Bootstrapped and Global from Day One: The Story of Linktree

Linktree was created somewhat by accident in 2016, as a side project by myself, my brother, Anthony Zaccaria, and our friend, Nick Humphreys, to solve a problem we thought to be uniquely our own.

At that point, we’d worked in the digital space for many years and were running Instagram accounts for the bands and festivals we managed at a digital agency, posting about tours, new tracks and merch. We were getting sick of having to change the link in the Instagram bio very time we posted. This was not only time-consuming, but also resulted in the loss of valuable content and click-throughs.

We needed a launchpad that would help us point followers in the direction of our choosing and give them a snapshot of our clients’ current projects. And thus, the first iteration of the Linktree platform was born.

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Getting started

It took our developer only six hours to create, and while it was simple compared to today’s platform, we saw a lot of organic, word-of-mouth growth after sharing it with a few friends and colleagues in the industry.

We had no clue that Linktree would grow into a platform with a much bigger vision to simplify the social economy and empower all people, regardless of digital skills, to collate their content and amplify their voice to grow more, sell more, curate more, and connect more with their online audiences beyond a single social feed.

Even through the evolution of the platform, the goal remains the same: to drive more meaningful action and engagement from target audiences by simplifying a user’s online presence, directing consumers exactly where they want to go, and reducing friction or disconnect from platform to platform.

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Growing and scaling without funding

From day one, Linktree has been cash flow positive and entirely bootstrapped. Our freemium business model, along with meaningful feedback and collaboration with our users, has helped us sustain growth without taking any outside investment.

We believe in democratizing the crowded social economy, which is why Linktree is completely free to all users (we do offer a paid, monthly PRO subscription for users looking to go even deeper). After launching Linktree PRO in April of 2017, hundreds of users upgraded, which validated that we had built a product people saw enough value in to pay for, and we had a great platform to scale and grow from.

Choosing to retain ownership of the business means that we have the ultimate control and are 100 percent responsible for all decision-making.

The collaboration with our users has helped Linktree become a brand that’s trusted, where consumers can find what they need quickly and minimize time spent scrolling and searching. We pay close attention to the product analytics of our user-base to understand overall trends, how we’re being used by different verticals, and what features are the most popular to help inform how we grow and evolve the platform. Even though consumers use their Linktrees in so many different ways, there is a consistency to the function and form, which establishes visitor behavior.

Until last year, we never spent a dime on marketing and focused our efforts more on product development and design, prioritizing functionalities that would benefit the widest user-base. Through collaboration and feedback from our users on product updates and new features, we created a product they wanted to use, resulting in fantastic organic growth.

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The power of community

In the early days, and initially unbeknownst to us, Linktree was uploaded on Product Hunt. More than 3,000 people signed up overnight, crashing our server. Not only did we realize the importance of having a strong server that can withstand a high level of bandwidth, but we learned that we had created something that was actually solving a major pain point many people didn’t even realize existed.

Around that same time, Instagram actually shut us down, flagging all Linktree links as spam. Our users mobilized in support and logged over 41,000 complaints. Within one hour, Instagram had reinstated us and issued an apology. The experience confirmed Linktree’s relevance and showed us the opportunity we had to engage and work with our users to strengthen and grow the platform in ways that supported them the most.

Mental health matters

While growing a startup sometimes demands late nights with little sleep, it’s important to make sure this isn’t the norm. In the early days of growing Linktree, our hours were long, and our lives had little balance – I rarely left work before midnight and wasn’t getting enough sleep.

Inevitably, this led to a spinal gate injury that put me on bedrest for nine months. I missed out on a lot, including my brother’s wedding, but it forced me to slow down. This helped me understand what it felt like to not to be stressed and realize how deeply burnt out I was before the injury.

Now, mental health is a top priority for us. If you aren’t healthy, you’re not operating at your best or reaching your full potential. This is especially true in the current climate when many entrepreneurs are navigating economic challenges and newly remote teams while trying to keep things running smoothly.

My advice is to recognize the signs of burnout and stress so you can step away when you need to, and urge your team to do the same.

Build for scale

One of my biggest learnings from growing Linktree has been to build for scale from the outset. None of us could have anticipated how quickly our side hustle would take off. In the early days, our small team was under an incredible amount of pressure to meet demand.

We learned that an initial reluctance to hire resources can lead to hiring under pressure further down the line. Bringing specialized team members on to run things like office management, HR or finance frees you up to focus on growth and gives you more time to bring your own unique skills to the table – and the business grows exponentially as a result.

Investing in good people sooner rather than later will set you up for even more success. Nobody can do it alone!

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Navigating the social economy

We started Linktree to solve a problem we thought to be uniquely our own, and quickly learned that not only was it a pain point felt globally, but one that’s escalating as social media further fragments.

Our broad subscriber base has incredibly diverse use cases – we’ve seen Linktree used for e-commerce stores, in place of websites, as a business card and, of course, across the different social platforms like TikTok, YouTube and Instagram.

Since then, we’ve focused on building a product that reduces friction and helps users get their content seen, at the right time and in the right place – something that is arguably more essential now than ever before.

As much of the world continues to adjust to closures and cancellations due to COVID-19, brands and creators look to increase their online reach, offer new services digitally, and navigate the crowded social economy.

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