Doist Remote Company Q&A
Amir Salihefendic, Founder - Interview with Remote.co
Doist’s mission is to inspire the workplace of the future by creating simple yet powerful productivity tools that promote a calmer, more balanced, more fulfilling way of working and living. Todoist– one of the world’s most popular productivity apps– is our flagship software with over 10 million users. Our newest software is Twist, a team communication app that fosters mindful communication and gives modern (and especially remote) teams a central place to grow their knowledge base and have organized, on-topic conversations that are accessible to everyone.
Doist is– and always has been– bootstrapped, independent and profitable. Our remote-first structure has truly allowed us to thrive as a business. Since we don’t run the exorbitant costs of renting an office in an expensive tech hub or hiring a team who lives exclusively in said tech hub, we have been able to grow completely organically without having to live and die on VC funding.
- Access to the entire world’s pool of talent, rather than just limiting ourselves to professionals in one specific geographical location.
- Lower costs– there are less overhead costs and salaries on a global level are much more reasonable than those in tech hubs like Silicon Valley. This means we can invest more in providing amazing benefits to our team and giving back to the causes that we feel strongly about.
- Happier employees– our team members have the flexibility to work on the schedule that they choose, in the location they choose.
When we hire, we look specifically for people who share the same fundamental values as us. That’s not to say we look for people who are exactly the same – our diverse perspectives 100% lead to better decisions, a better product, and a better team culture – but everyone needs to be on the same page in terms of expectations regarding how we communicate and work.
Also, in a remote setting it’s vital to hire proactive, curious people who won’t wait to be told how to do things. That’s why one of the most important things we look for in interviews are “Jacks & Jills of all trades” – people who take ownership over learning new skills.
We do 100% of the testing and evaluation process of hiring in-house. That said, we do use Workable to manage our application processes from start to finish.
We’ve experimented with OKRs and Squads but they haven’t worked or us. Ultimately, we created our own hybrid of the two systems – goals and squads – in what we call the DO (Doist Objective) System. The system is output-focused rather than outcome-focused which means that our quarterly goals consist of things we have full control over shipping. We feel like the DO system is a better fit for how we work – light on process with a focus on shipping concrete things quickly – and addresses the big issues we are now facing in coordinating a larger team.
Team members can use any hardware that they please. After you’ve worked with Doist for six months, you are granted a generous hardware and software budget that renews every two years.
Work-life balance is something we take very seriously. We set the expectation from the get-go that no one should be working long hours or during the weekends. Eight hours of effective work five days a week is more than enough to get everything done (we are in the productivity business, after all). We enforce this rule strictly!
In addition to a balanced day-to-day schedule, full time employees have 25 days of mandatory vacation per year and of course all national holidays in their country of residence.
Full-time employees who have successfully passed their three-month trial period are eligible for Doist’s maternity and paternity leave which is 18 weeks of PTO for mothers and 5 weeks of PTO for fathers or adoptive parents.
The idea of building a remote company wasn’t something we explicitly discussed at the start – it simply grew out of necessity. One of the challenges when you start out as a bootstrapped company with an unknown brand and little cash on hand is access to talent. Hiring a remote team was the best solution to this challenge and we’ve stuck with it since day one.
This is our #1 priority. As a bootstrapped company we’ve always had a conservative approach to scaling the team– we don’t hire faster than the culture can absorb new team members. We work very hard to preserve our culture by being mindful of the way we work (asynchronously) and by investing heavily in the health and wellbeing of our team members.
Doist as a company has existed since 2001, but it wasn’t until the first company retreat in 2015 that the concept of “Doist” truly started to come to life. Many of the team members, having worked together for several years, met each other in-person for the very first time. There, the camaraderie and bonding solidified what it meant to be a Doister.
Retreats undoubtedly help bond the team together and reignite energy in what we’re working toward, but the fact is that it’s just one week a year. Everything else we do throughout the year to live up to our core company values is much more important.
Being remote-first isn’t the same as remote friendly or ability to work from home. I don’t consider companies who have a handful of remote team members working remotely to be a “remote company.” If you are going to go remote, you either go you fully remote or you don’t. The grey area is highly problematic.
The most important advice I would give is to hire people based on your company’s values. Maintaining a culture in a remote setting is very difficult, and I would say it is nearly impossible if the whole team isn’t rowing in the same direction in terms of values, priorities and mission.
For Doist, it has been a very natural, organic process. We have always been remote-first, so it is integrated into our company’s DNA. Nevertheless, as we grow (we’re now approximately 50 people in 20 different countries), it has become more difficult to follow what is going on and who has ownership of what. We are hopeful that our DO system will help solve these challenges.
We’re proud “dog-fooders” of our own products– we use Twist exclusively for all team communication, and Todoist to turn our team communication into actionable items.
We do not use email (except for external communication) and we do not use group chat. We tried Slack but it had numerous negative side effects for our team: it’s highly distracting, bad for team members in outlying timezones, and exclusionary for people who prioritize doing deep work (which should be everyone!).
Finally, meetings are a rarity at Doist. We generally only schedule ad hoc meetings when we feel “face-to-face” communication is really needed to move a project forward.
It’s difficult since I am very passionate about the work we are doing and I could spend all my time on it. Nevertheless, as the CEO, it’s important that I don’t set an example of being a workaholic or connected all the time.
I try to work for about 8 to 10 hours per day and, in my free time, I enjoy reading, learning, surfing, watching movies, and playing soccer.
I would say it’s “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore. It’s one of the first business books I read and it was very insightful. The book is about how to bring cutting-edge products to large markets.