Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Why It Pays to Take Risks in Startup Marketing: Interview with Leo Widrich of Buffer

It’s hard to be a business these days. Yet for being in the middle of an economic recession, hundreds of startups are finding explosive success.

One of these startups is Buffer, a service that makes managing your social media accounts easier than before. They went from idea to paying customer in seven weeks; and to over seventy thousand users in less than a year.

I interviewed co-founder Leo Widrich about Buffer’s marketing efforts and the risks he and his team took to get where they are today.

Tell me about Buffer.

Buffer is a new way to tweet and post Facebook updates. All you do is add updates to your queue and we schedule and publish them for you at better times. We want to help anyone be awesome on social media and make sharing a lot smarter and more efficient.

Once you had a product to offer, how did you start marketing Buffer?

The key for us to market Buffer in the early days was through blogging and guest blogging. In fact, I wrote close to 150 articles for various social media blogs and news sites. Through back links and the relationships we could build, this was very powerful for traffic and new signups.I think it is one of the most powerful strategies there are out there right now.

What risks have you taken this year that gave you the best results?

That’s a great question. I think the risks I have taken were to gradually target larger and larger sites, until I reached Mashable. The thing is that you will get denied many, many times. Yet, if you try often enough and vary your pitch, it is a great way to get guest posts and write-ups out there really quickly.

Any tactics that were less effective?

What I found harder at the start was to ask others to write about you. So I did that and provided them with a great write-up about Buffer, which made it a lot easier. I think you just have to do most of the work, before you ask others to do it for you. 🙂

buffer team joel leo tom

The Buffer Guys: Joel, Leo, and Tom

Do you measure a return on investment on individual marketing campaigns? If so, how?

The way I used to measure my blogging activities was by how many signups I would get per post. We have a metric that tells us if we get 100 signups that will roughly convert to $500. So if I managed to write a post, tweet about it, share it through my circles, and get 50-100 signups, I knew there was a good return. There are, of course, long term benefits from blogging that aren’t reflected in this.

What kind of in-person marketing have you done?

The only thing we have done is print a few t-shirts and stickers. I then went to one conference, which was Blogworld EXPO in L.A. This was fantastic as I could meet and reach out to all the top marketers and social media thought leaders in one spot.

I saw this event more as a networking opportunity, much less as a marketing event. I just wanted to chat, and get to know these awesome people, such as the likes of Chris Brogan, Mike Stelzner, and Mari Smith. It’s just a lot of fun this way.

Have trade shows/conventions been worth the investment for an internet-based business?

In order to network and meet the top influencers to build relationships with – absolutely; in order to get new users or market your product, I wouldn’t think so.

What are some of your plans for Buffer?

With Buffer, we have a lot of plans to make sharing on social media even easier and receive better results. For example, our integration with SocialBro to give you your optimal times to tweet, was an important step.

Also, with the Buffer button for blogs and integration with other apps along the line, we want to become a completely new sharing standard for others.

Any advice for other startup companies?

The most important thing is to really love what you do in the first place. And also that success comes with a lot of failures along the way. If you embrace the fact that only 25% of your efforts will be successful, you won’t lose faith as quickly.

What businesses can learn from Leo and Buffer:

  • Don’t be discouraged. You’ll most likely see more rejection than acceptance when starting out.
  • Creating relationships and networking within your niche opens doors for others to discover your product. Thought leaders are called top influencers for a reason.
  • Having a blog for your company is essential. It helps with search rankings, humanizes your brand, establishes you as an authority, and aides in securing guest posts.
  • Step away from your computer. Even an online social media business like Buffer used promotional products and attended conferences.

To stay up to date with this team’s happenings and social media tips, follow Leo at @leowid or Buffer at @bufferapp.

If you’d like to try Buffer for yourself, click here to sign up. Using this referral link will get you extra slots in your queue.

Anything else we could learn from Leo and his team? Any particular tip that you liked? Anyone using Buffer and loving it?



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  1. Jeff Porretto

    Oh Mandy…. I applaud this dude’s risk taking abilities. But I just can’t take risks like I used to. I took a big risk once and started my own home remodeling company. It was going ok for a while, then the market crashed and I didn’t work for 2 years. So now I’m playing everything a little closer to the vest.

    Nice interview!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      That’s understandable. Sorry to hear about the home remodeling company, darn market crash. Unfortunately things like that are out of our control. But hey, you’re in a better place now. 🙂

  2. Alex Brodsky

    What he said about rejection is 100% true. Thick skin is a definite necessity when attempting to accomplish anything. Persistence is what pays off, because it shows you believe in what you do.

    Great interview, Mandy!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Alex!

      Persistence is key, though it’s easy to become frustrated after lots of rejection. But if you’re passionate about your work, you have to refocus and try again. After all, many of the most popular novels in the English/American canon were rejected a TON of times from publishers. Good thing those authors kept on trying!

  3. Jill Tooley

    I absolutely love Buffer! After hearing you rave about it for months and finally giving it a try, I must say that it’s a lifesaver. I thought it would be complicated and annoying to use, but it’s the exact opposite. It only took me a few minutes to get used to the interface and it’s worked like a charm since I’ve been using it! LOVE. IT.

    Leo is a pretty smart guy. I particularly enjoyed the section of this interview where he discussed the importance of guest posting and writing articles — go figure! It’s reassuring to find out that rejection is just a part of any content marketer/writer/entrepreneur’s life, and that even the masters had to work their way up from nothing. Credibility is a must in any industry!

    I also liked his advice about embracing the fact that only 25% of efforts will be successful. Kind of disheartening in a way, but it’s also a reality check. No one is going to succeed 100% of the time…not even big names like Steve Jobs or Chris Brogan. Once we understand that, it’s easier to get grounded and move forward.

    Thanks for conducting this interview, Mandy! Leo and the Buffer guys are badasses. 🙂

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I’m so glad that you like Buffer! You’re right – it’s so easy to use and I love having scheduled tweets that don’t overwhelm my (small but mighty) Twitter following.

      The 25% number is a little disheartening at first glance, but you’re right, it definitely grounds us to have a more realistic approach to your marketing efforts. Plus, hey, it could be worse – it could be 2%. But even at the 2%, something is better than nothing; even the tiniest bit of exposure could be the key to mega success.

  4. Joseph Giorgi

    Buffer sounds pretty fantastic! If I were a little more diligent about keeping up with my Facebook posts, I’d totally take advantage of this app. Maybe one day I’ll step up my efforts.

    Anyway, these guys have done an incredible job at building their brand, and I’d argue that the most important takeaway here (aside from the importance of “loving what you do” in the first place) is that blogging can be an incredibly powerful tool for relationship building — and one that marketers shouldn’t discount.

    Awesome interview, Mandy! 🙂

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Joe!

      If and when you do, I have nothing but good things to say about the service. My scheduled tweets get lots of clicks, retweets, and it keeps my Klout score steady (most of the time). It makes me feel pretty darn awesome.

      Relationship building is so important. Yes, you’re going to talk about how great your product is. But when you have other influential people talking about it? Then you’re poised for success.

  5. Candice J.

    Great post Mandy! I’ve often thought of opening up my own business but unfortunately being a single mom right now, i just don’t have the funds to allow myself to. Nevertheless, he offered some great tips that I’m sure to take with me if life ever gives me the chance to take a risk! P.S.- So true when he states, “The most important thing is to really love what you do in the first place.” That really goes for everything in life, especially when it comes to work. If you don’t love what you do to begin with you aren’t very likely to go very far.

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Candice! If the opportunity ever presents itself, hopefully this will give you the motivation to go for it!

  6. Amy Swanson

    What a great interview, Mandy! It was so nice of Leo to take time out and answer your questions (which were awesome btw) so that we could all learn a thing or two 🙂 I’m a very low risk person so I don’t think I’d ever actually start up a business on my own. Too many “unknowns” for me to feel comfortable LOL.

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I hear you, Amy. I don’t think I’d be able to start a business myself, but I’m more than happy to jump on board after a bunch of the risks have already been cleared. To the risk takers go the spoils, I guess!

  7. Jen

    Great interview Mandy. Buffer sounds like a really great idea, especially for other small businesses who need that extra help when it comes to social media. And it sounds like they have put a ton of their time and effort into making their business a success, so I applaud them!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Jen! If anyone ever needs a case study about hard work, networking, and becoming a success, just look to Buffer! Their marketing has paid off big time for them!

  8. Gregory Ciotti

    This was awesome Mandy, great read from beginning to end!

    I’m jealous I didn’t think to ask some of these questions ;).

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Greg! And thanks for stopping by!

      I got a lot of inspiration for this interview from yours, so thanks for the fantastic interview that laid the groundwork! 😀

  9. Barbara352

    Buffer sounds good! Thanks for sharing this informative interview! I am working for a start up and I completely understand how crazy it can be sometime. Still there are people creating wonders and succeeding 🙂
    This is the way hope continues..Thanks again.

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