The change towards self-management at Buffer is our biggest and most fascinating challenge to work through right now.

March found us evolving in quite a few areas including self-reviews, self-managed salaries and more—all while growing our user base and team throughout the month. Here is the latest update:

The latest Buffer metrics in March

  • 2,171,877 total registered users (+4.5%)
  • 207,035 monthly active users (+9.4%)
  • 50,538 average daily active users (+5.4%)
  • $488,771.05 monthly recurring revenue (+5.7%)
  • $5.87M annual revenue run-rate (+5.7%)
  • $2,084,003.37 cash in bank
  • 31 team members across the world

Buffer stats in March 2015

It’s awesome to see the revenue continue to grow at a solid pace here, making us very much profitable with the current team size.

Beyond metrics, here are some key things that have happened in the last month:

Continuing our journey of self-management

As we continue making the transition to be a fully self-managed company at Buffer, it’s been particularly interesting to get a chance to revisit almost every one of our existing processes and make them more friendly and less hierarchical. Two big attempts in March:

Self-managed salaries

We’ve started to slowly abandon our salary formula. It has helped us go a long way; however it doesn’t feel in line with being truly self-managed.

Instead, we’re now experimenting with a time period once a year where all team members are invited to reflect on their salaries and get advice on changes from their teammates and a dedicated Salary Sounding Board.

We’ve started this in March and are in the middle of wrapping it up now in April. This means every team member can de facto control and change their own salaries.

Self-reviews

Another important topic we started to tackle was the importance of ongoing and regular feedback, even without managers.

We started a pilot program in March where team members could optionally review their own performance and reflect on achievements and challenges. They then invited 3 other team members they worked closely with to offer advice on how they’re doing and how they could improve.

More than half the team joined this pilot and without having fully analyzed the outcome, we’re excited to bring this or a similar process to the whole team going forward.

Overall, some growing pains of being self-managed

Finding our feet in this fairly new environment has brought us some tough conversations. Often we don’t fully know whether the decisions we are making are the right ones.

What we’ve learned in relation to this is fairly simple: Just keep swimming! We plan on doing that! :)

Team growth

We’ve made big strides on growing the team in March, with 2 new people already starting their Buffer bootcamp and 3 more starting in April. This brings the team to 34! We’re especially excited to focus on hiring Product roles—something we’ve failed to identify and focus on for some time, but we feel now we’re really getting on top of.

We’re also keeping our focus on hiring for the Happiness Team to keep our users as happy as possible, since we started to put some strain on people working in those roles with the increased volume of requests through our continuous growth.

Here are the open areas we’d love a hand with right now:

Open roles at Buffer

An ask to you
If you know of any founders of self-managed companies that we could speak with (we know first-hand that there are very few companies that operate in that way, e.g. Medium, Valve, Sounds True), it’d be greatly appreciated to hear about them!

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Written by Leo Widrich

Co-founder and COO at Buffer. I enjoy writing about Buffer’s lessons learnt, social media tips and updates to Buffer. For some more personal posts, check out leostartsup.

  • Cal Bachand

    I love these monthly recaps, it’s fun to see Buffer grow and evolve. Truly curious about the self-managed salaries, what an interesting concept!

  • Thanks for the update and great job on the progress Buffer is making. I have a few questions …

    I’m really excited about the self-managed salaries and self-reviews. I wish more companies would do this. For the self-managed salaries, are there ranges you must stay in? If not, how do you prevent someone from really bumping up their salary? For the self-reviews, are the reviews structured in a way where set questions are asked or do the reviewers provide whatever feedback they’d like to give?

    The last question is about team growth. Buffer is such a great company to work for and I assume that the pool of candidates applying for each role can get pretty intense. Does Buffer ever consider hiring someone they may have turn down previously? What if that person is applying for the same or a similar role?

    Leo, again thanks for the updates. As the self-review process is finalized, I can’t wait to read more updates on it.

    • Thanks so much for the note! If I can jump in for Leo here, I’d love to share a bit about the salary process. Seems like a great one to expand on in a future blog post also!

      We don’t have any set ranges that a person must meet; I think a lot of the self-managed salary relies on trust of your teammates and trust in the process of seeking advice with the best information possible (e.g., how a salary increase might fit with the revenue of Buffer). Each person has the choice to go through a few questions to help identify areas where their job has changed/grown over the past time period – these questions are optional, though. Some have chosen simply to spend time reflecting and noting their experiences.

      For team growth, we’re definitely open to consider those who have applied before. I came on to the team at Buffer after my second time applying, and I know of others who have done the same. :)

      • Thanks Kevan. I definitely agree that self-managed salary is a great topic to break down and discuss in a future blog post.

        I’m also glad that you were successful the second time around. What do you think changed for you between your first time applying and joining the team? And what advice would you give to someone interested in joining Buffer?

  • Guys, you rock. The Salary Sounding Board sounds absolutely amazing. Will you share the results of this? Great recap, I’m looking forward to the April one already :)

    • Definitely! We’ll be very happy to share the results of this one, Petr! Thanks for the support!

  • Laura Bridges

    I’m with Petr, the Salary Sounding Board sounds brilliant – are they gathering and working with market comparable data for roles, or is it mostly focused internally and advice offered on the basis of performance and value added to Buffer by the role?

    • Hi there Laura! I’d love to shed some light here if I might. :) We’re aiming to take into consideration both internal and external factors, things like market rates for your position, how your salary compares to others on the team in similar role/circumstance, and how your salary adjustment feels compared to company-wide changes and the effect on Buffer’s overall salaries vs revenue. Hope this added info helps! This is great validation to dive into this further in a post of its own! :)

      • Laura Bridges

        i would love to read more about this – please do it!

  • eccoyle

    Interesting…. my concern would actually be people not paying themselves enough! Especially given the difficulties of women and minorities in tech. Do you feel that the sounding board will be able to offset that bias of some people to be more timid and some people to be bolder in giving themselves raises?

  • Dori

    Hey Leo,

    Thank you for the continued updates. My company is beginning to move towards more of a “teal” operating model and it’s great to see how others are faring.

    I wish there was more of a running list of self-managed companies out there (the list is small!), but here are some resources I’ve found useful:
    http://www.responsive.org/
    http://www.undercurrent.com/ (holocratic, might not be fully self managed)

    You could also try reaching out to Frederick Laloux and see if he can connect you with someone? I would love to hear what progress you make with this… I think an open network of companies interested in self management is really needed to help more of us adopt these practices.

    Best of luck

  • Nice update–thanks guys!

    We’re also grappling with the salary situation over here at Hanno (https://hanno.co/) since we switched to open salaries 7 months ago. We’re currently going through iteration 2 or 3 of our formula as an intermediate step, but we all agree that as soon as we can put the ‘safeguards’ in place, we want to figure out how to switch to a system like the one you’re moving through with.

    It feels like it has to be done step-by-step at first anyway, as we figure out how to make each stage work, rather than jumping too fast and having everything come falling down.

    Right now, I think trying to find ways to build a system which protects the most vulnerable people who come into the team and avoids any hint of favouritism is going to be the challenge. I vaguely remember some former Valve employees saying that the effect of shifting their system to total peer review was that it was very hard for a certain type of personality to survive within the company.

    i.e. as a team member, if you’re not advocating your cause frequently and making sure you have a high internal profile, you run the risk of receiving poor ratings from other people on the team. Exactly the kind of thing that makes it really tough for someone who is perhaps a bit introverted or unconventional, to survive the team environment. I think that would be a really bad thing, and lead to a bit of a monoculture if left unchecked–so definitely a big challenge to overcome.

    Very, very interested to see how you deal with all of this though!

  • Christine Gebhard

    Hi Leo & Kevan,
    Your journey and your willingness to share it openly are truly fantastic! It’s great to see that success is also proving you right. Looking forward to reading more about your progress soon.

    Here are a few organizations outside the US that might provide more insights:

    Premium-cola.de – They’re using an innovative, non-authoritarian system across all stakeholders. Lots of details about their culture & structure are available on their site.

    Elbdudler.de – A digital marketing agency with ca 40 team members and big-name clients. They are using the self-managed salaries model with seemingly great success.

    Chronoflex.com – French hydraulics specialist (ca 250 employees) that transformed into a self-management organization in 2012.

    Resourceful-humans.com – Heiko Fischer’s consultancy (in Berlin) offering software for self-managing organizations, including self- & team-reviews.

    Hope some of the above will be helpful!

    • Thanks @christinegebhard:disqus! Some great links here that’ll help our team, too.

      • Christine Gebhard

        That’s great to hear!

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