Buster Benson

PM, Slack

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON December 23, 2015


Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
Hi! I'm a product manager at Slack, helping the Platform team that recently launched the Slack App Directory, bots that can be installed via the Slack Button, and a new fund for Slack developers. Before that I was a PM at Twitter working on analytics.twitter.com. Other things I've been made: 750words.com, healthmonth.com, 43things.com, and lots of things you've probably never heard of. I track all of my beliefs on Github (https://github.com/busterbenson/...) and have been taking a photo every day at 8:36pm since 2008. That's sort of a weird list now that I see it all written out. Happy to answer questions about anything! I am also happy to give bad life advice on any personal topic. Whatcha got?
Mollie Vandor@mollie · Product Manager, Twitter
Hi @Buster! I'm gonna change things up & ask you something that normally gets reserved just for us women, because I know you and I think you can handle it. :) You have a family, a demanding career, and a bio full of awesomely creative stuff that you do. How do you balance it all, and find time for everything?
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@mollie Yay, thank you for this question, Mollie! I know what my top priority is: my family. I walk my son to school every morning, and have dinner with my wife and son every night. I rarely work weekends. Those are the constraints that allow me to then ask, "what meaningful work can I do in the remaining time?" and "who do I want to spend that time with?" because they have strong competition. I have to admit that I am extremely lucky to have the opportunities to participate in creative systems that value work/life balance, that are compensated ridiculously well, and that spark my creativity and have ample room for collaboration and fun. But part of that luck was also discovering early on what kind of work really fulfilled me, and scrappily looking for opportunities to do a little bit more of it every year, for many years (I'm old). I've also had some traumatic and eye-opening experiences in my life that have helped me keep perspective about it all. Losing my father when I was 17, several failed businesses, a failed marriage, and even the struggles of keeping a relationship together while trying to raise a child help me enter each day where none of those things is happening with a lighter spirit, and a bit more excitement because I know how tough things can become.
Corey Flayman@cflayman
@buster What advice would you give to an aspiring PM who is currently working at a non-tech company, in a non-product role? What are the most transferrable skills that anyone can work on?
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@cflayman Make something that 1 person loves. Or even, just tell a story that 1 other person is moved by. See if you can grow 1 person to 2, then 5, then 10. Keep going.
Kingsong Chen@kingsongchen · Dev
Hi Buster, what is the key to Slack's great design?
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@kingsongchen Great designers, great CEO, great engineers, great product managers, great customer support, great user research, great ops team, great team in general, great timing, great luck, great willingness to keep running and striving to improve.
Brian Slowey@bslow · director of sales
How do I get coworkers over 50 to participate on Slack?
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@bslow Invite them to the team and then lock them out of their email accounts. j/k
Jonny Miller@jonnym1ller · Cofounder @Maptia
Hi @Buster – thanks so much for doing this! I find your Codex Vitae totally fascinating (ditto for the concepts of mortigo and your ongoing life/week chart). I have too many questions so please just pick one that you think might have the most interesting answer 😃 1. You’ve clearly done a ton of emotional heavy lifting with regards to questioning exactly what the best use of your time is (in the BIG picture sense). What was it about Slack (or perhaps what Slack could become) that convinced you there’s nothing else that you’d rather be building? 2. In your Codex Vitae, you predicted that by 2050 computers will be building better computers than humans. Do you share @Elonmusk’s concerns about the dangers for AI? If not, what’s your take? 3. Reading your blog, it seems like you’ve been through various chapters where you explore questions around what it means to live a good life. From “What goals can I set myself?” to “How do we change ourselves?” and my favourite “What will earn me the most deathbed points?” What question are you focusing on these days? Bonus: What’s the most embarrassing picture you’ve taken at 8.36pm?
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@jonnym1ller These are all great questions... I'm gonna answer them all once I scan through the rest of the questions and maybe answer a few of the easier ones. :)
Jonny Miller@jonnym1ller · Cofounder @Maptia
@buster awesome, thanks!
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@jonnym1ller RE question #1: I was drawn to Slack because of the people. I've respected the founders and many of the employees for years, and have always wanted to work with them. I'm drawn to Slack the product because it's a clear expression of the personalities and values of the company. I feel like it's a company that has somehow managed to avoid cynicism, truly value diversity, have good intentions, and treat people kindly. The product is a mirror of all of that. Bringing a little bit of playfulness, pleasantness, and simplicity to our every day working lives may seem like a modest goal, but it's a huge chunk of many peoples' lives.
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@jonnym1ller RE question #2: no, I don't share Elon's views. I think we should be careful about what we build and how, but I don't think super artificial intelligence will treat us the same way we treat ants. The mistake is assuming that super intelligence will be just a more powerful version of our own intelligence, but with the same flaws.
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@jonnym1ller RE question #3: all of those same questions. They sometimes change form slightly but they're all a version of "what is all this?" :)
Mike Coutermarsh@mscccc · Code @ GitHub
hi @buster! I'd love to know. Whats the one thing you've done professionally that scared you the most?
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@mscccc Signing a 5-year lease on an art gallery and bar space with absolutely no knowledge of how to run such a company was probably the scariest. The next 2 years, and ultimate failure of the business, were probably the most stressful.
Colby Nelson@colby_nelson · Product Manager, Constant Contact
In your opinion, What makes for an excellent Product Manager?
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@colby_nelson This is always a tough question, but let me give it a try. An excellent product manager has to have a few contradictory personality traits: 1) A passion for trying to model how other people think. Some people say "build what you know" which implies build for how you think. However, my primary strategy for modeling how other people think is to imagine myself in their shoes. Therefore "what I know" not only includes how I think, but also how I think other people think and behave. 2) Building this model requires talking to lots of different kinds of people, and listening to them. Listening to them requires that you shut down your model of how other people think (because that will create biases and stereotypes based on your current model and not let contradictory or new information in as easily). So you have to be able to turn this on and off: "build what you know" and "forget what you know". 3) A great PM needs to have the confidence to act and take responsibility for actions even with limited information, lack of the appropriate skills and resources, etc. 4) That confidence can't be shaken by criticism and poor results. It needs to help you adjust to results, learn, and continue improving your strategy until criticism and poor results improve. There's a lot more but hopefully that's a good start.
Jason Jacobs@pbfreak422 · CEO
@buster Thanks for doing this! 1)What does Slack do differently in terms of product that allows it to be such a standout? 2) What people processes do you and your team implement that allows such great work to be done?
Hi @Buster How will you spend your time if you've got one hour to solve a user problem/need? Thanks!
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@juniusfree I'm a huge fan of free-writing! I make a case for why I think it's so valuable here: https://medium.com/better-humans... but most of the time the hardest part about solving a problem is putting yourself in the shoes of the person you're trying to solve a problem for. Once you do that, often times the answer is obvious (or at least it's obvious why other things aren't working, and that's useful too).
Tom Frauenfelder@tomfrauenfelder · Founder
@buster Can you tell us about the most challenging product problem you and your team have resolved at either twitter or slack, and how you did it?
Jack Dweck@jackdweck · Product Manager at Unroll.Me
Hi @Buster! Slack is quickly becoming an indispensable platform for launching apps (70+ results for "Slack" on PH). What are some of your favorites apps so far, and what are some you'd like to see built? Bonus Q: Why do you take a photo every day at the same time? 📷
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@jackdweck I'm super excited about everyone building Slack bots like Howdy, Awesome, Growbot, Birdly, and Meekan. We have a category of them all here: https://slack.com/apps/category/... I also love how products like Airtable, Wunderlist, and Envoy work. They've managed to make my daily work easier by providing the right hooks into their products. Figma is another example of a company really thinking smartly about how they integrate with Slack -- I'm hoping more and more companies start doing what they're doing. As for ones I'd like to see built... I'm excited to see more bots of course, and I'd also love to see people build better versions of the Twitter, Trello, and other apps that have been around a while. Why do I take a picture at 8:36pm every day? Basically, I want there to be a story of my life that isn't curated. So much of what we capture about our lives is curated and edited. What happens if we are at the end of our lives, trying to share our stories, and we find that our actual lives weren't captured? That's what 8:36pm photos are meant to protect against.
Isaac Rosenberg@irosenb · Building MapHunt
@buster @jackdweck We've built an experience based on capturing your everyday life. Give it a few days and tell me what you think http://oneminute.me/
Wahyu Kristianto@kristories · @kristories
Why would you take a photo at 8:36pm (weird time) each day? 836 is a weird number. Its factorization is 22 × 11 × 19, so its proper factors are 1, 2, 4, 11, 19, 22, 38, 44, 76, 209, and 418. They sum to 844. As this is greater than 836, it is an abundant number, but no subset sums to 836, so it is not a semiperfect number; therefore it is weird -Wikipedia
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@kristories I like weird numbers.
Mike Brevoort@mbrevoort · Building Missions.ai
Hi @buster! Happy Holidays! What's been your biggest surprise or ah-ha moment from a product perspective working on Slack? In other words what didn't yet expect but were surprised to find with respect to how people use Slack.
Sonal Keshav@sonal_keshav
@buster what are some of your favorite integrations on slack? any advice for a aspiring PM in final year of University? (PS I'd love to work for Slack) Thanks a lot for doing this :)
Bridget McGraw@mcgrawbridget · Thingfully thing = physical + digital
@buster I heard a great podcast today (TED Radio Hour with Deborah Gordon) that discussed ants and how their organization is based on no single leader. It made me think of Slack, which seems similarly organized. How does nature inspire you in your role as Product Manager.
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@mcgrawbridget I'm a huge fan of systems thinking in general, which is largely based on observations of nature. Things like the water cycle, carbon cycle, phosphorous cycle, nitrogen cycle are all super fascinating to me. We tend to think linearly (beginning > middle > end) rather than in complete systems. In systems thinking, things never run out, they just move or fall apart or merge. In systems thinking things don't just happen: everything has a consequence, everything is balanced. It also helps you realize (as you alluded to) that there's really nobody in charge... we're all influencing each other, participating in different parts of an interdependent system. It's not about innovating and creating things from nothing, it's about being lucky participants in a creative system.
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@mcgrawbridget PS, thanks for the podcast request! I haven't heard that episode yet, I'll check it out on my commute home.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Buster! What Slack app/integration do you wish existed?
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@rrhoover Off the top of my head, here's a weird one: I wish there was a bot that could turn sentences into the kind of knowledge that is stored in ConceptNet... truples like "(I) (am named) (Buster)" where each "fact" was tied to a source that could be me, or could be some other source that I trusted in some fuzzy way. Link all these bots together and allow queries to be passed through the network, and you could quickly have a knowledge graph that was pretty impressive.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@buster whats the coolest thing about working at Slack?
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@ems_hodge the people, by far.
Avneesh Kohli@avneeshk91 · pm @ foursquare, working on swarm
Hi @buster, thanks for doing this! Is there anything that makes the product role at Slack unique? How does it compare/differ to how you spent your time in product at Twitter? A few others have asked this as well, but if you could impart any advice to a young person trying to make it in a product role, that would be awesome. Thanks again!
Earteza Auvee@earteza · Team Member @Foundedx
Hello @buster , i use Slack Daily for 4 different projects. is there any plan for use Smart Calculator or Smart math Formula in Slack ? for example if anyone type 2+2 = Then Enter then it will show the result 2+2 = 4 or 2(2+3) = it will show result 2(2+3)= 10 . kind of auto formula by itself .
Buster@buster · PM, Patreon
@earteza That would make a great slash command.