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5 Acts of Generosity That Have Changed My Life

I like to think of myself as a “doer”—someone who can make things happen by himself. On occasion, I neglect the role that help from others has played and over-estimate the things I’ve achieved himself.

Often, when I catch myself thinking like that, I’m a bit disappointed and I wish I was instead more connected to reality and the people around me.

The most recent time I pondered on that topic, I decided to go through my life and re-collect the many incredible offers of generosity I was able to receive. Each of these 5 acts completely transformed my life—all without me doing anything or being in control of them at all.


Being offered 35% of equity in Buffer 4 months after joining

When I first joined Buffer in January 2011, I was 20 years old, had very few startup-like projects under my belt and ran into Joel through a Skype chat. He had already worked on Buffer for a few months, managed to get a handful of paying customers and was still open to having me on board.

Joel and Leo in San Fran
July 2011 in San Francisco

After a few months of us working together, he offered me 30% of the company, which I felt was an incredible offer. Even crazier: A few months later, when we were already in San Francisco and Buffer had started to show some significant potential to be successful, Joel offered me another 5%.

I often think about this today. Out of all the things I can think of, this is one of the biggest acts of generosity I have experienced and one that changed my life completely.

Having someone vouch for us to get $120k in funding

When we arrived in San Francisco, we barely knew anyone. In fact, we got close to packing our bags and going home. None of the investors were interested in what we were building, much less in giving us money.

We had applied to a number of incubators including AngelPad, which, if we were accepted, would provide us with $120,000 in seed funding.

Our first call with Thomas Korte, the founder of AngelPad, didn’t go so well. We sensed the skepticism around our idea for Buffer. Fresh off the boat, we had no clue how to best speak to investors. We had about 1 week left of cash and weren’t sure whether we’d make it after that.hiten shah

But out of the many “no’s” we’ve heard from investors the first few weeks in Silicon Valley, one person offered a “yes” in terms of advice, encouragement and mentorship to us.

Only a few weeks earlier we had first met Hiten Shah, one of the most well-known startup mentors, founders and investors that I know of in San Francisco.

In a last attempt to see if we could change Thomas Korte’s mind, we leaned on Hiten to help with vouching for us. This was the email we sent:

email to thomas
We sent this email on a Tuesday and heard back from Thomas on Saturday to let us know we’ve made it into AngelPad. Hiten, who was successful and well-known, had vouched for two kids he had met once, and it worked.

I’m not sure what would have happened if Hiten wouldn’t have done that, and I’ll be forever grateful that he did!

Today, both Thomas and Hiten are investors in Buffer.

Getting help to drive hundreds of thousands of visitors to Buffer

A complete stranger helped me and Buffer and attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors for us. His name is Dave Larson and he operates a very popular Twitter handle called @TweetSmarter.

dave larson

I discovered Dave’s blog when we were trying to find ways to market Buffer. We struggled with for a while until the idea of content marketing and guest blogging opened itself up as an opportunity. Through Dave’s prolific writing, I asked him many questions in the comments about helping us—some of which I would deem overly aggressive today—and yet, he never showed me anything but generosity and kindness.

Eventually, I asked him if he would share articles from the Buffer blog to his hundreds of thousands of followers. Again, something that I would probably deem too aggressive a thing to do today. And yet, he shared dozens of our posts. Each of them garnered thousands of clicks of engaged marketers who would find Buffer helpful.

Whenever I feel like I’m not in a great mindset of wanting to help others more, I go and read Dave’s Twitter bio, even today. His only mission that he states on there is to help others be successful on Twitter and social media and he’s been doing that for 8 years. He’s never monetized his efforts and simply enjoys helping people.

TweetSmarter bio

Being able to learn English in the UK, free of charge

When I was 17, many of my peers in Vienna started to think about going to university. None of my parents had done that, so I was particularly intrigued by the idea. Not only did my friends from school think about university, they thought about studying abroad—in the UK, in Switzerland and many other places with renowned universities.

I had never dared to think that far and the more I pondered it, the more I was excited about doing the same. For whatever reason, I concluded that I especially needed to have speak English to be successful and my English at the time was poor. I realized that if I ever wanted to study at a UK university, I’d have to prove proficiency in English, and I was far from being able to do that.

My great-aunt, who lives in the UK, then graciously reached out to ask if I wanted to come and visit her. She lived in Plymouth and offered to host me, pay for an English course and all other expenses and help me get my English in shape. I made that trip for a few weeks and then again the year after.

I often attribute her generosity to my success in speaking better English, which allowed me to study in the UK, which in turn allowed me to meet Joel and join Buffer.

Getting full freedom when picking subjects to study at school

The high school I got to attend in Vienna was very unique compared to most other schools in the country. It offered a course system, similar to a university, where one could pick and choose the subjects that they wanted. On top of that, we only needed to attend 70% of all classes. I was beyond excited about that.

There was one teacher in particular, our French teacher, who offered me more freedom than I had ever experienced before. He said that I didn’t have to come to French class at all if I didn’t wanted to, if I still did all the coursework.

Because someone gave me the choice of just doing what I thought was right, without any pressure, it made me go and work a lot more, now that I was free to explore my interest in learning French on my own. So instead of going to class 3 hours a week, I upped it to 12 hours, where I attended an extra course in French history and philosophy, as well as advanced French.

I often reflect on this teacher and the effect his attention had on me then and even today. There was really no pressure from anywhere to offer me this level of freedom and yet the school and this teacher in particular thought it was the right thing to do, I’ll be forever grateful for that.

What acts have changed your life?

There are many acts of generosity that I haven’t mentioned in this post. The many people that have helped me along the way, starting with my parents, teachers and friends, all of which I haven’t talked about here. There are way too many of them to fit them all into one post, and so if you’re reading this and have shown great generosity towards me and I haven’t mentioned it here, I want to say I’ll be forever grateful for it and try my best to pay it forward.

I’d love to invite you on a similar reflection. If you’d like, take a few minutes out of your day to think about the people that have done things for you without expecting or receiving anything in return. The ones that have just helped you and in doing so, changed the course of your life significantly for the better.

If you feel like it, write them down and let these people know about it. I hope this’ll give you a great deal of joy in your day!

  • Great reminder to all of us Leo, that there are most likely countless acts of generosity that have happened to each of us, we only need to stop and think to find them.

    A big one that sticks out in my life was my previous CEO giving me an opportunity to work for the company, then stepping back and letting me figure out what that meant. There was no management or job description beyond, “Do what you think it best for the company.”

    That opportunity to explore and find my own ways of creating great value for the company helped grow myself and my knowledge in many directions. It was awesome, and all because someone was generous to give me the chance to learn on my own and find my own way.

    I’d love to thank him again for that chance to make or break, explore many things. Sadly he passed away suddenly in July. We should certainly thank those that show us generosity early and often for their gift to us.

  • Leala

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Hearing how one is able to change the direction of a person’s entire life with one kind act is inspiring and a great reminder to be kind and giving to one another. Thank you for helping me remember :)

  • From one doer to another, thanks. We all can benefit from taking a moment to appreciate the acts of generosity we received.

    Before I get into sharing, I want to say that sometimes acts of generosity aren’t always acts of kindness. There can be times where people have generously hurt you and that hurt, which too is a gift, has significantly changed your life.

    Some acts of generosity I received were 1. my 10th grade teacher who praised my writing and encouraged me to never stop, 2. my husband who, while we were dating, encouraged me to go to church and 3. a leader who took a chance on me and gave me a temporary assignment. These things changed my life because 1. I never really considered myself a great writer until my teacher told me and writing is still something I’m passionate about today, 2. attending church helped me to find and accept God into my life, which radically changed my life, and 3. that temporary assignment turned into a permanent role, which led me to discovering what I want my career to be.

    Now Leo, how have you paid it forward and bestowed acts of generosity to others?

  • Jason Warner

    Just last month, I went to a wonderful family festival here in the UK called the Just So Festival. It’s 2 days and 3 nights, full of magical things for kids to do and the kid in each adult.

    On Monday, it was time to go home. I was on my own with my son since my wife and daughter left the night before. It took almost 3 hours to pack up everything, including our overly-enormous tent. Ethan entertained himself by climbing all around the car. I left the doors open since we were having one of our rare, sunny days. Finally, the car and roofbox were completely stuffed and it was time to go. I turned the key in the car, and the car’s engine spluttered. The battery was dead. Ethan had turned the lights on and since I left the doors open, all the interior lights were on too. Combined, they drained the battery in just those few hours.

    Most families had already left. I went around asking everyone if 1) they had jumper cables and 2) if they knew how to use them. After many people said no, one lady who was just about to leave with her two older children said yes. She tried to start my car with a portable power pack, but her children had drained it with their devices. She left. I asked the even fewer remaining families. No one could help. Finally, I had to call home and admit to my annoyed wife what I’d done, so she could send for a rescue service.

    Half an hour later, with every other family gone, it was just me and Ethan, waiting for rescue. But then, a car appeared. I went down to ask for help – and it was Powerpack Lady. She had returned! She said she took pity on me. She had passed by a service station, asked them for jumper cables, and drove back to help me despite having her children in the car and all her unpacking to do. She stayed for another 20 minutes as I failed to get the jumper cables to work out of my own ignorance (and a car manual that wasn’t explicit about where to put them, as I found out when the rescue service jumped my car immediately).

    I was stunned and so moved that she’d come back. I’ve been thinking about it every day since. Because I know that previous to this, after the powerpack thing didn’t work, I would have gone home. I wouldn’t have returned to help. It was so selfless of her. I have always had difficulty accepting help from others because of a strong feeling that I don’t want to put anyone out or bother them, and that in turn sometimes leads me to not help other people like I should. But her doing this really inspired me to be aware of opportunities where I can give more of myself to someone else, even if it’s inconvenient.

    I’m so glad I got stranded there.

  • Chris Doner

    Awesome to hear about these stories and their impact, Leo. Thank you for sharing :)

    There is one act for me that stands out. When I was 7 my mother decided to move us into in to the best school district in the entire state. And while parents should be living with focus on what is best for their children, this decision came with a big sacrifice. Since this was such an expensive area to live in it meant that we would be living in the smallest, cheapest apartment in the area for the next 10+ years. And while this may not seem like a huge deal to some, I know how important owning a home was to my mom and that she put that dream on hold for a long time to do what was best for me. I will always be grateful for that sacrifice and the amazing education I received because of it.


    I smiled at this article and also consider myself a “doer”, a “maker” and even sometimes a “breaker” (when self learning, of course!) so this post really resonated with me and after I read it, I actually immediately make a list of people I appreciate and am grateful for, and emailed it to those very special people that have changed my life, added value to my growing character, and those that continue to influence me in many ways today. Thanks for sharing Leo, I love these warm reads, because it breaks up the professional/performance articles that typically fill up my free time (“never stop learning”) but genuine moments of reflection are also a wonderful habit to integrate into our seemingly busy lives (“never stop developing oneself”). PS: I was inspired by your learning English section and shyly reminded myself that I could put more effort into embracing German language skills. I might be too spoiled by the fluency of English that surrounds me every day in the international bustling urban culture of Berlin…but still, no excuses ;)

  • Leo, your English is great and you barely have an accent. When I started watching Buffer videos, I actually thought you were American at first, then I heard a tiny accent. :)
    Recently, the person who extended kindness and gave me a chance was my publisher, New World Library through my editor, Georgia Hughes. I had self-published my book and went, on my own dime, to Book Expo America looking for distribution. When I asked Georgia how I could become a better book marketer, she asked me if I was looking for a publisher. Something like that is almost unheard of. I’m so grateful to her for giving me the chance to realize one of my life long dreams.

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