On this day, around 2 years ago, I’m about a few weeks away before I’ve had a brief Skype chat with Joel on a side project he was working on. He’d called it bfffr.com. It was a site that would let you queue up Tweets and release them well spaced out over the day.
The reason for chatting in the first place, was because I wanted to get some advice on a student survey site I was working on at the time. As the conversation moved on to how bfffr was doing, Joel said that within the first month he had already 4 paying customers and made a bit over $20. I was blown away. I had never made money online myself.
Joel said that now with a few users and good validation, it was time to switch over to do some marketing. That was my cue. “Oh, marketing? I can do that!”, I remember typing. At the time I had absolutely no clue what that meant. I was half-way through my second year in college and had just gotten the hang of using Google Chrome.
Fast forward two years, we had successfully created and grown a company to 7 awesome people, moved to San Francisco, raised a seed round and started to pull in revenues close to $1m per year. So, close before the year ends, I wanted to take some time out and reflect what and how this has happened over the past 2 years.
The move to drop out of college
It wasn’t actually until 2 months ago, that I’ve officially dropped out of College. After one semester working on Buffer and significantly neglecting my degree, I decided to first take a year out. I said to myself “I don’t know if this is going to work, so if I take a year out, give it a go and fail, I can always go back to finishing my degree”.
And so, Joel and I packed our bags and we moved to San Francisco that summer after my semester ended. It felt great, I had no pressure to succeed, as I could always just go back finishing up my degree. At the same time, this gave me a strange feeling of freedom. Without the pressure, I could push much harder than I had ever done before.
That summer, after a lot of sweat and tears, we managed to just about get into an incubator (AngelPad) that also gave us $120,000 in our first seed money. I had never seen that much money before, neither imagined being able to use some of it. We went on to raise a total of $450,000 which would allow us to quickly hire a few more awesome people to push Buffer (Joel had quickly changed the name from bfffr to Buffer) to the next level.
In short, from the beginning of that summer 2011 we moved to San Francisco until fall of 2012 when the new school year would start again, I had time to push as hard as I could and figure out whether Buffer was working or not. I was in a safe state, where nothing truly catastrophic could happen. It was great and eliminated a lot of risk.
When I eventually made the call that I won’t go back to studying, the odds were looking a lot better. We had stable monthly revenue, Visas to stay in the US, an office and a lot to look forward to. At this point, it was a very easy choice to briefly write to the University authorities:
“Hi guys, I won’t be coming back, please cancel my subscription.”
The one thing I like to remind myself of is that I didn’t drop out of college to work on a startup. I started working on a startup, which saw great traction, so I had to drop out of college. When I tell this story, I often get it wrong and mix up the causal relationship between the two.
All in all, I believe that, that first moment of asking Joel if I could help out with marketing at bfffr was the key turning point in my life as I knew it. And I’m incredibly grateful for it.