Ep. #783 - Linktree, Getting to 20 Million Users
In this episode of Startup Hustle, Matt DeCoursey and Zak Islam, Chief Technology Officer at Linktree, talk about the company’s journey in getting to over 20 Million Users worldwide.
Covered In This Episode
So, how exactly does a company go about attaining 20 million users exactly? What are the challenges to getting to that level? That’s exactly what Matt aims to find out.
Tune in as Matt and Zak share fantastic insights on what founders should focus more on in the early days of starting up.
- Zak Islam’s background (1:27)
- Why Linktree came to be (4:25)
- Balancing the people and technical side as Linktree’s CTO (9:00)
- Connecting strategy to operations (12:52)
- The difference between people who can get you from 0 to 10 to 500 customers (18:21)
- Have a north star (22:41)
- How to deal with the competitions (28:54)
- When your brand becomes a verb (33:34)
- Focus on land grab before revenue (35:38)
- Have horizons (41:34)
- Wrapping up (46:45)
Thinking in a transitionary architecture model, and what that means is have a north star, you know, when you’re looking at a system, absolutely have a north star, you know, and that’s going to guide you to where you want to go eventually where you want to lead.Zak Islam
So I’ve learned in my many years of entrepreneurship that there’s no such thing as a business without problems. And there’s no such thing as software without bugs. So you run into these things, and technical debt is the things that you either don’t do right the first time through or the things you ignore in order to get things out faster. Now, the accumulation of technical debt, eventually, you do have to pay that back and many ways.Matt DeCoursey
For founders out there, it’s land grab, focused on monetization through either later or through different channels, or by adding value-added capabilities that make the product meaningful for your, for your customers. Right. So yeah, revenue. Don’t even think about it in the first couple of years.Zak Islam
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Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Matt DeCoursey 0:00
And we’re back. Back for another episode of Startup Hustle, Matt DeCoursey, here to have another conversation. I’m hoping it helps your business grow. Look, there are a lot of different ways to direct people to the things that you want them to see. And there are a lot of ways to get people off track and not viewing the ways the things that you want them to see. With that, I’m going to have a conversation today with Link tree CTO, Zach Islam. And now if you’re not familiar with Link tree, you should probably just go to Instagram because it seems like everyone’s got a link tree link in their profile. We’re going to get more into that. Now before we get too far into it. I’m going to let everyone know that today’s episode of Startup Hustle is brought to you by FullScale.io, helping you build a software team quickly and affordably. That’s my company. And I’d love to help you build a team. Go to FullScale.io and, go to the Get Started page, answer a couple questions. And I’ll be able to tell you pretty quickly if we can help you. Now as mentioned with me today is Zach Islaam. And Zach is the CTO of Linktree. And that’s consumer technology platform. If you’re not familiar with it, you can go to link T r dot E and learn more about what they do. There’s a link for that in the show notes straight out of Sydney, but from a company located in Melbourne, Australia, Zach, Welcome to Startup Hustle.
Zak Islam 1:22
Matt, it’s so good to be here. I’m excited to chat about all things startup.
Matt DeCoursey 1:27
Yeah, I am too. And you know, like I always enjoy talking to guests that have that build stuff that I use. So you know, happy with that. And you know, with that, let’s start our conversation with a little bit about your backstory, but also about the backstory of where Linktree even came from.
Zak Islam 1:47
Excited to begin. So let me be selfish and start with myself if you don’t mind. So let’s go fourthly, I love it. I joined link tree in October. And it was, you know, it is one of the hottest startups in Australia and probably across the globe at the moment. You know, we’re six years into our journey, we’ve got 20 million users, and we’ve just passed a billion views. And you know, those two numbers combined. That’s exciting for any technologists out there. So, you know, I’ve been watching the growth from the sidelines for a while and, you know, helping quite a few startups in the, in the Sydney and Australia region. And Linktree absolutely caught my attention. So prior to that, I literally spent about three years at Atlassian, running a large part of the product portfolio, and prior to that, I spent about six and a half years in Amazon, running some of the largest AWS services. So and you know, bringing all that to Linktree has been, it’s just been fun so far.
Matt DeCoursey 2:51
So you don’t sound like you’re from Australia? Are you? Are you new to the country as well? And I just say that because I speak to people from Down Under quite a bit. And I can usually tell because they are, they’re very free with calling me mate, amongst other things. So,
Zak Islam 3:09
It might slip in that, you know, Matt and mate aren’t too far. But I actually moved to Australia about three years ago hope for me is in Canada. So you might hear an A or a Bucha will say,
Matt DeCoursey 3:25
And if I don’t do well, you might call me a hose or something like that. So you never know. Yeah.
Zak Islam 3:31
You got it. You’re going to get a mix and match of regional, you know, regional profanity thrown at you.
Matt DeCoursey 3:39
Well, I’m from Kansas. So I try not to say y’all and my wife gives me a hard time because she says that I don’t know how to say 10, which I often say 10 according to her. So anyway, all right. So you join Linktree and you know, that we have a fascination on Startup Hustle with things that operate that have like a level of simplicity, but solve some complex issues. And that’s what I really like about Linktree and you know, we we use it at Startup Hustle. And you know, so with that, in the founder in the business story, like was this originally created to solve the issue on Instagram where you only get one profile link? Or was there a broader story with that?
Zak Islam 4:25
Yeah, that’s, um, that’s probably the best way to, you know, there are so many variations of the story of Matt, but, you know, you are actually highlighting a real problem that exists for creators out there. Not creators, you know, the, at the end of the day success for you as monetizing your audience is to convert your audience into paying customers to whatever you know, degree of success you measure by but really what was happening in cir, you know, circa 2015 which you can only put one link in Instagram and that continues to be the case today, in Facebook, same story, and you know that link better be the most powerful link that you put in there. The challenge is around that time, what you had was a lot of services that were doing redirection behind the scenes, and the reputation of some of those services were not always great. So as a user, you weren’t quite sure that you are going to click something. And let’s be honest, the internet isn’t the healthiest place, sometimes you can end up somewhere that is terrible, infect your computer, and off you go. So the vision behind Linktree was looking, this is a this is one of the most trusted links on the internet. And when you click on this link, you know, you’re going to land on something that’s meaningful, that’s high value. And the content is curated by the creator, by the user. And that’s really the problem that Alyx, Anthony, and Nikki were aiming to solve. And, you know, it was it was one of those funny stories now, six years later, where it was an overnight success. But Matt, you and I both know, there’s no such thing as overnight success. It’s a lot of work and a lot of thought that went into this. And it looks like an overnight success where the site was released, it crashed because of the number of users that came on board. And it’s been, you know, an iterative process to get it to where it is now. So really, it’s to help. It’s simple. It is as simple as a platform can be but the power beyond the simplicity. That’s what fascinates me.
Matt DeCoursey 6:32
Yeah, and like I said, I’ve always had that appreciation. So if you’re not familiar with Linktree, or the concept of it, I’ll give you, I’ll give you a real, real-world problem that these guys solve for. First off, we already said you get one link in a profile in Instagram. So if you, for example, if your Startup Hustle, or something else where you, you take a podcast, for example. So people consume podcasts and about like, literally hundreds of different places, but maybe like five or six actual places. So, you know, if you’re just driving Android users to the Apple podcast app, you’re getting hollow and not, well, not fulfilling landing page experiences. So you know, to be able to direct people into a number of different places to where they want. So like we’ve used it for, hey, find us here on Apple podcasts here. So YouTube channel, by Matt’s books, by the way, if you want to do that, you can also just go to Amazon. But you know, with that, it’s like, where you direct people. So the world of cost per click ads as well. Means like, you don’t want to be buying ads that are directing people to the wrong places. And, and we’ve used it for a number of different things. We’ve put a Facebook pixel in it. So we can remark it to people that hit the the Linktree, and a whole lot of different stuff. And I, you know, I’ve watched you guys evolve this and originally saw it myself on Instagram, but now seeing adoption across like all social media, and congratulations on on that, by the way. And that’s, you know, that’s, you know, yeah. So I mean, these are, so these are like the real world application. And, and it really is, it’s a challenge to where to direct people to find the things that you want in a way that is, like you said, a trusted and valuable experience. So I mean, that’s, that’s a key thing. So as the CTO of a company, you say, You mentioned having like 20 million users, and, you know, Hey, folks, even simple solutions are complex in nature, and they recruit, and when they get mass adoption, they require a lot of a lot of, you know, consideration of stuff. So what are some what are some of the interesting maybe even if they’re humorous, or whatever types of problems that you’ve had to address. Now, we, I encourage you to share wins or losses, whatever you find to be the most interesting.
Zak Islam 8:58
Of course, you know, men make the split this across a couple of different pillars, maybe starting with people, and then I’ll shift to technology, and then maybe some of the process stuff. Yep, absolutely using the people process technology pillars here. But let me start with the people side of things. In you, when you are scaling an organization as fast as Linktree, one of the things that you have to look at is, hey, do the people that we have today? Can they help us get to the next, next level, right? And what that means is can we know the individuals that are excited by the grind, they just simply want to push out code, the product managers that are excited by getting into new markets. The challenge is that there’s a personality type that can get you from zero to 10. And my experience, there is a very different personality type that you need to get yourself from 10 to 500 and then 500 and you know, 2000 and so on and so forth. So on the people side, it’s really about up-leveling the team, coaching the team mentoring the team, getting them up to the point where the skills, the capabilities of each individual matches relatively well to the job we’re asking them to do. And that imagine that every single person on the team is has the biggest job of their life. That’s a hard place. You know, that’s a hard place to be in when you are, when you are learning as you’re going. So right now, what we’re trying to do is, as we are as the platform is growing, as the customer base is growing, we’re trying to bring in senior level leadership to really complement some of the, you know, the really, the folks that are excited by the hustle that’s on the people side, really up leveling the maturity of the organization, the technology side is fun. And this is probably where you know, it’s going to make a lot of people cringe, right? And the thing about startups is, often when you are writing your code, often when you are trying to just get it out, you are literally doing that, either is very, you know, sometimes you don’t have time to put that ces integration test. Sometimes you don’t have time to put that unit test in. But you know why? Because you have a competitor that’s knocking on your door, saying, hey, I’m going to come for your 20 million users. And so you have to be scrappy, you have to be nimble, and you have to hustle. So now what that means is you can get your product to market. But then you’ve got to look back and say, oh, well, who’s going to pay the piper? And right now, that’s actually the, the, you know, I wouldn’t say struggle, but that’s excitement that I have. That’s what’s getting me out of bed every morning. Is finding that balance between where do we accept some of that? I’ll say it, technical debt? Where do we accept it? And where? What are some of the areas where we look back and say, you know, what, nope, we moved way too fast there. And we’ve got to go back and fix some of those, some of those areas. And, for example, you know, as we are getting bigger, and we’re moving into lots of different regions, that one of the things is, you know, the policies and we policies really started to impact us, you know, things like GDPR is not an exciting topic. And I bet you a whole bunch of listeners just started to snore as soon as I said, GDPR. But
Matt DeCoursey 12:27
No, they got it, they got angry, they got angry, because if they if they’re compliant, they went through a world of, man, it’s probably there’s like phases to the process of going through GDPR that kind of resembled grief. Exactly. Like coping, anger, blaming a whole lot of things. Yeah, no one. Yeah. And so,
Zak Islam 12:52
Um, man, I’m still in denial. So let’s just put it you know, when you’re looking at GDPR, as an example, it’s not an area where you can be scrappy. And that’s a new mindset for the organization, you’ve got to be you have to be thoughtful, you have to design it out. And there’s a lot of areas, especially when you’re moving fast, and the fast to get product out to the market that you have to touch. So that’s actually some of the challenges that we’re facing. And I don’t think it’s any different to any other organization that’s going through scaling challenges as they are growing. And there is there, you know, the it’s, I guess, you know, in a way, and I say this humbly, is it’s the cost of success sometimes is, you know, is what we’re paying for now. And then root on the strategy side, on the process side, our biggest challenge at the moment, and the thing that keeps me up at night, Matt, to be very honest, is making sure that our teams understand the strategy. And we know we have grown from 50 people to about 200 people in over a year. That, that is hyper-growth, I, if that’s on hyper-growth, I don’t know what what is, what is, you know, hyper-growth for a startup transitioning to a scale up, and in that environment, connecting the, connecting your strategy, to the folks that are actually on the ground, you know, talking to customers, deploying the code, writing the code, are marketers who are getting the message out to our customers, that becomes ever more critical. So, you know, process is often an ugly word, but really what it mean is creating that connection all the way from strategy to operations, so it’s a worry but that’s what I’m working on.
Matt DeCoursey 14:33
If you’re not worried, you’re not you’re not you’re not trying. I mean, that’s there’s a couple things to unpack there. So GDPR is I’m just gonna not even get into this too far. But that has to do with privacy controls, and it’s European, and there are some very strict rules, penalties and things that you may have to deal with if you are compliant. A couple other things without as you know, and you’d beat me to it, but the term technical debt. So I’ve learned in my many years of entrepreneurship, that there’s no such thing as a business without problems. And there’s no such thing as software without bugs. So you you run into these things, and technical debt is the things that you either don’t do right the first time through or the things you ignore, in order to get things out faster. Now, the accumulation of technical debt, eventually, you do have to pay that back and many ways, and I experienced this myself two years and Giga book and having built that, and literally I was, you know, the, the guy that was one of our co-founders said, Hey, man, you’re trying to build a platform here, you need to know, that’s not really what we’re doing right now. And that’s where the first time I learned the really true difference between procedural coding and VC. And you know, and it was, like I and I said, Well, we’ll tell me why he said, Well, you know, how sometimes when we go to fix something, or improve something, and we break three other things, that’s why, and I was like, oh, so I mean, I literally had to write some pretty big checks to recode. Everything. Now, this is normal. And why is it normal, it’s because you don’t know these things until you know them. And you know, like, a lot of times, when you’re building software, and you’re building a platform, and you’re building a tech company, you think you have it planned out, and then your users, or the market, or your competitors tell you otherwise, which means you have to pivot, you have to add something in. And, you know, for those of you that have been following our 52 part series about How to Start a Tech Company, you’ve heard us talk about how it’s not another layer isn’t just that much harder, it’s exponential, every time you add stuff on top, so things that start simple, become really complex. And like in your case, with 20 million people, I can’t even imagine, like what that’s like, because you have to approach every update every, every time you push code live, like all of it, is dramatically different than, like, if you’re in beta, you know, and like where if you break it or mess it up, you’re, not like, literally ruining someone’s business. And I, you know, with Gigabook, we have all these users that depend on it for scheduling. And I’ll tell you what, in the times in the past, when it’s broken, they tell us before we’ve even figured it out. Because the moment that occurs, the phone’s ringing, the emails coming in, they’re like, you know, and, and at the same time, there, it’s while you don’t want or wish for that. It’s validating because you know, how many people are depending on what you’ve built to solve the problems of their business? So. But with that comes a lot of pressure? Now, I have a question. I think you’re right about the people side of things. What do you think the biggest difference is, you mentioned, there are people that can get you from zero to 10. And some that gets you from 10 to 500. And I know this is too general to really be answerable in a highly accurate way. But what do you think some of the bigger things are? Like? What are some of the differences between the 10 to the 100 to 500? Or, you know, that person, as opposed to the, you know, the zero to 10 people?
Zak Islam 18:21
You know, I imagine, I know, you know, there is no perfect answer to this. So what I’ll do is, I’ll try to answer this through my observations, you know, I work with hundreds of founders in the in the last couple of years, and the folks that can get, get a company from zero to zero to 10, you know, zero customers to your first 10 paying customers. Often those individuals, those founders, they, they are so purpose-driven, they have this idea that they want to get to the, the, the, their understanding of the problem that customers face is so deep, and the reaction to the problem of the CEO out there is so visceral, that, you know, it’s it’s hard to create that I think you have to have a deep connection to the problem to to the solution that you’re wanting to take to market. And I don’t think you know, you it comes through experience, it comes through working directly in a particular in a particular area. When I look at myself, though, you know, I think I have, I’ve encountered problems, but really one of the encounters problems that I’m incredibly passionate about solving. But every time said, Hey, maybe I should quit my job today and go do that. You know, the first thing that goes through my head is, oh, no, hey, what’s going to happen to you know, how do I support? How do I keep that stability that I’m so used to and I think, you know, drawing it from personal experience, I would say the folks that are that can get a company from zero to 10. their risk tolerance for for Are for challenges where success or failure is so much higher than it is for somebody like myself. Now the folks that can get you from, you know, 100 to 500 502, to 10,000, you know, I, I’m very much a systems thinker, you know, I need to be incredibly linear from No, my ad has to connect to be on B has to connect to C, and I’ve worked with founders who can go from A to Zed, or A to Z, depending on where we’re where your users or your listeners are, all the way, you know, without, without skipping a beat. And I think it’s a difference in personality, you know, and I think you need to mix of both as you’re scaling, but in the early days, I would say you need the visionaries, you need the folks that can operate without bounce, but as you scale, you need to start bringing those systems thinkers that can help you, you know, scale a bit more effectively. But if you don’t mind, I actually want to go back to one of the things that you were talking about, if it’s okay to bring back, bring back this idea of, of technical debt, you know, over over the years, I’ve seen so many engineers come to me and say, Zack, I can do this better. If you just give me six months, I can rebuild this thing that processes 10 million requests per second, I can do it better. And along the way, I learned this new term, I’m shameful that I didn’t know this before, which was you end up building a second system and you have, you know, second system syndrome, which is, you know, you don’t appreciate the the innovation and the complexity of the system that was that’s in place. You see it from the outside, you’re like, Yeah, I can totally do this. But what you don’t realize is, in the 10, 15 years that some of these solutions have been in production, to get that one millisecond to get that one second performance gain. It took an engineer, you know, hundreds of hours to tweak the code, tweak the packets, change the change the configurations, you cannot replicate that in six months, if you can, I really want to hire you. Most of the population can’t. And really, you know, I, I worry about that quite a bit when I when I hear that kind of approach. So, you know, what I preach about, and I’ll say I preach about this quite a bit is, you know, thinking in a transitionary architecture model. And what that means is have a north star, you know, when you’re looking at a system absolutely have a north star have you know, and that’s going to guide you to where you want to go eventually where you want to lead. And what I can tell you, and I can tell you this unanimously across all the jobs I’ve had, I’ve moved more often than not stopped about 80% of the way there. And I’ve said you know what, it’s good enough. And good enough, has scaled some of the services that I’ve touched and my career from, you know, 5 million requests per second to some of them, you know, I’m not working on them anymore. But I see the publications, they are now processing 50 plus million requests per second.
And, you know, that the result of that is because we thought, you know, we kept things simple. You know, we appreciated what came before we respected what came before. And, you know, use a trends. You know, we were iterative in the way that we evolved our systems. So I’ll stop preaching now. But I really wanted to get that. You know, get that out there.
Matt DeCoursey 23:41
Why? Believe it or not, I have a couple more comments. And that’s why we have conversations here on Startup Hustle. Now before I get into that, I want to remind everyone that today’s episode, Startup Hustle is brought to you by FullScale.io helping you build a software team quickly and affordably. Once again, that’s my company, and I help help people build software teams, to hopefully not over engineer a product now. Now, you know, you’re right, like, so you mentioned that like north star. And this is just me, what I found working with, you know, partnerships with lots of different tech companies doing lots of different stuff. And you know, talking to founders now and some being one myself. So, you mentioned that North Star and you kind of get to the point you’re like, Okay, this is good, this is great. Does it need to be gold plated? is what I always say, because I find that, you know, we can you can get kind of obsessed with gold plating things meaning like, not everything deserves or needs or warrants that and then, you know, when you’re building a company, especially a tech company, you have yet to make business decisions along the way too. And like the question that I always ask is, Is this going to bring us more users or keep more of the ones we have? And if the answers maybe are no to that, then it’s probably not that important. Now, obviously if you’re crashing or some things occurring, that’s not going to keep your users happy with what you’re doing. So that’s, you know, things that need to be fixed. But I watch people drive themselves nuts. And I have conversations like all day, every day, outside of this podcast, with people that need tech solutions. And you know, so I’ve run into a lot of the things that people are, are driving themselves nuts over. And you know, you don’t always need to do it. And when it comes to, when I hear a software engineer, tell me something needs to be rebuilt, rebuilt, I always stop and ask myself, I’m like, Okay, do you understand how the other system works, because I find that a lot of times engineers don’t. And that’s why they want to rebuild it. And, you know, so you got to be careful with that, because you can end up like, you just ended up rebuilding and rebuilding and rebuilding. And in the end, all you’ve done is, is gold plate and rebuilt the same thing. So you’re not necessarily moving forward on a lot of stuff. And then, you know, another thing with technical data is, it’s guaranteed on all software, it’s not a unique thing to any particular business. Because, you know, you mentioned working for Amazon, AWS makes server upgrades, Chrome doesn’t call you and tell you when they’re going to change something that might break your user interface, you just have a whole lot of different things and factors that are out there, that are going to depreciate your asset and, and add technical debt onto the side. So you know, like, and you know, with that, I also want to let people know and I talked about this, on my shows is, as I’ve gotten older, my appreciation for all forms of simplicity is skyrocketing. Zach, like it is trading at an all-time high, pretty much every single day. And absolutely this alive. Like as a business, if you can’t be brilliant on the basics, you have no business doing the other stuff down the line. So you got to get good at the simple things. And honestly, that really will help you appreciate simplicity, you know, basic math and science behind supply chain dynamics. And all of it say the more steps involved with anything, the exponentially lower rate you’re going to get with increasing seven. That’s why I love solutions, like Link tree, it’s like get in. It’s like Twitter is famous for their their onboarding, like, it’s like 10 seconds, and you’re in, and you could send that tweet now. Yeah. Is your profile pretty? Does it have an NF T in it like mine? No, but who cares, you’re in, you’re in. And that’s what matters. And like, you guys do the same thing in link tree. And like, I don’t even I’m gonna get off on a tangent about how onboarding is the future of software, if I don’t start, but it is because if people are getting lost on the way, and they’re never gonna get in, the world is getting simpler is getting more straightforward. And there’s a lot to be continued with that. So I’m gonna move this forward to another topic, or we’ll talk about technical data and engineer flaws and all that, because it’s just human nature. I appreciate I agree with you on the difference in people, you know, the, the need for systems and the scaling come in, it’s something I’m going through, because, you know, we went from zero employees to one year later, having 140 years later, we have 230. And it’s just growing and like, and what works at employee 20, probably won’t employee to 20. So I got a lot of appreciation for that. Now, one of the things that, and I in my book, million dollar bedroom I talk about, so you guys were Langtree was one of the first companies to kind of do what you’re doing. And with that, that shoots a signal flare up in the air that says, hey, look at me, we’re doing something people are adopting it, which guarantees you ended up with a ton of competitors, knock-offs and stuff like that. I’ve noticed a couple of them along the way trying to do what you’re doing. How do you approach that? And what’s your advice for other entrepreneurs or software companies when it comes to dealing with your competition?
Zak Islam 28:54
I am so glad you took the conversation here. You know, when I when I work with startups, there’s any time I engage with a founder, I asked two questions. What’s your value prop? You know, what are you proposing? What’s the value you’re bringing to your customer? And number two, what’s your differentiator? How are you going to do it differently than anybody else out there? And that’s that conversation usually teaches the founders pretty well, because a lot of founders don’t have that product management background where, you know, the built products, shipped them, and failed, shipped a couple of things that have failed. And, you know, many of them have been successful. But going, you know, I’ll stop with the theory for a second. But really, the value that we’re bringing to creators is their ability to curate their persona create the page that talks to their audience, the way that the content creator wants to talk to your audience and it’s not driven by an algorithm, you own that page, we’re not putting ads on your page, you own everything that’s on that page. And what we are trying to do behind the scenes, is make that as simple as possible. And what we want to do, and the way that we want to differentiate is getting, you know, getting enabling our creators, to monetize their audience as fast as possible. And that happens through trust, right, because when you see that Linktree link on on Instagram, you know, you’re not going to end up in a malware site, you know, that you’re going to end up in a, in a in a site, where you have control of what you click, and the user on the other end of that site, is actually curating what you get to look at. It’s not, it’s not an algorithm that’s going to say, here’s the latest news about this person and say, Hey, I care about this. And I want my audience to care about this. So, you know, I think that’s the value prop is simplicity, and catch in giving, giving our creators the ability to capture their audience in the most simple, simple way. And the differentiation is, I think, you know, obviously, we have brand recognition. Now that is correct. You could argue it’s not a it’s not a defensible moat, but it is incredibly hard to be. But
Matt DeCoursey 31:20
Really, it’s sensible, because you’ve got a vibe you’ve got, there’s a level of morality that with a product similar to yours, where I mean, it’s kind of begins to advertise itself, because you see someone else using the solution, and you’re like, oh, it’s the same thing with Gigabook. Like, as it sends out notifications and reminders of appointments, people are like, Oh, maybe I should do this in my business. And it’s and, and that, and that’s a strength. You know, and then you know, with that when people come for your users or your business, one thing you should know, and why you don’t need to get panicked about it is literally the psychology of sales says that you prove that the other product needs to usually be three times better, or three times cheaper, or people just don’t even move on. And we’re talking about a fourth we’re not talking about with Linktree or even like Gigabook, like Gigabook used to be eight bucks a month, it’s now up to 15. But, you know, one of those things is like, there’s a level of like, Hey, do I really want to switch for that? Exactly. It’s like, yeah, so and then, and then you meant, like, as you mentioned, so So like, for me with Gigabook, and I watched Calendly, like, go worldwide become a billion dollar company, which I openly admit that I had a chance to do freemium, and I was like, that was before that was like everyone was doing it. And I was like, why would we want to give this away? Oh, that’s why. Yeah, so but with some of that, you know, it’s like you said, it’s like, people see it, and they get it, and it becomes a brand. Now, I went to a top 10 business school for a while before I dropped out and started a business. But you know, they teach you in business school that when your brand becomes the name, I’ll give you an example. Is it tissue paper? Or is it Kleenex? Right? Because you could say, give me a Kleenex. Now, I don’t really agree with it. But in business school, they teach you when that occurs, then that’s actually not a great thing. Because people then begin to use other things. Is it really Kleenex brand, or you just say Kleenex? So like, I don’t know, if that’s, you know, it’s something you ever talk about? I don’t think that’s maybe as applicable. That’s the same thing with like, Xerox, hey, let me make a xerox of it or whatever. And it’s like, there’s 10 million, you know, copiers or whatever.
Zak Islam 33:34
yeah, I think, you know, when you’re, when your brand becomes a verb, it’s, it’s a really great sign that there’s market traction. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that stickiness is going to be there if you know, if competitors are going to outpace you. And we see this time and time again, when you when you are complacent, you know, social media for a long time was associated with a going to go on Facebook. And now you see, it’s not just Facebook, it’s it’s a it’s a wider array of platforms. Right. And so I think it’s, while it’s a great signal, I don’t know if it would stand the test of time.
Matt DeCoursey 34:16
Yeah, you know, I’ve been known to engage in verbiage that says, you know, you get so we we’ve invested my does this part and I both invested either together through Full Scale or individually, and a whole lot of different businesses. And, you know, we get people that show up, and they’re like, I don’t have there’s nobody doing this. And I think at this point, I’m like, Okay, so in 2022 If no one’s figured out that there’s a market for this, is there really a market for it? Either that or that person just doesn’t have any clue that and by the way, most of the time when that occurs, it takes me less than three minutes to find. Not only that, there are other people doing but there are quite a few other people doing it. So yeah, you never know. Um, So one of the things that I ran into with Gigabook when I was found that, that it was hard to get investors or other people interested in things that cost eight bucks a month, you know, because like that with the world of venture capital, at least here in the States is so obsessed with the b2b, the enterprise, like we need it to be worth $10 million and account and have it be sticky for 100 years. And, like, does does does the price point like how, how does that affect your, your future outlook with things or investor conversations or growth or any of that?
Zak Islam 35:38
Yeah, that’s a really great question. And this is probably not where I wonder if we’re going to have a difference of opinions, a respectful difference of opinions. And, you know, when I look at businesses out there, the things especially SaaS businesses, and this isn’t, you know, advice for, for non SaaS businesses. But what I often tell founders is, your first order of business is to capture users do not focus on revenue, if you are focusing on revenue, you are doing the wrong thing, you are going to hit a ceiling incredibly fast. If you are focusing on, you know, think of this as when you start off, thinking about this as a land grab opportunity, get customers using your product, keep adding value into your product, make your product, you know, make your product so valuable, so sticky that your customers don’t want to, you know, don’t want to leave it. And you know, I fall for this trick. Every time that you know, I use products on one, I’ll download an app on my iPad, and then I will come to my laptop and say, Hey, where’s that up? You won’t let me sync across multiple devices are right, I’ll pay for it, because I got the value. But if you made me pay for that app on my iPad, to be honest with you, I probably wouldn’t, I probably wouldn’t have even converted to a user. So if founders out there, it’s land grab, focused on monetization through either later or through different channels, or by adding value-added capabilities that make the product meaningful for your, for your customers. Right. So yeah, revenue. Don’t even think about in the first couple of years, I’ll be as bold as to is, as you know, I’ll go bold, and say that,
Matt DeCoursey 37:38
That’s tough. That’s a tough pill to swallow for someone that’s writing their own checks. And by the way, I don’t disagree with you, because like, I just literally laid out how I saw I remember when Calendly came out, like when it was brand new and like so was Gigabook, and we did similar things. And, and, you know, I and I made that mistake. And you know, I don’t I, the thing we love about the show is we we wear our faults like badges on many days, and you know what happens and you learn from it. And you know that user adoption is such a key and you see that being such a big part of so many early stage things. You do gotta you gotta you have to be prepared to answer the question of when and how, though, like when and how are you going to actually monetize this you look at like, so. You know, a year ago, clubhouse, the clubhouse app, and it’s what was really like, Oh my God, those guys did a great job of creating hype, you know, considered for a one device app, meaning like, it was only on iOS. They did a great job of the like, I even did a tick-tock video at one point it was like begging for you know, the hit me. We’re like, Hey, man, you gotta get that clubhouse invite. It was like, you know, it’s like a crackhead or something. You know, skinny, just give me one invite, man, I’ll pay you back next week. And, and you know, but they did a great job. But you look at some of these things. And the question I was i By the way, I don’t have any plus or minus on clubhouse. It’s just a good example. Because a lot of people familiar with it, but how are you going to monetize it? Like, what’s your plan? Where do the ads come in, where he can do something and, and you know, and with that, I tried to instruct people at clubhouse if you’re listening, but now all of a sudden, I see the rest of the marketing’s I can do spaces on Twitter. I could do similar things on Facebook. And these are these are like, that’s like, that’s like Tanzania trying to declare war on the US. It’s not, you know, it’s like, it’s you’re just gonna get bowled over, you know, you don’t have you don’t stand a chance on some level. So you got to be able to figure out when you’re gonna monetize it, you got to make sure you’re properly resourced because, man, it comes into a whole lot of other stuff. Well, so here we are 40 minutes into this, which is usually, you know, where I let everybody know that I end my episodes of Startup Hustle with the founders freestyle. Before I get into that once again, today’s episode of Startup Hustle is brought to you by Full Scale, go to FullScale.io, you’re probably having a hard time finding great software developers, our average developer has eight years of experience. It’s really what we specialize in. We help a lot of businesses just like your scale teams look you need, you need the resources to get it done, and you need to be able to afford them. That’s what we help with. So I mentioned that my episodes, I’m not the only I’m not the only house to the show, Zack, I, you know, we I was at one point, my business partner and we turn this into a network. So you can check out the weekly episodes by Marknology.com founder Andrew Morgans. He talks all about Amazon and E-commerce, and also joined the weekly episode with Lauren Conaway, the founder of InnovateHer, who talks about many of the things that I am not brave enough to discuss in open forums. So you know, that’s, I thank her for everything that she does. Now with the founders freestyle, I like to give a guest, I know that you are technically the founder. So we will treat this slightly different. But I just like to give my guests and opportunity, let’s say, the guest freestyle, like to give you an opportunity to, you know, like, we revisit our conversation for a minute, we covered a lot of stuff, this was a lot of fun. By the way, I really enjoyed this. You converse more like a founder than a CTO. Because I hear a lot of the lessons, it’s clear that you’ve been around and seen the ups and downs, but what from our conversation really stands out as some key points? Or is there anything else that you wanted to add or say that we just didn’t get to?
Zak Islam 41:34
You know, it’s really the point around, I guess, the one thing that we didn’t talk about is, in the early days, it’s so important to have that conviction around the problem that you’re solving, especially as a startup founder. And, you know, have that conviction and have that belief, but one of the things that I’ll tie into this, you know, because I pride myself sometimes on being a systems thinker is, is have, you know, partition that partitioned out your goals a little bit to, maybe it’s a bit of a recency bias, especially carrying on from that monetization conversation, but have a goal to how you’re, you know, have a line of sight to how you’re going to monetize, you know, I’ll throw a little bit of McKinsey knowledge in here, which is, you know, have your horizon one, horizon two, and horizon three goals, and monetization can sit in horizon three, while your horizon one and two is really focused on capturing users getting value out there? So, you know, that would be my words of wisdom, as we as we wrap this up, Matt, but you know, for everybody listening, check out Linktree, if you haven’t yet, we definitely want to see you on the platform, and go capture your audience. Linktree is, is exactly what’s the is the platform that’s going to help you do that.
Matt DeCoursey 42:56
Yeah, there’s a link for that in the show notes. Once again, with me today, Zack Islam, the CTO of Linktree, you know, I don’t do this often that I throw an endorsement out there, I’ve really enjoyed using Linktree, I have been found in the office saying, this is the best eight bucks we spend every month people. So and I really don’t throw out the endorsement very often. So you know, it’s, it really does solve a lot of problems. And it can help you really direct people to so you look at like the maximization of an ad click, which theoretically is meant to land in one location. If you land on something like a link tree, you can actually get people that are going to poke around and go to all your different properties that kind of go in and back. And, you know, I think it’s a really cool solution. You know, for today’s conversation, some of the things that stood out were, you know, I do like, visiting the conversation of technical debt because I think a lot of people that are building tech platforms, could lay down in bed at night and stare at the ceiling and think, am I the only one that has this problem? No, you’re not. We all do. It’s like even the most sophisticated, biggest mega corpse you’re gonna find that built software from the day software existed. They have technical debt, and it’s the way that it goes. You do want to try to minimize it, when and where you can. And you also don’t want to try to learn how to not get stuck on certain things. Because, you know, there’s so many famous founders, inventors, and honestly, it’s some of the world’s richest people that’ll save you don’t look back at your very first releases or some past releases with absolute terror, and say, Man, I can’t believe we release that, then you hung on to it for too long. You know, there’s a simple phrase, just ship it. And you know, the thing is, if it works, I don’t care if it’s held together with duct tape, popsicle sticks, and everything else, get it out there because that user feedback is way more important than anything else. Now, another thing, and I wanted to mention this Certainly when it comes to your competition, or whenever you’re selling stuff, I want to remind everyone and people that are listening know, they know I’m gonna go into FOB features, advantages, and benefits the FDA or secondary people care about the benefits that whatever you built to provide them. So if you find yourself talking about what you do like the benefits of Link tree or URL like we’ve mentioned a whole bunch of maximizing your cost per click, making sure people can find the right channel, you know, being able to track what they’re doing and going through and you know, a lot of different stuff, be focused on that, because it’s benefits that people buy features that don’t explain the advantages that they have over competitive products or anything else. They fall short. They fall short, you know, like, I’m not going to bore everyone with well, you know what, I went to buy a camera. I had some kid telling me 10,000 benefits, and I didn’t buy it, because I was like, you’re telling me 10,000 features of the camera. I went back to the same store like two weeks later, and the guy was like, What do you want to do? I was like, I want my wife to quit complaining about the quality of our family photos. At big events. He goes come over here. You want this? And I said, well, this takes clear professional photos. You said yes. And I said wrap it up. I spent 1500 bucks in like three minutes. Because I cared about the benefits. I didn’t care about the I don’t know me that’s talking way over my head. I’m not a photographer. I’m never going to be one. So anyway, thank you so much for joining me. Once again, go to go to Linktree. There’s a link in the show notes. You’ll find so many of our show notes with the Linktree. And um, so hopefully you’ve already gone there, but yeah, creator’s dream come true. Zach, thanks for joining me.
Zak Islam 46:45
Thanks for having me here.