were saved in visual form on the whiteboard, I could recall forgotten knowledge at more than ten times the speed when reviewing, which was a feeling I had never experienced before in my learning process. It was probably at this time that I realized that visual note-taking were the best way of learning. If all the knowledge I learned in my life could be preserved in a visualized form, I could easily find and recall everything I learned in the past at any time.

Startup notes​

After realizing the power of visual note-taking, I decided to move all of my previous startup learning notes into Heptabase. A few years ago, I watched a course on YouTube called”How to Start a Startup, which was a series of startup-related topics shared by Y Combinator at Stanford. I took notes on every lecture, and these notes were all very lengthy. Due to their length, I never went back to review them.

In Heptabase, I broke down all of these notes into individual concept cards and connected them to form a knowledge map. Creating this map not only helped me better understand startups but also revealed many concept connections that I had not noticed before, showing how different speakers used different ways and examples to explain the same startup concepts.


Company incorporation​

After iterating on our minimum viable product for almost four months, we received investment offers from several angel investors and decided to accept them. To accept the investment, I had to spend time incorporating the company, which was a completely new experience for me. As usual, I searched the internet for relevant legal information and created a whiteboard called Company Legal to organize legal knowledge and concepts that every startup should know, including equity principles, 83(b) election, and vesting schedules. I wrote down all the details of each concept because I knew I would forget them in a year.


In addition to legal concepts, I also needed to learn some basic accounting knowledge to better communicate with our accountant regarding tax-related matters and understand the company’s financial status at each stage. Therefore, I created a whiteboard called Company Finance & Accounting to organize my accounting knowledge and the company’s financial status.


Applying to Y Combinator​

Y Combinator is the best startup accelerator in my opinion, and I’ve learned many startup mindsets from YC’s free public resources. Therefore, when I started building our minimum viable product, I planned to apply for YC’s winter batch that year. Applying to YC requires answering many important questions for founders in both the application and interview stages.

To prepare for the application and interview, I created a whiteboard called Pre-seed & YC Application and categorized all the important questions listed by YC. I created a card for each question and wrote down my answer. I used green to mark the questions I was confident with, blue for those I was still thinking about, and red for those I had no idea about. Additionally, I also organized some experiences shared by other YC founders on the internet within this whiteboard for reference.


In the end, we were lucky enough to be accepted into YC, and the questions I was thinking about at the time were indeed proven to be crucial for the startup process. Thinking about them thoroughly in the beginning helped me avoid many detours.

Joining Y Combinator: 2022 Q1​

Sales and Growth Bootcamp​

In January 2022, we officially entered YC’s winter batch. YC’s training period lasts for three months, during which all companies have one goal: rapid growth. To achieve this goal, YC provides many internal learning resources for us to read according to our own needs. YC also set up a sales and growth bootcamp with many experienced founders sharing their experiences. To fully absorb this knowledge, I created a whiteboard called YC: Sales & Growth Bootcamp to organize the important startup knowledge I learned at YC.



After three months of rapid growth, we quickly approached YC’s Demo Day. At YC, most companies have the same goal, which is to complete seed fundraising with Silicon Valley investors before and after Demo Day. This is why rapid growth is so important: the faster you grow, the more leverages you have when fundraising.

To help founders fundraise, YC provides many related learning resources, such as how to construct a good pitch, how to showcase the company’s highlights, how to differentiate good and bad investors, and how to interpret different investment terms. I created a whiteboard called Seed Fundraising to organize all the fundraising knowledge I learned and to create my Pitch Deck.


When preparing my Pitch Deck, I found that the Seed Fundraising whiteboard and the Pre-seed & YC Application whiteboard I created when applying to YC were both related to fundraising. Therefore, I decided to create a whiteboard called Fundraising and put these two sub-whiteboards inside.


Company Vision & Roadmap​

During YC, I focused on things that needed to be done in the next three months. After YC ended, I decided to spend more time thinking about things that needed to be done in the long term, such as the next few years. Therefore, I created a whiteboard called Company Long-Term Thinking to layout Heptabase’s future five to ten-year plan and vision. Whenever I have new ideas for the company’s future, I go back to this whiteboard to add or modify the card content and layout.


Product Research: 2022 Q2-Q3​

Personal Knowledge Management Research​

After YC, I spent a lot of time researching the future of knowledge management tools. I created a whiteboard called Product Research: PKM & CKM where I put all my research notes. Since there were too many notes, I decided to organize them by topic into different sub-whiteboards. Some of the important sub-whiteboards included Better Capturing, which focused on the problems users face when converting fleeting notes into useful thought structures, and Better Exploring, which studied the problems users face when converting external information into fleeting notes.


Whenever I had a better understanding of a particular problem, I created a new sub-whiteboard to transform these understandings into Heptabase feature designs. For example, under the Better Capturing whiteboard, there is a sub-whiteboard called Journal: Fundamental Research, which deals with how to integrate the features of a journal and a whiteboard, allowing users to convert scattered journal ideas into useful knowledge cards on the whiteboard.


Under the Better Exploring whiteboard, there is another sub-whiteboard called Hepta as a Browser: Web Annotation & Read it later which focuses on the possibility of integrating Heptabase with browser functionality, allowing users to browse web pages directly in Heptabase and convert important information on the web into notes.


Collective Knowledge Management Research​

In addition to personal knowledge management, another topic I extensively researched during this period was collective knowledge management, particularly in team and community settings. The purpose of this research was to help me think about what mechanisms we should design to help users communicate and integrate each other’s knowledge to accomplish important work and research when a group of users put their knowledge in Heptabase. For this topic, I have created a sub-whiteboard called Better Sharing & Exploring to research related subtopics, such as the existing publishing tools, exploration tools, and discussion tools, along with the issues they present and potential solutions.


For example, I have a sub-whiteboard called Research on Team Use Case dedicated to studying how different teams communicate their work knowledge. For this, I interviewed many teams and broke down and analyzed the common patterns and clues that emerged from these interviews on this whiteboard.

When I found some important patterns and clues, I think about the possible directions for Heptabase’s future development and design a card communication protocol based on Heptabase using these clues as a starting point.


Whether I’m researching personal or collective knowledge management, the biggest benefit that these whiteboards bring me is that I can spend several months continuously developing research on a particular topic. Whenever I have new interview data or product ideas, I can always go back to these whiteboards to integrate them into my existing research results, which I think is crucial.

Many people tend to focus too much on organizing all their notes into a “perfect structure” when using note-taking app, but I have always felt that this is not only difficult to achieve but also not very meaningful. Each research has its unique structure, and the freedom of whiteboards allows me to let each research grow and accumulate according to the structure that suits it. Note-taking has never been my goal, but rather a process to help me do research well. Traditional note-taking app can also accumulate a lot of notes, but it is difficult to transform these notes into important research works.

Company Strategy: 2022 Q4​

Product Growth Theory​

In the last quarter of 2022, in addition to continuing my product research, I also began to invest some time in learning more about product growth theory to help me formulate the company’s growth strategy for the next two years more clearly. The growth of a product is driven by three things: retention, customer acquisition, and monetization. I created a whiteboard for each of these three things to do in-depth research.

In the Retention & Engagement whiteboard, I studied ways to measure retention rates, three methods to improve retention rates, and integrated this knowledge with my notes related to product data analysis. Additionally, I also included our investors’ advice in this whiteboard to compare with this knowledge.


In the Acquisition: Marketing & Sales whiteboard, I studied different types of customer acquisition methods such as viral loops, content marketing, paid acquisition, and sales. I also created some sub-whiteboards to organize the materials we used on customer-facing channels.


In the Monetization & Pricing whiteboard, I collected and organized all the pricing knowledge I learned, including pricing strategies, measuring pricing effectiveness, optimizing pricing, etc. I also organized all my thoughts on pricing during the Closed Alpha and Open Beta stages of the product in this whiteboard. Whenever the company enters the next stage, I can think about how to adjust the pricing strategy based on the knowledge in this whiteboard.


Growth and Business Strategy​

When the research on Retention, Acquisition, and Monetization whiteboards came to an end, I created two whiteboards called Company Growth Strategy and Company Business Strategy.

After creating the Company Growth Strategy whiteboard, the first thing I did was to put all the important concepts shared by YC and investors, as well as all the growth strategies we have used in the past year and a half, into this whiteboard. I divided user growth into different stages: 1–10 paying users, 10–100 paying users, 100–1000 paying users, 1000–10000 paying users, 10000–100000 paying users, and so on. I created a card for each stage, writing down the growth strategies we have adopted or plan to adopt in this stage, and the goals we need to achieve in key metrics. I also collected several benchmarks for these metrics in the market, allowing me to compare our current performance with these benchmarks and identify our strengths and weaknesses.


In the Company Business Strategy whiteboard, I have added many notes related to “Strategy” that I had written before. I also have a whiteboard named My Reading Notes, where each sub-whiteboard represents a book I have read before. For instance, Peter Thiel’s Zero to One, Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War each have their own whiteboard. I select all the cards related to strategy from these whiteboards and reuse them on the Company Business Strategy whiteboard to help me clearly see the commonalities and differences between the philosophies of great thinkers. Whenever we enter a new stage or encounter new competitions, I refer back to this whiteboard to think about how to approach them.


Company Operations​

In addition to product research, fundraising, growth strategy, and business strategy, there are many other tasks I need to do to run the company, such as hiring, building company culture, leading the team, and assigning tasks. As the number of whiteboards related to the company grew, I decided to create a whiteboard called Running the Company to contain most of the whiteboards related to company operations and strategy.


Through this example, you will notice that when writing notes in Heptabase, you don’t need to think about the hierarchical relationship between whiteboards at the beginning. You just need to develop your whiteboards according to your learning and research methods, and when the time comes, you will naturally organize related whiteboards into a better structure. In Heptabase, organizing the whiteboard structure is a continuous process, and it is not necessary to have a perfect structure from the beginning.

Product Research: 2023 Q1-Q2​

Human-Computer Interaction Research​

In the first half of 2023, as Heptabase gradually matures, I have once again shifted my focus back to product research and planned the next stage of product development. Unlike the previous year’s research, I spent more time rereading important literature on human-computer interaction, summarizing the many ideas proposed by computer pioneers over the past seventy years, and assessing their feasibility in modern times. The first piece of literature I reviewed was The Dream Machine written by Mitchell Waldrop, which I believe is the best-written book on computer history so far. I created a whiteboard for this book, with a timeline from left to right, blue cards representing human-computer interaction ideas, green cards representing computer pioneers, yellow cards representing projects and new technologies, and other cards representing companies and events.


After sorting out the historical context, I began to delve into the ideas of several computer pioneers that I thought were more closely related to our company’s mission. For example, I created a whiteboard for Alan Kay to study his Smalltalk project initiated at Xerox PARC and the enlightenment ideas behind object-oriented programming.


Another computer pioneer that has had a profound impact on me is Seymour Papert. I created a whiteboard for him called “Mindstorms,” which is his most classic work, discussing how he based his thinking on Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development to research how computers can impact children’s education.


In addition to the computer pioneers of the 1970s, I also spent a lot of time studying modern human-computer interaction research. Among them, the one that inspired me the most was Bret Victor and his Dynamicland project. I created a whiteboard for Bret Victor, breaking down every speech he gave and every report he published into card notes, using sections and mindmaps to sort out the relationships between these cards on the whiteboard.


As my research notes accumulated, my goals for the next stage of Heptabase’s development became clearer. I created a new whiteboard, reusing and integrating all the research notes that I thought were crucial to the next phase of product design and development. My research notes not only helped me understand and review my research topics, but they also had a significant impact on the work I was doing!



This article documents my experiences learning, researching, planning, and writing with Heptabase over the past two years. During this time, I created about 4,000 cards and 180 whiteboards. Despite this, I can always find my previous learning and research notes and easily recall my thinking process through the whiteboards in which they reside. Additionally, I can continue to expand my knowledge and research, plan new projects, and write new articles based on what I have learned and known in the past.

Throughout the past two years, I have never forced myself to use a particular methodology to write notes. Instead, I only focus on the current purpose every time I write notes and try to arrange them on the whiteboard into the most useful structure for achieving my goals. This way of taking notes works extremely well for me, and I have finally gained peace of mind. I am no longer worried that I will forget what I learned in the past over time because I know that all the knowledge I have acquired is preserved in Heptabase with the best structure, waiting for the next time I use it.

If you are a first-time Heptabase user, I encourage you not to spend too much time thinking about “what is the right way for me to take notes” because, as I said at the beginning, taking notes is just a process, not a goal. When you change the question to “what do I want to achieve with my notes,” you will be in a better position to achieve your goal with a clearer mind. Heptabase and its visualized cards and whiteboards will have the greatest effect when you ask the right question.

Further Reading​

The best way to acquire knowledge from readings.

Three ways to make sense of your fleeting thoughts in journal.

Two steps to remember what you’ve learned even after a long time.

A simple method to convert your thinking into writing.