B.J. Novak

Actor, director, stand-up comedian, and author

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 26, 2015


Michael Drew@imichaeldrew · Analytics and Growth Marketing
@bjnovak After working and acting in #TheOffice for all those years what did it feel like when it ended?
Zak Konarska@zkonarska · Project Manager, Quizzle
@imichaeldrew @bjnovak - Will you feel the same way when you move on to another tech idea?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@imichaeldrew It felt like I had always worked at Dunder-Mifflin and it would always be my formative work experience. Like "he used to work at..." no matter what else you do. And I felt proud of that.
Brent Summers@brentsum · Founder, Code-Free Startup
Hey @bjnovak, thanks for doing this. 1. It seems like you're always trying out new things, whether building apps or writing children's books. Since you're a fan of lists, what's on your list of things you want to learn? 2. What's made you laugh recently?
Soliman@solimanedu · Copywriter. I really do love words.
Hey B.J.! Very excited about the AMA. 1. It seems to me that you're either doing many things at once or regularly transitioning from an experience to another. What's your definition of work? And how do you manage to do many tasks at once? 2. You're definitely a creative person. Do you have a process when it comes to absorbing materials, getting inspired, and writing down your own ideas? Or is it just an uncontrollable flow that happens unconsciously?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@solimanedu thanks, Ahmed. I can answer part 2: 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. And 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.
Tiffany Zhong@tzhongg · now @ZebraIQ (gen z market research)
👋 Yo BJ! What do you envision The List app becoming / what's the bigger vision for all this? What skills have you learned from acting and directing that you have applied to your new startup? What have you learned from these past few weeks after publicly launching your app?
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
A few weeks ago, you launched The List App with @devwastaken. Why'd you build it? What's your favorite list to date?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@rrhoover Thanks for the question and thanks for having me, Ryan! 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. I kept pitching this idea to people I knew in tech (I've always admired the field a lot) 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. Favorite list? I can't pick one but when Kiernan Shipka made a list of her favorite actors who played Bobby Draper, well, I thought, this is a special form.
Mall of Amanda@mallofamanda · comedian in training
@bjnovak @rrhoover Here's a link to the "My Memories of the Bobby Drapers" list by Kieran https://li.st/l/f6287d2d-5e07-4d...
Tiffany Zhong@tzhongg · now @ZebraIQ (gen z market research)
@bjnovak @rrhoover "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" love this approach. and this is how I'm learning more about different fields (DJing and film production)
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@tzhongg @rrhoover that's awesome. You're so young, you have time to really master anything you set your mind to
Tiffany Zhong@tzhongg · now @ZebraIQ (gen z market research)
@bjnovak @rrhoover So, can I shadow you for a day? ;)
Craig Stanford@craigstanford · Co-Founder & VP of BizDev @ StageHound
@bjnovak Anything you can share with us about your book you are writing with Mindy Kaling?
Jarod Stewart@stewartjarod · Sr. Software Engineer, Yonomi
@craigstanford @bjnovak Loved you last books, I can't wait to hear more about your upcoming one! :D
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
Do you think wuphf.com could be a viable product if redone in the future (by a team that might not consist of Michael Scott and Ryan?)
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
what's something you used to fervently believe but now see as fundamentally misguided?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@eriktorenberg pure libertarianism.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@bjnovak @eriktorenberg elaborate pls!!
Marko Islamovic@marko_is · Founder @ gigrove
@bjnovak Why did you stop believing in "pure libertarianism"? :) Are your political views dramatically changed now?
Adam Muller@muller_adam · Co-founder ADHD Collective, MullerCast
What would you consider your greatest skill, and what's an example of a time you've used it to improve something (i.e. yourself, a situation, an outcome) in a meaningful way?
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
@bjnovak thanks for joining us! I'd be curious to know more about what excites you most about tech? What was the driving force behind you shifting some of your time from acting to building?
sarah gorman@thesarahgorman · UX/UI Designer, Curiosity.com
Hi @BJnovak, I am in love with your product and use it prolifically. 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. How did your writing and performing background help you come up with your product and how has creating such a product impacted you in your other creative pursuits?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@thesarahgorman Thanks, Sarah! Actually, there is one piece of advice I find extremely relatable to both fields. "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?" I think that is a crucial way to orient yourself. And it's extremely important in this field, too. 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. Always.
Renee DeCoskey@writingrenee · Managing Editor, Business 2 Community
Recognizing that it wouldn't necessarily be an "app," then, but any plans for the List App to have a web-based version? Working in media, I find it easier to curate from the web versus on my phone since I'm usually working at my computer. Would love to know how other publishers manage their list-building like this.
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@writingrenee yes, I think web will inevitably be big for us and we are in the early stages of it.
Renee DeCoskey@writingrenee · Managing Editor, Business 2 Community
@bjnovak Excellent. Thank you!
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
All right, everyone, thank you so much! I admire this community a great deal and I am very happy to have gotten the chance to interact with you. See you on Wuphf I mean The List App!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@bjnovak thanks so much for joining us all! You've been amazing and we all appreciate you taking the time out to be with us today. 😘
Tom Charde@tomcharde · Brand + UX + Web Strategist
@bjnovak You can pick three people (alive or deceased) to start a company with. Who are they and why?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@tomcharde Leonardo Da Vinci, Ben Franklin, and Walter Isaacson. I'd have Walter Isaacson translate the other two guys to me.
Mall of Amanda@mallofamanda · comedian in training
@bjnovak How did the List App beta community help shape the now public List App?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@mallofamanda Hi, Amanda! 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. There are still a lot of recommendations but the community aspect is what really emerged.
Adam Kazwell@kaz · Product manager/observer
Hi @bjnovak, great job with the List App! It seems like the app was in beta for a long time (which is good! it stood out from the many not-fully-baked apps launching these days) what were some of the key moments in the app's evolution? How did you determine when you were ready to launch?
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Hi BJ! Of all the roles you've played as an actor, which did you enjoy most and why?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@melissajoykong I'm in a movie that comes out next fall that I really enjoyed filming. It's called "The Founder" and it's about the early days of McDonald's. It stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, and Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the McDonald's brothers. Really interesting story, great script, great experience filming it.
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
@bjnovak What is your least-favorite list of things?
Alladin El Akhrass@alaaelakhrass · Developer
Will List App come to android?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@alaaelakhrass Yes, of course! We're working on it now.
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
You've had a lot of success across a few different creative fields (acting, writing, producing, now making an app). What's your process for approaching a creative undertaking in a way that delivers consistent results while still allowing for creative freedom?
B.J. Novak@bjnovak
@ccheever my approach is to wait until you're obsessed with an idea... and then test it obsessively. "Am I crazy or....?" is my favorite question to investigate.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@bjnovak @ccheever btw BJ, Charlie cofounded Quora (you may have already known that...!)