A Startup Conversation: What Happens When Your Team Doubles in 4 Months

A Startup Conversation: What Happens When Your Team Doubles in 4 Months

I love this post from the Buffer co-founders Joel and Leo, (open.buffer.com), I have personally experienced consistent doubling in team sizes in nearly every tech startup i have either founded or guided and its a dynamic that if managed well will ensure your success, failure is messy and painful. So read on, regards Bradley Birchall …

The Buffer team is more than 65 people right now, which means our startup has more than doubled in size this year. It’s been an incredibly exciting adventure!

The Buffer team is more than 65 people right now, which means our startup has more than doubled in size this year.

It’s been an incredibly exciting adventure!

There are a lot of big factors for this growth, as well as many changes for all of us that have gone along with it.

We recently sat down for a video chat with Buffer: Open’s Content Crafter, Courtney, to talk about why and how we’ve grown so much this year. She asked us some great and tough questions about things like the challenges of growth and scaling our culture, how big Buffer could possibly become and lots more. We wanted to share it all with you here!

In this post we’d love to highlight just a few of the things we talked about in the video and invite you to share any thoughts this brings up for you!

Why is Buffer growing so fast right now?

Our experiment with self management was an exciting time, but during it we began to notice that we hadn’t grown very much.

When we noticed that from one retreat to the next we had almost the same amount of people, that didn’t feel too ideal.

We realized that there’s so much more that we want to do; so much opportunity. We weren’t moving as fast as we wanted to, and that was a big trigger point.

Luckily, we were also growing in revenue, and had started to hit profitability.

We decided to reinvest that, thinking that ideally we should keep growing and make use of that money to provide a better product and better customer service.

As a result, we have a different situation leading up to our upcoming retreat in Hawaii in January, where we’ll almost have doubled from one retreat to the next!

How has it changed the way we work?

As we began to ramp up and grow again, we realized we had stretched our existing structure as far as we could.

We’ve never had a lot of hierarchy, especially during our self-management period. We were a small enough group that we organized naturally, for the most part, without breaking into too many specialized teams.

So when we hit 10-15 people in the product and engineering group, that was 15 people on one team. That becomes really inefficient—people are jumping from one thing to another.

The product has grown so much at 4-5 years in, and it has a much wider span. It’s hard to be able to effectively jump into all its different areas.

And ideally, you don’t want to have to split your brain between them. For people to be able to work and focus, we’ve learned that areas needs to be separate so someone can give one all their attention.

We realized that we needed to split into multiple teams—ideally, we’d have 5 people per team. So at a team size of 15 in product and engineering, that’s 3 teams.

We knew we needed more than that to handle each element of Buffer, maybe 7 or 8 teams total.

So that meant we would need to be a product and engineering team of 35 or 40! That’s what triggered this wave of growth.

The system we have now, we think, works. And yet we’re growing so fast that as soon as we hit the point where things works, we might grow to the next point and it’ll all break again.

That’s just going to be how it works now. It’s a challenge, but it’s also exciting.

How big could Buffer become?

In terms of vision, our feeling is that there’s a lot of opportunity.

We want to continue helping small businesses to have the voice they deserve to have and get more reach through social media. There are a lot of different spaces we could move into, and much more we could do to help customers with social media publishing.

The culture we’ve established and movements we’ve ended up being part of, like transparency and growing as a distributed team— we believe this is a purpose of Buffer, too, to spread these movements.

The more we can grow, the more we can show that this kind of work can scale. That’s part of the motivation for going further.

Nothing grows forever, and that’s not a good aim to have. But right now for Buffer, we think we’re far from our limit. Our growth may not always be this fast, but we will be on a pretty fast trajectory from now on.

We’ve now moved to this new structure, so we’re building up to that. Once we hit it, we probably won’t need to double every few months again—until we need a whole new structure, which could happen every few years.

How does our culture evolve as we grow?

We’ve recently started to send out periodic surveys to get a feel for how teammates are feeling at buffer, and recently the rate of growth has got quite a few people worried about the culture changing.

That’s on people’s minds, and it’s really important to talk about and think about and make changes around.

Culture evolves. Every new person we add evolves the culture—that’s why diversity is so important, because we want the culture to evolve in a diverse way.

At the same time, there is this underlying idea that you’ll have culture whether you like it or not—it’s down to whether you decide to shape it.

That’s something we’ve always believed in, and why we put our values into words when we were just 10 people. We believe we should be very deliberate about what kind of company we want to build and how we want it to feel.

The two of us used to talk about culture together. On Fridays, we would go to a coffeeshop and work on culture, make changes. Things like pair calls, the salary formula, all these things we introduced through that weekly meeting.

Read the full version from the author’s website.

Motivating Employees Is Not About Carrots or Sticks

Motivating Employees Is Not About Carrots or Sticks

By Lisa Lai

Motivating employees seems like it should be easy. And it is — in theory. But while the concept of motivation may be straightforward, motivating employees in real-life situations is far more challenging.

Motivating employees seems like it should be easy. And it is — in theory. But while the concept of motivation may be straightforward, motivating employees in real-life situations is far more challenging. As leaders, we’re asked to understand what motivates each individual on our team and manage them accordingly. What a challenging ask of leaders, particularly those with large or dispersed teams and those who are already overwhelmed by their own workloads.

Leaders are also encouraged to rely on the carrot versus stick approach for motivation, where the carrot is a reward for compliance and the stick is a consequence for noncompliance. But when our sole task as leaders becomes compliance, trying to compel others to do something, chances are we’re the only ones who will be motivated.

Why not consider another way to motivate employees? I’d like to suggest a new dialogue that embraces the key concept that motivation is less about employees doing great work and more about employees feeling great about their work. The better employees feel about their work, the more motivated they remain over time. When we step away from the traditional carrot or stick to motivate employees, we can engage in a new and meaningful dialogue about the work instead. Here’s how:

Share context and provide relevance. There is no stronger motivation for employees than an understanding that their work matters and is relevant to someone or something other than a financial statement. To motivate your employees, start by sharing context about the work you’re asking them to do. What are we doing as an organization and as a team? Why are we doing it? Who benefits from our work and how? What does success look like for our team and for each employee? What role does each employee play in delivering on that promise? Employees are motivated when their work has relevance.

Anticipate roadblocks to enable progress. When you ask anything significant of team members, they will undoubtedly encounter roadblocks and challenges along the path to success. Recognize that challenges can materially impact motivation. Be proactive in identifying and addressing them. What might make an employee’s work difficult or cumbersome? What can you do to ease the burden? What roadblocks might surface? How can you knock them down? How can you remain engaged just enough to see trouble coming and pave the way for success? Employees are motivated when they can make progress without unnecessary interruption and undue burdens.

Recognize contributions and show appreciation. As tempting as it is to try to influence employee satisfaction with the use of carrots and sticks, it isn’t necessary for sustained motivation. Far more powerful is your commitment to recognizing and acknowledging contributions so that employees feel appreciated and valued. Leaders consistently underestimate the power of acknowledgment to bring forth employees’ best efforts. What milestones have been achieved? What unexpected or exceptional results have been realized? Who has gone beyond the call of duty to help a colleague or meet a deadline? Who has provided great service or support to a customer in crisis? Who “walked the talk” on your values in a way that sets an example for others and warrants recognition? Employees are motivated when they feel appreciated and recognized for their contributions.

Read the full version from the author’s website.

This Email From Elon Musk to Tesla Employees Is a Master Class in Emotional Intelligence

This Email From Elon Musk to Tesla Employees Is a Master Class in Emotional Intelligence

Elon Musk. CREDIT: Getty Images


Tesla, the electric-automobile manufacturer led by famed CEO Elon Musk, has struggled mightily with safety over the past few years. California nonprofit Worksafe, a worker safety advocacy group, recently made headlines when it reported that the injury rate at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant was more than 30 percent higher than the industry average in 2014 and 2015.

Musk insists, however, that safety is the number one priority at Tesla. He claims that recent actions, like the company’s hiring thousands of employees to create a third shift and reduce excess overtime, have made a major impact in lowering the injury rate.

A recent email Musk sent to employees indicates just how seriously he’s taking the issue. Here’s part of the email, as reported by news site Electrek:

No words can express how much I care about your safety and wellbeing. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful.

Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.

This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own.

If Musk proves true to his word, it will be a remarkable example of a company leader who’s willing to do what it takes to affect change–and show that he isn’t afraid to get down in the trenches.

Read the full version from the author’s website.

This Email From Elon Musk to Tesla Employees Is a Master Class in Emotional Intelligence

Time is The Most Valuable Asset at Your Disposal

At one of my first internships at internet company called Freemerchant.com, I was having a chat with the CFO. We were talking about building wealth.

He asked me why I wanted to have money and what I thought money would give me? As a starry-eyed and naive 20-year-old, I rattled off a whole list of material possessions, most of which I really don’t care about at the age of 38. And he said something to me that has stayed with me to this day:

“What money gives you is time. And time is really the most valuable asset at your disposal.”

As I’ve said before if you want to manage your time effectively, put a really high dollar value on it.

Just think about all the things that we waste our time on each day:

  • Commuting to work
  • Screwing around on the internet
  • Running stupid errands on the weekend (i.e. grocery shopping, Bed Bath n Beyond, and Home Depot Runs)

Now imagine if you didn’t have to do any of those things because you could afford to hire somebody to do all of them.

When I moved into a new apartment and I bought two bookshelves, a nightstand, and a bed, I thought about assembling them myself. From past experience, I knew that it would be a half day ordeal at best, and take an entire day at worst. Not only that, anytime I build stuff from Ikea parts are left over and shit starts falling apart weeks later.

I looked at what I had been paid for a few previous speaking engagements and looked at what it would cost to have somebody on Task Rabbit come over and build this stuff. The cost of hiring these people was a small fraction of my speaking fee. They did in 3 hours what would have taken me an entire day, and I was able to use that time to work on my upcoming book.

A couple of months ago I made the mistake of going to an outlet mall to buy a sports coat. I went from shop to shop, couldn’t tell if anything truly fit, and after about 3 hours I left in complete frustration without a sports coat. Someone on Facebook recommended that I utilize a personal stylist at Nordstrom. What most people don’t seem to know is that this is completely free. You submit your needs and a stylist will have a dressing room ready for you with clothes to try on. If you’ve never been before, they’ll even measure you to make sure your clothes fit perfectly. It saves you a ton of time and you end up with better clothes.

Another “time hack” I stumbled upon was TSA precheck. As a speaker, I travel quite a bit. After a 30 minute wait in security at the Portland Airport, I finally decided I’d had enough. The cost for this is 85 dollars for 5 years. By walking through security in 5 minutes, I get straight to the gate or to a restaurant where I can sit down and do my work. To top it off you avoid the chaos and frenzy that results from waiting in line. Since your state of mind is one of your most priceless assets, this is an easy way to preserve it.

Opportunity Cost

In economics, there’s a concept known as opportunity cost. For example, the opportunity to cost of assembling all the furniture myself would be the time that could have been spent writing my book. The value of working on my books or anything related to The Unmistakable Creative was far higher than the $200.00 that I spent on Task Rabbit.

Let’s do some math to reinforce this idea. Say that your time is worth 200 dollars an hour, which comes out to 1600 dollars a day. Say you decided to do a task that could bet outsourced (i.e. building a web site, admin work, Ikea furniture). It takes the whole day to do that task. Assume it would cost $200 to have someone do whatever you needed them to do. You decide to do it yourself and save 200 dollars. The opportunity cost is $1400.00

Sometimes we think we’re saving money by doing things like this ourselves. But we don’t take into the account the opportunity cost of doing things we’re not competent at.

Read the full version from the author’s website.