How Buffer Grew to $18M ARR
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Most people might have heard about Buffer because it’s one of the largest social media management tools. But it actually is one of the early catalysts for the “build in public and open startup” trend that’s dominated bootstrapped businesses in the past few years.
Not only do they have a fully transparent dashboard of their revenue, but they also have a dashboard for the salary of every employee that works there (the CEO makes $298,958/yr!).
Here are some interesting facts about it:
$18M ARR with 58,000 customers.
Fully remote since 2012 and 4-day work weeks since 2020
Started as a side project by Joel Gascoigne and Leo Widrich
Bought out investors after raising seed and Series A in 2018 to keep the transparent and remote work culture
Here’s the story behind it👇️
💡Coming up with Buffer and Escaping the 9 to 5
In 2010, Joel Gascoigne was constantly on Twitter sharing learnings and blog posts around The Lean Startup. He was working a full-time job and wanted to schedule his tweets throughout the day. He wanted this to be as easy as sending a tweet now, but none of the other social media tools could do this around that time.
Joel immediately began coding up a solution. But just when he started, he remembered one of the main principles of The Lean Startup - validate the problem and existence of an audience before launching.
So instead of creating the finished product, Joel instead had a simple landing page to see if people would even consider using the app
Buffer’s early MVP
People immediately signed up for paid versions, validating the idea for Joel.
After a successful HackerNews launch, Joel quickly got his first customer on day 4. In a few weeks, Buffer reached 100 customers and Joel quit his full-time job to go all in.
🚀 100,000 Customers in 10 Months
Buffer’s marketing strategy was simple. They focused all their energy on guest posting. And I mean all of it.
Within 10 months, Leo Widrich wrote over 150 guest posts which attributed to over 70% of all of Buffer’s sign-ups. By the end of month 10, they got nearly 100,000 customers from this strategy.
Finding Guest Blogs
How did Leo find guest posts? At first, he reached out to sites like TechCrunch and Mashable. But with no credibility to his name, he got rejected by all of them. Instead, he looked for bloggers searching for guest posts through sites like MyBlogGuest and BloggerLinkUp
After getting some traffic, Leo directly emailed larger sites and pitched the contributions editor.
Eventually, Leo started to form relationships with Treehouse, Social Media Examiner, and other popular social media content sites.
Write for influencers strategically
Leo and Joel were very strategic with their guest posting. They calculated the LTV of each guest post and planned their entire strategy around metrics. One day, LifeHacker had a guest post featuring Buffer, which drove a ton of traffic and quality sign-ups.
After this, Leo began to blog about business and life hacks. His post “Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower” isn’t directly related to Buffer or targeting social media folks, but the audience had a strong overlap and could likely convert or interact with prospecting customers (the post got over 100k views).
💭Transparency and Company Values
Before starting Buffer, Joel had a poor experience with his previous employer. Part of his motivation for building a company was to create and live by strong values.
This meant sharing the revenue and salaries of the entire company, broadcasting public messages such as Buffer getting hacked, and buying out Buffer’s early VC investors, which allowed Buffer to stay true to the transparent and remote work aspects of their culture (an event that led to Joel’s cofounder and CTO leaving)
📝A few other interesting things
Joel started Buffer while working a 9 to 5. He tried to work on Buffer at night after work but often found himself too tired. Instead, he decided to work on Buffer in the morning with a clear mind and then perform his day job.
Buffer doubled their price on their cheapest plan one day from $5 to $10 and had no change in conversion rate. It reminds me of a conversation I had earlier with Jason Cohen of WPEngine
Joel suffered severe burnout while building Buffer and recommends taking one true vacation a year, having a hobby that allows you to disconnect, and seeing a therapist or coach.
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