Great, he can write apps too

Product Hunt scored yet another great guest for their live chats…Actor, director, stand-up comedian, and author B.J. Novak talked about his career and experience building the List app.

What’s inspiring/intimidating is that most of us in the software industry only make apps and yet what BJ and Dev launched is as good as anything that’s coming from full-time software teams…so look out Silicon Valley — the writers, actors, directors are coming for our jobs!! Let’s build a wall to protect SF from LA ;)

Anyway, here are some of my favorite quotes and observations from his chat

  • The List App is a great example of Kottke’s law:
    “The inspiration for The List App came from keeping a lot of lists in my phone — favorite restaurants, movies I’ve been intending to watch, TV shows to DVR, etc. — and wishing I could see my friends’ lists like this. People I trusted.”
  • “Yeah, that sounds like it could be good, but…”
    “I kept pitching this idea to people I knew in tech and they would generally react the way I would when someone from another field pitches me a not-bad idea for a TV show: “Yeah, that sounds like it could be good…. but I don’t think you understand what it takes to actually MAKE a TV show.” And they were right, I didn’t. But I really believed in the idea, and in the challenge of trying to do it the way I saw it. I had just done a similar thing with a book and then a children’s book, both things that I had never done before, but had an idea I was passionate about, and took a lot of time to learn the field and really do my homework and try to pair with great people and see if I can do it. I kept asking around until someone introduced me to Dev Flaherty, aka @devwastaken. Here was a guy who knew the things I didn’t, who had experience, principles, integrity, aesthetic taste, a good sense of humor… it was an extremely lucky meeting. He’s been an amazing co-founder, and we’ve spent a lot of time discussing and debating everything from the philosophy of lists to the microscopic difference between two shades of blue.
  • How do you manage to do many tasks at once? Do you have a process when it comes to absorbing materials, getting inspired, and writing down your own ideas?
    I consciously divide my creative life into Ideas & Execution. When an idea comes to me, I don’t question it at all, I just write it down and let my mind explore it. When it’s time to “work,” in the morning with a cup of coffee, etc., I just go through my ideas and do my best with them. That’s the best creative trick I have found. It take the pressure off both halves of the equation.
  • As someone who works in the tech industry and in the comedy world, I would love to know how your two creative passions inform each other.
    “Never blame the audience.” I heard that when I started doing standup. Whenever I would have a bad set, I would always ask myself, “what could I have done to entertain them better? What did they want?” It’s a crucial way to orient yourself. Never say “well, they couldn’t figure out how to retrieve their password, we made it clear, so that’s on them.” You have to ask what you could have done better.
  • What has surprised you about working in tech?
    Creativity, execution, collaboration, the contradiction of being hard on yourself and yet believing in yourself… it’s a lot like creative writing.
  • Agents, producers, executives, gatekeepers, etc. are just guessing. They’re just trying to interpret YOU. You need to listen to yourself more than anyone else. It’s depressing when it takes me years to realize a cliche.
  • Beta users really gave the community its character. It was originally conceived as a place more for recommendations — utility, defined by the character of the people you knew. In the beta, it emerged that people’s minds are already ordered in lists, and character of the app became personal, comedic, honest, undefinable… Personal being the operative word.