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Change at Buffer: The Next Phase, and Why Our Co-Founder and CTO Are Moving On (buffer.com)
237 points by colinscape on Feb 10, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 150 comments

My guess at what happened: the natural hyper growth engine ran out, they tried a bunch of things to jump start it, none of them worked, so now they are on the slow growth path.

If they were not remote-only maybe they could have pulled off the CTO's plan of hiring a bunch of traditional managers and "pushing" the company forward (probably enterprise sales), but they'd have restructure the bones of the company at great expense. The great expense part probably doesn't work, because since the sizzle is off the growth, the next VC round would be tough if not impossible to do. It would be very "term-y" and founders are already underwater enough on investor preference.

They probably made the right call of not shooting for the moon, and slowing down into a remote-only company that takes its time. Skype and boxer shorts.

But now the COO and CTO are faced with the decision of A) sitting around and riding it out at $185,000 and $182,089 per year respectively (healthy money no doubt but not DHH buy-a-racing-team like earn outs) or B) move on to the next thing while the market for vc funding is still hot and they can still get some juice from their association with buffer.

Rational decisions all around.

Oh, and Twitter launched scheduled tweets.

> "Oh, and Twitter launched scheduled tweets."

Tools like buffer would still exist even if every single social media network offered scheduling capabilities. The fact is, if you're a digital marketer, you're not going to waste your time jumping between networks and multiple accounts scheduling content manually.

Disagree. The very best digital/social marketers don't use these tools at all. Each channel has its own platform strengths, weaknesses, peculiarities, not to mention audience differences, trends, breaking news etc.

If you're scheduling social posts without doing your due diligence on each and every platform within 2-4 hours of a post going live (preferably within 30 minutes before), you're doing it wrong.

If you're using the same post across multiple channels, you're doing it wrong.

If you're re-using the same post multiple times within a few weeks, you're doing it wrong.

The only people I give a free pass too are solo marketers who really just don't have time to do things right and have to keep up a minimum level of noise on social.

More than half of all the businesses have no employees (i.e. It's just the founder) and most of the rest have less than 50 employees. For most companies is social one of many things that they need to do, setup a website, pay taxes, answer the phone, emails etc. because they're is no one else. Whilst for big companies, they perhaps have full time social media or at least communications staff, most companies do not.

Ultimately this is a tool that saves time for, mostly, small companies.

> More than half of all the businesses have no employees

That sounds very interesting. What do you mean by "the businesses"? Where are these stats from?

> If you're not the very best, then you're doing it wrong

Well, more a paraphrase than a direct quote, but still. Most companies can't afford to hire the very best. Many companies take a bang-for-the-buck approach, and products like Buffer hit that measure for them better compared to paying much more for a world-class marketing team.

Doesn't mean it's a bad product. Just means you're not the customer.

This. Most people by definition are not the very best. Not everyone is a Gary Vaynerchuck.

Most mediocre people we would think suck. Really look at the 50 percentile. Ever interview people with long careers, making decent/good pay, at well known companies, and wonder how in the world they even have a job? That is a an extreme example, but most people treat it like a job, something to get done, provide for themselves and family. That's okay, but they're not that dedicated in being the very best.

The very best at what, though? If they have a family, perhaps they're a dad. If they're the best at social media, they're not the best at being a dad. In fact, they probably suck at being a dad. I think that to be the best, you have to choose one thing, and be okay with being shitty at all the other things you didn't choose. A lot of people who I respect decided that they wanted to be just be pretty good at everything.

This thread was about social media, but can apply to many things. The point of contention I have is the original assumption of why a product is near worthless because it doesn't matter to the best people in the field which the product is marketed towards.

Not sure how you're interpreting my comment. It isn't to knock people with other priorities like a family. In fact that's perfectly fine and expected. I used it as an example of why people might not be the best in their field. Your description of the trade off supports that claim, and it's a fine trade off to make as work isn't and arguably shouldn't be the center of ones life.

So I don't think we disagree on anything.

Mostly agree :). If you are a marketing team of three and you're trying to do SEM/SEO, email, vertical advertising, channel programs, comms and social, then these tools are a lifesaver.

But if your team is big enough to have even one dedicated social media person, then they should be doing their due diligence and maximizing the quality of their content and channels. That almost always means doing a lot of the work manually so you get the biggest bang.

Plus, in reality, we're talking about 3-4 channels. It really isn't that time consuming to manually handle a lot of what Buffer automates.

Don't get me wrong, as products go Buffer is certainly solid and our team uses it sparingly, but I really think too many people get lazy and overly rely on automation.

Right. I agree with most of what you said. However, that doesn't mean you can't build a platform that does what you described. In fact, and I'm not trying to self-promote here, but we've already done that. We're currently in beta going live in a couple of months.

> "If you're scheduling social posts without doing your due diligence on each and every platform within 2-4 hours of a post going live (preferably within 30 minutes before), you're doing it wrong."

Can you elaborate on this? What type of due diligence do you need?

> "If you're using the same post across multiple channels, you're doing it wrong."

Some posts can be shared as they are across multiple networks, other posts need to be different. We address this by allowing the user to write the post once and customized it for each network before its published. This includes different images, different URLs, different OG tags, keywords, mentions, etc.

> "If you're re-using the same post multiple times within a few weeks, you're doing it wrong."

When you publish something, only a percentage of your audience sees it, which is why it is considered a good strategy to repost every now and then for higher exposure. Just don't do it every few weeks. The way we solved this problem is by allowing the user to create category-based schedules. Basically, we have a content library that organizes posts by categories, and each category can have one or multiple publishing schedules. You can choose to recycle content from specific categories or not, up to you. The more content you have in each recyclable category the less frequent your content will be reposted.

There are many other hard problems that SMM platforms can help you solve including social listening, which if done manually can be very time consuming and silly.

EDIT: typo

Would love to see what you're working on. I always repurpose my content for each social network. Its time consuming. Would love something that can make that easier.

I'm far from the best social media marketer and maybe that explains what I'm about to say, but I can't figure out for the life of me how to effectively use tools like Buffer. I manage Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for my small brand, and the three places are so different, with different audiences and different methods of interaction, that trying to do it in one tool is crazy. I end up writing the same post three times in three different ways anyway, so opening the Facebook app or Twitter app is the least of my concerns.

If usernames and hashtags were the same across the different platforms, it might work. But what you should say on Facebook won't translate to Instagram or Twitter so what's the point?

I have been in the same boat for my baking website. Used Buffer and didn't see that many results. Then I abandoned Buffer and came up with a strategy that worked for me.

I realize that twitter was a place where I could get a lot of conversions to the website, but not the greatest for engagement. So I created twitter bot using the Wordpress REST API [1] to just pump out links to my recipes. Instagram, on the other hand, is all hand written and takes me some time. Although instagram barely gets anyone too my website, it has been the best tool for me to build a community around. So much so that I am thinking of abandoning the website.

I can't figure out Facebook for the life of me...

[1]: https://github.com/kylevalenzuela/python-wordpress-twitter-b...

I'm pretty similar. I let Wordpress push my new posts to Twitter and that's about it. No one engages, no one comments, they just click through to my site. Sometimes I use Twitter to talk to other related businesses, but real actual people don't interact with me there.

Instagram, I get real actual people reacting, but there's no good way to drive people directly to my site from Instagram. I use it more to engage with the audience and not to drive clicks.

I held off on using Facebook for the longest time, but I've had more engagement there than anywhere else. At this point, 90% of my clicks come from Facebook, and about that much of the social media engagement too. My secret? I have a $1/day ad sitting out there generating about 20 likes per week. Once I hit 500-600 likes from the ad, it because self-sustaining. Enough people would engage with posts that their friends would see it and like or follow as well. Sucks that I had to pay to see any benefit, but I paid Twitter and Instagram too and didn't get squat from it.

Thanks for the insight. I know I am losing out not engaging on the platform. Need to start getting serious about it.

I think you're giving too much credit to the majority of digital/social marketers. Yes, the best will follow similar strategies that you outlined but the vast majority will continue to spray and pray, with perhaps additional focus and time given to the one channel that performs the best.

Interesting, can you elaborate a bit more on this? Especially on the "due diligence" part: Do you mean depending on what happened on the network a few hours ago it's often wise to change stories or content?

The wisdom in the marketing world when it comes to social media is that if you treat it purely as a self-promotional channel it will fail. If you come across as fake, overly corporate or robotic it will also fail.

So due diligence in this scenario means if you are hoping to just load up a bunch of tweets for example, have them blast out are pre-defined intervals and think that is good enough you are in for a rude shock. You should instead be monitoring it to see what the reaction is and if there are any conversations that you should be a part of based on what you have shared. You need to come across as a real person who is sharing something that you genuinely feel people are going to find useful if you want to have any kind of real "success" with social.

By due diligence I mean not only understanding each platform and how its audience differs, but understanding what's happening around the time that you post. What's the mood?

There's a huge amount of value to be gained by participating in a larger conversation at any given moment (thinking mostly of Twitter here). It's not about just jumping on hashtags or Trends, though if relevant that's an opportunity. But if everyone is talking about a big topic, then customizing a post to add value to the conversation can have huge benefits.

Or just interacting on a human level. I've seen my best gains and actual new customers when participating in hashtag chats for my industry. Not selling my product, just trading ideas and opinions. That's how we met some great influencers who have ended up being major magnifiers of our messaging.

Also evaluating the overall tone on a social channel. Did your last post on FB a few hours ago result in a bunch of snarking by readers? Then maybe a humble tone is in order.

It's also about knowing when not to post. An earthquake kills 25,000 people in the Yucatan? Your fluffy happy emoji-laden post looks really out of touch.

Anyways, I just think it's very hard to pre-schedule content that's truly relevant. So instead, as someone mentioned above, people spray and pray with a mix of product/feature advertorials and rarely-clever memes. Noise.

Wendy's twitter I think is a funny, good example. I don't often eat there. I'm sure the exposure influences me in subtle ways.

What is the due diligence? Why are these things wrong? Are there sources you can point me to understand your point of view better and educate myself.

And that's what leads to the incredible amount of content spam from all these companies.

The logical exit for these smaller tools companies as growth slows is to get acqui-hired by the Twitters, Facebooks, and LinkedIns of the world.

However when your entire team is remote, that makes these companies steer clear of acquiring you since you won't fit into their culture. So they will go for your competitors with a crappier product, but a local team that they can quickly bring in onsite within a few months.

Or, given that they've now been profitable for 7 months, they could continue to exist without an exit strategy.

How does that work in the VC-funded world?

If a company's growth has dramatically slowed, but they are still profitable (even with a down year here or there), are VC's ok letting them chug along without an exit? My guess would be no and they'd push for some sort of private sale.

A company that accumulated enough cash could, in theory, buy out its investors. This would allow an impatient VC fund to return cash without involving any other party. Not sure if a VC-backed startup has ever done this.

Acquihire? For a company that does $13M annual revenue?

Depends what that $13M costs them. CAC and burn are critical factors in an acquisition.

a company that offers as a primary feature its ability to post to _multiple_ networks, is unlikely to be able to sell to any of those networks. the acquirer would likely have to be some larger "tools" company.

Best bet would be to get someone who doesn't know what they're doing, will overpay, and bungle the post acquisition.

What's Yahoo's M&A department's phone number?

Buffer flat-out admitted the existential concerns last June after layoffs: https://open.buffer.com/layoffs-and-moving-forward/ (HN discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11918553)

> We know that we have many untapped opportunities for growth. This time, however, we simply weren’t able to trigger growth fast enough.

I'm not saying that you're wrong, but this is bothering me.

It's bothering me that a company has to constantly grow grow grow, or die. What happened to just making a profitable company and riding it for as long as possible while making the life of people around you better (employees, people you buy services and products from, customers, etc...)

I just got back to Lyon after a year in Chicago, and it's refreshing to see more of these companies here. Sure the salaries are way lower, and life is not as crazy, but people seem to have good intentions.

For example, a cafe I just stumbled upon: http://www.dunsiegealautre-lyon.fr/concept

> Nous avons fait le choix de rejoindre le mouvement coopératif en créant une Scop. Cela signifie que nous sommes sociétaires de notre structure, que nous adoptons une gouvernance démocratique et que la répartition des résultats est prioritairement affectée à la pérennité des emplois et du projet.

Which basically means that the goal of this place is to make employment and the place durable.

There's nothing wrong with slow growth--that's how most small to mid-size businesses operate, both in the US and abroad.

But as a Silicon Valley tech investor, you're not incentivized to fund companies that grow slowly over time. You're incentivized to fund moonshots that rapidly explode, take over the world, and get you the highest ROI in the shortest period of time.

So, if a company isn't growing exponentially every year--and as an investor--my salary/job-evaluations are dependent on successfully funding companies that grow exponentially, I'd have no incentive to invest.

And as a result, if the company needs a constant cash-infusion to stay alive--it needs to grow exponentially.

It's either: (A) get cash, grow fast; or (B) no need for new cash, grow slow.

(A) is the SV way.

(B) is more common in other industries/sectors, parts of the world.

Neither is inherently/morally better (my opinion only), but both are a functional result of the systems and incentives in their respective professional ecosystems.

> My guess at what happened: the natural hyper growth engine ran out, they tried a bunch of things to jump start it, none of them worked, so now they are on the slow growth path.

Sigh. No need to guess, the other co-founder wrote his own account on Medium [0].

The relevant part:

> Another reason emerged after Joel and I had a candid conversation on how we’re structured as CEO and COO over the last 6 months or so and recognized some challenges in it. Joel shared this article [1] with me, which I thought explains some of the struggles well of what’s been going on.

[0] https://hackernoon.com/after-6-incredible-years-at-buffer-im...

[1] http://organizationalphysics.com/2015/02/18/organizational-d...

> Oh, and Twitter launched scheduled tweets.

Scheduled tweets was launched like 4 years back - https://blog.twitter.com/2013/now-available-scheduled-tweets

This is the first I've heard of them...

I just enabled this, you have to create a campaign on ads.twitter.com and then add a credit card to enable the compose button; it looks like you can then schedule standard tweets that i don't think incur any cost

Hrm? Scheduled tweets were launched in 2013. https://blog.twitter.com/2013/now-available-scheduled-tweets

Yup - reached the natural end of what they could get to organically, now they're faced with the realization that they likely have to move up market to focus on enterprise where companies like Oktopost live.

I've also seen that remote companies make acquisition more difficult - unless the company is being bought for the product and they plan on dumping the team.

Summary: the cofounders disagreed so two of them left.

Maybe I'm an old guy but I don't really understand why this blog post exists, it's like hundreds of words of emotive rambling and vague talk of journeys and values and euphemisms for simple concepts.

Would it like have ruined anything to write something like "A couple key early people are moving on but we're doing pretty good, we make social media software and have revenue ok hey thanks for listening I'm going to get back to that now have a great Friday" and then hit save?

I work at buffer. Some slight perspective. From all my interactions with Joel, I could describe him as soft spoken and very sensitive towards people around him. For him Leo and Sunil really did cross the boundaries of being simply coo and CTO. They have all been extremely close friends. For him this blog post probably isn't just a public announcement. It cements in the fact that it's actually happening. The transition period is closing off. His close friends whose advice he could always rely on are no longer there and that weight of being responsible for close to 80 people suddenly feels a lot heavier on him. I totally understand where you are coming from. All I'd like to pass on is the thought that it's not just numbers and back to a great Friday for him (or any of us). He's human too. And we humans need some space to take in and deal with complex emotions. That's kind of the bigger feel to what this blog post is about :). Cheers!

This is a great comment. It's so easy to be hyper-critical when you're critiquing words on a screen and not realizing there is a human behind those words.

" For him this blog post probably isn't just a public announcement. It cements in the fact that it's actually happening."

Excellent observation.

I've been at a startup when a high-level executive/cofounder abruptly left with nothing but a short and vague email, and it was very unsettling to me and immediately made me worry about the long-term health of the company and whether or not there was hidden infighting at the top.

I think I would've felt a bit more comfortable with this sort of transparency, although I agree that ultimately it's still fairly vague and feels a bit rambling. I think most likely Buffer is just beginning a slow decline that will be drawn out for several years leading to either more downsizing or eventual death, and the two cofounders who left decided to get out now rather than ride that out. I don't see a major company acquiring Buffer's 100% remote team, but I could be wrong.

Buffer is similar to a lot of companies that are obsessed with being companies rather than about the products they make.

I thought similar things after reading this:

"We will be a long-term, sustainable, fully remote team that works hard on mission-driven work. We will be the most reliable social media tool in the market. And we will continue to push the boundaries of transparency, culture and freedom in the team."

The first and last sentence has nothing to do with the product, and the product statement doesn't even hint at what it does... just that it does it well!

Yeah after a while it seems like the classic case of taking themselves too seriously. I was like "Chill" you guys are developing tools to tweet later not saving lives or anything.

Not every company has to disrupt, revolutionize, save the US/world (ok the last one was a rant about super hero movies)

Employees are an audience, maybe the primary audience, for this message. Buffer has collected employees that prioritize this sort of transparency and emotional sharing. Which makes the message seem apt.

It's less this and the fact that their radical transparency is something that resonates with certain folks who will buy the product because of it, regardless of whether it checks every box on their feature list.

For some companies, they buy software because they like the sales guy who took them out for a steak dinner.

For other companies, they buy software because they like the culture and philosophy of people making it. This is why companies like Basecamp, Buffer, etc. can keep operating the way that they do.

Isn't it for most companies you buy their product because the product is good? Radical concept I know.

Most products I've seen are "good enough" and have trade-offs with their competition. Infrequently have I seen a product that's head and shoulders above.

So companies get the checkboxes in features, then when I'm deciding between the finalists, stuff like this is a tie-break.

In other words, company culture is a differentiator, especially in a commodity product market.

I disagree on this. The companies culture is only a matter in terms of how it manifests within the product itself and the things around the product. It isn't THE product.

I don't buy a product because their CEO's salary is public and I can see what I'd make there in a hugely arbitrary / convoluted form based salary metric. I buy because the product is good and support is good.

Yeah tend to agree - if we look at the evolution of the product over the past 3 years, as a user I can't see much in the way of innovation or improvement. They've added Pinterest, but there's little else that I see - did I miss it?

Are you using the free version?

Actually, they're somewhat of the opposite of this.

Hah, well said.

PS hi Ethan

I'm old too but you should think harder about this.

You can learn from bitter experience, and you also can learn from the detailed accounts written by others. Don't begrudge the youngins the chance to learn from other people's experience (and mistakes).

It's a ton of work to manage these kind of leadership changes, so the incremental cost of also writing about it for an hour or two isn't much.

So no, to answer your question, it wouldn't have ruined anything to write something short and sweet like your example.

And yeah, if he had taken more time he could have made the post shorter.

Grumpy Friday!

Yeah there is some real baby language: "But this is indeed a case of differing visions – neither better than the other, just different." OH PLEASE!

Joel clearly wants to be transparent about this, but the core of you the reader wants know is glossed right over. But full transparency around a personal disagreement would be really inappropriate. It'd make everyone & the company look terrible. If you want to be transparent, c'mon, let it fly - who's the egomaniac, who's the alcoholic, whose vision is going to burn the company to the ground etc. etc.? (ofc please don't)

Good luck to 'em, we're paying customers, but I totally agree a buttoned-up, terse post would be more transparent than this eye-rolling "incredible journey".

I respectfully disagree. Buffer needs to fully commit to a single path forward. The cofounders disagreed on which path to take. Rather than going with a compromise that would certainly fail, one of them left so that the company might succeed.

You might, perhaps, say "a case of differing visions - neither known to be better than the other", because at this point they really don't know which approach will work best. But I don't see anything insincere in this post. They need to fully commit to a single vision. The former cofounder did the right thing by leaving and making space for someone else who does share the vision to step in.

Buffer is somewhat well-known for over the top, radical transparency. Not writing something like this would have been far more surprising if you've followed the company at all.

Buffer is all about social media. What drives their product/business is sharing and transparency -- Collaboration, openness, sharing is what make their product thrive.

It's also the values, conversations and content that their typical customer (social media, influencers, mavens, etc, etc) loves to engage in.

They live that through the company, their values - which manifests in content and transparency like this.

Makes total sense to me. Perhaps not right in other contexts (likely the ones you value or are used to) -- but in general aligning your company culture, values, brand and approach to your market makes a lot of sense.

They really go for the transparency.

Like here is what everyone working there earns:


> hundreds of words of emotive rambling and vague talk of journeys and values and euphemisms for simple concepts.

I think for the new generation, vague emotional rhetoric has replaced old school business gibberish like "We need a paradigm shift" and so on. People like the idea of appearing to be open and honest without actually making themselves vulnerable by revealing their true thoughts and feelings.

I came to the same conclusion too, but I felt the blogs left a good taste in the end rather than raising questions in my mind. I was surprised at the number of "retreats" the team seems to have had though, maybe that's baked into the compensation, etc.

Like they pay you extra to have to do it?

It's a "millenial startup", you old timer ;)

Agree with CPLX. It is improper to speak for others in this way. If Leo and Sunil want to post about their plans, they may do so. "Leo and Sunil asked me to to say this...." would be fine, although still TMI.

A customer might think, 'Wow the company is falling apart and the remaining founder seems lost in his own world. I should find another vendor.'

> It is improper to speak for others in this way. If Leo and Sunil want to post about their plans, they may do so.

ICYMI, the departing executives in question did post about their plans, and (similarly to the OP) with a bit of reflection on their part:



There doesn't seem to be any reason for customers to be concerned, and the contemplative style of the post is by no means new. On the contrary, it would be a matter of concern if the post wasn't primarily concerned with a retrospective on how they got to where they are today as well as individual styles, goals, personalities, and emotional fulfilment.

I agree with you and even though their words may be a bit fluffed up, they really are transparent. It's hard to fault Buffer when they have been transparent with everything they do!

Transparency is part of their marketing / way of operating

Well, I know what you mean but there are worse things.

Old guy here. I am sure many like me find the whole premise of the company a bit repulsive.

If you are going to throw all of your professional energy into creating and growing a company can't you find something more meaningful than just building a social media spam engine?

Well it's hardly spam since clients are posting to their own social media accounts.

Your opinion about the validity of the work has nothing to do with the potential growth and success of the company/product.

Being a plumber may not be "meaningful" to some, but it's definitely possible to be successful and make a lot of money doing it.

Whats wrong with this?

You'll likely never get full transparency from a post like this. All parties involved have a shared interest -- to paint the best picture possible to maintain the value of the company. Everyone cordially agrees to disagree, saying this is just a personal growth thing, then everyone hugs and gives high-fives on the way out the door....

Take these posts with a grain of salt. If everything were hunky-dory, there wouldn't be a senior level departure at all.

It wasn't hunky-dory at all. That's the point.

There are a couple of different ways of running a business, and a lot of them can be captured in what kind of growth you expect. Buffer did 50% growth last year. Great for what it is, but it's not the same culture and company as one that can sustain 100% YoY growth.

2 of the 3 founders wanted a 100%+ YoY growth company. The CEO didn't. Notwithstanding the realities of cash and organic growth, the CEO always wins these disagreements, so the other 2 founders left.

There are a lot of ways you can grade a business. Against the VC-rocket-ship metric, Buffer is mediocre and small. Against cash and stability, they're rock-solid and large. In the mind of the departing founders, the business was in trouble, because it was failing to achieve the metrics necessary to be graded well against that first yardstick. And they're right, but it doesn't mean Buffer is going to collapse today, tomorrow, or ever.

If you're going to get transparency from a company, Buffer's gonna be it. Their Baremetrics install is publicly available. Their salaries are published on their website. They run on a "radically open" platform of management.

When I read this I wondered it he is being fully transparent with himself. It may be a post full of the truth from one angle but everyone knows the truth doesn't exist in 2 dimensions.

I use Buffer as a marketer and I think I can see what keeps them from growing the number of their paid users.

I have a free plan and I'm completely OK with keeping it that way. It helps me schedule posts 10 per network at a time and not knowing any better I'm perfectly happy with this little convenience it offers and they are doing very little to break me out of this routine.

There is very little messaging to the user in terms of missed opportunities that a paid plan opens up. Actually even with a free plan they could do more messaging to bring me back to their product outside of my "go to schedule some tweets" routine. How about sending me an email when a Twitter account with more than 10K followers re-tweets me. Perhaps it's worth something to me to know that this has in fact happened and suggest some follow-up actions that might maximize this opportunity.

That's just a small example but there are tons of other growth tactics that would communicate to marketers that Buffer can help them become not just "more efficient" marketers, but better marketers overall. I think that's where the true value of most marketing technology lies.

This stage of their company evolution is notably harder and perhaps arguably more boring so it's not surprising to see people leaving. After working on the core product for a while and squeezing out all the potential growth from that, it takes hundreds if not thousands of tactics adjustments, product optimizations and management changes to fine-tune the company engine for slower but steadier growth from then on. And even then it's not an exciting roller-coaster ride anymore but a slow long-haul freight train journey. It takes a markedly different kind of employee to thrive in that kind of environment and this is what they have to optimize for going forward.

ADDENDUM: There's also the added risk of Buffer's success being tied to all the individual social networks, some of which are thriving, others which may not be here tomorrow, so it would be in Buffer's interest to develop their relationships with their users outside of their interaction with those platforms they have no control over. I mean marketers will always have to find the best way to do their job regardless of whether Twitter exists or not. This is probably pretty common sense advice considering how many times we've seen the rug pulled out from under smaller tech companies who built their business around some platform created by Google, Facebook, Microsoft or one of the other big companies.

I understand it is just an example but Buffer actually does have emails similar to this already. I got an email last week that said "We wanted to take a minute to celebrate you because, check it out, your tweet is doing amazingly!" and then it tells you the potential audience of the tweet and has a little animated gif with a Buffer employee giving you a high five. Not sure what the limit is to get this kind of email and I don't think it is configurable. My most recent one was a potential audience of "165,962 happy Twitter users, courtesy of 2 retweets".

Salient point regarding the long slog they have in front of them. At that stage it becomes critical to optimize your efforts, plan things out more methodically due to diminished forecasts, and strap in for the long haul. Every bit of growth they get now will need to be fought for. Still possible, but a lot more challenging.

off topic:

I took a look at his new project(https://www.matterapp.io/) and wonder what people think about the method of social proof he is using by showing logos of companies that are not customers but that are transparent about their diversity. Seems like a great shortcut but feels slightly misleading to me.

Interesting loophole abuse. The heading to that section implies that the companies are not using the product, but the intent of the section is clear.

It fooled me initially, until I saw the pricing. $299 a month for what the simplest of spreadsheets could track.

People had the same arguments against Dropbox (just use rsync) and Buffer itself (just use a cronjob).

This argument is inherently a fallacy. Sometimes ideas are inherently bad. (Also, you're an engineer at Buffer)

Yup I am. My point though is that that argument is largely underestimating the value delivered by these products. And the apparent lack of P/M fit for spreadsheets managing diversity at large companies.

You're not the target customer.

Might seem expensive but I can easily see some larger companies using this to publicize their diversity numbers if they are good

These people need to have some kids, and realise not to take themselves so seriously.

I've just been in intensive care with my 4 week old son for 3 days while he has been on a ventilator. Watching the doctors and nurses work does make you realise how unimportant all this social media and startup stuff mostly is.

You should experience what it is like grow up in the third world country, and realize not to take yourself so seriously.

At least your son has doctors and a hospital to go to. Watching people die of starvation makes you realize how unimportant all this stuff mostly is.

I hope your baby is doing better.

Is it not possible to learn this lesson with a parent, sibling, or some other loved in intensive care?

Not exactly, kids are different. Speaking from experience.

I would have to disagree. Also speaking from experience.

Sorry about your son but this post has nothing to do with people taking themselves seriously.

Downvoters, care to explain yourself?

Likely because your comment, while possibly on accurate, isn't necessary. While keeping comments on-topic is important, in this case, it's probably better to just let it be.

To me Buffer has always occupied a very unique space between a SMB in the style of 37signals / Basecamp and a high-growth venture-backed startup.

Today I was surprised to look at Crunchbase and see Buffer's total raised is just $3.9M between a Seed and Series A. Very few startups could make that money last 5+ years, but very few startups also occupy this unique space of being profitable so early.

I imagine choosing between the two paths was difficult and it's great to see clarity around the decision and future direction.

Maybe Crunchbase is not up to date? The CEO's post says they have 71 investors, and Crunchbase lists 29.

But you're absolutely right. If they've only raised $3.9, it's an impressive run.

I agree that it's quite impressive.

It's definitely possible that Crunchbase is out of date but companies are also generally pretty incomplete in listing investors past the leads for each round. People don't list so and so's dad that put $50k in, etc. I'm thinking the dollar amount is right since the lead for the A matches what Joel wrote.

Prorating salary based on your location always seemed unfair to me. According to it the value of the work I produce would change if I travel to another location, which doesn't make any sense to me.

I think it basically comes down to practicality. If you don't adjust pay for location in a remote company, you either pay the market rate for the most expensive market or you price yourself out of that market. If you pay the rates of the most expensive market everywhere, you are essentially leaving money on the table, since your competitors can potentially hire two people in Nashville, TN for every 1 person you hire (though you obviously get your pick of the litter by paying above-market rates) - or they can afford a bigger advertising buy, or any of the other competitive advantages you get by saving money. Not only that, but if you're not a remote-only company and are actually based in one of the expensive locations, you're basically offering your in-person staff a huge bonus if they leave and become remote.

Honestly, anything other than paying market salaries +/- some relatively small error term is probably not sustainable in the long run.

And like every other time people say this, it just breezes by the fact your remote employees can get other remote jobs. The market is not you-the-one-company-in-the-world-that-hires-remotely vs their-local-market.

True, but the fact of the matter is that even if you had no idea where your employees lived, the location adjustment would likely come out in a competitive market because people from other low-cost areas can bid down the price, and you'll only drop out of the bidding when it reaches below your cost-of-living adjusted salary. The only reason the expensive markets can compete at all is because a lot of the top talent is concentrated there.

Although adjusting pay based on location isn't exactly rare. And I suspect that a lot of companies with remote work are OK with missing out on some talent in Little Rock because they won't pay Silicon Valley rates to someone living there. (And/or they make exceptions for people they really want on a case by case basis.)

> you either pay the market rate for the most expensive market or you price yourself out of that market.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with pricing yourself out of the most expensive market, unless attracting the most in-demand employees (who are concentrated in the most expensive markets) is an existential matter for your company. This actually would let you pay generously compared to tier-2 markets and attract employees that want to leave the most expensive market or who would not even consider relocating to that market.

It is worth noting that the requirements for successfully working remotely preclude most of the lowest cost-of-living locations. eg. it is hard to get decent broadband in the boonies of the desert southwest, or in rural Appalachia.

You obviously haven't seen the Nashville real estate market lately. All joking aside, how does that factor into making local-market-based salary decisions for a remote company? Isn't it hard to estimate payroll when you run the risk of someone moving to a different market or the market substantially changing?

I feel the same way. Location is a lifestyle choice, one among many, whereas the market value of a widget that I make has little relation to where I make it. Should an employee's salary be lower if she makes the lifestyle choice to buy clothes at thrift stores and drive a 20-yo car? Higher if every meal is at a restaurant?


I say this as someone who has worked remotely and liked it, but remote workers in positions that require frequent coordination and interaction with their teams are somewhat less productive and more expensive when you add in regular travel to the company. We have to offer some advantage to the company, and reduced salary requirements are often the advantage.

But not having to pay for a remote worker's office space (rent, electricity, free food and drinks, cleaning services, etc.) is already a pretty big advantage to the company.

Also, remote workers can be more productive, since the average office is full of distractions. (I work with some very productive remote co-workers.)

Office space is almost never an advantage. There is virtually never any marginal savings, ie they have room for you in the office, you just don't use it. And offices aren't that expensive relative to salary anyway. Even sf office rents are $70/ft2. I see your point if you go remote-only, but that really isn't what we're discussing.

Price for a week in the office in sf: $500-ish flight, 4 hotel nights $1100, $90 per diem $450, taxis/ubers $30/day = $2k - $2.5k. Throw in a $500 team lunch or two.

I agree remote workers can be more productive; I certainly was. However, I used most of those productivity gains to work fewer hours.

Cost is tricky because the big costs are a step function.

So long as there's an empty seat in the office, it really doesn't cost much to have someone sit there every day. Yeah, there are some free drinks but it's really in the noise and might well be dwarfed by some additional travel for the remotee to come into the office now and then.

However, at some point, having a significant number of remote workers may mean you don't take out a lease on an additional floor or move to a bigger building or construct a new campus, which can be huge costs.

The productivity debate has been done to death and I won't repeat it here :-)

This is only true if a large % of your employees are remote. Making exceptions for a few has no upside to hard costs.

EDIT: And from my experience, 30% of people work more productively remote, 40% about the same, 30% are less productive. That said, there are also productivity losses to in-office people when a smaller percentage work remote, especially if their jobs require frequent team interactions.

For developers it is certainly doable. For other teams it takes a lot of effort for everything to even out. Some companies have figured it out, some have not.

If you work in City A at HQ, and then decide to work remote in City B (and the company approves it), the company is NOT on the hook to pay your travel expenses to City A.

You chose to move, it's your responsibility to cover your travel expenses when you need to be in the office.

Now, if you already live in City B when the company hires you, or the company asked you to relocate to City B, then they should cover your travel expenses when you need to travel to City A.

Any reasonable company that approves someone to switch from an office location to remote will absolutely cover T&E for team meetings and other visits to company locations.

If a company hires you at SF HQ and you live in SF, then a year later you announce you're moving to Seattle, it is entirely unfair to ask an employer to float your travel expenses back to HQ.

Your choice to leave, your financial burden. Sure, you can negotiate this as if it were a raise, but be advised that most companies will then simply deny your request to move.

As a theoretical fairness argument, sure. (Assuming you're not delivering a local service.) In practice though you either pay at least somewhat higher salaries in higher cost areas--which probably don't actually fully cover cost of living differential--or you accept that you're going to have trouble hiring good talent in those areas.

Location is also not really a lifestyle choice in the vein of driving an older car. People have partners, family obligations, etc. in area. It's often not as simple as packing up and moving.

Companies don't pay employees relative to the value provided, they pay them what they can win in negotiation.

One of the most important pieces in that negotiation is the employee's opportunity cost. "What would companies in your city pay you?" is a very relevant question, especially when most good tech jobs are not remote friendly.

If we see remote take off in a big way, I expect "you live in a cheap city, we'll give you less money" to stop working as remote companies do away with it to attract better talent. That is, unless the best talent stays in the most expensive cities, and like to use that as an excuse for "fairly" getting more salary :)

That depends on how you measure value. If you're talking about the sheer number of dollars, then obviously this amount is changing. But money is not particularly useful on its own so I believe the idea is to normalize the effective value of money based on location.

Even if most companies don't explicitly adjust for location, nearly all do. There was a post on here a while back about traditionally NYC-based banks opening offices in Jacksonville, where they can pay people substantially lower salaries than New York.

It's like getting a bonus for living somewhere more desirable.

Then you are essentially negating the value in hiring remote workers. If I have to pay everyone the same as my employees in the most expensive markets, then why would I hire anyone remote? I would just hire the local talents and reap the benefits of being collocated in the same time/space as well as not having to comply with multiple tax/law jurisdictions.

If you're the most attractive employer in your market, your idea is completely valid. But, it gets significantly more complicated when you're trying to compete for top engineering talent with all the hottest startups. If your company is opening to hiring remote workers, you get access to people who don't want to (or can't) move to your market.

I see your point. But in that case, why not just pay somewhat more, but not SF-level, salaries to the top talent in remote locations? Its a win-win for both - the employer and the talented folks.

Anecdotally, I heard this is what Google and Uber did in Pittsburgh.

That's often the case in practice. In locations with low cost of living and relatively limited opportunities for tech employment, remote work for a distributed team can pay quite well relative to local options.

Maybe I'm old and cynical but this blog article really seems to be overthinking a basic company change.

If anyone is interested, you can see Buffer's revenue numbers, etc here: https://buffer.baremetrics.com/

TL;DR: They want car doors that open like this: | | not like this: - -

Group therapy for tech C-suite, in blog form.

This is a bummer. I'm a buffer user and really enjoy the product. I still think they could gain a huge market by offering their platform to reddit users. I ran a small subreddit for a while that I would have loved to buffer posts for so their would be regular content updates.

Buffer needs to provide business value beyond post scheduling. Tell me when the best time of day to post is or other analytics around posts. Provide a marketplace where people who want to sell products/brands can connect with influencers etc. I don't know.

I think it's AMAZING that a company offering nothing but scheduling posts on social media got to $13 million per year in revenue. Amazing. And kind of weird.

People here are speculating a lot about what Buffer revenue are and it's growth.

No need to speculate.

Buffer publically posts their actual revenue.


You can review their sales performance and come to your own conclusion.

Can't believe people buy whatever this is.

Hey that's my hometown Cape Town :)


Please comment civilly and substantively on HN or not at all.



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