The last 3 weeks have been challenging and emotional for everyone at Buffer. We made the hard decision to lay off 10 team members, 11% of the team. I’d like to share the full details of how we got here, and the way we have chosen to handle this situation to put Buffer in a healthier position.

I believe most startup founders are, by nature, optimistic. We want to solve problems and we believe in going from nothing to something. The attitude of most successful founders is that something previously unproven can be made a reality. Most of us have experienced doubt and skepticism and have pushed through it.

Optimism has seen us through a lot of mistakes at Buffer, like the countless new features and products we spent months building only to realize we need to scrap them. Content suggestions and our Daily iOS app are just a couple.

But after a certain point in a company, the mistakes we make don’t just affect the product features. They affect people’s lives.

And no amount of optimism could prepare Buffer for last Monday, when we had to tell 10 talented teammates that their journey with us was over.

It’s the result of the biggest mistake I’ve made in my career so far. Even worse, this wasn’t the result of a market change—it was entirely self-inflicted.

We moved into a house we couldn’t afford

In short, this was all caused by the fact that we grew the team too big, too fast. We thought we were being mindful about balancing the pace of our hiring with our revenue growth. We weren’t.

One of our advisors gave us an apt metaphor for what happened: We moved into a house that we couldn’t afford with our monthly paycheck.

In the past we’ve gotten ourselves out of these situations by growing our revenue faster. We’re optimistic as cofounders, and we believe in Buffer. One such occasion was back in 2013 when our growth slowed slightly and we started to burn cash rather than be cashflow positive. This was when we quickly launched Buffer for Business, and this turned the situation around.

We know that we have many untapped opportunities for growth. This time, however, we simply weren’t able to trigger growth fast enough. We came to the realization that we had to solve the crisis with something tangible and immediate.

The fact is, the challenge that I created has now irrevocably changed people’s lives. I put the company in this position. I had poor judgement and took the wrong actions in many different areas.

Especially at this time, I want to try to live our value of transparency and share everything about the big mistakes we’ve made, the tough changes we’ve decided upon as a result, and where we go from here.

Reflecting on the last year

Over the course of the last year, Buffer went from 34 to 94 people.

We had just come out of a long experiment with self-management, where we fully leaned in to adopting concepts similar to Holacracy, where a company is run with no managers. Ultimately, we decided that we hadn’t been able to make it work. During this period, our team size didn’t change while our customer base kept rising. As we emerged, Leo and I had a long debrief and decided to embrace the ambition we have for the company, and grow significantly in order to serve customers.

Reflecting on it now, I see a lot of ego and pride reflected in that team size number.

Although I know rationally that the size of the team is not something to celebrate, I feel that I slipped into that harmful mindset quite a bit over the last year. Not everyone is familiar with growth metrics like monthly recurring revenue, but team size is easy to understand. Sometimes it impressed people when I told them how big the company was, and I was proud to share it.

Through this experience I’ve learned to re-focus on what truly matters. Our values and mission are so much more valuable than the size of the team. Now I am reminded that working towards our vision and creating great experiences for customers is what matters, and we should strive to do that as efficiently as possible.

It took us quite a while to realize that we had swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. We have a bias toward action at Buffer, and believe that moving fast and being bold are important.

It’s also taken most of the last year for Leo and me to understand how to truly work well as cofounders of a growth stage company rather than a startup. The journey we went through to understand each other involved many tough moments, difficult conversations and healthy conflict.

Ever since we grew beyond a small team (around 20 people), Leo and I have arranged ourselves as CEO and COO by splitting the company, and focusing on the areas we felt strongest in. It felt natural and it is how many cofounder pairs choose to run their company. In our respective areas, we were trying to “do it all,” both of us being editors (focused on vision, the why and details) and operators (focused on setting goals, creating results and moving fast).

The previous structure of splitting the company didn’t allow us to dig in as deeply as we needed to in order to spot what was ahead of us.

It took us some time to realize that my strength is as an editor and Leo’s is as an operator. We’re now both working across the whole company, applying our strengths to bring both forward motion and attention to detail.

We’ve made mistakes like this before—lots of them, in fact. But in the earlier days we were mostly building a product. Now we’re building a company, and the calls we make involve people’s lives.

The key mistakes we’ve made

In hindsight, we made some key mistakes with our hiring and costs. The overall theme is that we weren’t attentive enough in using a financial lens on every decision we made.

In greater detail, here are some of the elements that led us to this point:

  • Over-aggressive growth choices: In Q4 of 2014 and the first half of 2015, our pace of growth started to slow a little. This is a somewhat natural aspect of a reaching higher levels of revenue—it’s hard to keep growing a larger number at the same pace you once were able to. We were in a healthy financial position and chose to put our foot on the gas. In hindsight, Leo and I were too aggressive with that change and would have put Buffer in a better position if we had gradually increased our pace, rather than triggering such drastic growth efforts.
  • Lack of accountability: In a 10-person company, everyone wears many hats. In a 500-person company, almost everyone is specialized and decision makers are clear. What’s often not talked about is the transition from generalists to specialists. That transition has been messy at Buffer. Especially in areas we know less about, like finance and HR, we haven’t brought on board experts soon enough. As a result, some things have fallen through the cracks and we’ve gotten a lot wrong.
  • Trust in our financial model: We’ve made several changes to our forecasting models recently that have shown us some areas are weak. We now realize our models are quite imperfect. We have a lot of work to do to get to a place where we can truly trust that we have all the correct information needed to make good decisions.
  • Explicit risk appetite: We previously had never established what a “healthy bank balance” was, nor whether Buffer had to be profitable or could burn a bit of cash. Once we made the decision to work back towards profitability, we began to understand the depth of our situation.
  • Over-enthusiastic hiring: In many areas, we grew the team more than was truly necessary for the time, more than was clearly validated. We hired a full customer success team in anticipation for going more up-market, which we then didn’t move on quickly enough from a product perspective.
  • Team restructuring: We restructured our product teams, choosing to have product managers go deeper in product disciplines such as tech, user experience and data analysis. This shift back to embracing more generalization meant that we didn’t need as many specialists.

The result of these mistakes and getting full clarity on our financial situation was that despite having $1.3m in the bank, we were rapidly trending towards zero cash within 5 months.

The changes we’ve made to recover

With our spending exceeding our revenue, we knew we needed to make some changes now to avoid an even bigger problem down the line.

We explored many scenarios to move forward. In the end, these are the cost-saving measures we decided to take in order to recover:

  • We made 10 layoffs in order to recover to a healthier financial position. Savings: $585,000
  • Both Leo and I have taken a salary cut of 40% until at least the end of the year. Savings: $94,000.
  • Leo and I are committing $100k each in the form of a loan at the lowest possible interest rate, with repayment only when Buffer reaches a healthy financial position. Savings: $200,000.
  • We adjusted the loyalty portion of our salary formula. Each teammate previously got a salary bump of 5% on their year anniversary with Buffer. Now it’s 3%, applied for everyone who has been with the company longer than a year. Savings: $74,000.
  • We’ve discontinued two perks (with the hopes of bringing them back in 2017, if we are able):
    • A health & wellness grant of up to $100 per teammate per month. Savings: $49,000.
    • An annual vacation bonus of $1,000 per teammate and $500 per dependent. Savings: $52,000.
  • We canceled our upcoming team retreat to Berlin. Savings: $400,000.
  • We cut our sponsorship budget through the end of the year. Savings: $75,000.

The toughest change: We made layoffs and said goodbye to 10 teammates

I wanted to share more about the tough decision to make 10 layoffs in order to recover to a healthier financial position.

Leo and I deliberated in 5-hour meetings each day for days on end with the other members of our executive team, Carolyn and Sunil, as we called in advisors and counsel to help us understand the best way to make these tough choices.

No matter how much we deliberated and how much we thought about it, the gradual and terrible realization we came to was that it came down to people.

Salaries are more than 80% of our expenses, and we would have to impact team members to get back on track.

The layoffs we made equal savings through the end of the year of $585,000, or an extra $100k in the bank every month. This is a crucial amount to help us steer clear of further financial troubles.

These 10 people have all done stellar work for Buffer. With our culture of bringing our whole selves to work and seeing team as family, with shared values we live by, this process has been especially difficult. Many team members are close friends with those whom we said goodbye to last week.

These were not performance-based changes. Instead, we found roles that we felt we could remove entirely, and other roles where we could operate with fewer people.

We used a specific methodology that centered on a “last in, first out” approach in order to avoid any bias in selecting individual teammates.
layoffs-methodology
We’re planning to do everything in our power to help these awesome people on the next step of their journey, including 3–6 weeks severance based on time spent with Buffer, 3 months of full healthcare coverage, and recommendations and introductions to other companies.

Our present financial state and future goals

Altogether, these changes bring us to a total savings of $1.5M through year end.

With the cuts we’ve made, the projection for our bank balance from June through December 2016 changes dramatically and puts us in a position to make a full recovery.

bank balance over time

We are excited to return to profitability, and I’m confident about the path we’re on now. Our bank balance is currently $1.3M, and this will help us grow it back to $2.1M by January 2017.

While these changes are hard, this isn’t a slow-down. This is an execution mistake and isn’t related to market changes or loss of revenue stream.

Our revenue continues to grow consistently, and at the time of this writing we’ve crossed $875k in monthly recurring revenue: $10.5 million annual recurring revenue.

monthly recurring revenue

I feel that repairing the mistakes we’ve made will position us to be leaner, stronger and focused on the right areas going forward.

Part of the learnings we’ve had and advice we’ve received here has been around what a healthy bank balance looks like as a company reaches new stages of growth. The overall consensus we’ve observed is that it is healthy for a company to have 5–6 months of expenses in the bank. Another approach Jason Lemkin shared with me is to aim for 50% of annual recurring revenue in the bank:

With this experience, we’re now committing to moving towards this ideal. For us in our current situation, this means moving towards $4–5 million in the bank. We’re aiming to return to profitability and work towards reaching this goal mid-2017. We may look at venture debt as a way to help grow the bank balance, while still remaining profitable.

Why we’re choosing minimal fundraising and profitability over the traditional Silicon Valley path

In many ways, we chose this path and put ourselves in this position. It’s been entirely our decision to operate primarily based on cash flow and profitability rather than fundraising.

We know other companies who have similar cash flow situations to us but have raised $20–30 million in funding. These companies, which are the more normal path in Silicon Valley, have chosen to operate in a way where they have a high burn rate resulting in a limited “runway” between each fundraising. Generally startups aim for 12–18 months runway from a round of funding.

The traditional fundraising path has deliberately not been the way we have chosen to operate, and so in situations like this we choose not to use fundraising to solve the challenge. We view fundraising in a different way, more of an enabler than something we want to be fully reliant upon.

This has some implications on the true growth rate we can expect, yet it has significant benefits we feel in terms of the freedom we have to experiment not only with innovation in products but also in the way we work.

This way of operating feels integral to our vision and culture, yet it is also what has put us in this crisis.

We chose not to raise funding to solve this where other companies might have. We expect further fundraising to be in our future, however we would like the company to be completely healthy from a financial standpoint, so that we can raise funding on terms we feel fully happy about, and so that we can always walk away if we feel that is better for Buffer.

Although this is a difficult situation to be in, in many ways it is still a proactive correction. We would rather uncover these cash flow issues early and work through them now. Tens of millions in the bank could have masked this problem.

What does this change for the team?

I can already identify a lot of things I would have done differently in sharing this tough news.

Now that our team is quite a bit larger, we struggled with how much of this to burden them with when they couldn’t take any action to change things. I don’t feel that we fully lived up to our value of transparency, specifically to share early in order to avoid a big revelation later.

As a result, our team was understandably surprised by the changes we’ve made, especially the loss of teammates and friends.

There’ve been lots of questions and plenty of healthy discussion around feelings of guilt, sadness and fear. We want everyone to keep reflecting and communicating as much as they need.

While we heal and recover, we want to focus on getting back to a financially healthy position and making Buffer a sustainable business in the long run. This means a closer lens of finance on everything we do. Additionally, we want to challenge ourselves to improve in these specific areas:

  • Adding to our finance/accounting team: We plan to grow our finance team with the addition of someone quite senior who can help us understand all that we don’t know and get us to solid financial footing.
  • Catching up on housekeeping: We’ve got some internal auditing to do to make sure our processes have grown along with our team, and there’s quite a bit of legal/accounting catch-up to be done.
  • More financial oversight for teammates: So far in our journey, we’ve tried to stay lean as far as internal process and rely on the advice process for decision making. At our current, larger size, it might be time to remove the burden of the money part of things from teammates by providing more explicit oversight. For example, checking with Finance before spending more than $500.
  • Next retreat in early 2017: Retreats are such an important element of our distributed team, and it’s disappointing to have to cancel our upcoming opportunity to be together. We are, however, still planning on a team retreat in early 2017. This has been fully budgeted for in our recovery plan. Meanwhile, we’re exploring adjusting our retreat approach by reducing the frequency of the whole-company retreat, and complementing that with smaller team- and area-based retreats. We’re looking at these changes with a disciplined financial lens.

Thank you to the community for your support

Throughout this tough time for Buffer, I’ve been truly blown away by how supportive the startup community is.

We’ve worked through this with advice with help from so many advisors and friends of Buffer. I owe a debt of gratitude to Kanyi and Craig from Collaborative Fund, Dharmesh from Hubspot, Gokul from Square, Steven from A16Z, Hiten from KISSMetrics, Ryan from Product Hunt, and Danielle from Mattermark.

Their advice has been invaluable to us throughout this process and reminds me again how lucky we are to have a strong community we’re able to ask for help.

It’s our privilege to learn from our advisors, friends and community every step of the way as we share our journey – the highs as well as the lows. Right now more than ever, I’m keen to keep sharing and learning.

I’d love for you to hold us to a high standard, ask us the hard questions and hold us accountable to keep improving and sharing.

What’s next for Buffer

I’m truly sorry for the disappointment and anxiety I’ve caused, and for creating this difficult situation for the team. I personally feel this is a big mistake for me to make as CEO, and I take full responsibility.

I’m confident that we’re taking the steps we need to recover from this as quickly as we can and get back to a financially healthy position.

Our goal is to achieve $20M annual recurring revenue over the next 12-18 months, and we are doing everything to do so sustainably and with the right team.

While we make changes internally, we’re working hard on improvements to the Buffer platform, including launching Buffer for Instagram and many more new features.

Growing to well over 50,000 paying customers, I believe more than ever that Buffer has a clear role to play in bringing about the change we wish to see in the world: to give businesses and individuals a greater voice for the good they’re doing, and to do it while innovating around company culture and striving to inspire others to have joyful workplaces.

I’m in this for the long haul, and I’m excited to transform this mistake into a big learning moment to help us continue our journey.

I know there might be a lot of questions and thoughts following this news, and I want to honor that. Please share anything that you’re feeling—we’re listening. Drop us a note in the comments and myself or someone else in the team will get back to you quickly.

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Written by Joel Gascoigne

Joel is the founder and CEO at Buffer. He is focused on the lean startup approach, user happiness, transparency & company culture. Say hi to him anytime @joelgascoigne.

  • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

    Interesting read. I’m sorry you’re having to go through this, but hopefully the corrections you have made will have the intended result.

    • Really appreciate toy taking the time to look this through, Bruce. We’ve learned a lot from this and hope we’re on the right path now.

  • Whole lot to unpack here, but thanks for sharing this obviously difficult process.

    One question with this: “I don’t feel that we fully lived up to our value of transparency, specifically to share early in order to avoid a big revelation later.”

    I think Buffer is hardly alone with sharing abrupt layoff news. I’ve always wondered how that decision is made (when to tell someone they are being laid off). Can you give any more insight into how you decided when to notify people of layoffs? Any additional lessons there?

    Also, were buyouts something you considered? Any thought process/pros & cons to layoffs vs buyouts you can share?

    • Hey Mike – this is a great question. I do think that something along the lines of what Zappos did to make a generous severance offer to everyone in the company, could be a powerful option for higher transparency. In our case, we needed to act more immediately. We definitely had a real challenge we discussed internally about how transparent to be, how early to burden the team with news they couldn’t necessarily act on. It clearly impacts everyone, however I’d say the key personal learning for me is to still share at the earliest moment of knowing that some big changes like this are going to be needed. I think that’s the way to involve everyone and help the team understand all the pieces that you have yourself to make the decision, and help them understand hopefully that they’d make the same call. The challenge is that this clearly impacts productivity in the short-term, and perhaps puts people under undue stress. I think that’s why so many leaders choose to make it completely abrupt. I hope that helps to give some more clarity around my thought process – I’d love to hear any of your thoughts!

      • It’s a tough call. In my experience, there is no one right answer – some people prefer the instant cut, while others would prefer to cogitate on it for a while.

        Something else I’ve observed – there is always a small percentage of the team that already figured it out. As a general rule, bringing those people into the conversation early can be helpful, because it doesn’t leave them feeling like management doesn’t understand the situation, and it can minimize the negative kind of subterranean chatting that goes on in every (human) organization.

      • Joel, I actually wrote a book called How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye. It highlights the other side of the story from you, where employees want to leave and would leave if they could negotiate a severance. I can send it to you if you want. It will provide some very good perspective in employee management the next time you need to make some changes.

        Sam

    • Shaun

      I agree it took some guts and a rather unique (innovative?) approach to business leadership.

      I’ve been part of similar situations in which much was shared with the team, and of course the more common, in which it wasn’t…until some are blind-sided by news like this and the resulting financial hardship that follows.

      I can’t definitively say which is the best communication model, because I see pros and cons for each:

      1. Involve the entire team: everyone feels and ARE more connected, and they might be able to add additional or previously-unknown value to help turn the situation around. That’s the most obvious positive side. The negatives are additional stressors placed on ALL staff regardless of role=more often than not, detrimental to productivity. Also, having to bring more individuals into the equation can more often lengthen the path to resolution, perhaps making the overall damage sustained by the company greater. Outside of simple productivity metrics, many employees will at least passively begin entertaining outside opportunities, and some will simply leave…never a positive for any company, but especially so in a young organization.

      2. Involve only key decision makers: Cons include: chance of missing out on valuable team feedback. This can be as little as nothing missed, or as great as a vital point completely overlooked due to role, otherwise checked feedback, etc. Also can foster “group think” if you’re not involving fresh voices outside the organization in the discussion. If you are, then some level of group think can still apply as a complete bottom-up picture of the problem could be lacking. Pros include avoiding undue stress on staff, avoiding often significant drops in productivity and morale, good people unnecessarily leaving the company, etc.

      Personally, I think it comes down to a combo of both approaches, with an emphasis on analyzing the best course of action in each specific scenario. In other words, no easy answer combine with hindsight is always 20/20 ;-)

      Regardless, the leadership’s approach to this situation is not only admirable, but something I’ll take with me as a litmus for the future.

      • Thanks so much, Shaun, for adding this valuable evaluation to the discussion. Definitely see the pros and cons of each approach and I’m sure there are lots of things we could have done better here. Hopefully we can help others!

  • Sending virtual hugs to the Buffer family, sounds like some difficult decisions were made.

    It’s great to see your transparency and ownership during what I can only imagine was a difficult time.

  • Michael Mullany

    Joel – there’s a finance guy we know who might be a fit for you. please dm me @mmullany

    • Hey Michael – thanks so much, really appreciate that! I’ll mention it to @twitter-110821538:disqus and others in the team who are leading this and I look forward to potentially speaking with the person :)

  • half_brick

    Brave post, and a really interesting (though sad) read.

    You should at least take a little solace in the fact that you’ve realised you were on the wrong course relatively early. While these changes hurt in the short term, the alternative in a few months time would have been far worse for everyone.

    Thanks for the transparency!

  • This is post that must have taken a lot of courage – I know your team has been transparent since Day 1, wondering if the rest of your team and perhaps those most affected by the decision for layoffs saw any signs of moving into a house they couldn’t afford before it became fully apparent to anyone?

    • I think so Ali – definitely we were all slightly cautious but also optimistic in the last year as we grew fast. I personally feel that something I want to work on is finding ways to be deeply listening to the whole team and taking on board any thoughts people have at all. I am quite sure some people must have had doubts about our growth pace.

      • I know a couple of companies that use anonymous 3sixty but I know from my own experience, many employees feel that anonymous feedback is not heard and the attention it deserves. I think a better model is combining anonymous feedback with being embedded or having proper one on ones with various team members in different roles. I am biased being a person focus on sales enablement – but I strongly feel you can detect early warning signs of the health of business when front line staff like customer service or salespeople start going quite or voicing concerns.

  • Great post. Many companies are transparent only when things are going well. Are you able to share what sort of functions the let go teammbers were in, encase companies are looking to hire for roles that might be suitable?

    • Thanks Jack, that’s a really great idea. Maybe I could get in touch with you personally on this if it feels good? We’d absolutely love your help and have been blown away by the support from many companies offering to talk and see whether there are roles that may be a good fit for people. We’re trying to also be mindful of how each of them wants to move forward here. Going to take this away to discuss with people and see whether we can share a little more openly and ask for help :)

      • +1 for that too Jack :-)

      • I would also love to know, Joel as we are hiring and perhaps some of your team would be qualified. Is there a way you could send me that info?

  • Hi Joel, I have read this post a couple of times and I really do ache for you and the entire team. I’m a Buffer super fan as you know – and whilst the product is great, I really do buy into what you, Leo and the rest of the team are doing and how you are doing it. This post and the developments you’ve shared may lose you some fans, but they’re not the people you wanted with you in the first place. This is a great opportunity for us – the community – to come together, share our stories of how Buffer works for us – as a product and as a model for culture that we aspire to have in our own businesses – to continue to be part of the experience with you all as it evolves.

    From a personal perspective – I’ve been made redundant twice in my life so far and although they were truly difficult, emotional and challenging experiences, they’ve both given me the opportunity to leap and do other things that I would never have gone to voluntarily. And I’m not someone who has had the benefit of being part of the Buffer team – the people who have been given this difficult news will be some of the most employable, insightful, skilled and talented out there. With your recommendations for them, they’ve got some amazing stuff coming their way, I’m sure of that. I didn’t see it at the time when it happened to me, but reflecting on it, that’s what it’s brought for me – and my family.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes for you all soon – defaulting to transparency is easy when it’s all good, and not so easy when things are not as clear as we want them to be and more difficult than we want them to be. We’re rooting for you. We’re here. Give us a job to do and we’ll all crack on and do it.

    • Wow wow wow, Liz! So sorry to hop in before Joel gets a chance to do so; I just had to share some major gratitude for this amazing note. I am so awed by you opening up and sharing your past experiences and how you’ve got through them and grown from them. The fact that even after going through this hard experience twice you are still keen to rally around us during this time…it’s truly unbelievable. Tears in my eyes right now. 💛

  • Great post and insights. Any way to reach out to members who are leaving ?

    • Hey Kurt – thanks for the kind words. Please email me joel@buffer.com and cc rodolphe@buffer.com, if you’d like to get in touch with them. We need to be mindful of how they all want to handle moving forward here. Of course we want to help them all as much as possible and have been blown away by how many companies have been in touch to offer talking with people to see if there is a fit.

      • sworddance

        I would encourage you to update your post to explicitly talk about how you are helping the people who had to leave. By:

        1. saying that you would rehire them if they were available in the future if Buffer’s need matched theirs

        2. How you determined which positions/ people were cut

        Too many people talk about how hard it was for them to cut people. As someone who has been laid off and had to lay people off – I can assure you it is far worse to be laid off. The manager doing the laying off still is making money and paying bills. The laid-off employee is now stressed about the financial situation, medical insurance, etc.

        It is very self-centric to talk about how “hard” it is for you when for the laid-off employee has it far worse.

        • Shaun

          While I agree that it is FAR harder for those let go, it’s a fact of business and life. There is zero actual need for Joel to post anything about any of this, much less bring up the specifics he has thus far.

          I’m surprised by your tone and suggestions if you have in fact, truly been on both sides of this fence. I’m surprised because Joel has laid out in great detail the lengths they’re going to in order to mitigate what is a truly trying time, in varying regards, for everyone.

          To say his comments are self-centric is shameful, or perhaps, depending on who you are, simply from a lack of experience. He’s taking accountability for the mistake, helping those let go more so than many companies would, and being excruciatingly open about it all.

          Sharing and/or dwelling in more details is wholly unnecessary for anyone outside the company. Getting laid off sucks, I should know, but focusing on anything other than how best to move forward is an exercise in futility.

          • Sergey V.

            Hear hear .. to get this much of a glimpse is unusual. Business is business, and getting laid off is part of the game. Joel’s taken on a lot more than many in telling the story of Buffer to the outside world. Here’s hoping they manage the transition as well as possible.

          • This is the biggest difference between the US labor market and the European and Asian labor market. Much harder to lay people off there, which is why the US has produced much more innovation.

        • Mieke Byerley

          Hmm, from the content of the article I would automatically expect that Buffer would have Personally told them your point (1) I am not entirely sure why this would need to be trumpeted from the parapet as it has not relation to the public concern, Business Information transparency is one thing but Private Information is a completely different Kettle of Fish (you would not ask a Doctor to Divulge Patient relationship/information in the event they made a mistake would you). Your second suggestion would do more harm than good, again I would expect Buffer to have explained it to the Individuals involved, but making this information public could more likely lead to these individuals being unjustly judged by you. What if one of the factors was – not as good a fit as hoped, or is not contributing as desired? How do you think that reflects on those being let go? Buffer has a responsibility to protect its employees both current, and past. What you are indirectly asking of them is please Expose those Employees? The reality is that the information you ask for is utterly Irrelevant for any of us to know. Transparency doesn’t mean unrestricted access to everything for EVERYONE it means Unrestricted access to those things that are pertinent to the parties concerned. And information related directly to persons involved in this situation is of no pertinence to the public.

  • I always appreciate your candor. I hope that we to can have such discipline and honor in our approach to running and growing a business.

  • justink1973

    Just curious that your MRR grew by $130K in last 3 months which equates to over 1.5 million in extra revenue. This alone would cover the savings you listed are achieving by the changes made. Also assuming even at your slower grown and grew say another 50K in next 3 months you have another half a mil. Surely you were not trending to $0 in bank?

    • Really great question Justin. To share a little more, our expenses are right around $1.2m per month right now (generally between $1.1m and $1.4m depending on some one-off expenses), and our MRR is close to $900k. You’re exactly right in the projection of an additional $50k, the challenge is that only gets us to $950k in 3 months time, and all along the way there we’re burning $200-500k a month. To keep it simple, taking the mid-point there of $350k, that’s over $1m burn and we only have $1.3m in the bank. The other aspect is that even if we completely freeze hiring and fix this, it’s not necessarily the right thing because we really need to hire more senior people for some specific roles such as finance, and so we do need to budget for that. The final thing I’d add is that $1.3m in the bank for ARR of $11m feels very risky, and even dropping significantly from the 50% of ARR as cash recommendation, to about to 25%, we should really have almost $3m in the bank. ARR will keep growing and we do need to minimally hire, so this bank balance number also needs to keep growing too. In that sense, after assessing all the options, I feel this was the right way forward. Hope that helps a little to understand what my and my team’s thought process was – would love any thoughts that are triggered from this!

  • Richard Archambault

    Hi! I’m not sure I understand this part, and other people I’ve talked to weren’t certain what you meant exactly, either:

    “Team restructuring: We restructured our product teams, choosing to have product managers go deeper in product disciplines such as tech, user experience and data analysis. This shift back to embracing more generalization meant that we didn’t need as many specialists.”

    Could you explain that? Thanks!

    • Oliver Vander Cruysse

      Hi Richard. I believe what Joel meant is that the product managers now have to educate themselves more about these more specialized aspects of the product and take ownership of these topics as well. This way there is less need for specialists who only have one or two well-defined responsibilities, such as for example a UX expert or data scientist. However, I am not a Buffer employee myself so I could be wrong of course, but that’s how I understood that paragraph :-) Cheers!

      • Sorry we weren’t very clear there, Richard! What Oliver says is very much where we’re coming from. :)

  • Joshua Kerievsky

    Joel – have you looked at Open-Book Management (http://greatgame.com/about/the-origin-of-open-book-management/). I’m considering it for my own company – haven’t tried it yet. However, I did see it being used at Menlo Innovations, featured in the book, Joy, Inc. It helped the founders of Menlo share the work of managing cashflow and not have to carry the entire burden on their own. It was thrilling to see a giant wall filled with the company’s cashflows and employees interacting with it. This comes from the book, the Great Game of Business (https://www.amazon.com/Great-Game-Business-Expanded-Updated/dp/0385348339). Anyway, hope that helps. I’ve been running my company for 20 years and understand entirely what you wrote about. Bravo for sharing it and I’m sure it will make your company more resilient.

    • Hey Joshua, thank you so much for sharing these great resources! I’m keen to pass this along to the team for sure; really appreciate your guidance and help here.

  • Anu Rajaram

    Really honest post, unlike other orgs where leaders try to sugarcoat things. Plus, it shows remarkable integrity and sensitivity that you guys are personally taking the initiative to help your laid off colleagues get into equally good roles.

    Makes me feel proud to be a Buffer user and follower!

    • Aw wow – thank you so much, Anu! Gosh, we’re so blown away and grateful for your support. You are such a big part of what makes Buffer and the Buffer community so special! Cheers, friend!

  • Joel! This could be one of the best posts/articles I’ve ever read this year! The situation obviously isn’t great, but I’m sure there are many companies who have been in this situation, not acted – and folded.

    I’ve been watching your growth from afar for a while now, it’s inspiring and I’m sure it will continue.

    Sometimes, from the outside – growing revenue can make it appear everything is going well, but it’s a reminder that revenue is vanity, profit is sanity and cash flow is reality!

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m sure I’ll be reading it many times over the next few years!

    • Hey David! Thanks for a new mantra – that ones feels worth memorizing for sure! It means a lot to us that you got such value out of our story; thank you for the kind encouragement!

  • Chris Ee

    Thank you for taking the time to be as transparent as possible with not just the people you employ internally, but also to the rest of the folks reading this. I hope Buffer continues to grow, and wish you and the team the best.

    • Thank you so much for your support here, Chris! Really grateful for you and your generous comment here! <3 <3 <3

  • Dave Cole

    👏 … 👏 … 👏 …

  • Win Raguini

    Kudos to you for this post, Joel. I’ve been a huge fan of you and your team since the beginning and this more than proves that you and Leo continue to deserve the progress and success you’ve experienced with Buffer. I know you’ve learned so much from this and it will only make you even more of a force to reckon with. Your openness is inspiring and very much appreciated.

    Good luck to you and your team for what I’m sure will be many years to come.

    • I know Joel will want to reply personally to this kind note; I just wanted to add my thanks as well. It means more than you know!

  • Christian Mack

    Stay strong Buffer team! You guys are amazing and an inspiration to all. This post backs that up. I’ve never read such an honest and open post with such a strong negative content, which I find brave and remarkable. You’ve made terribly difficult choices, yet they are understandable and necessary for the sake of the company. Perhaps slow and steady growth is the way to go, even in times with a heavy surplus. Keep your head high and you’ll be back on track!

    • Aww, Christian! Your support here means so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you! – Nicole from Buffer

  • Joel Johnson

    Given that Buffer has annual revenue of $10,500,000.00, it’s easy to see that it was strongly likely there were too many employees. The typical revenue per employee in the United States is $200,000.00, with companies like Google and Facebook pulling in more than $1,000,000.00 per employee. That is, $10.5MM in revenue leaves you hovering around 52-53 employees if you go with what’s typical, or 10-11 employees if you emulate Google’s and Facebook’s scale.

    Also, companies typically target profit margins of around 30% (or 60% if revenues are less than ~$50MM).

    • Whoa — thank you for sharing that, Joel! That is really fascinating and we’re so grateful to learn things like this throughout this time! Thank you so much for reading and including your thoughts here! – Nicole from Buffer

  • Joel, I have loved you since the day you sent me a thank you note for becoming a customer. Do what you must to survive. As an entrepreneur myself, I know what those layoffs feel like. You’ve been amazing, and I’m delighted that you are going to survive, as I would be lost without you.

    • Hopping in for Joel to share how moving this kind note was. Thank you deeply.

  • sinzone

    Tough time.

    I believe team can be distributed but leadership has to stay under one roof. Foundations have to be solid to avoid house of cards.

    • Thanks for sharing your take on this; it’s definitely a tough time. I think we’ll be writing more about distributed leadership soon, including some findings we’ve determined recently that are in line with your thoughts here.

      • sinzone

        Another related point of view from Mark:

  • I’ve never seen a CEO post so openly and transparently as this before. You are setting an example for corporate leaders worldwide. I actually sent a job application to Buffer a few weeks ago, but got no response. Now I understand why!

    • Wow thank you for your kind words here, Dylan!! I’m so sorry we haven’t replied to your application yet! I’d love to flag this for our hiring time! So sorry again!

  • Isaac Keyet

    I think this reflects really well on Buffer.

    If I had been employed (laid off or not) I would’ve only thought highly of the organization. Decisions like these, albeit hard, is what makes it real. It’s a pursuit.

    Personally I feel as if too many times startups are completely blind to the real world and will drive their business into the ground chasing something undefined. As the end draws closer everything comes to a halt and all credibility is lost.

    Bottom line is I applaud you for fixing the problem and not the symptom. I wasn’t a huge Buffer fan before but I sure am now.

    • Wow, Isaac — blown away by your support and kind words here. Thank you. Truly.

  • futuresgreen

    Thank you for sharing the post. Although it’s sad news, (I’ve been in the same position as one of those unlucky ten before), it’s really important for small businesses to candidly share these experiences with others as well as the successes, in the hope that others can learn from them.

    In the marketplace, reading customer feedback and my experience when using Buffer for Business, there are significant features or improvements that Buffer should have addressed quicker than rolling out what are still amazing and incredibly useful features like Pablo.
    This may well would stop others looking to competitors.

    In addition, from a startup viewpoint, in my opinion, I feel Buffer is missing out on this key market as the packages are not flexible enough and the pricing tiers are steep. An issue I’ve raised and which has been acknowledged a few times.

    I highly rate Buffer as THE essential tool for any business or marketer but also a great company to work alongside with. The customer service and passion is truly excellent – this is just a ‘small bump’ along the way.

    Thank you again for your transparency, it’s truly refreshing.

    • This is really helpful to hear — thank you for your time and your thoughts here. We’re really keen to learn from this and do better for the customers and team. :)

  • Felipe Flores

    Hi Joel, thank you very much for sharing such a difficult experience with so much transparency.

    I would like to ask you what are the roles that were reduced or finished? (Just titles or areas, no specifics).

    Big hugs to the current and past Buffer family. I hope you all continue to do your best work.

    Cheers,

    Felipe

    • Hey Felipe! Just checking on this one; I think we can share this in some fashion here. We just want to be super respectful of all the individuals in this change so I’m checking in just a bit more first.

  • I’m hesitant to ‘like’ this post on Twitter because it’s a sad story. I lost my job a few months ago and it’s refreshing to read your perspective. How do you plan to follow through on helping your employees who were let go?

    • Hey Sarah, I’m so sorry to hear that you lost your job. I imagine that’s got to be really hard. Just hopping in for Joel to share some details. One of our teammates runs the site Remotive.io so that’s been a great source for us to match folks up with roles that orgs are hiring for. We’ve also hear from quite a few companies who are hiring as a result of sharing this post, and that’s incredible! Right now we’re making lots of intros and plan to stay involved as long as we can help out!

  • Thomas Ding

    Hi Joel, thanks for the amazing post. Having been an avid follower of Buffer’s activities since its inception, I have no doubt that you will rebound from this and take the company to greater heights. I especially liked how you did not take on the traditional fundraising route and dug deep into resolving cash flow issues. It resonated with me.

    • Wow Thomas, can’t thank you for enough for this kind note (and I know Joel will want to thank you also). Thank you for holding us to a high standard, I hope we can make you proud.

  • Craig Haynie

    As founder and CEO of a 13m company that did EXACTLY the same thing with the same result in 2013 I feel your pain. We have been on the “oh yea, it’s not always easy” journey since. Glad to swap lessons and plans for getting and being better.

    -Craig

    • Hey Craig, hopping in for Joel to thank you for the solidarity. It’s definitely not easy; so sorry you’ve had to experience this as well!

  • You are one of the most honest companies out there, Buffer. I’m sure you’ll bounce back!

  • Terence Sawtell

    Hey @joelgascoigne:disqus,

    Been a long time user of the product, and a fellow business owner. I can first hand relate to the issues of cash flow and self funding the business with cash flow. We’re much smaller (~7 people), but I know the struggles.

    I’m glad you’re not going the traditional route. Funding is the modern day equivalent of sub prime loans, and many of those businesses you speak of will have much bigger issues than 10 layoffs in their future.

    The fact you’re transparent will help those people understand the decision. All will be well and you’ll be back to where you were!

    Terence

    • Hopping in for Joel to simply give you a big thank you, Terence. :) Means a lot to have you with us in solidarity.

    • Hi Terence,

      As a fellow business owner, how do you manage your cash and is there a percent of revenue you like to hold? I’ve been telling my readers to take stock of all their cash in all their accounts (business, investing, personal) now b/c I see a clear deceleration in everything that could make things difficult.

      Sam

  • Sandhya Ramachandran

    This honesty combined with the amazing product you have is what makes me come back here! *virtual hugs to the Buffer team*

    • We will absolutely take those hugs, Sandhya! Thanks for the encouragement; it means more than you know!

  • rh

    As an investor it is really great and appreciated to see transparency at this level. Any startup has a lot of inbuilt vicissitudes in its journey and the way you have addressed it is commendable. Thank you

    • Aw thank you for your insights and kind words here. :)

  • Adrian Mursec

    Sorry to hear about this. Thanks for sharing the details I think this will help a lot of companies avoid similar problems.

    • Thanks so much for giving this a look, Adrian. If we’re able to help others avoid some of our mistakes, that would be an incredible silver lining in this dark chapter.

  • Peter Vukovic

    Great decisions Joel. This will only make Buffer stronger, smarter and more resilient. If you do a research on companies that exist 50+ years, you’ll quickly notice none of them focused on growing fast – profitability was priority #1. I guess you can compare this to organic v.s. paid reach on social media. While paid can take you places, unless you’re 100% sure your content has a market, you’ll just end up broke. Slower is often better.

    • Great analogy Peter – totally agree with that, and I think that has been a key learning here.

  • As I reading this I could not help but remember the article I red on medium a few days earlier about Think Up closing their doors because they could not keep up with API’s changing and other problems https://medium.com/@anildash/the-end-of-thinkup-e600bc46cc56#.lbr4tsazi

    I’m really grateful for the opportunity you and your team gave me/us with this insight on how your company has grown and the struggles that came with it.

    • Hey Carlos, that was such tough news about ThinkUp! Like lots of others at Buffer, I was a big admirer of what Anil and Gina were doing. Really appreciate you making that comparison!

  • Saurabh Vij

    That’s really brave and crystal clear…all of us founders can learn a lot from this kind of insight to avoid similar mistakes…

    Thanks a lot.

    Respect from India
    Saurabh Vij

    • Thanks so much for the encouragement, Saurabh. It would be a wonderful outcome to be able to help others avoid some of our mistakes.

  • Cornelia Kastner

    Thank you very much for sharing your story. This was a really interesting read. I think many companies face similar problems in a phase of heavy growth and HR-planning seems to always be a key candidate there. I’m convinced however that your approach of making changes based on the learnings you got from analyzing your own path will get you back on track in no time!
    Also, thumbs up for not ‘forgetting’ about the fact that layoffs always affect people’s lives. The way you write about them and the steps buffer took to make the process of leaving as little painful as possible show you’re a company that cares!!!

    • Hey there Cornelia, thanks so much for reading through our story. I really appreciate your point about the fact that layoffs so deeply affect people’s lives. I know this process has caused harm and hurt people, and we can’t feel that enough. Really appreciate your encouragement and kindness!

  • Michal Leszczynski

    Like others have said, it’s sad to hear about the layoffs. No one would like to be in this position, and I mean on either of the sides. It’s great to see the transparency of your decision making process. It’s good that you didn’t just jump right into laying off, and looked for savings in other areas as well (including your own salaries). Where I’m located there are still many start-ups that are bragging on how much they’ve grown over a year and how they’re planning to double their number of employees. It isn’t however rare to hear stories of start-ups that grew to 100+ people and went bankrupt due to bad cashflow. Although I’m not a client of yours, I appreciate the honesty in your post and how you run your company! May there be more businesses like these in the industry. Hope the next months are going to be better for you guys and for the teammates you had to part ways with.

    • Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts, Michal. You’re absolutely right; it’s not an ideal position to be in at all. If the transparency can move us forward and potentially help others, that would be a great silver lining for us. We appreciate your encouragement so much, thank you.

  • Joel, sending support from HK. You guys made all the right (albeit difficult) decisions, and Buffer will be in a much better position in no time. Keep up the great work

  • Wesley Dowding

    Brave post – never easy to admit to mistakes especially when affecting other people. During my business life I have had to act on situations similar to these and it is never easy. Buffer is a great product and you will learn from this period an be stronger for it. I am sure you are supporting those affected and I wish you the very best

    • So sorry you’ve had to go through something similar; no doubt that was tough. Really appreciate your support, Wesley!

  • Andrea Pacini

    I admire your transparency, Joel. Thanks for this. I hope these decisions will help you achieve your goals.

    • Hopping in for Joel to share my sincere thanks, Andrea. :)

  • Bruno Barroso

    Love the transparency and honesty you guys have, even in such difficult times. More than not making mistakes, a leader needs to learn from them and it seems to be exactly what you’re doing, so well done. Despite the hard moment, you’re still my role company!

    • Thank you so much, Bruno! This really means a lot to us to hear!

  • Wow, that’s raw, Joel. Props for having the stones to hold your hands up and take ownership on this one, I’m sure it hasn’t been an easy task. Admitting ego and oversights may have led to such a devastating circumstance takes a whole lot of courage. My thoughts are with you, and those whose Buffer journey’s have ended here.

    When you create such an amazing, unicorn culture, where thousands want to join, this sort of thing is bound to happen eventually. And though I imagine getting the opportunity to be a part of the Buffer journey only to be stripped of it will be a very hard pill to swallow, no doubt there will be a queue around the block for anyone lucky enough to have Buffer on their CV.

    The test now will be making sure this doesn’t impact the inspiring culture you’ve created, or impede on the values you’ve instilled at the core of Buffer.

    • Wow, thanks so much Matt. I do feel awful about the situation I caused here, and I’m trying to be closely in touch with all 10 people we said goodbye to, and I have been hearing from some of them that they are already bouncing forward to new endeavors. I strive to help them as much as we can, and so far we’ve had a mind-blowing outpouring of help and generosity from many companies who would love to chat with them. Thanks again!

  • Gary

    Insightful post, tough decisions indeed, thank you so much for sharing.

    • Thanks so much for taking a look, Gary; we appreciate it.

  • One of the most interesting articles I’ve read recently. Thank you for sharing this, great leadership & transparency lessons.

    • Thanks for reading this one through, Filippos. Hopefully it can help others in the future!

  • Emily Harvey

    Amazing post! Great to see such honesty from a company. This will be a great lesson for other companies.

    However, you might want to take down the ‘Buffer is hiring!’ logo displayed when a user is logged in. ;)

    • Oh gosh, that’s such a great point, Emily! Thank you SO much for pointing this out!

  • Joanna Marshall

    Sad news for the team but this is a great post which displays and honours your Buffer values, and everything we love about Buffer! I’ve been made redundant from somewhere I considered a family and it’s a hard time for everyone involved, even harder when it’s handled badly and it sounds like you’ve done everything you can to manage this process carefully. I admire your transparency, and also the humility you demonstrate in personally recognising mistakes you’ve made along the way. A great leader, and a company I am happy to spend my earn-cashed with as I can wholeheartedly buy into these beliefs and values as it’s palpable that it’s not just spin. I wish Buffer and the awesome team every success for the future.

    • I’m so sorry you’ve been through this tough experience before, Joanna, especially with a company that felt like family. :( The fact that you would be willing to stand by us during this time is so incredible; we truly can’t thank you enough for this amazing support.

  • Incredible transparency as always, Joel. I’m happily a Buffer supporter/subscriber since (almost) the beginning. My thoughts are with those that lost their jobs. You employ talented people, though, so they should all land on their feet.

    For some reason, the company retreat price tag really stood out to me. I’m a huge fan of my company get aways. $400,000 seems like a *massive* amount to get everyone together. However, I know a lot of Buffer’s team works remotely. Is a lot of the cost for travel expenses?

  • Joe Albano, PhD

    Your candor speaks volumes about both your character and the company you helped build. As you have pointed out in your famous (at least to me) observation to “fire yourself” the journey from starting to sustaining to scaling a business is fraught with challenges. Best wishes to you and all the Buffer family. Let’s hope that your transparency will help others make more informed decisions as they scale their enterprises!

    • Thank you Joe – that really means a lot.

      • Joe Albano, PhD

        Any time. This is a bit of an important “cause” for me. As the whole nature of work and jobs changes, I see an increasing number of people “try their hands” at entrepreneurialism.

        An alarming number of these attempts fail. I believe a large number of those failures come from a misguided and sugar coated view of what entrepreneurialism means. It’s not about the “secrets they don’t want you to know” or the pile of platitudes presented in neatly formatted artwork and cat posters on your Facebook feed.

        I was taken by the final episode of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Jon took the audience on a “farewell tour” of the DS production offices and introduced the (probably) over 100 people needed to produce a 30 minute TV show 4 times a week.

        The problem with modern entrepreneurialism is that too often we only celebrate the Jon Stewarts. Not everyone is a founder. Not everyone should be a founder. My hope is that the transparency shown by Buffer and Joel will help people understand the realities of entrepreneurialism and the many important roles required for organizational success.

        I need to be clear about two things:

        (1) I don’t consider Buffer or Joel to be failures. They are examples of the truth that success rarely follows a straight line.

        (2) I’m not trying to discourage entrepreneurs. I am trying to get current and aspiring entrepreneurs to understand the realities of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and get them thinking beyond “rugged individualism”

        This kind of “view behind the curtain” is important – and far too rare. I hope we will see more of this kind of openness from others!

  • Matt Dominici

    Awesome post – your transparency is really refreshing, and I really admire that you didn’t choose to do what most founders would do in this position: seek out more funding to throw money behind the problem, and not focus on the root of the problem.

    Did have one question though: in terms of your “last in, first out” policy, I totally understand you needed some sort of structure to follow or it could be even more difficult…but did you find it challenging if you had a situation where perhaps one of the newest employees was a total rockstar at the company (who you didn’t want to lose), and if so (or hypothetically, of course), how did you handle that? Being centrically focused on seniority over merit can be a slippery slope….

    Thanks again!

    • Hey Matt! I know Joel may want to speak to this one also; just wanted to address the methodology side since I was involved a bit on the inclusivity side of things. You ask an excellent question and I know for a fact that we lost many rockstars in this change. It sucks. :( There is no “good way” to say goodbye to any of our great teammates, but we focused on developing a consistent methodology we could apply across the board in order to avoid any bias.

      • Sergey V.

        That’s an interesting trade-off. Sounds like you may have chosen to sacrifice some top level talent at the expense of team cohesion. For what it’s worth, I’m willing to bet that when the time comes – talent will come knocking, at least in part because of your commitment to consistent application of the company’s values.

        • I hope your bet is correct! Thanks so much for the encouragement. :)

  • In summary, 1) holocracy doesn’t work (somebody needs to be accountable for decisions … leadership is not a dirty word), 2) pay attention to cash flow (self-fund when possible), and 3) only hire when you are at a point of true pain. I’m sorry you went through a layoff. Hardest thing ever. But these three lessons are pretty basic business principles. Perhaps you need some new advisors : )

    Sounds like you are learning and moving forward which is all you can do. Don’t dwell on the fact that people lost jobs. Focus on the fact that you saved the jobs of many others and the experience has forged a stronger company in the end. Thanks for sharing a great case study Joel.

    • Jumping in just to say, thank you for your great comments here, Mark! We’re really grateful to learn from so many different sides here!

  • I’ve always deeply admired the Buffer Culture. Your company is a role model for companies in the 21st century. So I appreciate your transparency, even when times are going poorly. You have built a great product and a great company and I know we’ll see even more groundbreaking projects come from Buffer in the next few years despite these set-backs. Always a customer and a fan :)

    • Thank you so much, Ashley, for your kind words and continued confidence in us. It means a whole lot!

  • Great post. All of this makes me wonder why your external (financial) advisors/investors did not point out this situation to you sooner, or why you did not call upon them for advice earlier, or why they did not have the insight to warn you about the developing situation? What happened seems like “business 101”, so could have been spotted or predicted much earlier.

    • All really great questions Paul, thanks so much for chiming in with these. I’d say that you’re absolutely right, I think all of this was quite basic and I feel I should have foreseen this much earlier. In terms of our advisors/investors – I’d say it is probably because of the way we’ve chosen to run the company. We deliberately have raised less funding than most startups at our stage. In the earlier days, I’d say this probably was very useful as it helped us to move much faster and also to have full control to shape the company and establish the unique culture we strived for. As we have grown larger, it is probably becoming more of a weakness, and I think we would probably highly benefit from having one or more investors/advisors more closely involved, whether on the board or some other way. Also, I’d personally say that I need to get better at asking for help – whenever I do, people are so kind and generous.

  • Joe Albano

    Please stop using DISQUS. I’ve posted comments twice and they just get deleted. I’ve also seen other comments that seem to contribute to the discussion disappear at random.

    • Hey Joe, so sorry for the bad experience here! Will check into our Disqus admin and see if I can find those comments and figure out what’s going on!

  • travelgeekery

    Joel, You’re my heroes, guys. It’s humbling to see how you’re all learning together and continuously searching for the rightest path. I was among the many candidates in your recent big hiring spree. It’s great to know that you don’t just wave teammates goodbye but lend them a helping hand and see them off. You actually never know, they might be back in the future!
    And alas, as a paying customer, I’m excited to hear about an upcoming scheduler for Instagram! Wohoo!
    Fingers crossed for you, get the needed cash, keep the company afloat and all the teammates and customers happy. It’s a big responsibility! 🙌
    Veronika

    • Hey there Veronika! Wow, your kind words are so awesome to read; thanks for the encouragement! It would be the most amazing honor if any of the teammates we said goodbye to would ever want to work with us again in the future. And yes, we can’t wait to show you Instagram very soon!

  • Well done on sticking to the transparency even at a very hard time like this. I’m sure all who have had to leave have a great and bright future ahead of them with Buffer having played a huge part in their experience and working in-line with excellent value. Keep pushing forward. One little point – I noticed the Buffer logo on the web app says ‘we’re hiring’ under it.

    • Thanks so much for pointing this out, Mike; can totally see how that might feel a little out of place right now! Really appreciate your encouragement here!

  • Tueksta

    It’s sad to see this being done in the same top down way as in every other company. It’s exactly those “executive team” meetings that leave everyone else with the feeling they are just objects in a company, not part of a family – human resources.

    The bottom up way would be, to share the issue at hand with the whole team, and find solutions as a team. Maybe some people who weren’t let go would’ve considered part time or job sharing? Maybe some wanted to move on anyway but were afraid too? Maybe a small group wanted to spin-off with a new venture? But no, you decided to make the decision for them, and confronted them with hard facts.

    So please, don’t call it a family – it is not.

  • Brett Downes

    Hi Joel,

    Incredibly candid post! This is one of the reasons why I and others love buffer and all it stands for. It is a real shame that these layoffs had to happen but reading your reasons – it seems entirely justified and even the unfortunate staff probably understand why. With buffer on their resume they should have no problems acquiring appropriate positions elsewhere, it is leaving the buffer team and community that will hurt the most.

    I had been seriously considering applying to work at Buffer, but now would seem like the wrong time. It does say on your app that you are hiring but I assume this is just in the finance sector. I have liaised with various members of your team on a variety of subjects and they have all been a credit to your company.

    I was anxious about applying over the last few months as when people say “I really want to work for this company” it is only half true. But with me and the buffer company it would have been a digital dream come true. But the thought of being rejected would have hurt more than any other passover. However, I have reiterated the Wayne Gretzky mantra to myself ‘if you don’t shoot you don’t score’ and I will put myself 100% forward next time you guys have a relevant position open up.

    I digress, congratulations on your honesty and commiserations on the layoff. You will come back bigger and stronger and truly learn from your mistakes (seems you have already). And hopefully one day (if you’ll have me) I can be a cog in the Buffer Behemoth!

    • Hey Brett, just hopping in for Joel to say thank you for the thoughtful message. We are in fact still hiring for a few roles (you can see them here: https://buffer.com/journey) and the fact that you’d still be interesting in working with us is just incredible. Thank you for the vote of confidence. We don’t take it lightly.

  • Roland da Silva

    Joel, Thank you for sharing and being transparent especially given the difficult decisions and actions that had to be taken. It takes great humility and leadership to recognise ones mistakes and you have demonstrated that you are only but human. It is also great that so many have offered support with regards to helping out the affected employees with new potential opportunities. I think you have opened up a great starting point for internal dialogue on staffing, planning and tying that up with your execution orientation.
    As I read through and I considered your evolution from this point onwards with a view to limiting as much as possible similar errors, a few thoughts came to mind that I would like to share; 1. It seems that at the leadership level, new habits/ new metrics are required e.g. rather than being proud of the size (in people numbers) possibly makes more sense to be proud of number of satisfied customers or number of new customers as your base grows 2. While you definitely seem to need someone in finance, not sure whether you need more management layers; is it possible to layer a thinking culture on top of the execution orientation that you already have and in the process allow your team to broaden their skillset? 3. Realistic “Follow-through”, Leadership would need to chart out decisions and expected outcomes and share openly with the team and establish expected timelines to ensure deliverables are met in a timely manner. This would also help you as an organisation to plan for your required staffing levels.
    With 2 and 3 above, you can create a platform for your current staff to take on management in their portfolio which may be better than bringing in someone who would have to learn about your organisation , product, culture etc etc.
    Happy to discuss further!

  • Igor Escobar

    Good read. Ive always thought that Buffer could provide a more affordable plan for those who aren’t willing to pay 10$ a month just to sharing things with their friends/followers. Most of us make 0$ by doing this and doesn’t make much sense to pay that much for it. I’ve been using buffer for years now and I’m only using the free account because there isn’t a flexible billing option… Maybe… There are many more people who thinks the same way I do.

    • Hey Igor, thanks so much for sharing this cool idea for Buffer! It means a lot to hear that you find enough value in the free plan that you’d be willing to pay a bit for it! Will make sure I pass this on to the team!

      • Igor Escobar

        <3

  • What an incredibly brave post to share with, well, everyone! This is not a subject that most CEOs are willing to be transparent about even with their own staff, let alone the outside world, and I have no doubt that many entrepreneurs reading this post will learn a hell of a lot from it. They may even manage to avoid making similar mistakes, thanks to your humble honest account of your own. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone identifies them early enough to be able to fix them, and it seems that you and Leo have taken the difficult but necessary steps to turn things around for Buffer. I’m sure that everyone reading this post wishes you all well on your journey ahead. Respect :)

    • Hey there Noya, thank you so much for these kind and encouraging words. :) If we might be able to help other avoid the same mistakes we’ve made, that would be a wonderful silver lining to this tough experience.

  • A tough experience to go through, and undoubtedly even tougher to write about it so candidly. Thanks for sharing the highs and the lows with us, Joel. Really appreciate Buffer’s commitment to helping others through transparency. Know that we love what The Buffer Team are doing in the world, and we’ll be cheering you on while you climb up to the next amazing peak in your journey.

    • This was such a lovely note to read, Cameron. :) Thank you so much for your wonderful support and encouragement right now; it means so much!

  • Always been impressed by your transparency, as well as your candor. Even more impressive when things go badly. Thank you for sharing so others can avoid similar mistakes.

    • Thanks for taking a look, Joshua. It would be a wonderful silver lining to be able to save others the same pain!

  • Doug Milnor

    Great article Joel, thank you for sharing and being transparent. Usually when confronted with these type of challenges, I have seen many organizations go the quick and fast VC route, only to lose their ability to be independent in the years to go. Tough decisions, but I suspect in the long run you will be happy you made them. Great article, thank you for sharing – I have distributed this internally to our exec team.

    • It means a lot that you would pass this one on, Doug; thank you so much for the solidarity and encouragement.

  • louhoffman

    Joel,

    Before jumping into my comment, I think it’s important to establish that I’m a fan of Buffer. As a communications consultancy, we do a fair amount of training on thought leadership, often pointing folks to the Buffer blog as exhibit A. I also admire the transparency in this post. Look, it’s never fun to fall on one’s sword, particularly 3,428 words worth of sword.

    Still, if you’re going to address the topic with such thorough transparency, I think you needed to take on the pachyderm in the room and answer the question, why are you still the person to lead Buffer as CEO? I don’t say this to be mean or insensitive. But after reading about all your mistakes and lapses in judgment, it seems like a reasonable question.

    As an outside observer, I’m not saying that you’re not the right person. Instead, I was interested in the thought process that led to the conclusion to stay the course as well as how you’re defining accountability looking to the future (you outlined the goals, but not what happens if those goals aren’t achieved).

    Going through tough times myself, I wrote the post “The Gift of Desperation” that starts “It’s amazing how survival has a way of tuning one’s senses.”

    I think you and Buffer will find that to be the case.

    Wishing you the best of luck.

    • Hey Lou! Just wanted to let you know we were listening and not leaving this question unattended. I’m keen to have Joel jump in and share some thoughts here. Meanwhile, thought I’d link to your post in case it’s helpful for others: http://www.ishmaelscorner.com/the-gift-of-desperation/

      • louhoffman

        No problem. Thanks. The dialog in the comments has been educational.

      • louhoffman

        Hey Courtney, did Joel decide to take a pass?

  • Great stuff, as always. Sorry for the loss but kudos for the transparency. How much did the acquisition and integration of “Respond” impact the situation in terms of both finances and product direction?

    • Hey Matthew, thanks for a great question. I’m going to try to pull Joel in on this one since he’ll have some great thoughts here, stay tuned for just a bit!

  • Gagan Kanwar

    Joel .. thanks for sharing this very thoughtful piece. Good luck on the journey and will look forward to reading more along the way.

    • Hopping in for Joel to say thank you so much for the encouragement!

  • NickH

    Buffer’s culture inspires me so much, this even more so. It takes guts to write a post like this, even more guts to not try to dress it up as a positive without any personal responsibility.

    I’m starting my own startup at the moment and I’m following the Buffer ‘blueprint’ of a distributed team, openness and adaptability.

    Thanks again for setting the bar high and giving me something to strive for.

    • Wow, Nick. It means so much to hear that you’d want to build your own startup using some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Your support is incredible! Wishing you so much luck and success.

  • Tough times for all, employees in particular. I’m sure the company will continue to grow and the team members will go on to new chapters with their talent and experience gained at Buffer.

    All the best to everyone.

    • Thanks so much, Ross, for the support and encouragement. Means a lot!

  • Joel – I was fortunate to meet with Alfred Lua this morning and I was really impressed by his openness and professionalism on how he discussed this topic. Discussing this topic and others clearly showed why the projects we are looking at, will clearly involve Buffer and I’ll continue to promote, endorse, etc Buffer constantly. You’re openness clearly shows the company is on the right path to success

    • Ah, Alfred is truly wonderful; glad y’all got a chance to chat. :) That you would continue to support us during this time means so much, Ian. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate it and gain strength from it. Thank you.

  • I tried Buffer. There were some basic issues with your service. I made a suggestion to your company in order to get the issue rectified. I waited. The suggestion was never implemented. I went back to Hootsuite.

    • Jonathan, I am really embarrassed that we failed you so badly here. I totally understand why you would head back to Hootsuite and I hope they’re getting you what you need. I’m so sorry that we couldn’t do that; it is 100% on us.

  • In regards to team size, and whether or not it’s an appropriate metric for growth — you’re right, it isn’t, but setting ‘revenue per employee’ targets might be a good idea. When revenue per employee exceeds targets, it’s time to hire.

    • That’s a fantastic tip; thank you so much for taking the time to share, Barry!

  • Joan Nin

    Keep going guys i will help you i’m going to get the Awesome Plan on Monday. Keep strong!

    • Wow, Joan, what a wonderful note to read. I hope we can provide you with value for your money; thanks for the confidence in us! 💛

  • mbansal14

    The level of transparency simply blows my mind. Wish you all the very best.

  • Narry a New

    It is an incredible bold step you have taken as a company. I say congratulations to you and your whole team. So many internet based businesses implode in exactly the way you described your downward leaning.

    I think that what you see as the most difficult action necessary to keep the focus of the company on future profitability. Turns out to be a great opportunity for other web based businesses. Perhaps all of the potential offers for jobs will help to ease your anxiety.

    Good Luck To All Of You At Buffer.

    • Wow, this really means so much! Thank you for the kind words and encouragement; we will take them to heart.

  • CAS

    Joel, I use your product and have for 5 months now. I have emailed you personally I think 5 times now inquiring about joining buffer and bringing a very diverse and experienced venture startup, founder and Fortune 500 background to Buffer.

    I never received 1 response from you. Not even a “thank you for your interest…blah”. I have since landed at a great early stage company. My recommendation to you is try to recognize and communicate with people better. I have received emails back from leading VCs, TED speakers, CEOs of Fortune 100 companies who I suspect are a lot busier than you. I am only sending this because you asked for input. Good luck and hope you guys get the momentum you need to succeed.

    • Hey there, thank you so much for taking the time to share an area where we can improve. It sounds like we gave you a pretty awful experience and I’m so sorry. The fact that you would wish us well even after all that we’ve put you through is really incredible; thank you for being so gracious. Really glad that you’ve landed in such an ideal spot; it sounds like our loss for sure. I will share this great feedback with the team so we can get better here!

      • CAS

        Courtney, appreciate your reply. Why wouldn’t Joel respond to this? He is the CEO. This is a great example of what needs to be addressed. Amazing

  • You do not downplay the human pain (difficult emotions, confusion, breaking relations) involved and take ownership of it.

    I imagine you might have been tempted to skip the difficult human parts and to over-emphasize the financial win this decision creates.

    Good on you for taking just as much time acknowledging the human cost as you do for spelling out the financial gain. It’s not common to see such a public example of emotional intelligence.

    It’s helpful and powerful.

    • Hey Adam, thanks for the thoughtful note. The pain we’ve caused is real, and we can’t emphasize that enough. One of our values at Buffer is to take time to reflect, and it’s been inspiring to see the level of reflection and soul-searching Joel has been willing to get to throughout this process.

  • macdarabutler

    Wow so refreshing to hear a CEO openly admit making mistakes. I hope your confidence isn’t too dented though, you’re doing exactly the right things. If I was a shareholder at Buffer I’d be very reassured by this post about having you as CEO for the future.

    You’re building a real business based on real revenues and most of those VC backed firms will never pay back their investors or create real value in the economy. It’s easy to spend other people’s money!

    • I know Joel will be so heartened to read this, thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement!

  • Steve Shivak

    Like the other responses, I commend you for the honesty and stepping the readers through your thought process. The biggest part for me was you recognized early enough that the weakness in your model could be covered by doing another level of fundraising bUT that wold nother be wise. If you had chosen that route, Instead of the short-term story of letting 10 people go, the weakness may have resulted in a far worse story in just a few more years. Focus on your customers, continue building products that meet their needs and develop strong operating dashboards and you will continue to be a company where people want to work. Wishing you the best in your journey!

    • Wise words and advice, Steve. Thank you so much for standing with us during this time; it means the world.

  • Jaleela Raffay

    A company built on the principles of honesty, transparency and self-accountability is definitely going to reach the stars. You’ve got a brilliant thing going with the work you’re doing. Wishing you every success in the future.
    Can you tell me at what point you realised you needed finance advice from a specialist?

    • Wow thank you for your kind words here and well-wishes! That truly means the world!

      Great question about the specialist advise! I will ping Joel on this one and hopefully we can share more about that! :)

  • Michael de Groot

    Joel and the whole team at Buffer. Your transparency and honesty, is inspirational. We feel your pain and sadness about letting team members go. Don’t be too hard on yourselves for thinking you’ve failed or made mistakes. Remember that there is no such thing as failure only learning and growth. Colleagues that are leaving Buffer, will undoubtedly have grown as individuals and having worked for such an inspirational company will prove to be an incredible asset to another employer. Just think they may even be able to bring some of Buffer’s ideas to their new employer and making them a little bit more transparent maybe? Onwards and upwards and well done for spotting the issues, which you can now move forward with an fix. One bit of advice, which might help. When change is upon us, in whatever form, small steps are a better way of achieving progress. Success and keep smiling! 👍🙂

    • Hey there Michael! Wow, thank you so much for your encouragement here – we’re so blown away by this support and it definitely helps drive us to do better. :) Love the thought too of our fellow teammates to share some of these ideas and cultural aspects with other employers! Such a great perspective!

      • Michael de Groot

        No problem, success to you and the whole team Nicole, including the ones that are leaving. 👊

  • I love your transparency reports, Joel! But it’s a bold step what you shared with us here. Business is hard. There are both good an bad sides to it. Letting go isn’t easy.

  • I was struck by the canceled 400K “team retreat”.

    • Hey there Chris! I’d love to provide more context if I can! Would love to know what struck you here and if there are any more details I could provide? :) Thank you so much for reading and commenting here!

  • I’ve gotten so used to hearing amazing things about @buffer that I really didn’t see this one coming. But kudos to the Buffer team and @joelgascoigne for being so transparent and respectful about the whole process. And thank you for looking long-term for a sustainable business model. Layoffs are a part sad reality of business, but you’ve done remarkably well here. Much respect and virtual hugs to your team in difficult times.

    • Thank you so much for your support and kind words, Aaron! Feeling those hugs and sending some right back! :)

  • Thanks for posting this, Joel. I was recently laid off and, well, that’s
    about I can say on it. ;) I’m glad you’re sticking with Buffer’s
    culture of transparency even at a difficult phase like this.

    Since I
    feel a bit of a kinship with the folks that were laid off, please make
    sure to treat them fairly and help them move on to the next phase. Even
    when you’re acutely aware that being laid off wasn’t you but
    them, you still have to go through the job search process all over
    again, and that’s not fun.

    • Jumping in for Joel, if that’s okay, Regina! :) Thank you so much for sharing this — I’m so sorry about the tough time you’ve been going through and really grateful for your words here.

  • Du Minda

    Wow. Blown away by the transparency and sincerity of this post. Also, really interesting to understand Buffer’s chosen financing path, as it is something that many young companies have to think about. Excellent article.

    • Hey there, friend! Thank you so much for your kind words here! Really thankful for your support!

  • Cedric

    @joelgascoigne:disqus I’m sorry you are having to go through this. I have been following you and your blog for some time now (even wrote a paper on Buffers culture and approach during my bachelors last year). It shows great character that you are so self reflected and can continue with the transparency you have started in a situation like this. I have great respect for that. I’m sure you made the right decision and things will turn out well. Last month I have read the book Growing Pains from Eric Flamholtz. It describes exactly what I believe Buffer is experiencing. Growing Pains from the extremely fast growth and the lack of the fitting, supporting infrastructure. Might be worth to read it (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1118916409/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_1?pf_rd_p=1944687542&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=078798616X&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=MV8RFFNJQ7NT6A7743GV) or even reach out to Eric Flamholtz (https://www.mgtsystems.com). It’s by far my favorite business book that I have read so far.

  • Luis Rodriguez

    Joel,

    I’m sorry to hear about the setback Buffer experienced. I started to use Buffer and in an instant, I knew how valuable Buffer already is. Mistakes are the best teachers even though they can cause a great inconvenience. I believe in you and the rest of the Buffer Team to redirect Buffer to the right direction. On the bright side, lessons were learned and Buffer will come back stronger!
    I wish you the best Joel. I believe in you and the team. You have built something very special.

    I wish you the best and hopefully in the near future be part of the Buffer Team!

    • (peeking in for Joel!) Thank you so much, Luis! Really grateful for your thoughts and kind words here — you’re right, we will come back stronger and learn from all of this! :)

  • Respect for sharing your thought process and such detail of your experience. i have a lot of regard for you all as a company and I hope this gives you the opportunity to go from strength to strength.

  • Much respect to disclosing so much on such a difficult scenario. You guys continue to live up to your ultra-transparent culture — especially in owning up to mistakes and laying out a game plan to make sure the company is in a better place for the long-term.

    Generally, I’m always curious about layoffs and whether the employees who were let go would ever have direct opportunities back into Buffer. I assume most of them will have moved onto other companies or pursued other opportunities by the time Buffer’s structure has shifted enough for them to get their old jobs back, but curious to get your thoughts.

    • Hi there Tim! So sorry for our delay in responding here!

      Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words here about our post!

      That’s a super great question about the opportunities back in Buffer – we’re super keen to help them find new homes in awesome companies and are doing everything we can to support them there! I’m afraid I’m not 100% sure on that, so I might have to defer to Joel to answer that one! I’ll be sure to share this comment by him! Thank you again for asking such great things! :)

  • ameliachen

    Thanks for sharing this @joelgascoigne:disqus. We appreciate the openness and honesty. It’s not easy for anyone to admit failures and mistakes – really glad Buffer is stepping up to change this. :)

    • (jumping in just to say, Thank you so much Amelia! Really grateful for you listening in here and for your kind words!!)

  • Jeremy James

    Nobody said it would be easy but you know it will be worth it. Wishing the best of luck to current and past buffer staff.

  • J11

    Well thanks for your openness and transparency. I’m going to retract my thoughts about applying for a job there. I was seriously thinking about applying, but I think I will hold off on that until something changes and the company is in a position to hire. Sorry that you had to make the tough decision but you know it was the correct and only decision that could have been made. Good luck!

    • Hi there! I’m so sorry for your experience there and I do hope you’ll keep in touch and perhaps apply a bit down the road! We are so thankful for you and your kind words here!

  • Paul Tucker

    Such a great post, Joel, et al. –

    I am so touched by the difficulty of what must have been a terribly hard decision, the honesty towards the full situation that touched the lives of the unfortunate employees, and the general candor of transparency. Thanks for taking the time to share this so humbly and openly. I’m sad for you all, but I see such a strong, ethical approach here that it encourages me for your future – not just financially, but in integrity and team unity. Wishing you all the best!

    • Jumping in for Joel if that’s okay, Paul! Thank you so much for your kind words here! We are so sorry for the pain all around and very grateful for all your encouragement and support!

  • Joy Johnson

    Gosh, thank you for being so honest and transparent. I actually applied for a position a few months ago. I believe you will bounce back even if it takes some time. I know this decision was very hard for you all.

    • Hi there Joy! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts here! Really honored that you applied as well and are interested in the the team!

  • Kudos to you for having this level of transparency – layoffs are never easy. I’m sure other high-growth companies can relate! While it’s great to have the ability to hire a lot of people to prepare for the continuing onslaught of business, it also helps to maintain that “lean” mentality. My company has also learned this the hard way! To use Gary Vaynerchuk type of boxing metaphor, I want to stay lean and mean year round… rather than bulk up for a fight and then feel too depleted when I have to cut weight. Always a challenge with business, and I’d say you guys are still doing it better than 99% of most! Keep your heads up.

    • Thank you so much, Peter! Really grateful for your kind words and encouragement here! Love that boxing metaphor — super inspiring! :) Best of luck to you and your company as well! :) Maybe we’ll see you in the gym (so to speak)? :)

  • Teresa wolf

    While this is sad news to read, you clearly care about the people. Your transparency is amazing. I have personally been let go due to slow sales a few times, and it is never easy to be on the receiving end on that news. In fact the summer slow down is upon our business now and I am fearing the worst as we speak. It looks as though your employees will be in good hands with so many other companies offering opportunities their way. Keep up the hard work…you have an amazing company, group of people, and this little bump will be a thing of the past before you know it.

    • I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced being let go, Teresa! Thank you for your kind words here and encouragement! Sending smiles and hugs your way!

  • Guido Verboom

    Very impressed by this insightful message. Learning from your mistakes is the best way forward and you set an example for many organizations. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Guido! Really grateful for you reading and for your support here!

  • hdc77494

    One of the toughest things about running a company is the reality that if the company doesn’t survive, it can help no one.
    Sacrificing people now so the whole can continue to function is a reality most enterprises deal with. The only choice I disagree with is your choice of last in first out. I understand the importance of loyalty, but arguably your customers and the team deserve to work with the most skilled individual at every position. After all, part of what forced you to lay off people in the first place was relying on loyal people whose mistakes, and your own, endangered the future of the enterprise. Having personally been in your shoes, I understand the pain.
    I’ve followed with great interest the numerous blog posts detailing your diversity efforts. I commented once that while I share your enthusiasm for a diverse team, I questioned the danger of creating a team that looks diverse on the surface, but whose members all share the same values, the same world view, and therefore think the same way. Groups, especially groups made up of like thinking members, have a terrible habit of only seeing the same problems, and only addressing problems the same way. Worse, the (many times critical) voice of dissent may be missing from decision processes throughout your organization. To put it bluntly, if there aren’t people on your team who can aggressively push back, who can tell you your ideas are bad, and who you respect enough that they win some of those arguments, then you are bound to continue to make serious, business threatening decisions, at every level. Critically, the culture that brought you here still exists. Does it need to change?
    If you haven’t, I urge you to provide outplacement services to your former team members. Thanks for sharing the story of your journey.

    • Hey there, thank you so much for this insightful comment. A blog post I’ve been meaning to write forever is “how to have hard conversations in a culture of positivity.” It feels like an important topic to me specifically for the reasons you mention, that groupthink can lead to “false harmony” and a culture where dissent and pushback are frowned upon and thus absent. I do think we’ve been hindered by this in the past. At this point, we’re really aware of it and working to actively challenge ourselves to share more openly even when it’s critical. I’d love to keep you posted on how this progresses; I agree it’s pivotal for success!

  • J11

    I still want to work at Buffer. Can’t help it, again after reading this article https://open.buffer.com/distributed-team-benefits/. What can I say Joel. You have a good thing going there and my heart goes out to you and yours… TEAM BUFFER!

  • I just woke up and checked email, and saw this.

    I can partially relate with what you’re going through. I have not been a founder or CEO, but I have seen 3 layoffs in my working life, at 2 companies. In the 3rd layoff, I was also part of the team that made hard decisions on who to keep. We too, had grown too fast.

    It’s a good thing that in your case the layoff immediately affected profitability; at the very least, you got what you needed (in our case we were still burning cash, just less).

    I do hope everyone ends up in a win-win situation (overly optimistic alert!), after this. You guys have always handled things with grace and respect, and I know it will help ease the stress for everyone.

    The notion that the switch from generalist to specialist was unclear is a very good insight; that’s also something we realised back when we made layoffs and now that the startup I’m a part of is growing. I’d like to share what we’ve done, to help in some way. What we’ve done so far to prevent being unclear are to:

    – really be aware of the goals (“We are achieving this”!)
    – bit the bullet and really made it clear who decision makers were, even though it was getting a bit too corporate for some (“We now have an executive committee”)
    – be clear of who is responsible for what, especially after meetings where small side projects are discussed (“I don’t need to worry about X, y, z; I trust you to get it done”)
    – still not be shy about asking for help or to delegate (“I thought I could handle it but I’m overworked and I need help”)
    – be okay without having a hand in a lot of things (“I know how I can provide best value to the company”)
    – making sure we keep having learning / training sessions so specialists can improve on their craft (“We need to build our product team bench, so let’s teach some classed”)

    I’m sure we can do it a lot better, but I hope this helps somehow.

    Again, I hope to see everyone bounce back after this. Cheers.

    • Wow – thank you so much for this amazing wisdom, Dodge! I can imagine you’ve been through a lot of ups and downs with three different layoff experiences – so grateful you can share these takeaways with us! Thank you for your time and thoughts here!

  • Mean-Inc

    Hi Joel, sorry to hear about this news.

    I’m sad to hear this and the reason: “the fact that we grew the team too big, too fast.”

    I also have personal experience about this recently.

    I once work for a company that also grew too fast and became too big to sustain itself. The company grew from 10 to 100+ in 2 years, and most of them are designers and production team. They burn huge money annually to sustain the team (salary, rent, other expenses), but not making enough traction and sales. So they decide to layoff around 30+ people at a time when I was there. Although I’m glad I still have jobs here, I also lose a lot of office friends that have to leave in that mass layoff. But that is business anyway, and the show must go on.

    The lesson that I’ve learn from that layoff are, the company tend to let go the specialist that was really great, but only do on one thing repetitively. And those who were pick to stay are those who have 2 skills or more, I’m not talking about jack of all trade, but its more about multiple skills with professional proficiency, I understand your reason to let go some of the people, because you have to make sure your company still running for years to come. But my suggestions is to try to rotate the roles sometime, to see what your employee have under their sleeves.

    People that survive from the layoff turns out to have secret expertise inside them, here is some examples, when we rotate the roles, we found some graphic designer that was good in front-end, and we found a front-end who could make a beautiful fonts (that could be an extra income and value for the employee and the company). All that we ask is for them to learn extra skill that suit their preference (they are free to choose), and we teach them for few months until they reach a professional efficiency, it was easier too be done because they learn from real project and real expert.

    What I’m trying to say is I’m sad to hear your though decision, but as an employee, this is what I found when I speak to the people that got laid off and those who stay, it would be great if we as the employee could develop other saleable skills (while doing their core task). So if one day you have to face this situation, you could choose to rotate people (like what you do in this layoff, that you rotate people to a role that still needed and didn’t have to let them go), or at least let them go with more option to find a new job (with their multiple saleable skill).

    That’s what I’ve learned.

    Anyway, best luck for Buffer, hopefully you team will thrive again soon.

    • Hey there, friend — I hope it’s okay if I jump in for Joel here! I want to share my deepest thanks for your kind words and encouragement here. It’s really helpful to read your experiences and we can definitely learn a lot from this, from you and other companies’ experiences here!

      I really love the idea of rotating roles and I can see so much value and persona growth that could come from that practice.

      Thank you again for sharing all of this! We are so grateful for your support and perspective here!

    • Do you think if your company was bootstrapped and not investor backed, you guys would have grown more prudently? I’ve found it’s easier to spend other people’s money versus your own as a small business owner myself.

  • Manish Sharma

    Hello Joel,
    Your are awesome CEO. No one share internal things of company with us but you did. This post show’s your company have transparency. Great Job. I pray for you.

  • Well, as always kudos for the transparency you are bringing in this world. But with all due respect, $400,000 for a company retreat is way too much as per me. I guess you already have a plan to reduce this amount by arranging smaller and local retreats. All the best! :)

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts here and your honesty! Really grateful for it!

  • Kathleen McCaffrey

    First, i think it’s so great you are sharing every step of this process, so others can learn from it before walking into the same situation, it can’t have been easy. It’s also really great what you’re doing for the people who lost their jobs. Yes we all make mistakes, but a person is judged by the way they handle these mistakes. And honestly, you and the team couldn’t have acted in a more positive and sincere way. Not lost an ounce of respect for you and buffer – keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll be the best company out there :)

  • Ales B.

    Great post, generally great blog as whole! There is another way how to fight with . One of the biggest entrepreneuers in the history of the Czech Republic, globally known shoemaker Mr. Tomas Bata, introduced for his employees internal bank held by the company itself. Employees had to held certain part of the salary on their own bank account, which was credited by 10% p.a. interest rate. Employee could withdrawn the money according to his actual needs. This gave company extraordinary capital boost for investment and operational activity and on the other hand it has also positive impact on employees, who were motivated to stay with the company. This solution could bring you easily with you number of employees USD 100k monthly. Keep up a good work!

    • Hey there! Thank you so much for reading! Wow that’s a really cool story about Mr. Bata — What an innovative idea! Really grateful for you sharing this!

      • Ales B.

        Well,this idea is from 1930’s!So from one angle of view it is hard to call it innovative,but on the other hand is it not fascinating that even after 90 years his ideas are alive?

  • Robin Stewart

    It’s very brave of you to be transparent about struggles with ego and pride. Is it possible that the true purpose of Buffer is, at least in part, to give you the opportunity to be CEO of something? If so, the sorts of ego-mistakes described in this article are inevitable. Also, attempts at self-management are likely doomed to failure, as you have experienced in the recent past.

  • AmZec Insurance

    Fascinating read Joel. And your candor and honesty is refreshing in today’s world. I truly hope this approach will ultimately serve you well. I own a small insurance brokerage firm, and struggle with the issue of growth every time I gain clients (and occasionally lose clients)… not an easy call.
    I trust your HR Department and Finance Department are doing their due diligence on the Risk and Insurance end of things (it seems it is always the last thing Officers look at!). If we can assist you with an overview, we’d be happy to do so.
    Again, an excellent overview of the layoff process, and best of luck/skill to Buffer in your future. John S.

  • tenminutetokyo .

    TL;DR

  • Sridhar Rajendran

    Wow that takes a lot of courage to accept a mistake. Kudos to Joel. Buffer has a reputation for transparency and you have lived up to it. While it is sad to hear that a few members have to leave the company, sometimes it is, essential especially at a startup. The one aspect I appreciate the most if Joel & Leo taking a pay cut as well. Way to go.
    I do not have much idea about Holocracy but I really doubt if it would scale up. In the book ‘The Art of Choosing’, Sheena Iyengar explains the difference between the attitude of people when they are provided freedom/options. The Westerners liked it while the Asian in general do not take it well. It does not mean one is better than the other but they are just different.
    Buffer is a company that I aspire to work for, and I hope you guys return to profitability soon.

    • Hey there! Oh wow that’s a really cool perspective here — definitely going to grab that book! :) Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and encouragement here!

  • Jason Cavness

    Thank you for sharing this. You will make a lot of people better from your sharing of this.

    • Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts, Jason!

  • Ilya Katsnelson

    Somehow I’ve stumbled upon this post. Great kudos to you Joel as a real leader. Especially showing leadership by taking a salary cut. Usually in this case employees get pink slips and the executives get bonuses. It’s nice to know that there are companies that care about their people.

    • Jumping in just to say: thank you so much for reading this and for sharing!! I can personally concur that Joel and Leo taking a salary cut meant a lot to me, too! :)

  • Catalina Contoloru

    Hi Joel,

    First of all, well done for having the courage to say all this publicly and for all the details you gave in the article, a great example of vulnerability, leadership and transparency. Well done you guys for setting an example in how business is done nowadays!

    I just want to share my thoughts with you, because probably this won’t the last time you will have to re-organize. Another option would be to involve the people in your team and decide together what you can do to solve the situation. As you decided to cut your salary, maybe this would have been the case for others also.
    To keep it short: Let the people know about the situation, set a target for cost-saving and then give them the space to decide what to do: if they all give up part of their benefits and salaries or if some of them get to leave. I think the team was big enough (94 people) to buffer the tension. ;) Maybe they would have chosen to give up a percentage of their salary and not loose 10 of their colleagues. Especially if you say this wasn’t a performance issue. Treat people as adults, let them choose what to do, give them the power, don’t take the decision for them.
    Being in People Operations myself, it breaks my heart to read about this decision, especially in a business like yours, which is a role model in terms of company culture and innovation.
    There’s a great company in Brazil, that I always give as example, called Semco, you probably already know about it. Semco is a great study case in terms of company culture and way of working. In the books Ricardo Semler wrote about their challenges and history, he gave several examples on how you can overcome this kind of crisis, involve people to take the best decisions and have a healthy growth process.

    As you said in the article, I hope this will be a great learning moment for you and the team. Wish you guys all the best!

    Lots of inspiration,
    Catalina

  • ronellsmith

    Transparency for the win. I always say “people over products and processes.” Problem is, it’s very easy for the C-suite to pay lip service to this line of thinking but do nothing to commit to such an effort. Buffer has great people, and your sharing these details with us does nothing but bolster that image. For anyone who has been downsized, myself included, it hurts, but what really makes it stink is knowing that the axe came from a person you never respected anyway. With you and Leo, I’m certain that’s not the case. We’re all proud to be a small part of what you all are building.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this, friend! I’m so sorry you’ve experienced being part of layoffs as well and am so grateful for your perspective here! You are such an important part of what we’re doing here at Buffer – we couldn’t do any of this without customers and friends like you!! :)

      • ronellsmith

        Thank you. I simply appreciate brands comprised of great people.

  • cris sabal

    I admire your courage and your humility… I hope everything turns out well both for Buffer and everyone who were affected. It is difficult to be unemployed as I am goibg through the same, but I think at the end of the day, what we remember is how we were treated when we walked out of the door for the last time, i believe you did well.

    Have you considered looking into tapping into cost effective geos in terms of labor arbitrage for future sustainable growth of your team? Likebuild a customer service hub in Manila or Asia, retain product dev and small lean core team nearshore?

    The lesson I learned from this is, if we are not financially secure and sound then we cannot fulfill our commitment, achieve our goals and actualize our aspirations.

    I hope you and your team all the best.

    • Hey there! Thank you so much for sharing this and for your great questions here! Those are interesting ideas and I think we’ve thrown a lot of different ideas around there! :)

      I’m so sorry you’re going through unemployment right now! I am wishing you the best and hope that you find a great work environment soon!

  • Michał Śliwoń

    Thank you so much for this post. Hugs to all of you during this tough time.

    You are truly inspiring as a company and posts like this make you even more likeable. I hope you’ll succeed in every sense, love the product, love the company culture (as it looks from outside), love the fact you’re sharing so much for our benefit!

    Take care Buffer!

  • Noel Geer

    Great article Joel
    Thanks for the insight to your situation. I am growing my company in a similar fashion where by the business gets paid for for the revenue of the sales rather then from investment. Its helps to hear these stories as we are at 24 now looking to put the foot on the gas for growth

  • Thank – you for being so transparent about your business learnings. What a fantastic story.

  • Lisa Chernow

    While I’m impressed with your transparency and especially sorry for those who were laid off, I have to ask if this news has any relationship with the technical difficulties I’ve experienced with Buffer since last night. I have been able to buffer posts from my desktop computer by clicking on the buffer icon within Twitter and Facebook, but I could not do so on my iPhone nor could I log into my Buffer account. The error message says my password is incorrect (which it isn’t). A reset did not generate an email with a link to reset the password. As a paying customer who has been very pleased with your service (especially compared to that of your competitors), I wish you all the very best of success and hope you can resolve the support issue.

  • beth

    Hi Joel, one suggestion I think you guys can make is having a plan between Awesome and Small (Buffer for Business). Maybe call is “Awesome Plus” or something.

    I have 3 “brands” for my personal use that I need to manage and I need MORE than 10 but less than 25 because I am not managing for clients. I need about 15 or so. I have a personal brand, a travel company/blog and a copy writing company.

    All of these need the service of buffer but there is no plan for people that have a slightly larger personal need and dont need the business features. I think this extra plan will give you guys a bit more money if possible.

  • Lisa

    I can tell this was a hard decision for you. I commend you for not only taking responsibility but sharing what the mistakes were, what changes had to be made to be better and what goals you have. You showed your team that you do really care. And for those that you had to let go… what you are doing is awesome as well. You didn’t just let them go and them be on their own, you are going to help them find another company, etc and that is more than any company normally does trust me. I think you will succeed because to me it seems you genuinely care and you have learned from your mistake and that in itself will make you succeed.

  • thatguy111

    Great post. A GREAT resource for lay off protection is also The Hatchet Man’s Playbook.

  • Hi Joel,

    Thanks for sharing and being transparent! I just wrote a long post about why everybody should start their own business: for a better life, and used your P&L and salaries as examples of how great running a business can be.

    It never occurred to me that I could spend MORE on work retreats than how much I made in monthly operating profits! I’ve always run my business very lean, but seeing your numbers opened my eyes to how much more I can spend on team building and fun stuff while saving on taxes too.

    I hope things work out! Here’s the post that links back to this post if anybody is interested: http://www.financialsamurai.com/why-start-a-business-work-retreats-better-life/

    And if you need some finance help on boosting margins, growing revenue, tightening costs, let me know. I spent 13 years in finance and have been a business operator for over 7 years.

    Fight on!

    Sam

  • @joelgascoigne:disqus, I’m so sorry to hear you had to go through this. Buffer seems like such a tight knit team.

    I can hardly imagine the weight of so much responsibility, and I think it’s good you shared about the whole thing.

    Obviously it’s enlightening for us to hear about your journey, but I hope it’s also good for you — bearing that burden in isolation is too much to ask of anyone.

    Though I was never a founder, I have been a manager before. And firing people used to put me in a funk for days.

    Then finally I talked to my brother about it, and he said, “If it made you feel good, what kind of person would you be?”

    There was no magic way that I was going to feel all the way better, but that made me feel a lot better about not feeling okay.

    Thanks for your courage in talking about this.

  • Hi Guys,

    Upon re-reading this post, I think you guys might need to beef up your finance team. This statement stood out in particular:

    “Leo and I are committing $100k each in the form of a loan at the lowest possible interest rate, with repayment only when Buffer reaches a healthy financial position. Savings: $200,000.”

    This is not a $200,000 savings. The true savings is the DIFFERENCE between the interest Buffer Co was paying to borrow $200,000 and the new lower interest rate Leo and Joel is lending the company e.g. 5% interest on $200,000 original = $10,000 a year vs. 2% interest on $200,000 = $4,000 a year. The savings is therefore $6,000.

    The company still has to pay back Leo and Joel the money as the loan is considered a liability.

    Let me know if I’m missing something.

    Sam

    • I don’t think they’re looking as complex as the interest rate on the loan or whatnot. I think the “savings” is just a high level simplification of how this adjusts their burn rate and $ in the bank.

      • From a finance guy’s perspective, it’s not complex. It’s just what it is and that’s the point of having a stronger finance team / person to scrutinize the numbers. During these times, focusing on the numbers is more important than ever as people’s livelihoods are at stake.

        I was inspired by a previous post highlighting the monthly spending numbers to write my own post on why everybody should start their own business for a better life (http://www.financialsamurai.com/why-start-a-business-work-retreats-better-life/) under the assumption that all was good. It inspired me to spend more on work retreats, myself, and my employees like Buffer does to have a better time and save on taxes.

        But I wrote it before realizing this post was written about cutting costs. Now looking at the cost savings move, it should jump out to everybody that saving $400K on a work retreat is huge versus laying off 10 people and saving $585K by the end of the year. I’m sure all employees would agree to cut these benefits and such to save people’s jobs, and potentially their own. There should be no fear or embarrassment to cut a $400K work retreat in other words.

        We are going into much more difficult times over the next two years. Locking down is a must.

        Sam

      • There’s too much at stake to not focus on the financial details. we’ve seen too many companies not make it due to a poor grasp on their financials e.g. Zirtual.

        The heros of the tech/internet world are the tech/internet skilled workers. But there needs to be that stodgy finance guy making sure the books are in order.

        $400,000 for a retreat to Berlin vs. $585,000 in employee salaries saved should stand out as being disproportional. Financial discipline is critical over the next several years. Let’s not forget 2000!

        Best,

        Sam

  • Ben

    Wow! Blown away by the transparency practiced at Buffer. I can’t recall seeing this very often (if at all) from other companies. It shows how much you truly care about your teammates. I’m sorry the Buffer family went through this. I wish everyone well and much success. I hope Buffer’s articles get plenty of shares as other who might be struggling with some of these things could learn a lot since you guys are so transparent.

  • @joelgascoigne:disqus this is an incredible round up & lesson.

    Love the transparency that you guys represent & lead from the in virtual corner office. ;)

    Keep pressing forward & continue to build great stuff. :)

    Cheers

    – Kyle, CEO (Chief Experiment Officer)
    digitalconversionlabs.com

  • Thanks for being so open an honest with this. It’s tough as a founder to make these kinds of calls, and you and your team continue to inspire me. I appreciate you man!

  • GoLeanSixSigma

    Great post, Joel! Brave as @half_brick:disqus said it! We’ve enjoyed following Buffer around and we’re avid Buffer App users, too! We share so many highs, lows, and values with Buffer. As a growing company ourselves, we can relate to much of what you’ve shared here. There are tough times but also, lots of great learning opportunities and exciting changes ahead!

    As a Lean company, we practice what we teach. Would you or someone on your team be interested or in the position for a complimentary Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Training & Certification? We’re happy to be a part of your support community as you’re already a part of ours!

  • Emily Irish

    As a longtime fan of Buffer and everything you’ve built, it’s sad to hear this. But at the same time, even in your failures, Buffer is setting a standard for accountability and humility. It’s incredibly refreshing – especially coming from a CEO. With this attitude, I’m sure you guys will be able to turn everything around.

  • Suzanne Townsend

    Just a note about the annual retreat adjustments: Don’t let area-based mini-retreats cause silos. It might be better to continue with a yearly all-company retreat. Just once a year, a little goes a long way. Maybe combine it with a revenue-generating event, like a user conference, say on transparency and remote management best practices, to offset costs?