Transparency is a way of life for us at Buffer.

It’s a core part of our identity as a company and as individuals. Nowadays, we default to sharing everything about Buffer, from our real-time revenue dashboard to our diversity stats.

This wasn’t always the case.

In fact, long before this was one of our core values, it was simply a personal commitment by our cofounders to help provide more data for other startups that would come after them.

After realizing that there were many blog posts on how to measure, track, and analyze certain business metrics but not as many actual data points, they decided that Buffer would serve as one data point for any other startups who had questions such as, “How do you measure churn and monthly recurring revenue?” or “What’s a reasonable burn rate for a company with this many team members?” or “How much do you pay a customer service team member in London?”

From that beginning, transparency evolved into a central piece of our culture. It’s fundamental to how we communicate with each other, with customers, and with other businesses.

Transparency became an official part of our values, with the guiding principles below, in 2013.

transparency-value

We’ve been lucky to hear from many folks who feel excited about transparency but can’t quite see the path from where they are now. If you happen to be in this boat, it might help to know that radical transparency doesn’t happen overnight. Every stop along the journey has been the result of an idea and much discussion!

Here’s a timeline of the last five years of Buffer’s transparency triumphs, missteps and experiments.

Buffer’s Transparency Timeline

2011: Business strategy, roadmap

February

Transparent business strategy: Idea to Paying Customers in 7 Weeks: How We Did It

Customer milestones:

5000-tweets

March

Public roadmap: 

public-roadmap

December

First fundraising round: The 19 Awesome Investors In Our $450,000 Seed Round And How We Met Them

2012: Distributed team decision

December

Decision to become a distributed team. Here’s the email Joel shared (click to enlarge):
distributed team email

2013: Values, salaries, equity

January

Beginning to define our values (the full story on this is here):

values email

February

Internally open salaries (click to enlarge):

open salaries

March

Internally open equity (click to enlarge):

open equity internally

May

Public values: Sharing the very first version of Buffer’s then-8 core values.

Fundraising pitch deck: We shared the deck that we used to raise half a million dollars from angel investors.

August

Internal conversation about public salaries (click to enlarge):

open salaries discussion

September

First public investors update: Buffer September Update: $2,088,000 run rate, 1,046,000 users

investors update

October

Buffer is hacked! We live blog the experience, giving as much detail as we can.

buffer hack

December

Public salaries and first salary formula: Introducing Open Salaries at Buffer: Our Transparent Formula and All Individual Salaries

salaries version 1

2014: Revenue, pricing, fundraising

January

First public hiring report: Insights into the Hiring Process at Buffer in January: 3,864 Candidates, 13 Interviews, 3 Offers made

April

Public equity: Introducing Open Equity: Buffer’s Equity Formula and Full Individual Breakdown

equity formula

Public revenue dashboard: Introducing the Public Buffer Revenue Dashboard: Our Real-Time Numbers for Monthly Revenue, Paying Customers and More

revenue dashboard

May

Public customer happiness reports: How Buffer’s Happiness Team Translates Customer Emails Into Engineering Team To-dos: The April Happiness Report

Public list of all the books we’re reading:

 

October

Series A funding round with transparent full term sheet: We’re Raising $3.5m in Funding: Here is the Valuation, Term Sheet and Why We’re Doing It

December

Public Pricing Breakdown: Introducing Transparent Pricing: What Your Money is Used for When you Purchase a Buffer Subscription

transparent pricing diagram

2015: Feedback, diversity and an acquision

February

Transparent feedback on the team (click to enlarge):

transparent feedback

June

Public diversity stats: Building a More Inclusive Startup: Introducing the Diversity Dashboard

diversity-dash

August

Decision to move to private feedback between teammates: When We Took Transparency Too Far: The Transparent Feedback Experiment

November

Updated salary formula and public salary calculator: Introducing the New Buffer Salary Formula, Calculate-Your-Salary App and The Whole Team’s New Salaries

buffer-salary-formula

December

Buffer’s first ever acquisition and the whole story about exactly how it came to be was shared with the world: Buffer Has Acquired Social Media Customer Service Tool Respondly! Here’s the Full Story

2016: Product roadmap, cash flow crisis, minimum vacation, and our first end of year report

April

Product roadmap was shared in a public Trello board: Building in the Open: Introducing Buffer’s Transparent Product Roadmap

June

Cash flow crisis and layoffs happened at Buffer and were shared in the open. This is what we mean by transparent even when it hurts: Tough News: We’ve Made 10 Layoffs. How We Got Here, the Financial Details and How We’re Moving Forward

 

September

The move away from unlimited vacation and towards minimum vacation was shared (plus exactly how much vacation we’ve been taking at Buffer.)  When Unlimited is Limiting: Why We’re Experimenting with Minimum Vacation Recommendations

December

Buffer’s first End of Year report went live, transparently sharing numbers like the following: paying customers, posts sent through Buffer, pieces of swag sent to our community, and updates made to our codebase for the year. Buffer’s 2016 Year in Review (and the 8 Year-End Reflections That Inspired Us)

2017: Equal pay, and more to come!

April

We released exactly what men and women earn at Buffer for Equal Pay Day. On The Journey to Equal Pay: Here’s Exactly What Men and Women Earn at Buffer

2017, 2018, and beyond: What do you think?

We’re excited to keep going with transparency as a way to help others and grow and evolve ourselves. We’ve committed to default to transparency—both in good times and when it hurts!

What else can we share openly with you about how Buffer thinks and works?

We’d love to hear all your suggestions in the comments!

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Written by Carolyn Kopprasch

Chief Happiness Officer at Buffer. Tea, country music and happy customers make my world turn.

  • I love the timeline and how transparent Buffer is. I watch you guys all the time and you’ve changed my life in a way that I think differently and my goals and views on the whole world and also companies is different. Thank you so much, can’t wait to see the future of Buffer in the upcoming years.

  • I had to make a separate “Buffer” folder on my bookmarks to keep intact all the amazing content you guys put up. Openness is so amazing. We are inspired to do one ourselves this week (though not a big organization like Buffer). Looking forward to witnessing your journey and goals unfold! :)

  • eccoyle

    Man, seeing this list makes me realize how long I’ve been following you guys! And it’s always been interesting and enlightening :)

  • Will Anderson

    So next step is everyone moves into a giant house together :)

    But really, it seems like you all are nearing the peak of what a company can share and be open about. Has there ever been any thought to publishing in some way the tough, sometimes intangible, “process” that’s behind growing the company? All of the pieces are public (the salaries, where each $ goes, etc), but I think for a lot of people who are curious about tech and the legendary “origin stories” associated with it, it’s helpful to hear about the struggle of building that company. The social media failures post was an awesome look at that for you all, but I think sometimes the very mundane day-to-day challenges can be another really good learning lesson for the rest of us. It’s humanizing to know that y’all deal with the same issues and provides huge value. Maybe that’s been talked about before, but more is always great!

  • David Wolford

    I love seeing the ever-increasing growth in Buffer’s transparency over the last few years. Flipping through your fundraising pitch deck was really fun. Is Buffer still converting 2% of users from free to paid plans? I’m interested if/how this number has changed with your rapid user base growth since the pitch deck was made in May 2013.

  • Paul Tucker

    This makes me smile – and it’s such a powerful challenge to be inventive in my own transparency in business and in daily life; the humility and “ego-less-ness” really shines through this entire journey! Thanks for sharing, Carolyn and Buffer!

  • What a great journey and I’m sure us customers/bystanders feel like we been on it almost as much as you have!

    You can really see how transparency has developed at Buffer, the $10 breakdown and recent salary formula have been brilliant.

  • This was an amazing read. It is awesome to read from start to finish how the transparency process began and how it evolved to what it is today. I hope many other businesses take note of how transparency can be very positive for them

  • What a wonderful post about five years of transparency. You guys really push the limits of workplace culture. I would love to hear more about Buffer’s influences on workplace culture. What are your sources of inspiration (e.g. other companies, books, individuals?) for making such bold moves? Also, if you know of any other companies that have adopted Buffer-esque transparency, I would love to hear about them too. Thanks!

  • Thank you for sharing this, Carolyn! I agree with Paul, this makes me so happy to read. Your (the whole team’s, really) dedication to transparency is inspiring and makes me hopeful that more brands will move towards the path you have paved. Congratulations to all on another successful year! I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for Buffer.

    Gabi

  • Mahesh Muralidhar

    Thank you for leading.

  • This timeline was so fantastic, Carolyn! I’ve only been following Buffer for about a year, so it was really neat to see the history of how transparency has grown and evolved as the company. Keep up the great work!