Few months ago I stumbled on a great tweet from a great blog. Since it’t been a while, I can’t really remember what was it about. What matters is, since that moment I wanted to interview Joel. You can see from a persons tweets, Facebook statuses and their blog posts what they are made of. You can see what drives them, and how they inspire other people. You can use people like Joel to see if you are going in the right direction. What a funny coincidence that perhaps a week from now two of us could be sitting together in San Francisco, and when we met online I was in Rijeka, Croatia, him in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Goran: Joel, first of all I have to say we have a very similar taste in books! 🙂 The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, Tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell, and Richard Branson’s autobiography Loosing my Virginity. I also read all of them, and these are some amazing books. But apart from those, which is your favorite or perhaps top 3 if you can’t decide? And also, has any of them made a big impact on your life?
Joel: By far my favorite book is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Published long ago in 1936, it is still one of the most important and relevant books I know. The book is all about human relations, all about simply doing the right thing and finding ways to make others happy. It just so happens that this is by far the best strategy to get what you want, too. It also is a much more satisfying approach than being a typical “hard-nosed” business person. The book changed the way I approach others and find people I can get advice from. It has also shaped how we handle customer support at Buffer.
Goran: Why do I get the feeling you traveled a lot? Birmingham, Silicon Valley, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv did I miss anything? You wouldn’t happened to hear about a book Four hour workweek by Timothy Ferriss? What Ferris did was he lived a 1-3 months in a lot of different cities. Places like Berlin, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Thailand, so it seams to me you are a bit of Timothy Ferriss yourself?
Joel: You missed a quick trip to Japan that we fit in there too, and another brief one to Spain in the earlier days of Buffer 😉 It’s interesting you mention the Four Hour Workweek, since I actually read that book when starting Buffer, before all the travelling happened. I never thought it directly influenced my decisions to travel, but I think that it perhaps did subconsciously. I certainly enjoy spending 3-6 months in other places and truly experiencing new cultures. It’s very powerful and I think the travelling has helped me in many different ways.
Goran: Since you are an experienced startuper I would like to set an example with your answers on how to pitch to an investor. Can you describe your business model? What does your startup do? How do you differentiate yourself from your competition and what do you have that they don’t? Why should I use your service?
Joel: Sure thing! Buffer is your smarter way to share to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Whenever you come across an article you love, throw it in your Buffer and we’ll share it for you with your friends and followers. If you add 5 articles to Buffer, we’ll space them out through the day so you don’t flood people with 5 Tweets at once. We’ve been running for 2 years now, and we have 350,000 users of which 35% are active. We have a super simple business model: people pay for a $10/mo Awesome plan if they want to share more in advance (e.g. line up 4-5 days of sharing) or want to share to more accounts (up to 12 of any social network). We have 1.5-2% of users on the paid plan, so we’re currently on a $800,000 annual run rate. Our key differentiation is that we’re not a dashboard for people to stay inside all day long. Instead, we’re a thin layer spread wide across the web and mobile apps. We have great integrations, for example you can add to Buffer right from inside Pocket, Instapaper, Reeder and TweetCaster amongst others.
Goran: On your Twitter account it says “Focused on the lean startup approach and customer happiness. “. I personally think that’s a great line, and that was the reason why I really wanted to interview you! Can you share some of the strategies you are using for your startup in order to achieve this? How does that work on a day to day basis when you fall into a routine?
Joel: The key question we try to keep asking ourselves on a daily basis to stay lean is “What can we do right now?” This means – what can we do right at this moment to learn about whether what we’re planning to do, what we’re working on, will turn out as we expect and as we hope? It means doing things manually, like manually emailing 100 users a fake weekly report of analytics from their social sharing in order to validate right now whether we should continue spending resources on that feature. More often, you don’t need a product or a feature to be fully built in order to learn if assumptions are correct.
Goran: Hypothetically speaking, if you sold Bufferapp for $100 gazillionbazillion what would you then do?
My other passion is to help others with their startups. I already talk with 5-10 founders every single week over coffee or via Skype to help them with their current biggest challenge (people can get in touch here: http://joel.is/startup-help). We have a long vision with Buffer, but if I were to do something else I would want to help other founders full-time. It would perhaps come in the shape of a co-working space, coffee shop or incubator, but the focus would be on helping others. I’ve found when I do that, I’m happiest myself too.
Goran: What does your tipical day look like? Do you code late, or do you get up early?
Joel: I awake early, around 5:30 and try and work for a couple hours until 8am. I then grab some breakfast and have our daily team standup Skype call where we update each other on what we’ve been working on and any improvements we are trying to make with our schedule, sleep, exercise or anything else. I split my time 50/50 between maker tasks (currently building our Android app) and manager tasks. Every day in the afternoon I head to the gym at around 2:30pm to break up my afternoon’s work.
Goran: My startup WhoAPI deals with domains, so I need to ask you a couple of domaining questions 🙂 What was the first domain name you registered?
Joel: Haha, wow, that’s a difficult one. I think it would probably be one for a team I used to play online games with back when I was 12. It’s not live anymore 🙂
Goran: Does Bufferapp have any other cool domains like bufferapp.com? For example, would you be interested in registering buffer.app? Why yes, why not?
Joel: buffer.app would be cool, but I’m not sure the real use of it, so for now we’re avoiding picking up too many domains. I do like our short URL buff.ly though 🙂
Goran: You had a great post recently about naming startups, and the role domains have in that process. http://joel.is/post/29186927028/how-to-name-your-startup I do agree in large part, even my startup went through the same thing. We started as www.getwhoisxml.com, and by the time we were 100% sure, we switched to www.whoapi.com. But don’t you think that with proper strategy a domain name like www.twittlater.com or www.sharelater.com or one that’s still available for registration that I will mention privately. 🙂 After all you do own www.joel.is, if that’s not a cool domain I don’t know what is 😀
Joel: I think a good name is useful, especially if people will search Google using similar keywords to your domain. For us, that doesn’t happen, so the domain is less important. Rather than having an outstanding domain, I’d rather have an outstanding name and then get a domain that might not be the exact name. Yes, I’m very happy with joel.is though 😀
Goran: Would you like to ad something, perhaps if you are looking for new employees, or some special announcement, some news, or just say hi to mum and dad?
Joel: Absolutely! I’m back in San Francisco now and would love to meet any founders who want to ask advice. They can Tweet me at @joelgascoigne or book a slot from http://joel.is/startup-help. Also, we are of course hiring at Buffer. We’re looking for people who love our culture of improving ourselves and providing above and beyond experiences for our users. Right now we’re looking for front-end and back-end developers as well as devops, customer support and BD people too. Just email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested 🙂