How I Run A Successful Productivity Company With No Investors and… No Office


Michael Sliwinski Nozbe

Michael Sliwinski, founder, and CEO of Nozbe, tells us how they support teams and get more done smoothly and effectively.

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Nozbe.

Michael Sliwinski: I’m the founder and CEO of Nozbe. Together with my team, I develop our to-do app for busy professionals and teams. We’re a team of 20+ people who work entirely remotely from their “home offices,” and we’ve been doing this since 2007. Nozbe has more than 700K users from all over the world.

I’m on a mission to help small teams do great things more calmly, leveraging trust, flexible hours, and work from anywhere (remote for life!)

I wrote my first version of the Nozbe app back in 2006 as a productivity tool for myself. I basically rewrote it twice before I launched it in 2007. I shared my app with a community of productivity geeks, and they loved it. Nozbe was my side project for an entire year before I decided to focus on running it full-time in 2008. That’s how my story began.

Do you have small habits that made a meaningful impact on your life and business?

Michael Sliwinski: One of the habits I find crucial for productivity is writing stuff down. When your brain isn’t busy remembering everything, it works better, your creativity skyrockets, and your stress level goes down. Writing things down is the first and most important tip you should try to implement in your team to boost your efficiency. I even recorded a podcast episode about it: https://nozbe.com/blog/nooffice-39-why-write-stuff-down/.

Another habit I try to stick to is a famous 2-minute rule coined by the GTD author, David Allen. It says that when something can be done in two minutes or less, you better do it now, even if it is not an urgent or high-priority task. It does not need to take 2 minutes exactly – it can be 3 or 5 minutes too. If you need to read a short document by your colleague to decide, read it. Just do it if you have to add a task in your project management app or make a quick call.

The last one I want to share is journaling. Summarizing my day and writing down the stuff I achieved, felt, and things I am grateful for every day helps me keep track of things and stay motivated.

How does Nozbe market its product/services online?

Michael Sliwinski: I was lucky Nozbe kicked off and gained popularity automagically as a kind of viral thing back in 2007. Then, it kept growing only thanks to recommendations. I had many great people with large bases of followers among my customers. Then more and more similar tools emerged on the market – the difference was they had thousands of dollars for marketing from VCs and investors. We don’t want anyone interfering with our company values and plans in Nozbe, so we are entirely funded by our paid users. We went for that situation to make sure our product is stable, easy to use, and of great quality so that people would naturally recommend it. We also do a lot of content marketing. We love sharing what we’ve learned and discovered. My team runs the Nozbe blog (https://nozbe.com), where we tackle productivity, business, and team-management topics. We have our NoOffice podcast( http://(https://nooffice.fm ), where we talk about smart and modern ways of working, doing business, and managing a dispersed team. We constantly improve our social media and look for ways to engage people. I write books – the latest “open source” one is No Office, available at NoOffice.org. We also create free online productivity and remote work management courses like this one: https://nozbe.com/remotework.

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?

Michael Sliwinski: We use Nozbe to build Nozbe as our processes and marketing campaigns sit in our Nozbe project management and collaboration app. We create projects in Nozbe for every bigger thing we want to achieve. We then add tasks for every action needed, and we communicate in comments on specific tasks. This way, nothing gets lost, and all discussions and reference materials are in a suitable context.

We record and show our podcasts live in Streamyard. We publish our podcasts in Transistor. We use Dropbox Paper for writing longer texts and documentation that people can comment on later to move the marketing project forward. We use Slack and Zoom for occasional calls or chats. We use Github for coding and GetResponse for email marketing.

We believe in the power of asynchronous communication( https://nozbe.com/blog/asynchronous/ ). A message (an e-mail or, even better, a task delegated to Nozbe or other task managers) can be sent at any time, whether the receiver is ready. But you don’t expect them to react instantly. The receiver can respond when they want or when they can.

While synchronous communication is totally time-dependent – all the parties need to be available simultaneously, here and now, the main idea behind the asynchronous communication is respect for other people’s time and focus.

We don’t use email for internal communication in Nozbe. Everything happens in our project management tool – Nozbe. I don’t think chaotic emails are good for collaboration. They are only good for hand-shakes and correspondence with the outside world. We’re an email-free team. ( https://nozbe.com/email/)

In Nozbe, we also think meetings can be toxic. I am convinced managers should change their approach to meetings completely and stop wasting everyone’s time. Over the years, we have come up with these rules for running effective meetings:

– Meetings are regular.

– Meetings are optional.

– Meetings are well-prepared.

Otherwise, meetings are counterproductive and make it hard for people to find focus and time for meaningful work. Besides, if all the information is planned in projects in Nozbe and their corresponding tasks and described in detail in the comments to these tasks, there’s no need for many meetings.

What is your hiring policy/process, and how do you retain your employees?

Michael Sliwinski: As we are a fully remote team, the hiring process needed to be carefully designed. I like to think: hire slow, fire fast.

We first prepare a detailed job ad with all requirements and salary information. Where it is possible, we ask people to provide portfolios or links to places where we can see what they have done so far. We study all the applications and select the ones we find the best. We send the candidates a Google form with several questions that help us get to know them better. Then, we select top candidates and have online interviews with them that are run according to a carefully prepared scenario. One of the most important stages is a trial assignment – we ask the top 3 or top 5 candidates to do something specific for us. This is a paid job – we don’t want to steal anyone’s precious time. After assessing the test tasks, I meet with the chosen candidate personally to see if our personalities and energy work together.

To retain Nozbe employees, I make sure we follow our Nozbe values based on mutual trust, transparency, remote work, and asynchronous communication. All my employees know that “Control is good, but trust is so much better” and that “Work is not a place to go; it’s a thing you do!”. I believe people should get a sense of freedom and trust and feel they have an influence on the way the company functions. In the Nozbe team, everyone has their own field, domain, or a feature for which they are entirely responsible.

How are you funding your growth?

Michael Sliwinski: We’re entirely funded by our customers. This way, we’re more incentivized to do a great software product by them.

Tell us a customer success story of yours?

Michael Sliwinski: Recently, we found out that Nozbe is the main work tool for many nonprofits all over the world. One of them is the foundation that organizes sports events in north-eastern Poland. The nonprofit consists of 10 enthusiasts who handle numerous professional running events for children and adults.

They are a dispersed team, and the collaboration was an organizational challenge for them. Initially, the team organized meetings outside of working hours to coordinate their projects. However, this solution was time-consuming – meetings could last for several hours.

The team then started looking for a solution that would help them improve their communication. After trying, e.g., Messenger, Trello, and Slack, they decided to give Nozbe a try. After less than two weeks, they got the Premium subscription and started working. The team mastered Nozbe very quickly – even the least tech-savvy members!

Foundation members quickly noticed how working on tasks and projects in Nozbe improved their communication. The need to organize meetings has been significantly minimized, and the productivity – boosted. They learned that well-designed projects and outlined tasks work much better than long-form meetings!

Your final thoughts?

Michael Sliwinski: I believe the global pandemic, as dreadful as it was, accelerated the change to a more flexible workspace. Suddenly both managers and their team members realized that having a job doesn’t necessarily mean going to an office 9-5.

Now the world is a hybrid. Some people will be able to work from home and entirely remotely, just like our Nozbe team. Others will have the flexibility and blessing from their bosses to choose days when they go to the office and work from home. Finally, the modern work style of the 21st century is accelerating, and I’m hoping that modern apps like my Nozbe will help people have fewer meetings while staying on top of things in a much more efficient way. That people will be more productive while having less stress. Ultimately, many more people will enjoy a better work-life balance and a truly modern lifestyle.

After 15 years of running Nozbe, I still feel like I’m just getting started, and I’m more excited for the future than ever!

Your website?

https://nozbe.com

https://michael.team


Kokou Adzo

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