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“Remote-first working could be a paradigm shift similar to the industrialization age”: Interview with Doist’s Founder Amir Salihefendić

Doist is a remote-first company with employees from all around the world. It’s the company that built Todoist, a productivity app, to keep track of all your tasks, projects and goals in one place, and Twist, an asynchronous communication app built thinking about the needs of remote teams.

Here I had the opportunity to speak with Amir Salihefendić, the founder and CEO of the company, talking about his experience as an entrepreneur after his childhood as a refugee, as well as the future of work, the challenges with a growing fully distributed team and the big opportunities he sees in remote-first working.

Hey Amir, it’s awesome to have you here. Could you tell us a bit about you and what you are working on at the moment?

I’m the founder and CEO of Doist, a remote-first company of about 70 people from 30+ countries. We are the creators of Todoist and Twist.

I was born in Bosnia, but due to the war in the 90’s, I had to flee with my family, and we ended up in Denmark, where I grew up. Currently, I switch between living in Santiago (Chile) and Barcelona. I’m also a 2x Dad.

I always found your story very fascinating. The relentless passion that you show for what you do and what you believe in is really admirable. All this after a very challenging childhood, where you had to move away from your country, because of the war that was starting there. How that situation conditioned you and your life as an entrepreneur?

I was a refugee, and there were some bumps along the way and not everything was easy. But I also grew up in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and I went to one of the top 100 STEM universities in the world (Aarhus University). I was incredibly privileged, and I am grateful for these opportunities.

Unfortunately, this is still very current, with more than 70 million people displaced worldwide. Is there anything, in your opinion, that we can do as a tech community to help refugees?

I love the advancements we are making on providing a great education to anybody interested in this. For example, my nephew, who lives in Bosnia, has taken a nano degree in AI from Udacity.

The democratisation of education and the rise of remote-first companies could enable people to get great jobs regardless of where they live. This is one of the core reasons why I am so excited about the remote movement.

You lived in many different places from Bosnia to Denmark, to Chile and Portugal. How did you end up in Barcelona? What is your opinion on the environment for creating a tech company there?

Given our company setup, I can pick any place in the world to live, and I did some research with my wife on this. We picked Barcelona due to it being a beautiful city and having a great work-life balance.

There are no doubts you are a firm believer in and advocate for remote working. How have you seen things evolving in the last ten years? And what have been the main challenges for you to build an increasingly bigger, fully distributed team, with Doist?

I firmly believe remote-first working could be a paradigm shift similar to the industrialization age because it’s the first time in human history that people can get great jobs regardless of where they live. I have written about it here.

Regarding company building, there are many challenges, but most of them are just related to being a more prominent company and having more people. One of the biggest challenges of remote work is mental health issues — we are not wired to work alone. I have written about these here.

Do you think remote work is the future of work?

Yes! 🙂 The report from Buffer and Angel List state how much remote workers love remote work.

In another interview, you said that creating your blog and writing your thoughts there is something that helped you a lot, especially connecting with other people with similar ideas and interest. Do you think this is still the way to go for someone starting today?

I firmly believe that writing makes you a better thinker, and it can help you easily connect with like-minded people. So I would still recommend this today.

Any book, podcast or blog that you love and would like to recommend?

I would recommend Let My People Go Surfing from Yvon Chouinard (the founder of Patagonia). It has inspired how we handle many things in Doist, including trusting people and giving people a lot of freedom and benefits such as 40 paid vacation days per year.

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Alessandro Ravanetti
Alessandro Ravanetti
Alessandro Ravanetti is a writer and editor based in Barcelona. He helps startups with their content strategy, curates the Techstars Startup Digest's fintech newsletter, serves as an independent expert for EU projects, and mentors aspiring changemakers with Bridge for Billions.

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