Episode #2 — That Time When We Accidentally Made Money

Startup Story

At first, I didn’t tie the two together. It had been a long day, settling in after the move as well as chasing clients for payments as payday approached. But Kirk had stumbled across an article that would lead us down a path towards creating the SaaS business we were pining for. We just didn’t know it yet.

When we finished moving, we contemplated popping open a bottle of champagne that was given to us by one of our clients when we completed their website. We were waiting for a special occasion to open it, but we moved office so often that it didn’t really seem fitting to open it now. It was telling of how things were, that it hadn’t been opened in almost a year.

When I looked at Kirk’s screen, I saw just a run-of-the-mill how-to guide. The ones I had become so disillusioned with. Social media was filled with them. You know the ones…

Yeah, those ones. When I first started using Twitter, I would favourite the shit out of these listicles to read at a later opportunity. But after a while, there’s only so many of these you can read, digest and realistically action. I’m now almost completely desensitised to them, which is why I looked at Kirk’s screen with an unhealthy pinch of salt when I saw this:

I gave a slight raise of the eyebrow. I mean, we’d all been guilty of finding the next guide that would radically transform our business. In our first 3 months as an agency I paid a few hundred quid for a PDF that promised to explain how to achieve £200,000 a month in sales from new clients within a few months. Safe to say it was a few hundred quid lost.

This article appeared to have some substance though and the author, Matthew Woodward, is a respected authority in his field. He explained how he installed a piece of software called Tweet Attacks Pro (TAP) that grew his Twitter followers and drove traffic to his website completely automatically. I figured what the hell, it’s worth a try.

We were advertising social media management, but all we really knew how to do was consistently post content. We still weren’t clued up on how to grow followers and how to use social effectively to deliver real results for a business. At one point, we even bought a few thousand fake followers on our agency account to boost our vanity metrics. We figured we couldn’t sell SMM with 100 Twitter followers to our name.

Of course, Kirk had already jumped the gun and had tested TAP on his own Twitter account and he’d now racked up over 100 new followers in a day. “How have you done that then?” I asked.

He explained that the software allowed you to do a few key tasks, all completely automatically, including:

  • Follow Twitter accounts that use a specific hashtag e.g. #business
  • Unfollow Twitter accounts who don’t follow you back after X days
  • Tweet articles from websites you specify
  • Automatically Like tweets that include specific hashtags
  • Automatically Retweet tweets that include specific hashtags

It took about 30 minutes to setup and it was completely set and forget.

We noticed that 30% of people you follow, follow you back. So the trick was to follow as many people as possible, without raising suspicion from Twitter. The guide recommended to follow up to 200 people per day. Then to unfollow people who didn’t follow you back after a certain period of time, to ensure you keep a healthy follower/following ratio. The software had all kinds of settings to make it look as natural and as human as possible.

We set it up on a spare Twitter account I’d created some years back but never bothered maintaining. It was a football-related account and was quite simple to set up.

We ran TAP on it for 2 weeks straight. I’d gained 1,000 relevant followers and people were actually engaging with the content that I was posting. Eventually I had to disable Twitter notifications on my phone because it was just bursting with activity; new followers, mentions, retweets, likes etc.

For a short while, we were pretty pleased with ourselves

We’d seemingly found the formula for ‘legitimately’ growing followers at a time when everyone was obsessed with this metric. We looked into it further and saw on the TAP forums that there were agencies and individuals who were managing multiple client accounts. So it was now time to discuss whether we should do the same.

Now, Kirk is an impulsive guy. He jumps head first into anything. Sometimes it leads to mistakes, but you either win or you learn fast. Craig is at the opposite end of the spectrum; cautious and methodical. I try to meet at the intersection of the two to mitigate risk, whilst still being daring. In this case, with where I was in my own headspace as well as where we were as a business, I was open to try anything and I’d never seen results like this. So we decided to go for it.

We discussed a strategy to start selling our new Twitter growth service. It would be separate from our social media management service and be billed as an automated Software as a Service (SaaS) that you could subscribe to for $79.95 per month and we would guarantee real followers. There was just one problem: there was no software for the customer to use. We would have to set them up on TAP ourselves. The dream had always been to make money in our sleep by not selling our time. So this wasn’t quite the ‘passive income’ we were looking for, but it was a start.

Suddenly there was renewed enthusiasm around the office. It felt like we were working on something exciting for a bigger purpose to a larger audience. For once, we were all working together on the same project, as opposed to fragmented teams.

The name ‘Twitter Growth Service’ wasn’t very exciting, so we quickly decided on the name Tweet Rocket and Martin, our junior designer, created a fun little bird with fire coming out of his arse as the logo.

We put together a one-page Wordpress website together within a day, that explained what the service was, our only 2 case studies and a sign up form. We just needed some topics/interests that we could use to set them up. We integrated Stripe payment support so that we could take payments. Everyone quietly and efficiently completed their tasks. There was an immense amount of clarity in reaching our end goal, which I think is only possible when everybody is committed and motivated to the same vision. I don’t think I’d ever seen it before in my career.

Within 2 days, the landing page was up on thetweetrocket.com and we were able to take payments. The next step was getting the word out there. We posted on forums like inbound.org, Reddit and on social media to try and get some attention and then we played the waiting game.

It was getting late and the days were getting shorter in the lead up to Christmas. Everyone had gone home already, so Kirk, Craig and I packed up for the day and gave each other a few knowing smiles as we walked out. Even if we never made a sale, at least we actually tried to do something. There was more of a thrill in what we had just achieved in the past 2 days than anything we’d done in the past 2 years and I went to bed with a sense of fulfilment from my job for the first time in a long time.

The next morning I woke up and reached for my phone for the morning checks, when I saw this…

I jumped straight into Whatsapp…

The drive in to work was a blur, but all I remember when I got there at 8am was this

Startup Story is an episodic blogging series that documents the story of Swift Social from 2014. It’s written through the eyes of Arni Lochner (CEO and Co-Founder) and is a transparent view of the highs and lows of a startup, with a lot to learn. There are no ‘how-to’ lists. No marketing spin and no bullshit. Just the story, that will either lead to success or failure. Which one yet, they don’t know. But it will be some journey finding out.

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