Success Stories

How to Grow a Startup from $0 to $20 million in ARR – The Buffer Story

<img src="revenue-growth.jpg" alt="the buffer story">Buffer, an app that was launched in 2010, grew from $0 to $20 million in ARR (annual recurring revenue) within 9 years.

How did the software giant achieve this feat? What are the strategies that helped to make this possible?

Achieving  Unstoppable Growth through Content Marketing.

Buffer sees content marketing as its primary channel of growth. Not as a mere marketing tactic.

And, with an average of 1900 shares per post, Buffer has its content strategy well figured out.

It’s a compelling story of content marketing, done right.

Co-founder, Leo Widrich confirms this in an interview.

He says “content marketing has been the most vital thing for us. Actually, up until the past 2 months, content marketing accounted for over 70% of our daily signups. This is just a great way to provide value for readers, without full self-promotion. If someone likes your content, they are most likely interested in finding out more about what else it is you do.”

Buffer’s Humble Beginnings

Buffer started as a Twitter scheduling app. It later metamorphosed into a social media scheduling app, incorporating sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Joel Gascoigne, the CEO, launched Buffer on November 30th, 2010, and had his first paying customer within four days!

That validated his business idea and he decided to bring on people to handle marketing and customer support.

One of such people was Leo who handled marketing as COO (chief operating officer) and CTO (chief technology officer).

By December 2019, the team had reached 90 people working remotely from 19 countries in different parts of the world, more than 4.5 million registered users (free and paid), and over $20 million in annual recurring revenue.

Buffer made this announcement in their official figures for the year 2019.

The social media giant said: “this past year was a big achievement for us as we crossed the $20 million in annual recurring revenue milestone.

Thank you to all of our customers for continuing to use Buffer to build your brands on social media! You are why we do what we do.”

Reflecting on 10 years of building Buffer, Joel says Buffer is on the path of long-term sustainability and profitability.

But, things weren’t always rosy. In the beginning, Buffer struggled to get media coverage.

To help the startup, Leo started a blog to write about all things Twitter (how to get more followers and how to use Twitter for SEO purposes).

This was Buffer’s way of creating a loyal and relevant tribe.

He initially published 2-3 articles per month. This number rose to 3-4 articles a week.

After he produced some great pieces of content, he reached out to other blogs and asked if their audience would be interested in similar articles.

Gradually, other blogs started accepting his content.

He focused exclusively on guest blogging as an audience-building tactic.

This worked as Buffer got its first 100,000 users after 10 months.

There was a switch in content strategy when the app incorporated Facebook and LinkedIn.

Leo and the content team started writing about other social media channels.

There was a further shift in content strategy after Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz and, published the Content Marketing Manifesto. 

This made Leo and the content team target influencers with their content, alongside users.

Blog topics now switched to business, psychology, productivity, and some other light topics.

Social shares surged, as a result, as articles that usually averaged 250 Twitter shares, managed to reach 1,000.

People were simply loving the Buffer blog! And, they couldn’t hide it. They just had to share!

Tear Down of Buffer’s Content Marketing Strategy

1) In-depth and Engaging Posts

In the beginning, Buffer focused exclusively on creating helpful, long-form, and in-depth posts.

It used this to gain awareness and build trust for its product.

Rand Fishkin calls this the best way to sell. He says: “the best way to sell something – don’t sell anything. Earn the awareness, respect, & trust of those who might buy.”

Towing the same line, Buffer’s VP of Marketing, Kevan Lee says the biggest mistake a content creator can make is to create unhelpful content.

In his words: “it might sound cliche, but I think that one of the most important reminders for content creators is to be helpful. And this extends to the motivation behind a piece of content: Is it designed or written to help others or is it designed and written to bring in traffic or make a sale?

You can tell the type of content that is based on the latter. Interestingly enough, content that is helpful will end up meeting the other goals, too.”

Kevan says they’ve found great results in their content strategy.

In his words: “first, we’ve found great results in research-backed, in-depth articles on social media marketing. In the first year or more of Buffer, 100% of the acquisition was done via content marketing.”

While noting that they’ve gained publishing partnerships with sites like Time and Fast Company, Kevan says publishing in-depth, well-researched, long blog posts on a near-daily basis differentiates them in the marketplace.

In 2019, Buffer says they published a total of 212
blog posts on their three blogs.

How Long Should a Blog Post Be?

1,500-words. It’s not cast in stone; neither is it backed by data. That is just what the current Buffer content team shoots for.

The team has Courtney Seiter, head of content marketing, and Kevan on board.

They both write four or more 1,500-word posts per week, with each post taking six or more hours to complete.

He also says they create at least one unique visual per post.

How Buffer Creates So Much Content So Quickly

Kevan says he has a 3-day blog post process because good content needs time to breathe. While a good writer uses the time to reflect.

Day one: Research

In this phase, Kevan says he collects everything he can find on the chosen topic, copies all the quotes and sources into the WordPress editor, and organizes it all into an outline.

Day two: Writing

In this phase, Kevan says he writes the first draft, chooses a featured image and other graphics that might come in handy.

Basically, the goal is to have the post completely written and thought-out, just in need of editing.

Day three: Editing

This involves going through the piece with an objective lens, deleting terrible paragraphs, and creating some images in Canva.

To be able to ship new content on an almost daily basis, Kevan says he staggers his 3-dau process.

In his words: “each day on the calendar, I’m researching a new post, writing a different post, and editing still a different one. That’s three unique posts that I touch on any given day, and each post is in a different part of the process. It’s the best way I’ve found to ship something new every day and still have something ready to ship tomorrow.”

Which Posts Perform Well on the Buffer Blog?

Leo says “there are a few types of posts that perform extraordinarily well. One type of post is data-driven articles.

With this one, for example, we could hit well above our normal retweet and traffic rate for our blog.

If you can aggregate or find any data-driven insights, I highly recommend putting them on your blog as a post.”

Secondly, Leo says list posts perform particularly well.

In his words: “7 Reasons Why.. or 10 Tips To.. help the reader to understand exactly what they can expect by simply reading the headline.

I also suggest to closely keep an eye on the top blogs in your niche to find inspiration for articles.

In my case, this is browsing Mashable, Social Media Examiner, and the like. They produce top-notch content and always keep me inspired to do the same.”

2) Leveraged the Fremium Model

Buffer also used the freemium business model to promote their product. The product advertised itself as a result.

Free users who wanted extra functionality upgraded their accounts. This gave Buffer a lot of goodwill.

In 2019, over 1 million free Buffer accounts were created. 32,349 became paying customers.

Total number of customers in 2019 was 74,825. The majority of free users would have good feelings towards the social media tool. And recommend it to friends and family.

The Free plan allows 1 user to operate 3 social channels and schedule 10 posts. Below is a look at the 3 paid plans:

3) Enjoyed Social Media Shares

Buffer relied heavily on social media shares to gain traction.

CognitiveSEO once conducted in-depth research into Buffer’s social media shares and published the data as follows:

The most shared articles on Twitter are:

Why Facebook Is Blue: The Science of Colors in Marketing.

Written by Leo Widrich, this article has over 16,800 Twitter shares.

The Ideal Length of Everything Online, Backed by Research.

Written by Kevan Lee, this article has around 13,000 Twitter shares.

24+ Sites to Find Free Images You Would Actually Use for Your Marketing.

Written by Courtney Seiter, this article has around 7,000 Twitter shares

10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science.

Written by Belle Beth Cooper, this article has around 7,000 Twitter shares.

The most shared articles on Facebook are:

Why Facebook Is Blue: The Science of Colors in Marketing.

Written by Leo Widrich, this article has around 14,000 Facebook shares.

The Science of Side Projects: How Creative Hobbies Improve Our Performance at Everything

Written by Kevan Lee, this article has almost 6,500 Facebook shares.

The Journey from ‘Crafters’ to ‘Traction’: Buffer’s October Marketing Report.

Written by Courtney Seiter, this article has around 5,000 Facebook shares.

4 Recent Changes to Twitter, Facebook and More That Social Media Marketers Need to Know.

Written by Courtney Seiter, this article has 3,700 Facebook shares.

The most shared articles on Google Plus are:

Why Facebook Is Blue: The Science of Colors in Marketing.

This same article leads on Twitter and Facebook. It has close to 4,000 Google Plus Shares.

The Ideal Length of Everything Online, Backed by Research.

This article has around 3,000 Google Plus shares.

22 Tips To Better Care for Introverts and Extroverts.

Written by Belle Beth Cooper, this article has 3,500 Google Plus shares.

24+ Sites to Find Free Images You Would Actually Use for Your Marketing.

This article has 3,000 Google Plus shares.

Overall, fans on the different social media platforms all enjoyed reading and sharing Buffer’s well-researched articles.

YesOptimist thinks Buffer has an unfair advantage when it comes to social sharing.

Because their product is focused on finding, curating, and sharing content on social channels, they had a number of excellent opportunities to drive increased social reach and engagement for every piece they publish.

For starters, their audience is interested in social sharing and are likely to share.

Secondly, they brilliantly use their own product as a distribution channel for the content they publish.

When users are adding tweets and posts to their sharing queue, Buffer will suggest content that is relevant to that person and their audience.

It should come as no surprise that Buffer’s own content is often among the suggestions.

Lastly, because their product is engineered to find patterns and best practices for when and how to share content, Buffer is able to squeeze the maximum amount of engagement from every tweet, post, and share.

So, What Social-Sharing Lessons can we Learn from Buffer?

  • Plan for content promotion ahead of content creation
  • Aim for repeated social media shares
  •  Write for influencers to gain early traction
  • Optimize your headlines for clicks, shares, and engagement on different platforms

4) Guest Blogging as a Tactic

Earlier on, Leo implemented an aggressive guest blogging campaign which yielded incredible results.

In his words: “guest blogging can have a tremendous effect. Not only does it build backlinks for you, you are also able to create great relationships.”

Initially, Leo gained guest blogging traction by following the “be everywhere’ slogan.

He guest blogged everywhere he could. In the latter part, he targeted larger publications to grow their traffic.

For guest blogging to be effective, Leo recommends personalized content. He says: “the more personalized the articles are, the more interest you can raise from the reader.

If you describe a tool, describe how it helped you specifically, if you explain techniques, give specific examples.

It’s also key to really understand what the blogger is writing about in order to get considered.”

To get on the radar of a blogger he wants to cultivate a relationship with, Leo says he first reads their posts, comments, and Tweets about them.

After which he starts an email conversation.

Buffer’s approach to guest posting has always been to build relationships — with a new audience and with other bloggers.

The backlink is merely a by-product of that effort.

Many of Buffer’s early guest posts focused on listing social media tools for marketers, which, of course, included their own tool.

This allowed them to gain exposure in the marketplace.

5) Email Marketing to the Rescue

Despite being a social media tool, the Buffer team understands the power of email marketing.

They know email is a much more effective channel for driving people to their website and getting them to sign up for their product than social media is.

Open rates and click-through rates for email are higher than social media. The return on investment (ROI) is also higher.

According to studies by DMA and Demand Metric, the average ROI for email marketing is 122%, which is more than 4 times higher than other marketing formats including social media, direct mail, and paid search.

The bottom line? Email marketing is still king! It’s no wonder Buffer chooses to prioritize email marketing.

Kevan says “we’ve put a lot of emphasis on email marketing. Since making this a goal, we’ve seen great growth in this regard, doubling our signups month-over-month this summer.”

Buffer currently attracts 1000+ new subscribers each week by creating well-researched content and providing prominent subscription opportunities.

MailCharts studied Buffer’s email marketing strategy over a 6-year period and gathered the following data:

  • Buffer sends 1 email per week.
  • The most popular day to send is Friday.
  • The subject line is 47 characters long.
  • Buffer sends no promotions. Just helpful and relationship-building stuff.

A typical Buffer email looks like this.

6) Repurposed Assets to Drive More Traffic

Buffer is a  master at repurposing content that performs well as blog posts for different channels.

They make targeted graphics for Facebook and Twitter. They even make videos and SlideShares.

These repurposed assets expose the social media brand to people who may never have heard of it. This is a slide by Buffer:

7) Transparency as a Strategy

The original ten Buffer values.

Buffer is transparent about what is happening in the organization. As a matter of policy, the software giant shares all kinds of information about their business.

From salaries to growth metrics and vacation policies — they publish for anyone to read.

Sharing the journey and hard-won lessons on startup growth is the kind of authentic storytelling that other startup founders and wantrepreneurs (Buffer’s core audience) love to read.

Buffer is following Gary Vee’s lead to document and not create. Like Groove does. Like Drift does.

Year in, year out, Buffer publishes its numbers for transparency and accountability.

This is Buffer’s 2017 in numbers

That is Buffer’s 2018 in numbers

Read the Buffer Transparency page

As a part of its transparency policy, Leo shares Top 10 Learnings Going to 10 Million in the video below:

Need a SaaS Marketing Makeover? Kevan has some advice for you. Just watch this video:

8) Combined Text, Audio, and Video

Aside from text, Buffer uses audio and video content to engage with its audience.

It understands that people have different media preferences when it comes to content consumption.

There’s The Science of Social Media podcast and the Youtube channel which has several educational videos and close to 20,000 subscribers.

The podcast enjoyed over 1.2 million downloads in 2019.

Aside from the Youtube channel, Buffer generates crazy views with its social media videos.

In 2018, it generated over 2 million views. Award-winning business strategy and partnerships professional, Brian G. Peters tells the story here.


Buffer has shown it’s possible to grow a software startup without an advertising budget.

It has shown it’s possible to grow organically and create a viral marketing machine by:

  • Publishing in-depth and data-driven content
  • Engaging in intentional social media marketing
  • Guest blogging to generate initial traction
  • Driving sales and sign-ups through email
  • Repurposing content to drive more traffic
  • Leveraging the freemium business model
  • Documenting its successes and failures
  • Combining text, audio, and video to engage 

These B2B tech marketing strategies have been proven to work, time and again! So, what is your biggest takeaway from the Buffer story?

Ready to 2x Your Sales with Killer Content?

Hire Iyabo Oyawale to write for your business today!

She is the Founder/Copywriter at CopyVista, a freelance copywriting team, that specializes in B2B tech marketing.

She makes one bold promise: “I write engaging long-form SEO content that turns casual users into die-hard fans.”

Wanna test this claim? Schedule a free 15-minute call here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.