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Summary:

Buffer is a small startup that began with the idea that users want to space out the publication of their tweets. Now it’s a profitable business that’s trying to become a solution for how people share to social media.

Entrepreneur Buffer CEO co-founder Leo Widrich

A lot has changed in the social publishing world over the past year. Between Twitter cracking down on third-party developers last summer and Google Reader shutting down for good this spring, we’ve seen the decline of some Twitter-dependant startups and the rise of others. But for one startup, things have been changing for the better.

In the beginning, Buffer was meant for an average consumer — someone who was reading a bunch of interesting articles at one time, but didn’t want to tweet them all at once and overwhelm followers. The app let you schedule your tweets over popular reading periods during the day.

But over time, Buffer has expanded to allow for sharing to a variety of social networks, and has adapted to incorporate its users wide variety of demands. Buffer has benefitted from its relationships with Twitter and Feedly, and it’s starting to edge more toward working with small businesses as a way to grow.

On Wednesday, the company is announcing that users will now have the ability to schedule tweets for a very specific time, not just a general window of time. This sounds like a small feature that wouldn’t represent a big shift for the company, but it’s a much-feature that big social media management platforms like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck count as key. And for a small startup like Buffer, it’s a symbolic shift toward meeting the demands of small businesses and bigger teams.

“We are a little bit in this growing-up phase right now. And this feature makes us grow up a little bit more,” co-founder Leo Widrich told me in an interview in San Francisco this week. “For a while it was, ‘We only do this one thing differently from everyone else, and that’s what Buffer is.’ But this moves us away from being this small buffering app to this real publishing solution.”

Widrich, who has made a name for himself by being refreshingly transparent about how he talks about his company, from employee salaries to fundraising to user growth, told me Buffer currently has 850,000 users, 20 percent of whom are active each month. While only 2 percent of users are pay for Buffer’s premium service, the company brought in $130,000 last month, and Widrich said it has been breaking even for a while now, even as it continues to hire.

“We’ve been growing at a good pace, but our revenue has been growing with us,” he said.

Twitter has been in the news for shutting down startups that make their business around tweets, particularly companies that try to replicate the Twitter experience through third-party clients. However, the company has been favorable towards startups like Buffer, which focus on enterprise customers and are in the business of creating, not displaying, tweets.

“The great thing about Buffer is that we never made the step to showing you the screen. We just focused on publishing, and that’s beneficial to Twitter, because they want more updates to be shared,” he told me.

And Google Reader’s demise? Also good for the company, since it partnered with Feedly back in February to power some of the sharing within the RSS tool (you’ve probably seen Buffer’s options if you shared something to LinkedIn through Feed). And now that more users are heading to Feedly post-Google, it’s another way to gain users.

For Widrich, he said that’s how they approach finding new customers. Instead of trying to get people to spend more  time in a Buffer app, they want to create a useful tool that can be integrated within popular products across the web. In fact, you might be using Buffer and not even know it. It’s a challenge, because it means doing deals with individual companies like Echofon and Feedly, and people like me that use Tweetbot don’t get to benefit (yet.) But once Buffer is integrated into these different services, it makes a pretty decent user experience.

“We feel that the pie gets bigger, and that the more places we are now we have more opportunities.”

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  1. Um, just use Hootsuite.

  2. I gotta say I love buffer and I was around Joel when he started it whilst a PHP/web dev gun for hire in the mean streets of Birmingham back in 2010. They have come a long way since then and have done incredibly well. I was also one of their first paying customers (customer #10!).

    Although I found it had because a large percentage of stuff I tweet is not shares from articles or stuff and I needed a much easier way to buffer my tweets. That is why I wrote @bufferdm (http://bufferdm.wizewerx.com) – it is a bot that you DM your tweet to and it adds it to your buffer -freeing you to use whatever client (integrated or not) and let’s you get on with being in flow.

    Well done Joel, Leo and the lovely folks at Buffer.

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