How did a meeting over frozen yoghurt turn Buffer CEO Joel Gascoigne from a struggling startup owner in a Digbeth bedroom to the co-owner of a thriving global business, recently valued at $60m?

As you can imagine, we were keen to find out! Joel was back in Birmingham this month as part of the Fireside Chat series, together with Founders, Silicon Canal and was interviewed by Nick Holzherr.

In the interview, Joel described in typical transparent Buffer style (Buffer most-famously published staff salaries online together with the formula for calculation), how he’s developed the business from an idea born out of frustration to a business with 2.5m registered users and 40,000 paying users.

Joel’s Experience

We’ve picked some of the key learnings from Joel’s experience outlined in his interview as tips for any modern entrepreneur:

  1. Throw out the rule book

    Joel admitted that in the early days of his original startup, OnePage, he made mistakes, which is an important part of the learning process. At the beginnings of Buffer the product was still under development, but that didn’t put them off getting out there and seeking funding.

  2. Validate market first

    When it comes to it, you just need a brilliant idea to solve a problem that others also experience. Joel started reading a lot and wanted to share articles with the community he was building on Twitter. He started using Google reader each morning and soon ended up with 20-30 articles he wanted to share, but spread out throughout the day without being forced to choose set dates and times (like with Hootsuite and Tweetdeck). Buffer was started with one Twitter account and no analytics and grew from there.

    Buffer had a two-page website, with a plans & pricing holding page including just an email signup for more information. The team used emails and Skype to discuss people’s problems with social media directly with the audience to validate way before the product was as complete as it is today.

  3. Put yourself in the right place

    As Joel wryly phrased his curiosity about San Francisco; “What is this mythical place that you read about and that people get get millions of dollars of funding when they arrive there?” 

    Joel explained how in the early days it was so important to get access to the Silicon Valley funding that the team were based in San Francisco. It was persistence, making connections and a meeting over frozen yoghurt with the angel investor and co-founder of Kissmetrics and Crazy Egg, Hiten Shah, that led to securing one of the first rounds of funding.

  4. Have clear values
    Buffer-Values

    Buffer values


    Buffer is incredibly well-known for their values, and ‘default to transparency (unless there is a good reason not to)’ was one of the key topics of the discussion.

  5. Hire by culture, not just skills

    Joel explained how originally Buffer would hire people for their skills, and that he wanted to bring the most skilled people into the business, which would be ideal for any start-up. However, Buffer found that when skills were given top priority, unfortunately some members of staff weren’t the right cultural fit, so they needed to focus more on value alignment as part of the recruitment process.

  6. Keep your culture, and keep your enjoyment

    Joel referenced that one of the key reasons many founders cite who end up selling their business is that the original culture they worked so hard to create has been lost. Of course, there can be many reasons how this can happen, but Joel appears to be passionate to retain control of this at Buffer, having recently declined a head-turning offer of an undisclosed figure.

    Joel has now made six angel investments of his own, and clearly seems to be enjoying investing in other ideas and giving back to the startup community.

Top Stories & Tweets

As you’d expect, with the support of Silicon Canal and the high profile nature of the event, some of the top names in digital were in the room with questions for Joel and a lively discussion which followed on Twitter. This was excellently captured by Lorna Prescott on Storify

Some of the top tweets covering Joel’s points from the session include:

Reading List

Joel’s recommendations (many of which make up the Buffer backbone) include:

Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People (2006)
Frederic Laloux – Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness (2014)
Jim Collins – Good To Great (2001)
Dennis Bakke –  Joy At Work (2005)

For a full list of Joel’s library, take a look at his blog post – 50 books that transformed my business and my life and check out Joel’s Fireside Chat in full, filmed by Founders Show, below.

Photo and video reproduced with thanks to Founders Show – looking at the people behind some of the worlds most exciting companies.