Joel Gascoigne

Josh Pigford on May 14, 2018

Table of Contents

Founder Chats is brought to you by Baremetrics: zero-setup subscription analytics & insights for Stripe, Recurly, Braintree and any other subscription company!

Like this episode? A rating and a review on iTunes would go a long way!

This week I talk with Joel Gascoigne, Founder of Buffer! In this episode we talk about how gaming ultimately led to interest in technology, how his time in university introduced him to startups, how Buffer got its start, how transparency became part of the fabric of their company, how Joel’s approach to building Buffer has changed drastically and a lot more! Enjoy!

Josh Pigford: Hey Joel, how’s it going?

Joel Gascoigne: Good, thanks Josh. How are you?

Josh Pigford: Doing well, doing well. The way that I usually kick these things off is starting off, like all the way back, you as a kid. So, what was your childhood like?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, it was mostly pretty good. I grew up in the UK in a city called Sheffield in the UK. For most of my childhood, apart from three and a half years where I lived in Japan between the ages of four and seven. So that’s something that I think I couldn’t necessarily appreciate at the time, I obviously had friends … going to Japan I had friends that I was kind of leaving behind, and then I’d made friends in Japan, and had to come back, and wasn’t too happy about it at the time. But, whenever I look back on it in hindsight, I always feel like it’s added such an interesting element and I think it really broadened my mind at an early age. I kind of got bullied a little bit in Japan, and being a foreigner basically, and then came back and I think it’s always affected how I see those things.

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, and then I was definitely a bit of a geek-y kid. Around 11 years old, I had kind of been into gaming, you know, GameBoy, and being in Japan was cool because I could play some of the Nintendo consoles and stuff well before they came out in the UK. So I really got into that. And then when I was about 11, I was starting to get into online gaming, and that’s actually, in many ways, the moves that I can kind of make that path back to like oh, that’s kind of where a lot of things started for me with tech companies and stuff because I, basically from gaming, got involved with online gaming, and met some … started playing games online in different teams and stuff like that, and that’s what led me to building my first website and learning HTML, Java Script, that kind of stuff. And then, over time the coding got a lot more interesting than the gaming for me. That’s kind of the transition I made there.

Josh Pigford: Were computers a big part of your life in your house? Were either of your parents into computers at all?

Joel Gascoigne: I’d say they were. We had a computer, but it was, initially it was my parents that had … just one computer that my parents had, and it was in the bedroom, so I had very limited time that I could use on it. But they had one, and it was interesting because they had … it was Windows 95, I think at that point, and they could switch around the hard drives to switch between English and Japanese, which was really interesting. And then, growing up, me and my brother, we would … whenever my parents would leave the house, we would kind of sneak into their bedroom and go onto the computer, and sometimes we would have to switch around the hard drives because they would be in the Japanese one. We’d have to switch in the English one.

Joel Gascoigne: We’d be playing Grand Theft Auto or something which we shouldn’t have been doing at that age, and then one of us would be playing, the other one would be watching out the window. If they came back in the car, then we’d have to quickly try our best to shut it down safely and switch the hard drives around, but we couldn’t always do it. I’m sure my parents knew exactly what was going on.

Josh Pigford: Right, right, right. That’s funny. So, what was school like for you? Did you enjoy school, or sort of like a necessary evil?

Joel Gascoigne: I think for me, on the whole probably more on the necessary evil side. I did … I guess I grew up a lot in school, but I’m an introvert, a fairly extreme introvert. I think I didn’t really understand that fully about myself at that time, so I just had a hard time accepting that I was basically getting drained by mid-morning every day, and then I would just end this completely drained, like socially drained state.

Joel Gascoigne: I often think about that now, and realize well, in some ways I feel like I just had no chance because when I think about how most education systems work, especially for like junior in high school kind of time, it’s really like a group activity for the whole day, so you enter a classroom of 30 kids, and then you have your break, but your break is like hanging out with kids, and if you don’t, then you kind of … you’re seen as the weird kid or you get bullied for that.

Joel Gascoigne: I actually had a bit of a hard time. But the flip side of it is I had fairly hard, tough days sometimes, in high school, but then I would come home and go on computer and play games online and be coding and stuff, so for a little while I had almost two different worlds. The day was hard, but the evening was a real joy for me, a bit of an escape, I guess. And then that kind of grew into something that became even much larger. When I went to college, when I went to University, I really enjoyed that, and I think it’s because once you get to college, you kind of get to dictate your own schedule and your time, and you live in a place … I had my own dorm room. I think that created a much better balance of okay, the social side’s there when I want it, so I’m not getting lonely, but I can kind of control that a bit more, and I probably learned more about myself by that point as well.

Josh Pigford: So, in University, what was your major?

Joel Gascoigne: Computer science. Yeah, it was kind of a no-brainer by that point for me.

Josh Pigford: Did you enjoy the … obviously now, you sort of probably aren’t on the coding side as much, but was the coding side of computers really interesting to you? Or was it like the computer and coding in general was sort of a tool to sort of make your ideas happen?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I do think that kind of there’s two different approaches that engineers have, which is those two where it’s are you … is this the tool you’re using to make things happen? Or do you just really love the craft of it?

Joel Gascoigne: I was definitely more on the side of it was a means, it’s the tool to make things happen, but that said, it was a key part of my identity, and the key thing that I focused on and worked on for probably a good whole decade or more than that. I did a lot of coding even before going to University, and even when I picked computer science, it was just kind of an obvious thing. I had started doing freelance web development and making a little bit of money on the side from that, by that point, which is nice. But I also had a decent amount of experience in programming of a few different languages. So when I got to college, I was learning a couple of new languages. I learned Java and C, so that was useful and obviously you get the whole theoretical background. But I didn’t really get too much on the web programming was like this thing that was really taking off, but obviously the university’s a little bit behind normally. So that was a general, like a bit of a frustration.

Joel Gascoigne: I always had projects on the side, and then through the course of college, developed into this kind of discovery of tech companies and start-ups and all of that going on. It was always the tool for me. And that’s, I think where, over time, started to have an appreciation for design and be doing quite a bit of that as well, and just the business side also. I was dealing with clients with the freelance web development things. It was definitely like always just one factor for me.

Josh Pigford: During college, you were doing freelance stuff, right?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah.

Josh Pigford: When you finished college, what was the plan? Was it to just keep doing freelance stuff? Or were you hoping to get a job somewhere, start your own company?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, so that’s a really interesting one. I had a couple of different projects during college that were quite defining for me. Especially in my final year, I had a group project with a few other computer science classmates. It was pretty early on in terms of mobile phones and the web and things, so the first phones with GPS had just come out. I think it was like a [knock 00:10:48] year in ’82 and ’95. Basically for our final year project, we built a location based social network, and this was before four square had started, or maybe it started right around that time, I’m not sure.

Joel Gascoigne: But it was a really, really fun project for me. I think what I learned doing that project was it quickly became much more than just a college project for me, whereas for my friends, my classmates, for most of them it was just a college project. So I was really keen to kind of spin it off, and I’d discovered TechCrunch by that point, and just that whole world, but it wasn’t really the right kind of vehicle for it, I guess. That didn’t work out to continue it, but I had a really fun year working on that.

Joel Gascoigne: We had a web app and a mobile app, and you could share your location, and we had it working really well on campus, so you could share with your friends and see, for example, like, “Oh, I’ve got three friends in the library working right now.” You could then message them in the app, and say, “Oh, I’m heading to the library, do you want to get some food soon?” Or something like that.

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, it was a ton of fun, like in the early stage, and I think that really solidified for me that I wanted to work on some kind of projects or start-up or that kind of thing. After graduating, I basically jumped straight into that, and I was lucky enough to have one of my clients that I’ve been doing freelance web development work for, offered me a full-time role that I was able to kind of negotiate with them and they agreed for me to work part-time for them, so I worked like three days a week for them. That gave me two full days of the week, probably more like three or even four some weeks, to work on my own stuff, to work on my own projects.

Joel Gascoigne: That was a pretty fortunate situation that I was able to get in, and luckily with the web development work I was doing, I was able to get a pretty good … charge a decent amount and get a pretty good pay to be able to move into my own place at the college and things. I had a pretty good setup to then go off and experiment on different start-up ideas and stuff basically.

Joel Gascoigne: I had a few friends that really just went all-in more on the freelance web development path, started their own agencies and stuff, and I definitely had a tough couple of years there where I was trying to make stuff work, and I guess like when you’re building a product, you have this upfront cost and time. Whereas if you’re doing a service, and charging for your time, you can really get off the ground pretty fast.

Joel Gascoigne: I had a few friends that had quite a bit of success quite quickly, building up agencies or just continuing freelance. I did that on the side, more as a means to be able to work on projects, but my first couple of projects failed, and I wasn’t really sure if it was going to work out and things. Definitely quite a bit of doubt during that period.

Josh Pigford: How did you make the … I guess for you, how did you decide that … to not go down the sort of safer route? I mean, what would seem safer of the web development thing where you can basically make as much money as you can put in time, versus the upfront costs to get a start-up off the ground? How did you decide, “Hey, that’s worth the risk. I’ll go down the start-up route.”?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, I think it was, I know a really big part of it was this discovery of actually if I’d build a product, then I would escape the hourly wage or the charging for my time thing. That was a key component for sure. And I think the other part was just … and we’ve had quite a few people join the team from agencies as well, and I hear this a lot from them, which is, when you’re working for clients, you really … they’re dictating things. You have a set amount of time and budget, and it’s not really a structure that’s set up to optimize for like really putting a lot of care into whatever you’re building, the website you’re building or product you’re building.

Joel Gascoigne: I think after jumping about from one client to the next client to the next client, after a lot of that, I think it got to a point where I was like, “Oh, I really would love to be able to work a bit more long-term on a single project for a customer or for a user, and see what I can build that up to over time.”

Josh Pigford: Got it. What was … I mean obviously, I think you’ve got a number of things between essentially college and Buffer, but what was sort of the thing directly preceding Buffer that maybe sort of ultimately led you to start Buffer?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, I worked on a project or a start-up called, it was called One Page. The general idea was, it was kind of like your business card in the cloud. Eliminating the business card, that kind of idea. It ended up being something that resembled About.Me, if people are familiar with that, where you could have all your online identities in one place and share that single link. Or put that link in your email signature, for example, instead of having a bunch of different links.

Joel Gascoigne: I worked on that for just over a year, maybe a year and a half. Didn’t really make it work, but had gotten … had more users for that than I’ve had for anything in the past, but that was about 10,000 users. Learned a ton. I left with a co-founder on it, and learned a lot about that whole dynamic there. I think the biggest thing that happened during working on One Page, was that I discovered the Lean Startup. Eric Ries and the Lean StartUp. It was at a point where he was barely doing presentations. The book was quite far away. It was just his blog that I discovered, I think I was maybe reading Hacker News at that point, and some of his articles were getting on there or something. Maybe that’s how I discovered it, I’m not sure.

Joel Gascoigne: I started reading Eric Ries’ blog, started Lessons Learned, and really getting into this concept of Lean Startup, because I think I’m a very logically minded person, and what he was doing, in my mind was kind of like making this mystical art of entrepreneurship into something a bit more scientific with this idea of thinking about things like experiments and systematically testing your assumptions and validating things along the way.

Joel Gascoigne: Towards the end of One Page, I started to put some of those ideas into practice, and then I eventually decided that it was … I would have to change the concept to much, and that it just would not even resemble One Page anymore. That’s when I … right around that time that I had the idea for Buffer. I thought, “Oh, this is perfect, now I can put it all into practice right from the start, and really kind of be disciplined with that approach.” And that’s kind of what I did, and they’re working out really, really well. I like … I’ve had a chance to meet Eric Ries since then, and he’s actually an investor now, in one of our [realms 00:19:23]. Yeah. A lot of gratitude for him.

Josh Pigford: How do you, I guess … when you started One Page, did you start it with any sort of business side in mind in that? Or was it more just, “Hey, I’ve got this product idea, and I want to go down that route.”?

Joel Gascoigne: No, there wasn’t much of a business side in mind, and actually I think around the time I was working on One Page, it was more like reading TechCrunch, and having just that concept of like get big really fast first and then figure that out later. That was more the approach. It was … it did come from my own need, or idea of a need, but the big missing part was validating that that was truly solving some kind of need, and that it was a more widespread need than just me or me and a couple of other people that said it was cool.

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah. We got into a, kind of like an accelerated program, but it was a government funded one, and we got a little bit of funds, so I was actually able to … me and my co founder at the time, we were able to quit other work, and so I stopped doing freelance work for about a six or nine month period. I had saved up a little bit from working on the freelance stuff, and then we got, I think it was like six thousand pounds or something. So it wasn’t a huge amount, but it was enough to give us a little bit of runway, and really give it a shot. And then, we didn’t make it work in that time. That’s why I’ve had all of these learnings.

Joel Gascoigne: Definitely with Buffer, it was like, “Okay, better validate this as a wider need.” I had payment options, I was charging for Buffer from day one, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

Josh Pigford: Yeah. The first couple of … I don’t know, let’s say the first couple of years of Buffer, maybe two years. What was that like, if you could summarize just was it really fast growth, or was it just sort of slow and steady? What were the first couple years like?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah. It was a rollercoaster I’d say. It was really exciting. But then also when I look back on it, it was slower and steadier growth than what people might think of when I say, “Oh it was a rollercoaster.” And things. Because I think it was about … probably almost a year before we got into [inaudible 00:22:10] into this accelerator and got a little bit of funding. It was really started off without any funding, in a very lean way. But there was a few really big moments, which is just the first moment I remember when someone first paid for the product. It was just incredible. I still remember the joy I felt. I was jumping around the room. It was kind of funny to me, because it was someone had paid five dollars for the product.

Joel Gascoigne: And I was making probably 300, 400 pounds a week doing freelance work, so it was nothing, but it was just so significant to me, because it was, they paid for the product. They didn’t pay me for my time. And that was a really key moment. Actually it started to compound fairly quickly, but even so, it was … the first month was $20 in revenue, and then it just kept growing from there. It was probably a good five months before or even … yeah, probably five months, close to six months before me and my co founder could stop [inaudible 00:23:32].

Joel Gascoigne: Actually he was in college, so he kind of saw that year through and then once he got to the summer, we really went all-in on it. But it took about five, six months before I could stop doing freelance work, and I stepped it down gradually, so I had two different clients, and I finished things with one of them first. That was, I think two days a week, or three days, one was three days a week, one was two days a week. So, I was able to gradually step it down, but it still felt like a rollercoaster.

Joel Gascoigne: And then we got on a plane and went to San Francisco and started talking with people there. We didn’t really know anyone at all, and [Ethan Showell 00:24:16] was one of the first people that gave us a bit of his time. We met him and he gave us a lot of great advice, and we just started to get a little bit more connected, to realize there was quite a bit of potential in this thing.

Joel Gascoigne: But yeah, that was the first year. It was really like a lot of building. I was building and Leo, my co founder was just marketing, doing marketing, essentially. That was what we were doing.

Josh Pigford: What was the sort of impetus for you to even pursue the like, “Hey, let’s go to San Francisco and talk to a bunch of investors” route where … I don’t know, did you do that with One Page as well?

Joel Gascoigne: No, that was the first time I’d ever been to San Francisco or even to the US at all, actually. It was … I think it was driven more by curiosity for new places and definitely for curious given this mythical start of Mecca place. But we went there … we flew there with no plans to raise funding at all. We actually … so when we first bought our ticket to San Francisco, we bought one way tickets, because we thought we want to go there, we’re not sure where we want to go next, but we know we’re like we don’t want to necessarily just return to the UK.

Joel Gascoigne: There was really this idea of exploring new places, and then we found out that they wouldn’t have let us into the US if we didn’t … if we couldn’t prove that we were leaving. So we were like, “Oh, that was a big mistake.” So we had to buy another ticket. We ended up buying a ticket, and onward ticket, after three months, after the maximum time we could go without a visa, we bought tickets to Sydney. I think around the start of Buffer, I’d read The Four Hour Work Week from Tim Ferriss, and that idea of like building something that can make some money, and then give you freedom and you can travel, and things like that.

Joel Gascoigne: That was more the mindset when we first were going to San Francisco. We had these tickets onward to Sydney, but it was then like meeting people there that I think it started to change things and get us more interested in that. Yeah. And we also found that San Francisco was just so expensive, so we were like, just to the point where we could get by in like Birmingham in the UK, which is pretty inexpensive. Then we landed in San Francisco for three months, and ran out of money pretty quickly. So it came by necessity a little bit as well.

Josh Pigford: So, let’s … I don’t know if this would be jumping forward a lot, but at what point did you guys decide to start being really open and transparent about everything?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, we’d been fairly transparent all along the way, and so from the beginning, it was very casual in the beginning. It was just tweeting numbers like some of our milestones we were hitting, revenue numbers, and things like that. And also, whenever I met anyone, I would just share everything. I always found that by doing that, they would start sharing things as well, and we’d have a really bit of deep conversation. It was about two years in, or maybe … yeah, two, two and a half years in that we decided that we wanted to articulate our values, put our values into words, and kind of define the culture a little bit.

Joel Gascoigne: It was at that point that we decided … I mean, it was already like very clear to everyone in the team at that point, we were about 10 people, and it was very clear to everyone that transparency would be a core value. But then we decided to phrase it as default transparency, because we just believed in it that much. That’s when … that triggered even a new wave of changes, and we started basically questioning everything that we were doing, and saying, “Is there a really good reason why this is not transparent? If not, then let’s explore making it transparent.” So that’s where transparent salaries, internally and publicly, and maybe some people know about things some other don’t, but you can basically Google Buffer salaries and find out the actual list of salaries of everyone in the company.

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, lots of other things kind of come from there as well. So that was really probably the defining moment.

Josh Pigford: What was that conversation like for the team about having … not even just internally public salaries, but externally that everybody could go and see what they were making?

Joel Gascoigne: When we first introduced transparent salaries, we did it internally in the team, and everyone was onboard with that, everyone was excited about that. I think it helped that we … that was also the first time we came up with a salary formula, so we really needed to do that to make the salaries kind of fair and following some … basically we created this formula, so that when we shared them, everyone could say, “Okay, that makes sense.”

Joel Gascoigne: When we created this formula, we also increased people’s salaries, we adjusted salaries to make it fit into that formula, and the result was that none of the salaries went down, I think almost all of them went up a little bit. And we’d not been paying ourselves too much up until that point anyway, so that made sense.

Joel Gascoigne: That made things, I think a little bit easier. People really appreciated the openness and knowing the salaries, and especially knowing what we were paying ourselves as well. Then, it was about six months later that we decided to do the public transparency where we would share it completely openly, the formula, the list of salaries, the names, everything. That was not as straightforward, and I think about 80% of the team were excited about it and fully on board, and there was two people that were just unsure about it, had some doubts and fears and things about it.

Joel Gascoigne: We just talked through it with them, had very deep conversations about it, and worked through it. Yeah, ultimately decided to move ahead and they got on board with it, and I think that in general, we found that a lot of the things that they were worried about didn’t come into effect. They were just kind of these fears I guess that you’d expect natural to have. But having said that I think over time, I’ve started to question a little bit whether it makes sense to just like stubbornly push this forward and might not make sense in every single case. But yeah, we still have fully transparent salaries. We’ve grown to 72 people, I think we are right now, and we’re still sharing everything fully transparently. That’s been a fun journey.

Josh Pigford: Have there been any downsides? I know for Baremetrics, there haven’t been any direct, obvious downsides other than you could argue competitors came out of the woodwork when we started publishing that stuff, but I mean, were there any just obvious painful negatives that came from being so transparent?

Joel Gascoigne: I don’t think so. People often think, and the competitors one is definitely one that comes up a lot. People think, “Oh, now I know exactly what I can offer to coax someone.” I think that’s something that I find it very interesting kind of argument or suggestion. Because I think … I hope to build a company that that would not be the only reason someone would want to leave. And so it’s not really something I see as a concern. It’s not something else I think has really happened. I think probably the key downsides would be just the effort it takes, especially as you grow and evolve. The formula needs to evolve as well. It takes a lot of work to make the formula continue to work really well as the company grows and there’s so many new roles that you need to account for and things like that.

Joel Gascoigne: And then it does kind of give you a little bit less freedom to just do whatever you want, right? So if someone comes along and you really want to clinch the deal, we don’t have salary negotiation, because we have the formula and that sets down salary. We see that as a positive thing for everyone, because we’re not going in with a low offer and seeing where we land. We’re literally showing this is what it is. But I think perhaps in some cases, to get really experienced person on board, it could be a limiting factor. It could be a downside.

Joel Gascoigne: Again, I’m just … my goal is that we can create something very unique and interesting that we can attract some really experienced people that are maybe just looking for a different type of culture and company.

Josh Pigford: So, what does your investors think when you guys started just sharing all the things? A lot of times I think of most investors just kind of being closed off to let’s keep things close. Did they have concerns at all?

Joel Gascoigne: I think it was probably a bit of a split. I think that certainly a lot of investors, it’s not the approach they would take. And I think some of them likely had some doubts, but the other thing to note is that we raised funding from a lot of angel investors, mostly. We also raised a relatively small amount from banks and some other companies, so our seed round was 500k, and a lot of companies are raising one, one and a half million seed rounds at that time.

Joel Gascoigne: That ended up just meaning the combination of doing a round with angel investors instead of one investor, and also not raising a huge amount meant that each person individually doesn’t really have much control or say of things. It was really a decision that we made ourselves, and then we got varying levels of support for it. But it was never really something that we needed all of their buy in or something to do.

Joel Gascoigne: And then I think over time, it started to really have a lot of positive impacts, so I think over time, I’d say almost completely across the board, everyone’s been excited about it. But I even find that a bit challenging, because I think it’s like people are excited because they’re seeing positive impacts from it, but sometimes something that I feel like well, we do it out of principal, right? And we do it in tough times and in good times.

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, I don’t know if I like that people would be on board with it if it’s working, if that makes sense.

Josh Pigford: Yeah, totally. You mentioned sort of hard times, so a couple years ago, you guys were, I would say, sort of firmly on the … certainly not growth at all costs, but very traditional sort of start-upy, like let’s just grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, and then you guys kind of had … ended up with some finance challenges and had to make some layoffs. Can you talk about that?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. We were kind of almost, we were on that path in the large extent, I guess, and we’d raised two rounds of funding. We were trying to grow fast, and as part of that we decided to grow the team pretty fast. We actually grew the team from probably 30 people 35 to 95 in just over a year. It was just too fast growth, really.

Joel Gascoigne: We’d had a period of time before that of not growing the team for a little bit, and I think me and Leo had talked and said, “Are we … want to push a bit more?” And I think we’d been lucky up until that point that we’d always had a good financial situation. What makes it a little bit different is that actually both times that we raised funding, we were pretty much comfortable. With seed round, we had decent revenues, we were I think making about 150k a year at that point, and we could have continued and just made it work that way if we wanted to.

Joel Gascoigne: Then, we raised 500k, so that kind of gave us 500k in the bank, and then by the time we raised our series A, we’d actually grown the bank balance to over a million. And that was just through we’d hit profitability.

Joel Gascoigne: Then, I think we just wanted to see what we could do and give it that push. I think the fact that we’ve generally been in a good financial state most of the time also made us less disciplined financially. We grew too fast, and we learned the hard way that like the key costs in a tech company with good margins is the team, is the people. Then we started burning cash. I think we didn’t realize that it takes quite a bit of time for people to ramp up and become part of doing the team. More than half the team were in their first year in the company, and it was definitely a challenge. I think it was … a lot of things have to change, like a lot of processes internally have to change when the company grows from 30 to 90.

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, we started burning cash, and then we started to realize that we could foresee literally four months away, we would have been down to zero cash in the bank. So we had to make some big changes and some really tough decisions. We cut a lot of expenses, and then we also needed to do some layoffs. We had 10 people that we said goodbye to. One of the toughest things I’ve ever worked through, and I think it takes a while for the team to be able to come back from that as well.

Joel Gascoigne: We’re there now, but it probably took over a year.

Josh Pigford: Okay. So this whole time, you guys are being really transparent with … I mean, I think you guys were even breaking down at that point, what every dollar goes to. I remember there being some sort of like little graphic. Did at any point when you guys were basically like tripling the size of your team, I mean if the whole team is sort of aware of all that’s … all the hiring that’s going, all the spending that’s happening, and obviously the revenue as well. Were there people that were questioning the speed of the growth? Or was it just sort of this optimism that kind of took over any other thoughts about, “Hey, maybe we’re growing too fast.” That sort of thing?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah. I think it was … I think unfortunately we probably had kind of a bit of a blind optimism and trust in me and Leo from the team. I found out afterwards, like quite a bit afterwards, that there was several people that were … didn’t feel too great about it, and were unsure about it, and had questions. But I don’t think people really … I don’t really remember having too many conversations about that during that growth spurt. But I think we were fairly excited, and we had I think also … the really interesting thing is I’ve spoken with a few of the founders in the same space as us, essentially our competitors, and I think several of them went through a similar thing at a similar time.

Joel Gascoigne: I think there was also this optimism in the air in this social media management space. And a lot of people doubled down and acted on that. And then I think the growth in the space didn’t necessarily continue as well. That’s something I’ve kind of realized in hindsight, is that that was also going on.

Joel Gascoigne: Even like much larger companies than ours went through this very same situation. Arguably, they should have even a lot more financial discipline than us.

Josh Pigford: Yeah. Really, about the same time, we were … almost exact same situation for us, except smaller scale. We were able to sidestep layoffs, but I mean it was the entire team took big pay cuts, so that we could make it to profitability. But it’s like, to me, almost every founder I know has … blind optimism is … feels like a negative term, but at the same time, it is sort of what allowed us to even make something to begin with, was having this sort of … knowing as much as we know, none of this should work, but we still keep doing it anyways. It’s a bit of a gamble anyways, I certainly get the position that it puts us in.

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, and I found that we were pretty open about … we wrote a full blog post on it. Everything what happened. We shared numbers and everything. I was fairly surprised the amount of people I heard from that after that blog post said like, “Oh, I went through this last year.”

Joel Gascoigne: But you don’t really hear about it because not many people just go and write about it and announce it. But we felt like that was kind of a duty for us to do that. And then, I’ve also helped others go through it since then, which has been something that … I think that’s one of the things for me that all the tough times go through. I really find some positivity in the fact that I can … anything that I go through is now something that I can help someone else to hopefully get through a little bit more smoothly.

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah, it’s been an interesting kind of effect from that.

Josh Pigford: What, you mentioned that it took, it felt like about a year to sort of recover as a team from having to do a big layoff. What was that process like for you guys, as a team, to work through that?

Joel Gascoigne: Yeah. I think there’s a few different ways you could play it. For me, one thing to note as well, is that about six months after that, that was when my co-founder and our CTO both decided to move on as well. So this is like an extra thing to deal with on top of it. But my approach was I decided that we needed to become very cohesive as a team. And I decided not to grow the team for pretty much a whole year. Through that we became like very profitable, and just created this stability for ourselves and for the team. We spent a lot of time during that year really improving our processes within teams and things, and just kind of allowing time for the teams to gel with each other and to get to know each other on a deep level, and work effectively together.

Joel Gascoigne: We needed the teams … we work remotely, so people are not in the same place, and we needed to have … we do, we call them mini retreats for individual teams, so I think we needed basically each team to go through one of these mini retreats and then we also had our first whole company retreat since those layoffs. We actually canceled a whole company retreat as a cost saving thing, to avoid needed to do even more layoffs, so that was a bit of a hit on the team, because we’d already decided the location. It was going to be in Berlin. We’d talked about it and things, then we had to cancel that.

Josh Pigford

Josh is most famous as the founder of Baremetrics. However, long before Baremetrics and until today, Josh has been a maker, builder, and entrepreneur. His career set off in 2003 building a pair of link directories, ReallyDumbStuff and ReallyFunArcade. Before he sold those for profits, he had already started his next set of projects. As a design major, he began consulting on web design projects. That company eventually morphed into Sabotage Media, which has been the shell company for many of his projects since. Some of his biggest projects before Baremetrics were TrackThePack, Deck Foundry, PopSurvey, and Temper. The pain points he experienced as PopSurvey and Temper took off were the reason he created Baremetrics. Currently, he's dedicated to Maybe, the OS for your personal finances.