Joel Gascoigne

Startups, life, learning and happiness

I'm Founder & CEO of Buffer. This is where I share lessons I'm learning.

What are your top 3 challenges?

Written on 4th November, 2012
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There are a few key things which looking back I remember I was very bad at. One of them was asking people for advice.

I think a key turning point with this was when we raised funding for Buffer last year. We quickly learned that in order to get a meeting with an investor, we’d need a good introduction from someone they knew. Since we weren’t asking & pitching that person, we realised we should ask them for advice. It was only then that I discovered the power of knowing our current key challenges.

Anyone wants to help you

I think one of the big myths is that people are too busy to give advice, or that people don’t want to help you. The reality I’ve found is that everyone wants to help you, and the key is deciding you want their help, and approaching them with a definite question. People love to talk about themselves, and love being asked about the challenges they’ve overcome.

"Most people don’t get those experiences because they never ask. I’ve never found anybody that didn’t want to help me if I asked them for help." - Steve Jobs


Always have 3 things in mind that you want help with

After I realised that people genuinely want to help, a powerful habit I’ve developed is to always have in mind my top 3 challenges. Here are my current 3:

  1. Hiring. We need more engineers and I’m working almost full-time on that task right now. How do you approach hiring?
  2. CEO role. Now that we’re 7 people and hiring 2-3 more engineers as well, I’ve realised my role is changing a lot. What was the transition like for you from a handful of people to 10+?
  3. Growth. We’re 100% focused on growth right now, and we’ve found mobile will be key. What are the key growth drivers for you?

Having these three challenges easily to mind is super powerful. It means that if I happen to have the chance to meet someone, I can always get a lot of value, and make a good impression. Just yesterday I had a chance to ask someone about the growth challenge. What’s more, smart people who you want to speak with will like it, because I’ve found most successful people want to maximise the time they spend having interesting discussions around ideas, rather than talking about people or events:

"Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." - Eleanor Roosevelt

How to know what you want help with

In order to figure out your 3 things you would love help with, you’ll need to actually spend time reflecting on what is holding you back. Some of the key changes I’ve made within Buffer have come into my mind during my evening walk, when I spent time with the laptop closed.

Gabriel Weinberg talked about a similar concept in his recent article on why you should avoid working at full capacity:

"I think you have to consciously not work on things, which is always hard to do."

This is one of the hardest things to do as a startup founder, and the easy thing to do is to work all hours and sacrifice your sleep and health.

Go out there with your purpose in mind

Once you’ve figured out what you need help with, and you have it easily to mind, the key is to get out there, take some risks and ask people for help. I often talk about my experience of first landing in the bay area with friends who have had success out here, and we always came to a similar conclusion: silicon valley can truly accelerate your success, so long as you know what you want to achieve. As soon as people figure out what you are trying to do, they will do all they can to help. The pay it forward culture here is very real.

Have you had success in asking others for help? What is the best way you’ve found to make the most of the chances you get?

Photo credit: Karel Seidl

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