5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS, With Alex Zaccaria of Linktree

Do you know your business could be much bigger than it currently is, but aren’t sure how to get there? I can help!

If you have a software or app that solves a genuine problem, it will market itself. Our success — and much of our audience of over 3.7 million people — can be attributed to organic user growth. We started Linktree to solve a problem that we believed was uniquely our own, but its growth and success, from that starting point 3 years ago to now having 3.7 million users, is built on meaningful feedback and collaboration with our users. Once we started looking deeper and prioritized functionalities that would benefit the widest user base, everything sort of fell into place. We’ve managed to build a product that our users want to talk about which is the best kind of marketing — in fact, we hadn’t spent a dime on marketing until 2019.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Zaccaria.

Alex is the Co-Founder of Linktree, the first-ever link in bio tool created which now has nearly four million active users globally and has grown to become an invaluable tool for growing (and doing) business online. Linktree was started as a quick-fix digital solution to a problem the founders encountered in running their digital agency, Bolster, which specializes in music, festivals, and entertainment.

Alex is also the Co-Founder of Australia’s leading music and entertainment specialist digital agency Bolster and recently launched content platform LNWY.CO which is widely regarded for its innovative take on publishing. In 2017 he was named as one of B&T’s 30 Under 30 Entrepreneurs.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Linktree was created in 2016 as a side project in digital agency Bolster by myself, my brother Anthony Zaccaria and our friend, Nick Humphreys. It was the first #linkinbio tool with a vision to simplify the Internet 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 audiences beyond a single social feed.

We’ve worked in digital for many years, and we were managing a few Instagram accounts for bands and festivals we managed — posting about tours, new tracks and merch, and we were getting sick of having to change the link in the bio every time we posted. We shared it around a few friends in the music industry and it got picked up organically — a lot of growth has been through word of mouth which is great to see and hear.

Now, Linktree has 3.7 million active users who use the platform in a variety of ways, with over 55% of traffic coming from sources other than Instagram. Linktree is being used in all kinds of ways — as a replacement for a website, on other platforms like YouTube and Twitch, and some people are even using it as a CV. We have users in almost every category imaginable — publishers are sharing links to their stories, artists are linking to ticket sales pages, photographers are linking to their online stores, and brands are connecting the facets of their entire marketing campaigns.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Social media algorithms change constantly, and it’s estimated that only 10% of followers actually see what brand posts. Additionally, the average consumer is exposed to 10,000 brand messages a day and brands have 1.7 seconds to catch someone’s attention on social media.

We’d just won a great client at our agency and had invested in hiring a developer, but he wasn’t at full capacity. We figured there must be a simpler way to manage the links in our clients’ Instagram bios and asked him to knock up a quick platform where we could load multiple links and be able to track and manage those links from an app. He made a basic version in 6 hours.

When Instagram changed its algorithm, right at the time we were going to make it live.

So suddenly we had this simple tool that was now not just a time-saver, but was going to be necessary for anyone directing their followers to a link, which could have been something they were selling, or if they were an influencer, promoting, or sharing.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Growing Linktree has been an exhilarating adventure from the very start. It was incredibly rewarding in the early days to spend so much time building something, even though we spent a lot of late nights and weekends on it. Leaving work before midnight was a rarity and working through weekends was normal — I thought sleep was a huge waste of time. That mentality mixed with ongoing back pain and problems with posture, diet, and exercise, led to a wake-up call.

I injured my spine and was essentially bedridden for 6 months. I missed out on a lot, including being healthy for my brother’s engagement and wedding. I’ve always been fortunate enough to be a very positive person, but I suddenly knew what depression felt like and how much it could affect people. After essentially being forced into resting and not doing as much, I recognized what not being stressed actually felt like. I was certainly stressed and burned out and never noticed.

There is a deep intrinsic connection between your lower back and your mind. Preventative measures can help you avoid injury and help you stay in a healthy mental state. important to recognize the symptoms of stress and act immediately. And better to prevent it, to begin with.

Now, I take this new state of mind with me everywhere.

At Linktree, we do a lot of mindful activities like meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and mental health retreats.

I hope Linktree benefits users in a mental health way, too. Being able to navigate the internet economy and run a successful business online earlier saves them a precious time that they can use for important things outside of work.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We’ve stayed pretty true to our original mission, which has been a real North Star in helping us navigate some of the trickier business decisions. We’re fortunate that all three co-founders and our senior staff are invested in a shared vision — initially, that was through necessity as we were committing only extra-curricular hours to the business while in the day we focused on running our digital agency. But that streamlined and in-sync approach had stuck with us now we’re full time on Linktree.

Today we’re getting about 10,000 new sign-ups a day, and have this fantastic community of more than 3.7 million users. Their range of ways they use Linktree is so inspiring — it’s something our entire team draws a lot of energy from.

The US is our largest market, but we’ve seen big booms in new markets, like Brazil, Indonesia, and India. We’re now rolling out regional-specific marketing and support, starting with Portuguese language. We’ve also just relaunched our marketing site, with an overdue rebrand that suits where we are now and where we’re headed!

Our grit has kept us very focused on our belief in functional design, which is at the core of our tool, and is why our product resonates with so many people, for so many different uses.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Not long after we launched Linktree, it got uploaded onto Product Hunt the night before our sister’s wedding. We only found out because it almost crashed our server — more than 30,000 people signed up overnight. Alicia Keys’ digital manager found us on Product Hunt and she was one of the first big-name celebrities to sign up in the early days. We now have high profile personalities like Chrissy Teigen, Tony Robbins, Justin Bieber, and even major brands like RedBull and Coachella.

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.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One of the incredible things about Linktree has been its organic growth. We created a solution to a problem that we thought was unique to us, but it turns out millions of other people had the same problem. One of the key moments of validation for us was when the platform was uploaded to Product Hunt. From that point, the number of users signing up jumped astronomically. That’s when we really knew that we were onto something.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

My advice to other founders is to work hard, but to be aware of the symptoms of stress and burnout. As hard as it can be, especially when you’re passionate about the work you’re doing, it is important to carve out time for yourself and be cautious of balancing time.

At Linktree, we do a lot of mindful activities to help combat burnout. All employees are offered flexible hours, weekly yoga classes, and access to the meditation app, Smiling Mind. Additionally, mental health days are openly talked about and encouraged and we offer an extra four days per year of “choose-your-own-adventure” days. These days were originally intended to allow people to spend time doing personal admin etc but have morphed into days where people head out into nature or meditate. We also host an annual mental health retreat where the whole global team comes together.

We also stop the entire office to do breathing exercises at 10 am for 10 minutes every Monday and we start every meeting by mentioning 3 things we are happy about. We find this sets the tone for the meeting to be about positive outcomes.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Though it might sound a bit corny, I think my Nonno (grandfather) was the biggest inspiration to my brother and me. He moved over to Australia when there were few opportunities in Southern Italy and, despite not yet speaking the language, completely took to the entrepreneurial spirit in Melbourne back in the 1940s. He started out buying used mandolins and Italian instruments, repairing them and selling them on to the Italian community in North Melbourne. It was the perfect product-market fit!

That later turned into a full music store, to which he added a record label and radio show, before wholesaling too.

Our parents, as the next generation, were guided by his attitude and also had a music wholesaling company, importing and selling instruments Australia-wide. It’s definitely taught us that if you spot an opportunity, you can do something about it!

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Linktree has become the fastest-growing tech startup in Australia with 3.7 million users globally. More than 90% of Linktree’s users are outside of Australia and, despite starting as an Instagram tool, more than 45% of profile traffic comes from outside of Instagram.

We’re averaging 10,000 signups per day and 15 million unique visitors per week and we’ve experienced 180% user growth in the last 12 months.

From the early days, our users have been using the platform in so many interesting ways that work for them, and it became clear to us that our tool was solving a much bigger problem that creators and brands of all shapes and sizes face. Growing Linktree’s capabilities and functionalities has always been based on meaningful feedback and collaboration with our users to offer a product that benefits them and can continue to benefit a growing user-base.

Once we started looking deeper and prioritizing functionalities that would be valuable to the widest user-base, everything sort of fell into place.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We decided to build a PRO version of Linktree with additional features such as analytics, custom branding and integrations with Facebook and Mailchimp. Hundreds of users upgraded to PRO within the first few weeks which was very exciting. It 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.

The PRO version, a subscription, is $6 a month making it one of the most cost-efficient marketing tools available. Our pricing model reflects our ethos of democratizing discovery and making it easy to do business on the internet.

Every Linktree user has access to the free features including unlimited links, the ability to see the total number of views and link clicks, and access to the Amazon Influencer Program integration. Linktree PRO offers users additional and even more powerful features to help them grow online. For example, PRO users have more styling and customization options like adding thumbnails to links, creating Leap and priority links, and even more themes. Additionally, they have access to deeper analytics and insights, priority support, link scheduling, and can integrate email and newsletter sign-ups to help capture the email addresses of visitors and send the content they want to see right to their inboxes.

The tracking and selling of our users’ or visitors’ data, as well as advertising on Linktree, has never been a part of our business model, and we are very proud of that. Privacy is incredibly important to us and our users and there is no need to compromise it for a business to be successful.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. If you have a software or app that solves a genuine problem, it will market itself. Our success — and much of our audience of over 3.7 million people — can be attributed to organic user growth. We started Linktree to solve a problem that we believed was uniquely our own, but its growth and success, from that starting point 3 years ago to now having 3.7 million users, is built on meaningful feedback and collaboration with our users. Once we started looking deeper and prioritized functionalities that would benefit the widest user base, everything sort of fell into place. We’ve managed to build a product that our users want to talk about which is the best kind of marketing — in fact, we hadn’t spent a dime on marketing until 2019.
  2. Invest in good people sooner rather than later. Good team members, partners, and collaborators made Linktree what it is today and we wouldn’t be here without the people to support us. Cost and affordability were the main reasons we held off from hiring longer than we should have, but we quickly learned that an initial reluctance to hire resources, can lead to hiring under pressure further down the line. Bringing experts on to run the crucial tasks like finance and HR, frees you up to focus on what you are good at, and the business grows exponentially as a result.
  3. Less is more. When we started building Linktree, three years ago, we looked at a huge number of examples of functional and utilitarian design. For us, the way that Google focuses on the user journey was a huge inspiration. It helped us to decide which elements to keep and which to remove. Simplicity has always been our goal and the ‘less is more’ approach is definitely one that we apply. Contrary to what many think, more features are not always the answer.
  4. Invest in data. Get to know your markets. We have huge audiences not just in the US, Canada, and Australia, but in South America, India, and Indonesia. We didn’t immediately have in-house expertise in those markets, so data became our best insight into understanding our users, their needs and what connected best with them. Now we’re even able to prioritize our hiring around team members who have knowledge of our growth regions and speak the languages of our users there.
  5. Build to scale. Now with the benefit of hindsight, our biggest learning from launching Linktree would have been to build for scale from the outset. None of us could have anticipated how quickly Linktree would take off. This meant that in the early days, our small team was under an incredible amount of pressure to meet demand.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We’re very passionate about the environment at Linktree, and the recent summer has been especially challenging to see the impact of climate change on our native Australia. We’ve run two campaigns in the last year to add our reach to this vital cause. In September last year, we collaborated with One Tree Planted, to plant a tree for every PRO sign up through the month. And in January we launched our Australian Bushfire campaign, with over 14,000 users installing a donation pop-up on their Linktrees.

We’re very fortunate to be able to run campaigns at scale, that hit so close to home, because of the size of our user base. In the future, we’ll continue to think of meaningful ways to leverage our audiences for causes related to climate. Staying true to those things we care deeply about, whether it’s a cause, or our commitment to simplicity is exactly why we’ve been able to get to where we are today.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Personally, I’m not very active on social media, but you can keep up with all things Linktree on our Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and on our blog where we share really valuable and interesting use cases and tips for users. You can find all of this on our Linktree!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS, With Alex Zaccaria of Linktree was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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