How Linktree scored 2.7 million global users in three years — including the likes of Alicia Keys, Red Bull and Pearl Jam
Wednesday, August 21, 2019/
Created as a side-hustle to solve a simple problem, Melbourne startup Linktree has well outgrown its roots, raking in $3 million in annual recurring revenue, and a user base of 2.8 million to match.
The little-known startup allows Instagram users to put one little link in their bio that directs to multiple pages, allowing users to push more than one link at a time and optimise their social media presence.
It may not be a household name just yet, but it’s secured 2.8 million users — a figure that’s increasing 20% to 25% month-on-month. Currently, it sees approximately 10,000 new signups every day, 90% of whom are outside of Australia.
The Linktree story starts in 2016, when brothers Alex and Anthony Zaccaria, along with co-founder Nick Humphreys, were running a music and entertainment digital agency.
They were managing artists, and using Instagram to make announcements.
“We got really sick of having the change the Instagram bio link,” Alex Zaccaria tells StartupSmart.
The co-founders had recently hired a developer for the agency and “didn’t have much work for him yet”, he explains, and so they tasked him with creating a solution that would allow them to add multiple links.
Six hours later, the prototype was built.
Linktree was born to solve a problem for the agency, Zaccaria says.
“It turned out, a lot more people had that problem.”
By luck, this was about the same time that Instagram switched from a chronological to an algorithm-based feed, meaning people were potentially seeing posts that were three or four days old. By the time users were seeing the words ‘link in bio’, that bio may well have changed.
“It was more than that annoying problem of wanting to link to more than one thing,” Zaccaria says.
“It also became about making sure you still had relevant content.”
“It just went a bit wild”
Initially, the agency pushed the solution to its own clients, but soon, word got out and they were seeing about 10 sign-ups a day.
“We figured it was probably worth rebuilding properly,” Zaccaria says.
The team planned out placing the re-vamped Linktree on Product Hunt and launching “a bit more formally”. But before they could, a happy user did it for them.
“Someone else in the States put it up on Product Hunt the night before my sister’s wedding,” the founder recalls.
“It just went a bit wild from there.”
On the wedding day, Linktree saw somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 new signups. That number hasn’t dipped below 800 per day since. Of course, now, it’s significantly higher.
“We’ve had all kinds of infrastructure problems and scaling problems trying to keep up with the demand,” Zaccaria says.
Linktree has also graduated from being a side-hustle to becoming its own fully-fledged business.
It stayed as part of the agency “for quite a while”, Zaccaria explains, with the co-founders using agency resources and developing the product in house.
The team were concerned that Instagram might take the product down, ban it, or even create their own version.
“We’re far less concerned about that these days,” the founder says.
Recently, both Linktree and Zaccaria have split off from the agency, “and we’re really backing it”.
A $0 marketing budget
Although Linktree has exploded both in Australia and globally, the business has never spent a penny on marketing.
And while Zaccaria puts the success partly down to luck, he does say there are a few things the founders did to help the product along.
Of course, it had the benefit of being within the agency, which had three major festivals as clients, which generated a lot of early traction.
Equally, “it’s self-marketing”, Zaccaria says.
“Once people put it in their Instagram bio, everyone else sees it.”
Linktree also benefitted from a whole lot of user-generated content. And I mean a whole lot.
Throughout 2017, the platform became the “go-to Instagram hack” for social media coaches and marketing bloggers and vloggers.
If you search Linktree on YouTube, there are pages and pages of results — about 45,000 videos, Zaccaria says. And it’s all completely community-generated.
“We just didn’t put anything up ourselves. We wanted to allow the community to tell the story,” he says.
The platform has also had a lot of luck in getting celebrity users on board. The first major name to sign up was Alicia Keys, shortly after the app launched on Product Hunt.
“We still had an alert in our Slack channel every time someone signed up,” Zaccaria explains.
“It was super exciting.”
The team reached out to Keys’ marketing agency and offered them direct support, custom profiles and other perks to incentivise them to sign up the rest of their portfolio.
“They ended up signing up Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Killers, and a bunch of others,” the founder says.
“That was how we started pushing into that market.”
Making the most of those organic wins has become a big part of the strategy for Linktree. Big corporates such as Qantas, Wix, Expedia and Red Bull have all found and joined the platform with no sales pitch.
Then, the team follows up with the relevant marketing agencies from a partnership angle, “to make sure they sign up the rest of their roster”, he explains.
“The more big users means the more followers and the more eyeballs on that link.”
In fact, Linktree recently hired a dedicated partnership manager, based in the US, whose role is to reach out to big-name users to make sure “they’re not just using it, but using it to best practice”, Zaccaria says.
“We want people to see the profile with all the pro features being used correctly and in the best way, looking really great.”
Needless to say, with 10,000 new users a day, the sign-up Slack channel has now been retired.
“It became pretty annoying and we had to turn it off … which is a good problem to have,” Zaccaria says.
“But we still find little gems every day.”
A bootstrapping story
Spun out and supported by the digital agency, Linktree has also never seen a penny of outside investment, although it has attracted a fair bit of interest from VCs.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have such great organic growth that we haven’t needed it,” Zaccaria says.
Now it’s going it alone, the startup is still cashflow positive, and has enough in the bank to support its next phase of growth.
A funding round is “not completely off the cards, but it’s not something we need right now”, he adds.
That said, he welcomes the conversations.
“It’s always great to talk to those people and get advice from them,” he explains.
And, if and when the day comes that Linktree is looking for backers, Zaccaria will know where to look.
“Even if we don’t need money, if the right VC comes along with the right strategic partnership … then we would look at it,” he explains.
And some of the VCs he has met have fallen into that bracket.
“We’ve said straight up to them that we wouldn’t necessarily need money, it would be very much a strategic partnership,” he adds.
“If they’re more about money and not necessarily about helping out, then that’s not really of interest.”
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