On occasion, I like to think of myself as a “doer”. Someone who can make things happen by himself, who neglects the role that help from others has played and over-estimates the things he’s achieved himself. Often, when I catch myself thinking like that, I’m a bit disappointed and I wish I was instead more connected to reality and the people around me.
When I pondered on that topic again the other day, I tried a short thought experiment, where I just went through my life and re-collected the many incredible offers of generosity I was able to receive, which completely transformed my life – all without me doing anything or being in control of them.
Here is a short list of some that stood out the most to me:
Being offered 35% of equity in a company that I joined 4 months after its inception
When I first joined Buffer in January 2011, I was 20 years old, had very few startup-like projects under my belt and ran into Joel through a Skype chat. He had already worked on Buffer for a few months, managed to get a handful of paying customers and was still open to having me on board.
After a few months of us working together, he offered me 30% of the company, which I felt was an incredible offer. What was even crazier and I often think about this today, was that a few months later, when we were already in SF and Buffer started to show some significant potential to be successful, Joel offered me another 5% to my existing 30%.
Out of all the things I can think of, this is one of the biggest acts of generosity I have experienced and one that changed my life completely.
Having someone vouch for us to get $120k in funding
Another experience I greatly enjoy recalling was when we arrived in SF, we barely knew anyone. In fact, we got close to crashing and burning and packing our bags and going home. None of the investors were interested in what we were building, much less so interested in giving us money.
And yet, one person changed it all. We had applied to AngelPad, an incubator that, if accepted, would provide us with $120,000 in seed funding. Our first call with Thomas Korte, the founder of AngelPad, didn’t go so well. We sensed the probing question and skepticism around our idea for Buffer. We had about 1 week left of cash and weren’t sure whether we’d make it after that. Only a few weeks earlier we had first met Hiten Shah, Hiten was and is one of the most well-known startup mentors, founders and investors in SF, that I know of and out of the many “no’s” we’ve heard from investors the first few weeks in Silicon Valley, he offered a “yes” in terms of advice, encouragement and mentorship to us.
In a last attempt to see if we could change Thomas Korte’s mind, we leaned on Hiten to help with vouching for us. This was the email we sent:
We sent this email on a Tuesday and heard back from Thomas on Saturday to let us know we’ve made it into AngelPad – the day where we also realized we only had 1 week of cash left. Thomas mentioned a conversation with Hiten and it completely blew my mind what had happened.
Hiten, who was successful and well-known, had vouched for 2 kids he had met once for them to get investment and it worked.
I’m not sure what would have happened if Hiten wouldn’t have done that, and I’ll be forever grateful that he did!
Being able to learn English in the UK for multiple months, free of charge
I’m not sure why this story exactly, but it stuck in my mind too. When I was 17, many of my peers in Vienna started to think about going to University. None of my parents had done that, so I was particularly intrigued by the idea. Not only did my friends from school think about university, they thought about studying abroad, in the UK, in Switzerland and many other places with renowned university.
I had never dared to think that far and the more I pondered it, the more I was excited about doing the same. For whatever reason I concluded that I especially needed to have great English to be successful and my English at the time was poor to put it mildly. I realized that if I ever wanted to study at a UK university, I’d have to proof proficiency in English and I was far from being able to do that.
My great-aunt, who lives in the UK, then graciously reached out to ask if I wanted to come and visit her. She lived in Plymouth and offered to host me, pay for an English course and all other expenses and help me get my English in shape. I made that trip for a few weeks and then the year after again.
I often attribute her generosity to my success in speaking better English, which allowed me to study in the UK, which in turn allowed me to meet Joel and join Buffer.
Getting full freedom when picking subjects to study at school
The High School I got to attend in Vienna was very unique compared to most other schools in the country. It offered a course system, similar to a University, where one could pick and choose the subjects that they wanted. On top of that, we only needed to attend 70% of all classes. I was beyond excited about that.
There was one teacher in particular, our French teacher, who offered me more freedom than I had ever experienced before. He said that I didn’t have to come to French class at all if I didn’t wanted to, granted that I would do all the coursework still of course. The strange thing that happened was that because someone gave me the choice of just doing what I thought was right, without any pressure, made me go and work a lot more, now that I was free to explore my interest in learning French on my own. So instead of going to class 3 hours a week, I upped it to 12 hours, where I attended an extra course in French history and philosophy, as well as advanced French.
I often reflect on that time and the teacher and the effect it had on me then and even today. There was really no pressure from anywhere to offer me this level of freedom and yet the school and this teacher in particular thought it was the right thing to do, I’ll be forever grateful for that.
Getting help from someone to drive hundreds of thousands of visitors to buffer
A last story I wanted to share, was how a then complete stranger helped me and Buffer to share our article and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors for us. His name is Dave Larson and he operates a very popular Twitter handle called @TweetSmarter.
I first discovered Dave’s blog when we were trying to find ways to market Buffer, which we struggled with for a while until the idea of content marketing and guestblogging opened itself up as an opportunity. Through Dave’s prolific writing, I asked him many questions in the comments, some I would deem overly aggressive today about helping us and yet, he never showed me anything but generosity and kindness.
Eventually, I asked him if he could help us share articles from the Buffer blog to his hundreds of thousands of followers. Again something that I would probably deem to aggressive a thing to do from my side. And yet, he helped us and shared dozens of our posts, if not hundreds of them. Each of them garnered thousands of clicks of engaged marketers who would find Buffer helpful.
Whenever I feel like I’m not in a great mindset of wanting to help others more, I go and read Dave’s Twitter bio, even today. His only mission that he states on there is to help others be successful on Twitter and Social Media and he’s been doing that for 8 years. He’s never monetized his efforts and simply enjoys helping people.
The immediate next thought I had was about the many acts of generosity that I couldn’t mention in this post. The many people that have helped me along the way, starting with my parents, teachers and friends, all of which I haven’t talked about here. There is way to many of them to fit them all into one post and so if you’re reading this and have shown great generosity towards me and I haven’t mentioned it here, I want to say I’ll be forever grateful for it and try my best to pay it forward.
I’d love to invite you on a similar reflection. If you’d like, take a few minutes out of your day to think about the people that have done things for you without expecting or receiving anything in return. The ones that have just helped you and in doing so, changed the course of your life significantly for the better. If you feel like it, write them down and let these people know about it. I hope this’ll give you a great deal of joy for your day!