Building Healthy Communication Habits and Doist and Amir Salihefendic

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Amir Salihefendic is the founder and CEO of Doist, maker of the popular Task Management app, Todoist. Today we are talking about their new chat app Twist, which was created as a way to combine email and Slack-like functionality. We talk about all sorts of great topics, but most notably, Work/Life Balance and how always being connected with apps like Slack is unhealthy. Thus, the idea for Twist came to be.

It’s a great episode, and if you like it, you can catch Part 2 over on Patreon, where we talk more about the making of Todoist and adapting to an ever-changing technological landscape.

Show Notes


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This week’s guest is Amir Salihefendic. I hope I’m saying that right. I think I said it right. I’m gonna record. And he is the CEO of ‘Doist’, creator of the popular app Todoist, a To Do app that I use and love. And in this episode, we’re talking about a new product by them called Twist, which is kind of the work life balance answer to Slack. I think it’s the best way to put it.

And so we talk a lot about work life balance in this episode. We talk about listening to your customers, allocating resources right, because at first they were just Doist and Todoist, and then they had to allocate the team to develop Twist. So we talk about all that and more. We have a Part 2 over on the Patreon if you like this episode. But how about listen to this episode first with a mirror from Doist. Without further ado, on with the show!

Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks “How did you build that?” Today, my guest is Amir Salihefendic of Doist. You are the CEO of Doist? Is that correct Amir?

Amir Salihefendic: Yes, it is Joe.

Joe Casabona: All right. And you will be talking today about a product that is not Todoist, right? You guys make Todoist, a To Do List app which I’m a big fan of. But you also have a product called Twist, is that right?

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah. We just launched like a week ago or two weeks ago.

Joe Casabona: Perfect! So that’s what we’re going to talk about. But let’s start off with a little bit about you, and the company, and how you came up with the idea for Twist.

Amir Salihefendic: Basically, we are like a remote first around the world. So basically, we are a very modern company, and our company offers assistance. Everybody is kind of decentralized, so we have used Slack for about two years I think, or a year. And it didn’t really work for us because like real time communication, mixed with a lot of time zones. Yeah, so we want to kind of like to have another tool that we kind of look at, around the web and nobody was really offering that, like everybody was gone, like just copying strike and copying this real time model of communication.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. And that’s fantastic. So I worked full time for a remote company where we had people all over the globe. I am located on the East Coast of the United states. I had people in California, I had coworkers in Romania. So I can totally kind of level with this idea. So what’s….maybe you can give us a little pitch. What’s the elevator pitch for Twist? What exactly does it do? How does it help communications in multiple time zones?

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah. So basically, like the model is very different from Slacks and you know, other chat apps, it’s basically asynchronous first. So this means that you can kind of like go into the system, leave a message and go out and then you know you’re not going to lose anything like or like fear that you’re losing out of something important decisions, or something like that select this asynchronous communication model is very very important and he’s built like the whole after sensors around it. So you may ask, isn’t email solving this already? And it is. Like email is an authentic tool and we’re not really trying to replace it, at least not like oral. The thing that we want to replace is like using email for internal work. You know, when you’re working with a video team, because we think of a tool where you have all of the communication inside it. And it’s modern is much better than like just using emails because emails have a lot of issues as we all know.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. So this is almost, so it’s almost like a hybrid of Slack and email, right? You can go in there, we’re on a team, I wanna send you an instant message, like a message, so like almost like a synchronous message. Except it’s not gonna get lost in the fray if you know 14 other people are also having a conversation like what happened with Slack. Is that right?

Amir Salihefendic: Exactly, exactly. So, threads in place are incredibly important. So basically you have, like a threaded conversation. As a green thread, I can strike, you know, they introduce chat a while ago but it’s still a lot like just you know, threaded real-time check. And our threads aren’t like that, like outside are more like email and left like chat. So basically, I think actually it’s a very good pointer if you think like the best ideas out of email and the best idea from like these chat apps and basically build onto a new to the car like merge these models together.

Joe Casabona: That sounds great. And it’s…I mean you built this out of a need which I find a lot of people on the show have done that. They’ve, they’re kind of scratching their own itch. And I know you talked a little bit about the research. But first, when you started off, you were using Slack and Slack didn’t exactly do what you’re looking for. Other tools didn’t do what you were looking for. But can you walk a little bit more about that? Like at what point in your research did you decide, “Okay,, this is a tool that we feel it’s worth throwing resources at”, you know, for an internal project, you know? Because that is something that a lot of businesses have to weigh right? if you’re going to build a product that you’re going to use internally and hopefully productize it, you kind of have to front the money for the developers and the resources that are gonna be building that, right?

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah. I mean for our small company, this should be like a huge investment. Like three years of work, you know, and a lot of money has been spent on salaries and stuff like that. So definitely like it’s always a huge huge deal when you actually do these projects. I mean the reason why we did it is basically like for us, like strike isn’t like only you know kind of like created anxiety especially for me like as a CEO and founder. Like I could actually spend the whole day just chatting, you know, and I could actually spend the night because there was like no time to actually like you know, get out of the system and just relax. Because like if I wasn’t there, you know, discussions will continue on and this chit chat will continue on. And a decision would be made or like, you know, people kind of like want my feedback on something really huge frustration moment as we were just like, you know, there’s a huge need for a moment to communicate and we think like there’s a real market here and we should just go after it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, and that right there is a really great point, right? It kind of speaks a little bit to work life balance because even as not the CEO of a company, if you have Slack and these conversations are happening virtually around the clock, if somebody pings you, or you know, you happen to see their new messages, it’s easy to go in and check. You know, when I was working for an agency I would go in at 3:00 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning, maybe I woke up to feed my baby or something else. Maybe I just woke up and I saw a notifications on my phone and I had to check them right there which is not a healthy way to live, right? So maybe this can alleviate some of that too and forge a better work life balance.

Amir Salihefendic: No. Definitely Joe, I think we’re kind of like spam with like all of these real- time system notifications. It’s actually very hard to disconnect. So our goal is also to create software where you can actually disconnect. You know, be with your baby, be with your family, or just be with yourself without really fear, or just being addicted to these real time systems. And I think also, it’s interesting that you know, that company that made Slack like their product before was a game. So a base like Slack is kind of like a game and you know I don’t think it’s very positive for teamwork or for your life or for your productivity. Adding also, I got another thing. I’m not sure if you know the book, ‘Deep Work’ but I can also see it as a huge trend and especially like in creative industries such as development or design or even like writing. You kind of need to be able to focus hard or something. So if you’re developing something you know and you need to solve hard problems, then it doesn’t really help that every five minutes you need to go in and respond to a message or just be addicted to this system.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I mean as a programmer myself, I can definitely level with that. You know, when I was working in an office people would knock on my door all the time and just say, “Hey, you got a minute?” And that interruption would set me back 15 minutes and a half hour, especially if I was like you know really like you said, like deep working on something. And that’s another really great point you know, you get these notifications and you can’t…it’s hard to ignore them, right? So something asynchronous is better for work life balance but it’s also better for productivity and work.

Amir Salihefendic: Exactly. And I think like people who kind like figure this out very soon that you know being online all the time and like thinking in one liners like this isn’t the most productive way of working or even living, yeah. So you know, like I think we’re actually very early on this because people still think you know like these systems are the best gift to modern life. but like we very much disagree with it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And I…and that problem is compounded if you have 3,4,5 Slack teams right? It’s just so you know, I I agree wholeheartedly this actually sounds really great. So to move on to kind of the next question, well you know it’s absolutely great that you’re a user of your system because you understand the problem you’re trying to solve and then you’re also, you’re dogfooding your own product is the same, right? But I’ve also found that you know talking to other people, being a mastermind helps you know not being in kind of an echo chamber. Are you in the mastermind group? or are there other people that you’ve talked about as far as features or direction for the product or things like that?

Amir Salihefendic: I mean honestly, like at least we’re pretty much like very very, like I think we are some of the biggest users of our own products. But of course, like you know, we have a very strong community and very opinionated people and we get a lot of feedback. So I would say that you know, being your own user, like really using the system every day is such a huge advantage. So I would definitely recommend for others you try to do the same like the problems that you want to solve should actually be your own problems because you know, with that like we don’t need to do a lot of user research and stuff like that because we are, you know, the users ourselves. But of course like we do get input from the community, from other people, and then we evolve the products like that, yeah. So I think it’s kind of like a collaboration.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. That sounds great! And that’s been kind of another overarching theme of at least Season Three of this podcast, is to listen to your customers and listen to your community, they are the people who are invested in your product, right? They’re gonna keep using your product and so they’re gonna offer perhaps the best feedback.

Amir Salihefendic: Definitely, yeah. I mean something I can really also recommend regarding this is I think you should really be careful with user feedback. Because like a lot of times you know like I think there’s a famous quote you know, like people want the faster horses you know, like maybe you know they don’t really know what the best solution is. So like what we try to do in now a case is basically like listen to the users and try to find the deep problems they’re having but not so much like listening to their solution. Because you know, the user isn’t really an expert product designer. You know, they can really foresee how our future will affect everything else around it. So, but you know what they know is like frustrations and problems they have and you know, and I think those are the most important parts of figuring out, like where are the problems.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s it. That is absolutely a great piece of advice. And I love that quote. You know, if I had listened to the people, or the public, or whatever they would have asked for faster, faster horses and not a car so absolutely you’re right.

And something I think about all the time is that my brother works at Disney World down in Orlando Florida. I go there a bit and something that I will always hear when I’m down there is you know, what Disney should do and then just something, something right? and it’s likely a problem that Disney has thought about before because they’re running a billion dollar business. So there is the frustration of the user which is certainly something you should listen to and like you said the solution is up to the experts to solve right? So I’m going to tell you here’s my pain point and then leave it to the engineers to figure it out. “All right, how do we alleviate this pain point?”

Amir Salihefendic: Exactly, yeah. I mean, I think a lot of problems like what you people like the start stuff do is like they just you know listen to user feedback and user solution, and then you end up like with this you know, feature creep and just like product that is well thought out and I think that’s a very dangerous path. So I would rather say that you kinda need to be the editor. You need to go in and aggregate feedback, and you know, find out what others’ biggest problems are right now and then do these things, yeah. And another problem I also see is that you kind of have sometimes feedback from people that aren’t users that you know, that they tell you if you actually add you know, feature X. Then I would actually upgrade like I would actually start to use your product. But in actuality, you should just ignore that feedback because they’re not really users of the system and it’s very unlikely that just because you add X then we actually start to use the system.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s, that is more great advice, right? It’s like asking somebody, “If I built this would you buy it?” “Sure, I guess. It’s not costing any money now so maybe I got it.”

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah, yeah exactly. And I think it’s much better than you know if they actually give you some money inspired by the solutions then you know like, “Okay, we have something here.”

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. That’s awesome! Well, I’m really enjoying this conversation, and so I’m excited to get to the title question, right? Which is, how did you build Twist? And I’m particularly interested because I’m usually talking to developers or designers, people who were very close hands-on, actually writing code for the product. I’m very curious to see from your approach how you went about how Doist went about building Twist.

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah. So basically we actually talked about this idea for some months and then we didn’t really start to work on it until we really like discussed it, and figured out, “are we actually going to go and do this?” And also like you re tape, like they will actually never recommend style a new product. because it’s just like insane to do that. Like you should paste it, just to like what most of us do, like dropbox you know, they just do file sharing. Of course right now they have some other probes but at the beginning you should never really focus on other stuff. But like we really felt this urge and then we kinda committed to this. And what we did is basically collected a small team of about 5 people, like one back end developer , one front-end developer, one Android, and one iOS and one Micro IOS, and then one designer, so 6 people in total. And then we just like to let them lose and have to strike this small core team that basically implemented Twist over the last three years. And of course like us, we evolve, you know, order, like we are a team of 50 people. So like other people stepped in, like other designers that were being held or the developers that seemed to help. So it was kind of like a very collaborative project as well but we had like these 6 core people really working on it like day in and day out.

Joe Casabona: Man, that’s awesome. And you guys were essentially the stakeholders. So I would love to hear, you know how did that go? Who was kind of the holder of the requirements? who did the testing, like how quickly did you roll out a beta to test internally, things like that?

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah, I mean, I think like something that is really difficult right now, like when I launched this in 2007, you know, you could just launch from some crappy stuff with crappy design and you still get the traction right? So maybe like for the first today’s version you know, in 2007 I launched my own logo and my own design like you know I’m a developer. I’m not very good at designing logos, so like designing. And right now, like this the level that you need to operate on is much much higher. So like you really need to, before you can even begin beta testing you kinda like me to have a very high level product and it has a lot of features. And especially like us, like we are you know, competing against Slack, you just probably have some of the best product implementation out there, like it really works well. So the bar is just like set very very high.

It’s also like one of the problems of today’s world, is like if you really want to implement something you kinda like me to set the bar very high. And you know because people will not really switch or even try it out if the quality isn’t very good, yeah. I am actually…I’m not sure if I just answer the question.

Joe Casabona: Actually, you did raise a good point here that we can kind of circle back to and it’s very timely because I just finished reading the book, ‘Positioning’ by Al Ries.

Amir Salihefendic: Oh, that’s an amazing book.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. It’s a really great book. And you brought up a good point from that book,, which is, if someone’s on top, people are always likely going to think of that person or that company as on top, right? Coca Cola versus Pepsi, or IBM with the computer versus anybody else trying to get into the computer or conversely when IBM tried to get into copy machines. Xerox was the people on top for copying machines, right? So you do have to put out a pretty high quality product if you’re going to compete and get people to switch, especially because Slack is widely, widely used. So kind of circling back, it sounds like you guys probably, it sounds like maybe using Slack or some other internal chat too, you drew up requirements for Twist, is that right?

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah, I mean staying true like we are never really like doing stuff by like requirements, and I process this, and stuff like that. So basically we can’t let add this vague idea of what we want to feel like focus more on ethics list communication instead of like a real time. And you know stuff like that, so this is like how could we actually build a mindful product. You know, let us work on PPO or problems and then go back into communication mode and don’t feel like you have missed something important, important decision all right? Your important discussion. So those were like the core requirements for us but we didn’t really, you know, put it into the ink or like just made very detailed text or something like that. We just kind of like had this idea and then the designer you know started to mock up, we started to mock up the API, implement some of the api’s, implement some of the clients, and then evolved the product that way, yeah. I think it’s very hard especially if you kind of want to innovate and come with what we have done in space like a whole new communication model like you can just design everything on the front door like inspect everything up front and just implement it. It kind of needs to implement it, see how they workout and then iterate more on it.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. And I mean this perfectly goes back to a point you made before, right? You had the pain point of the user and now it was up to the team you put together to come up with a solution. So it sounds like you followed your own advice in building Twist.

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah. I think that sounds good also.

Joe Casabona: That’s awesome. So this product has been in the works for three years. What kind of transformations did it go through? You had these fairly loose requirements. You knew kind of why you were building it and you know I’ve been on software products or projects that have deeply transformed over the course of six months or a year. So you know what? I’m curious to see what the big additions to Twist were from you know day one to now.

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah. I think like when we started off actually we only had threads and threaded communication but then we kind of felt like it lacked something. It’s less like a human touch and especially for personal one to one communication in a trust account like not that great. So that’s where we basically went out and looked at how we can solve this problem. And we basically implemented a messenger like interface, like What’s App, like an interface inside trip that kind of makes one to one or like group group conversations much easier, and much nicer. So I think that’s probably the biggest evolution that we had. Basically we figure out, “Okay, maybe like, only having threads is not enough. Like we also needed to have conversation and like a more conversational style that interface.”

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. That sounds fantastic! And so Twist is available for mobile as well as the Mac. Is that what you said?

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah. I mean, we have web windows Mac, Android, and iOS, yeah. So I think that’s all something that’s really insane right now is like you can’t like me to implement five different versions. And if you really want to do something great you know, they need to be different versions. So you need to use the iOS toolkit for iOS and Android toolkit for Android. So it’s kinda insane like we have built five different products and they’re just one and that’s why it’s like taking us three years to implement it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. That’s really interesting actually, right? Because again, I mostly talked to WordPress developers and so we have a pretty narrow, not narrow. Narrow may not be the right word but generally we’re building stuff on the web and WordPress just released the rest API and so we can do more. But you know if you’re building an app like Twist or Slack or even Todoist, you know, like a webview that talks to an API is perhaps not good enough if you’re building an interactive app, right? Because you could have done that, you could have built a web interface and bring it up in a webview on iOS, Android, Mac, and windows but you wanted more, right? You wanted to create that high level product because you’re competing with Slack.

Amir Salihefendic: Exactly. And I think like even if you’re not competing against Slack, I think it’s kind of like required if you do apps is that kind of like do that natively because the experience will just be so much better than like a rapper, yeah. So some of the things that’s much harder right now is you know when I started to do it 2007, it was just like a bad back. And right now you need to do like three or four apps by aligning just center the market.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. And I mean like in 2007, web apps like web 2.0 are all the rage right? Like you could create a really good web app and that gave you a leg up as far as competing goes.

Amir Salihefendic: Exactly! And today’s was actually one of the first task managers to implement Web 2.0 features, yeah.

Joe Casabona: That’s how far we’ve come in ten years. That’s awesome! So we have, where we’re coming up on time and I’ve got two questions I love to ask. And the first one is, what are your plans for the future of Twist?

Amir Salihefendic: Yeah. I mean we basically like we want to enter this market and we kind of like one to really associate the product with like mindful communication and like really going falling into this space. So basically our vision of the future is the one where you know people can have a great work life balance, music into like the project in deeper the kind of like move us forward and we’re not everything is just like real-time and chit chat and one liners and like just you know like fast thinking but more like slowing things down and helping people think better and do better work and you leave a better life, so yeah. That will be it I think.

Joe Casabona: Man, that sounds great! And that is a wonderful vision, right? And a great answer. You didn’t just say “We want to implement this feature.” You said we want to change the way people are communicating and we want to make it a more cognitive activity. I just kind of paraphrase what you said. And that is definitely something to look forward to. So you know, I’m definitely gonna…I haven’t tried out Twist yet but I’m definitely going to. You guys have a free plan in an unlimited plan so I’m going to get a couple of friends together and create a free team and see what this is about because it sounds awesome.

Amir Salihefendic: Please do and please provide feedback on when you do it.

Joe Casabona: Absolutely. So the last question I like to ask is, Do you have any trade secrets for us? Just in general. I mean you’ve been doing business on the web successfully for about ten years now. So if there’s something pertaining to that or with Twist or communication or just in general, it’s whatever you wanna let us know here.

Amir Salihefendic: I mean I think we’re kind of like living in a revolution right now and this revolution is called remote work. And adding it to actually change how the world operates, I think we’re only seeing this right now like some of our positions. You know, we got like a thousand applications for like a single position. So I think we will see huge changes in the world due to remote work like it’s the first time in the history of humanity that you can kind of like get an amazing job and it doesn’t really matter where you live like, you can live very far away from that job, like it was never possible before. And I think this will change how people live their lives. How did they optimize you know, for this work life balance? So you know, you can have an amazing job and leave like on the beach or you know leaving the mountain like there’s endless possibilities. And I think like the current way that the world is structured you know, having these hubs where people live miserable lives but most of them identity disputes do stop for remote work and you know move remote work forward.

Joe Casabona: That sounds great! I’m a big proponent of remote work as I feel most of the people at least in the WordPress community are. And man, that is a really great way to end the show. So thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.

I do wanna ask one more thing, it’s for my Patreon listeners. I would like to extend the interview a little bit. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about Todoist for my Patreon listeners?

Amir Salihefendic: Sure Joe. Take it away! I would love to do that.

Joe Casabona: Great. So for anybody listening to this show, if you want to hear the extended interview with Amir, head over to and we’ll talk all about Todoist. And if you don’t continue the conversation that’s okay, too!

I want to thank Amir for coming on the show. Really appreciate it! I feel like this was just a half hour of trade secrets. He had so much great insight about work life balance and running a business and all sorts of other things. I really really enjoyed this episode. And I enjoyed the extended interview too over on Patreon.

So again if you’re really interested in Todoist, and how that was created, head over to and it will be available to anybody who pledges $5 or more per month.

So thanks again to Amir. Thank you so much to you, for listening to the show. I really appreciate it. And thanks to our sponsors Liquid web and Sitelock. Make sure to check them out because they’ve been big supporters of the show and they are absolutely great companies.

So until next time, get out there and build something.

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