Photo of Joel Gascoigne

Posts • 27 posts

How should CEO salary be determined?

I recently reflected on this from first principles, and this is what I arrived at:

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We’ve been working to turn around a decline for a few years now at Buffer.

Last year everything finally came together, in 2023 we had our least decline in the past 4 years, and we’re now growing in 2024.

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I spent this week reflecting on 2023 to write Buffer’s first annual shareholder letter, and I’ve decided to share it publicly.

We ended the year with $17,950,440 in ARR and 55,975 paying customers. 2023 was a turnaround year for Buffer by a variety of measures, and we are set up for growth and profitability in 2024.

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For over a decade, all Buffer salaries have been transparent.

That said, over the years, our salary formula has been stretched and needed to adapt. At times, we have fallen short of our true level of commitment to transparency.

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Should you a link in the post or in comments on LinkedIn?

→ It’s critical  → It depends on your goal  → It doesn’t matter at all

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I just finished a super valuable and fun Buffer marketing leadership meetup here in Boulder with Hailley and Simon. We were also fortunate to have Maria join us for a day to discuss product strategy overlap and go to market.

I’m always reminded of the intangible impact of the casual conversations and getting to know each other as humans that mostly happens over lunches, dinners and walking between places.

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2023 was a transformative year for the Buffer product. We launched countless improvements and have made commitments to modernize the product, add flexibility, and always be on top of new networks to help you navigate fluidly and win in the shifting landscape of social media.

Here are the 11 most popular improvements we shipped last year:   Buffer AI Assistant 🤖 → Generate new posts, repurpose existing posts, and come up with endless new ideas.

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13 years ago today, I launched Buffer.

It’s hard to believe my little side project turned startup turned business is now a teenager. In recent years, I’ve reflected a lot on how to build Buffer to exist and thrive long-term.

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Today we’ve launched Tags 🏷️ in Buffer!

→ Use Tags for Posts, Sent Posts and Ideas → Filter Ideas in the Create space by Tag → Add Tags in workflows, e.g. content added via Zapier → Available on all plans, limit of 3 on the Free plan

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A great strategy should lead to strong differentiation and lasting results. Ensuring the strategy and culture are aligned can enhance execution and enable you to create something really special.

I think about strategy as, what are the key puzzle pieces that describe approaches or actions you can take in pursuit of the mission, that are uniquely yours to take. What are the things that you can do, that others cannot do?

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🌶️ Spicy comment from a recent NPS promoter (score 10) customer:

"Amazing! I hope that you continue to have free plan which is great for small businesses (and don't stab us in the back in a few years like Hootsuite)."

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Hi everyone - we’re looking for Senior Product Designer to join Buffer and be part of taking our UX to the next level. This is a fun opportunity, here are a few details:

On the role: → You’ll jump into a team with a focus on delivering world-class user experiences → Buffer has always been known for being simple and intuitive whilst having a ton of power baked in too, and we’ve recently made an investment in paying down our tech and UX debt to maintain this position → Work on a product used by 150K monthly active users and 57K paying customers → Earn an annual salary between $140K - 172K USD based on experience and location

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For many years, I felt that work on maintenance, organizing or tending to the garden of a system, was not a great use of my time. I always felt I’d rather be working on the actual project, product, initiative, whatever it might be.

Recently, however, I have felt the immense value of doing regular maintenance activities, such as ‘digital gardening’; the act of perusing notes and finding connections between them to add as backlinks, expanding upon points, reading and saving quotes and insights. Another example is maintenance of my project and todo list and ensuring I have clear next actions in place. Energy I put into this pays dividends as it helps me be more productive on the projects themselves. I easily win back more time than I put in on these types of activities.

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“People remember the exciting moments. People get excited for the shiniest things. But often, success comes from the boring: being consistent, executing relentlessly, not letting things slip.” – James Gill

I agree with this, and in recent years have found myself being very motivated by diligent consistency and execution. To me, Apple are inspiring in that they don’t drastically change their products in terms of form factor or functionality, but chisel away over the long-term towards a clear vision they’ve thought hard about. Small improvements made regularly, and maintaining pace over a long time horizon can really start to add up to great results.

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Context is crucial when it comes to whether advice is right for you or not. There’s so much dogmatic advice floating around these days, it’s easy to be sent down the wrong path.

Here are a couple of great quotes that can serve as a reminder to be mindful and do your own thinking when taking on advice:

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My admiration for long-term companies has grown significantly. I find myself fascinated by companies that exist for decades and even more so by founders who find a way to keep evolving, increasing their ambition, and remaining energized.

I wrote that almost 3 years ago, and only feel it more today.

“One of my lessons relearned is the profound problem-solving power of the walk. I used to be world-class. I’d get stuck on some writing question, feel the subtlest hitch in my flow, and, SPROING, I’d be up out of my chair, spring-loaded, already halfway around the block.” – Robin Sloan

Regular walks have been a key part the way I work for the best part of a decade now, though I’ve also had periods of time where I’ve let the habit slide. These days, I have a similar response to my mind feeling clouded, or feeling stuck on a problem or a deliverable: I get up and go for a walk, and usually I’ve resolved it by the time I’m back at my desk.

As an $18M ARR business, I found the latest SaaS Growth Report from ChartMogul on how SaaS businesses grow from Zero to $30M ARR interesting and useful.

My favorite insight: “After even 10 years in existence, only 13% of startups are able to reach the $10M ARR mark. It’s hard.”

“Imagine that instead of blogging and tweeting your experience you wiki’d it. And over time the wiki became a representation of things you knew, connected to other people’s wikis about things they knew.” – Mike Caulfield

“Increasingly, founders are seeking freedom from the risk and control of the perpetual pursuit of venture capital. Instead, they’re ready to reroute their time, efforts, and attention to building enduring companies on their own terms.” – Terrence Rohan

Managers are individual contributors too. They contribute process changes, documentation, strategic plans, lead by example, and jump in as a partner when it’s necessary.

I have a bit of an issue with the term individual contributor. It can make managers feel like they shouldn’t be “doing” anything. But being a great manager means making stuff happen.

We recently strengthened the concept of an Alpha phase at Buffer. Alpha is our internal testing phase, where we make new functionality available very early, exclusively to the Buffer team.

Here are some of the details and benefits:

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“If you have an idea you’re excited about and you don’t bring it to life, it’s not uncommon for the idea to find its voice through another maker. This isn’t because the other artist stole your idea, but because the idea’s time has come.” – Rick Rubin

I’ve observed and experienced this. Generally, when you have an idea, if it’s a good idea then others are having it at the same time. For me, this leads to two conclusions:

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Hi everyone - I’ve just updated my /now page with what I’m currently up to, including being a toddler parent, my wife opening her cafe, current strategy for Buffer, and my journey with note taking systems and digital gardens:

"Our vision is that Threads will enable you to communicate with people on other fediverse platforms we don’t own or control."

I find this a very interesting aspect of the new Meta social network. I'm looking forward to hearing more about their steps to incorporate open standards.

"Good businesses have margin. Profit margin? Yes. But also margin for your time, your emotional and physical health, your relationships, your sanity, and your integrity. You're a human, and humans need breathing room." – Justin Jackson

Around a year and a half ago, I established a broader leadership group beyond our executive team at Buffer, including anyone who is a manager or a senior individual contributor. It's been helpful in a number of ways.

In the early stages of a company, until around 50 people, a leadership team of adequate size can handle the most important decisions and have enough context into the organization.

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