The Indie Hackers Podcast June 29, 2018

Building the Company You Actually Want to Work at with Joel Gascoigne of Buffer

Episode #058

When Joel Gascoigne (@joelgascoigne) started Buffer, he had no intention of doing things "the way they've always been done." Learn how he helped lead the way by running a remote team, by being transparency about revenue and salaries, and how grew his business from $0 to $18M in revenue and 70 employees along the way.

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    My Main Takeaways:

    • Buffer generates 300-400k net profit per month (at the time of this interview)
    • Joel had a bad past experience working for a company, because he worked part time for a company that went bankrupt so he and his colleagues missed out on a lot of pay.
    • Joel says that you should create a company that you’d like to work on. And regularly check-in with yourself to see if you still feel aligned with the company.
    • Joel grew up in Sheffield, but lived in Japan from age 4 to 7 where he had to learn Japanese from scratch.
    • Joel says that he’s an extreme introvert and has struggled a lot in education. He says that the education system was not designed for introverts.
    • Joel was into online gaming and eventual even started his own clan, which he grew to 50 members. He even learned basic web development because he wanted to make a website for the clan, He eventually got into building websites for other clans. (Courtland says that he had a similar childhood in this regard).
    • After graduating Joel knew that he wanted to try and make something for himself, so when he got a job and negotiated that he’d only work 3 days a week, where he could work the remaining days on his own projects.
    • His first idea “One-page” (Buffer’s first iteration) was an idea similar to the website “about.me”. He spent a year building it with his co-founder that he met from university. Where they made all the rookie mistakes such as building the idea without checking if anyone else had that problem.
    • Joel and his co-founder didn’t really get along, but they were very passionate about making something work so they continued working and did ok. They secured startup grants and met great mentors.
    • Eventually Joel discovered Eric Ries's blog the soon-to-be author of “The Lean Startup”. Joel read his blog and was immediately hooked. Joel learned a lot about business from Eric’s blog and said that he’d never have been able to succeed with Buffer without that knowledge.
    • Joel and his co-founder separated after deciding that they did not work well together.After this, Joel was alone and responsible for the business “One-page”. By this point, they had grown the business to 10,000 users. Joel began embracing Lean Startup concepts, he then immediately pivoted the business because he saw that it had potential.
    • Joel began using Twitter more and more, and over 2 years he had built 1,500 followers. He says that by the 800 follower mark, he was having fun since he could tweet something and that would result in someone replying and starting a twitter conversation, which encouraged him to tweet more. Joel would share his learnings from business, blog articles, and revenue numbers.
    • Joel got the idea for Buffer by solving his own problem, because he wanted to schedule tweets for his twitter account to grow his following and engage his followers.
    • Joel was feeling burnt out with his previous idea “One-page”, and he was running low on money since he ran through the grant funding he received. So for Buffer, he decided to charge straight up. He also took on client work to earn money working 5 days a week, and work on Buffer on the side.
    • Joel went from idea to first paying customer in 7 weeks with Buffer by following the Lean Startup principles and being super disciplined with them. (Don’t just build. Speak to customers. Cut down scope. Don’t worry about making it perfect when you haven’t even gotten your first paying customer)
    • Joel leveraged his 1,500 Twitter following to get people to visit Buffer.
    • How Joel structured his day (Bad):Wake up and work 9-5 for clients and then work on Buffer in the evening, but he realised that he was too tired to work on Buffer by this time, because he was drained from work for the day.
    • How Joel structured his day (Good): Wake up really early and work on Buffer first, and then do work for clients 9-5.
    • Joel got his first paying customer within 3 days of launch. He was ecstatic when he got that first $5 monthly subscription payment, despite earning way more than that per week from client work. His revenue grew slowly and he continued doing client work for a few more months.
    • Joel got a new co-founder, Leo, someone else he knew from his university, who offered to do marketing for Buffer. When Leo got onboard, he began experimenting with different marketing channels to see which was best. Soon he identified that Content Marketing worked best. Over the next few months, Leo grew Buffer to over 100,000 free users, and $5,000 in monthly revenue. And Joel could finally stop the client work.
    • There are many marketing channels that they never got working at Buffer (i.e. reaching out to press, and paid advertising).
    • Buffer believes in transparency.
    • Joel’s first Vision for Buffer was “Can I build a product that I can work full time on, and don’t have to do client work”. But his vision changed and became more relevant to newcomers in the Buffer team.
    • Different products grow at different rates: Buffer has a few products generating a total of $18 million annually. The main product is generating most of the revenue. One product is generating half a million in revenue annually, and the even newer product is generating $500 monthly.
    • Joel prefers to focus on getting to profitability rather than chasing funding.
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    More companies should embrace the transparency road. Very inspiring to listen about his hard times and how finally his doing good.

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    Thanks for this great interview Courtland and Joel. I could really identify with the path of creating your own business.

    I also started a small personal website when I was 14 or something because it was very fashionable at that time. I was very proud of not using a framework but writing pure HTML/CSS at that time. But unfortunately, I didn't continue with programming afterwards and totally forgot about that. I only remembered when you were talking about building your first gaming community :-D

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    I met Joel at a JavaScript meetup a few years ago when I was in the US and he was a really cool, down-to-earth guy.

    The company transparency has been most interesting to me, along with the fact that they actually pay remote workers more or less depending on where they choose to live.

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    Great podcast! I’ve recently applied to work at buffer and was very near to get in, hopefully will have more luck in the future!

    Joel if you’re reading this, I’ve sent you an email for feedback on this, if you have the time to check it would mean a lot, thanks!

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