Amir is the remote-first CEO of Doist, the company behind Todoist and Twist. Amir fled the war in Bosnia with his family in the 1990s, spent his adolescence in Denmark, and built his company’s signature app solution Todoist while studying computer science and simultaneously working two jobs. He now lives in Barcelona and is a 2x dad.

Doist’s 60-plus employees hail from 28 different countries, including Jamaica, Poland, Taiwan to Australia, and they all work remotely. Salihefendić says this remote mindset allows the organization to be borderless in every way, and believes that this way of working is the future.

Follow Amir on:
Twitter LinkedIn


AMA Transcript

Hey Amir, super super pumped to have you here! I’m a huge fan of Doist, both from a product and a company perspective. Its one of the companies that I try to model ours after, especially with being fully remote. I’ve actually pretty heavily tried out Twist before, and tried to switch our team to it, but struggled with switching costs, lack of integrations, and a few other small things that made it hard to dump Slack. How are you thinking about driving Twist adoption, especially with such strong adoption from Slack, MS Teams, etc already?

Thanks for the support. It means a lot. We are really betting that asynchronous communication is the way of the future. I don’t think we can compete with the others directly, but we can create a tool that’s radically different from theirs.

Any thoughts on “audio slack” company YAC? (yac.chat). They’re betting big on async too.

I doubt audio or video is great as defaults. IMO what Loom is doing is more interesting :)

Hey Amir. Great to have the creator of 2 great products here ! Also, intrigued to see how you’ve been able to build this with a completely remote team. How does one go about hiring remote workers and keep them loyal especially if your a startup? More importantly, what are the hardest challenges that a company would face in managing a remote team and how did you overcome them?

Hi! We have shared a ton of our best practices over the years. I can recommend checking it out:

1 - https://twist.com/remote-work-guides 2 - https://doist.com/blog/category/remote-work/

Hey Amir, excited to have you here. Just by looking at your websites I can see how there is a strong soul at the company. 2 questions: 1. How do you articulate the company’s purpose? and 2. What actions do you take to rally up your entire team around that purpose? - How do you keep that alive?

Good question. Honestly, it’s something that comes naturally to me as I am deeply passionate about all the things we do (e.g., future of work, todo apps, async team communication, and remote work). I think it’s critical for you as a leader to pick something that you are passionate about, as it’s hard to fake it.

Hey Amir! Great to see you here, Since you have a 100% remote team, what skills do you look for when you hire a person in the company?

Hi Harsh. We have written about this: 1 - https://doist.com/blog/ 2 - how-doist-works-remote/ 3 - https://twist.com/remote-work-guides/remote-hiring

I’m reading that you managed to stay bootstrapped, and with no exit plan. Congrats on that, I hope to be in the same situation a decade from now… :slightly_smiling_face:

My question is how do you deal with equity with your team/employee, to replace stock option? Do you have a equity pool for your team, and pay dividend yearly? Or they just have to be happy with their base salary?

Hi Romain. I plan to give 25% of the company to employees. On top of this, we also do have a bonus plan and we’ve paid more than $1 million in bonuses over the last few years (I don’t have an exact count, but it could be a lot more than $1m) I really think it’s important to create a structure where people have skin in the game.

What does the next 3-5 years look like for Doist? 13 years strong is a long time, do you see yourself running Doist forever?

We really want to hit $100m in ARR the next 5 years. That’s at least the current North Star. After this, I would really like to focus on creating a company that can outlast me/us.

Hey Amir, can you walk us through the synergies between ToDoist and Twist? What product is next on the roadmap?

Todoist aims to handle the aspect of organization (and right now, mostly personal organization). Twist aims to handle the aspect of team communication (especially, calm, organized and async). There are some other things we want to do, such as knowledge sharing (e.g., Notion like service). We don’t think there’s a great product on the market for this.

Hi Amir. How did you gain traction initially? Any specific incidents in your journey from where your growth took off? Did you prioritize and build around a specific industry, or customer segment? How do you set goals and milestones for your team?

I would recommend checking out my Indie Hackers podcast: https://www.indiehackers.com/podcast/039-amir-salihefendic-of-doist

TLDL:

Amir started Todoist as a side-project to help himself manage his own tasks, but then it started getting popular after others started using it. After this he got an offer to cofound another startup, Plurk, which is now a popular social networking platform.

Todoist became popular, but Amir still put it on hold to work on cofounding Plurk, because Amir didn’t really see the potential of Todoist. And also working at Plurk would enable him to learn a lot by working in a funded technology startup.

Todoist was just a side-project for 4 years before Amir committed to it.

Amir spent 6 months developing Todoist, and then he released it.

Amir had a popular development blog which helped him get his first few hundred users when first launching Todoist. These first few users shared Todoist around, and Todoist got featured on lifehacker.

Amir then moved into working on Plurk full time 6 months after launching Todoist, and he worked there for 3-4 years before returning to Todoist to work on Todoist full time.

Put yourself out there - Plurk found Amir through his blog and they wanted him to be a CTO.

Amir was a very active blogger, he was blogging for many years, and built up an audience. Content Marketing - In the early days, Amir would blog about random topics, but pPeople would read his blog because he did post some insightful posts inbetween these random posts.

Amir didn’t have any marketing plan, all he did was write blog articles, he had no email list or news letter.

The key to consistency is not having any external motives, but being driven by what you are actually doing. Focus on something you like, and do it at a high level (provide value) for a long time (5-10 years+). Amir focuses on long-term investments.

Welcome Amir! Thank you for joining us. My question: What does your API plans & integration roadmap and strategy look like for Twist? Big part of Slack’s moat for example is it’s third party developer app ecosystem, what is your plan to compete?

Thanks for having me here. We have recently done a massive reorg inside the company, where we’ll begin to focus a lot more on building a platform (for both Todoist and Twist). This said I doubt we can compete with the other directly. We must find things that we are good at and what they aren’t good at — for example, async communication as the default way.

Do you issue equity (even a small amount) to all employees at the company? Does this help with retention in your opinion?

We don’t do it right now, but we are working on this. I think skin in the game and aligning incentives is incredibly important. This said, most of our people don’t value it that much since it’s a very abstract thing that only comes into play many years into the future. Also, equity makes sense if there’s a plan to make it liquid at some point (e.g. become a public company or via buy-backs).

Another question for ya - saw that you recently made Twist free for communities, is the goal here to drive bottoms up adoption by getting people to use it for non-work purposes?

We really want to support open-source and communities, and we also believe it can help spread the product

Hi Amir Salihefendic, what are your thoughts on the valuation of remote companies and acquisition attractiveness vs. non-remote? There was a big discussion about this during a prior AMA with Brianne Kimmel.

My take: the biggest companies in the future will be fully remote. IMO it’s a massive competitive advantage, especially as we figure out tooling and processes.

What readings, frameworks-for-thinking, or people/mentors you’ve studied have been most impactful to you over the course of your career?

You can see some of my books here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/57834762-amir-salihefnedic

Regarding mentors/people, I do have a group of close friends that also run similar companies like me. E.g., Joel from Buffer is an example. I have regular 1:1 monthly meetings and these have been amazing on many levels (e.g. inspiration, or debugging a problem). I have also been a Hacker News user before the culture got bad, and it also inspired my way of thinking. Anyhow, I think I could go on for a long time here. Recently, some of the things that have affected me are the Farnam Blog and reading Stratechery.

Close us out with your top 3 predictions for the future of remote work

Let’s end this with a bang :) 1) The future of work is remote, and remote work will be a paradigm shift similar to the industrialization age because it’s the first time in human history where you can get a great job without living close to it. 2) Remote work will have a profound social impact as it scales. Note, only a few % of people work remotely. It’s still a very early thing. For example, in our case, some of our remote employees earn 10x of the average salary. Imagine what kind of effects this will have on local communities as this becomes more normal. 3) Companies that don’t adopt remote work will be outcompeted because remote companies can hire better people at better prices. Also, remote companies will also become much more productive, given that we are rebuilding the toolchain and processes from the ground up.

Amir is the real deal, let’s all give huge thank you.