Why a startup just published all of its employees’ salaries for the world to see

Putting it all out there.
Putting it all out there.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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San Francisco-based social media startup Buffer just did something unprecedented: It published the salaries of every one of its employees online, available for the public to see. “We hope this might help other companies think about how to decide salaries, and will open us up to feedback from the community,” CEO Joel Gascoigne wrote in a blog post published on Thursday.

You can see for yourself, right here. Gascoigne makes $158,800 a year; COO Leo Widrich makes $146,800; CTO Sunil Sadasivan makes $137,600. The list goes on, and no one—not even those still in Buffer’s beginner “Bootcamp” period (in which employees are still technically freelancers) makes less than $70,000.


The move is part of Buffer’s more general strategy to ”default to transparency”—meaning making operations as transparent as possible. The startup, which helps users schedule social media updates, already publishes its revenue and user numbers every month. It even allows everyone at the company to have access to email exchanges among other employees.

But publishing employee salaries is just one part of wage transparency; the other is explaining how management calculates an employee’s worth. Buffer makes that public too.

Buffer's Salary Formula

As you can see, there’s only one truly subjective variable: level of experience. That’s established through management’s discussions with each employee, as Gascoigne told 99U.

By creating a transparent formula and paying above market rate, Gasciogne says he hopes to promote long-term commitment from employees. “In Silicon Valley, there’s a culture of people jumping from one place to the next,” he told 99U. “That’s why we focus on culture. Doing it this way means we can grow just as fast—if not faster—than doing it the ‘normal’ cutthroat way.”

It’s unclear what, if any, benefit disclosing every employee’s salary to the public offers a budding startup like Buffer. Disclosing salaries within a company is one thing—it promotes openness and fairness, which is a good for morale—but disclosing every employee’s salary to the public is another thing entirely. If the move is more of a publicity stunt to round up some good will and incite chatter, then kudos to Buffer. That mission has been accomplished.