Remote Work Done Right with Doist CMO Brenna Loury

Remote Work Done Right with Doist CMO Brenna Loury

Interview by Ricardo EstevesRicardo Esteves
Published: August 14, 2023

Who Is Brenna Loury?

As Doist Chief Marketing Officer, Brenna Loury is responsible for leading the marketing team and driving user growth, engagement, and retention, as well as coordinating branding, product marketing, and demand generation strategies. Prior to joining Doist in 2012, Brenna Loury was the Founder and CEO at Loury PR, a bilingual public relations agency to support startups and VC funds breaking into Latin America.

As remote and hybrid workplaces become the new standard worldwide, both companies and individuals are turning to emerging tools and services to maintain productivity and effectiveness.

Among the standout solutions are Doist's offerings — Twist and Todoist. These tools exemplify how software can enhance business collaboration and productivity without the constraints of a shared physical workspace.

In our exclusive conversation, Doist CMO Brenna Loury delves into her company’s remote work structure and its core values, all amplified by their own tools. Its remote work done right, serving as an example for any organization or professional navigating a similar landscape.

A logo of company Doist

Spotlight: Finding a balance between fostering trust and avoiding micromanagement is crucial for remote teams. How can businesses effectively build trust while still providing guidance and support?

Brenna Loury: Our 15+ years of being a remote-first company have taught us that building trust remotely hinges upon two crucial cornerstones: effective communication and independence. Coincidentally, those are two of our company’s core values.

Communication is a multifaceted game-changer. To start, team members need to hit the ground running with well-defined goals and expectations (both of which actually dovetail into independence). This involves communicating what needs to be achieved, why it matters, and how success will be measured. When team members understand their role in the bigger picture, they are more likely to take ownership of their work. Transparency minimizes ambiguity and sets the stage for mutual trust between management and employees.

Communicating expectations goes both ways, though. The company must set guidelines and document them in a central source of truth so that employees know what acceptable communication actually looks like. This documentation could include things like response time expectations (at Doist, we suggest 24 hours), team communication etiquette, to whom/when/how should they reach out if there’s an issue, how often to post status updates, etc.

Another way communication breeds trust is via feedback. It’s often a muscle that atrophies if not flexed, so it’s essential to integrate feedback into your company’s regular routines or workflows. We do this at the end of every project cycle (monthly) and have guidelines around who should receive feedback and in which format. Providing feedback builds trust by fostering transparency and opening a safe space to discuss both challenges and opportunities.

The yin to communication’s yang is autonomy. By providing the right services and tools (and easy access to them), robust documentation, and clear expectations, team members can get to work with minimal hand holding.

Doist is known for its productivity tools like Todoist and Twist. How do these products contribute to building trust and fostering autonomy in remote teams?

One of the main ways we’re able to offer such an autonomous workplace is through our very own apps: We use Todoist for team task management, and Twist for team communication. Twist allows us to communicate asynchronously in our own time and has become a public-by-default repository for all of our past conversations, which date back to 2015.

This makes it easy for anyone at the company to reference historical context and find answers without having to ping coworkers and wait for their response. Todoist is where we input all our tasks to be done so that the relevant work can be assigned to the correct person. This allows projects to evolve smoothly without any micromanagement.

How does the company's branding and positioning reinforce the message that autonomy and trust are essential ingredients for success in remote work environments?

The Doist brand has become synonymous with best remote practices over the years. We’ve spent years sharing our knowledge and peeling back the curtain to show how we’re able to successfully build products at scale while working 100% remotely and asynchronously. Much of the content we’ve created has highlighted our thoughts and provided tangible advice on trust and communication. We are very opinionated about both of these and this strong stance has positioned Doist as a best-in-class example of how to effectively work remotely, while not burning out your workforce.

Both Todoist and Twist are apps that inherently foster autonomy. Todoist does so by offering ways for teams to create clear plans-of-action so that everyone knows exactly what they need to do, when to do it, and where to find context. Twist, as an ever-growing repository of team knowledge, is built on the premise of transparent team communication. This, in turn, allows people to work autonomously.

Remote work can lead to a lack of visibility into team members' progress. How does Doist's product offering address this challenge and help build trust by providing transparency into work accomplishments?

One of the main ways we build visibility is through what we call Snippets. Every Monday, there are two types of Snippets that Doisters are required to publish in Twist.

  • Team Snippets: These highlight last week’s deliverables and if they were delivered, as well as this week’s deliverables and confidence level. There’s also space to add additional notes in case there are other things affecting someone’s work week
  • Squad Snippets: Squads are cross-functional teams with clear objectives. Their Snippets are similar in that they highlight last week’s work, this week’s plans, and each person’s confidence level or potential blockers

All team’s Snippets are accessible to everyone in the company. They’re a great way for managers to pin-point roadblocks in order to proactively unblock them.

In addition, we have specific workflows on how to set up Todoist projects for squad work so that everyone has the same source of truth and visibility into all the moving parts of a specific project.

Finally, we have a few more mechanisms to increase visibility and transparency: Monthly squad retrospectives, mandatory monthly feedback to squad members, and monthly squad planning rituals.

Twist, Doist's team communication app, aims to provide calmer and more organized teamwork. What unique features does Twist offer that differentiates it from other team communication tools on the market?

Twist is a highly unique product in the overgrown landscape of team communication tools. We created it for ourselves after trying Slack and then coming to the realization that it was painfully chaotic and unproductive for fully remote teams like ours. Some features that differentiate Twist include:

  • Real threads: Twist is built around threads, which are organized, topic-specific discussions. This approach reduces the noise and chaos often seen in real-time chat apps and provides a more structured and focused platform for collaboration
  • Asynchronous-first: Unlike real-time chat apps like Slack, Twist is built specifically for async-first communication, allowing team members to respond to messages at their own pace without the pressure of an immediate response
  • Inbox and Notifications Control: Twist’s centralized Inbox is where users can catch up on all their personally-relevant unread threads and comments at their convenience. Also, Twist's notification system is designed to reduce interruptions, allowing users to focus on their work
  • Powerful Search: Twist's powerful search functionality makes finding past conversations and decisions easy, eliminating the need to scroll through endless chats. For example, I can search for the “Todoist logo” and unearth the completely untouched, beginning-to-end thread where we decided on Todoist’s new logo back in 2015

doist artwork

The company has been in the industry for 16 years. Can you share key factors that have contributed to Doist's remarkable growth as a remote productivity software company?

We have always had a “this is a marathon, not a sprint” mentality. We know we are in it for the long haul so we tend to not get distracted by our competitors or dismayed over a temporary dip in MRR, for example. By not thinking in quarters – and rather in years – we are able to hold firm to our strategies and plans and not let shiny new objects derail everything in our path.

We’ve also been incredibly meticulous about our culture. Our hiring process tends to take longer than the industry standard but I am convinced that it has been the most effective way for us to build a thriving, successful company. We are uncompromising in our core values and the people who ultimately join Doist align very well with them.

Doist handles its marketing internally rather than relying on external agencies. What cultural marketing benefits have you observed from this approach, and how does it contribute to Doist's brand and messaging consistency?

Throughout the years, we’ve engaged with many agencies across a wide variety of initiatives. I think that collaborating with agencies tends not to work well for us because we are very opinionated and do not compromise on our ideals or our brand image. Lots of agencies have no qualms with saturating a user’s inbox with promotional emails or their search results with aggressive paid ads – it’s understandable, because this seems to be the industry norm. But that is not Doist’s approach and we are unwilling to engage in practices that most agencies find commonplace.

This opinionated nature is inherent to Doisters thus making it much easier to get work started internally and iterate productivity. By keeping marketing work internal, we don’t have to do the song and dance of explaining our values and stances every single time we set out to complete a project.

In your experience, what are some valuable marketing lessons you've learned, and how have they influenced your approach as CMO?

Generally, CMOs tend to have very limited tenures. This is contrary to my experience, though. As one of Doist’s earliest employees, I’ve been with the company for almost 12 years and thus have had a front row seat to the entire evolution of the company. I have a rich historical context of why decisions were made, how our culture grew, and insight into many of the company’s nuances and quirks. This longevity gives me a deep understanding of the company which, in turn, helps me make more effective, aligned decisions both in and outside the realm of marketing.

In terms of actual marketing lessons, I think there is a simple (yet not exhaustive!) list that comes to mind:

  1. Do positioning first, and then everything else will come more naturally
  2. Do not compromise on your brand. You’ll be tempted to do so left and right but clawing back from a misstep can take years. It is not worth it
  3. Build alignment and avoid working in silos. Marketing can only be effective if all the other departments in the company are working toward the same goal, operating under the same assumptions, and are eager to selflessly and genuinely collaborate
  4. Users love to be celebrated and appreciate authentic personalization. Make them feel special and they’ll be far less likely to churn and far more likely to generate word of mouth
  5. Trust your intuitions, advocate for your strategy, and try not to take yourself too seriously

Looking ahead, what are some key aspirations or goals that Doist has for the future of work, and how does the company plan to continue shaping the future and making lives better for its users and employees alike?

Our mission is to build a workplace of the future – this mission is based on our opinionated ideals and our vision for a productive yet burnout-free workplace that we believe all companies are capable of having. It’s an ambitious mission, especially considering the worldwide rollercoaster of workplace trends since 2020.

The next 12 months will be pivotal for Todoist, as we’re gearing up to launch a new approach that will help individuals and teams be more productive. Most of Todoist’s competitors focus on either individuals or teams – not the holistic individual as a professional and human being. This disconnect creates a lot of friction because, as you know, people's lives are complex and many folks end up using a ton of different apps to juggle all the things on their plate. Our goal is to reduce this complexity at work and in life while always staying true to Todoist’s core philosophy of being as simple or as powerful as a person needs.

In terms of Doist’s own employees, we’ve recently returned from our annual company retreat and are extremely jazzed to make progress on the plans and strategies we set forth for the second half of 2023. We’ve recently worked on improving our project management system, which we believe will make it easier for teams at Doist to have higher impacts. I’m particularly excited about this because we placed heavy focus on shipping work to our users – by shipping work more frequently and receiving valuable user feedback, I believe that Doisters will feel a greater sense of pride and accomplishment in their work.

Edited by Nikola Djuric. Keep up with Doist on LinkedIn and read more interviews with industry experts!


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