How We Built A $3.5M ARR LinkedIn Tool That Will Be Acquired For $10M-$15M

Published: May 18th, 2023
Thibault Louis-Lucas
$300K
revenue/mo
2
Founders
7
Employees
Pony Express Studio
from nomading around the world
started January 2021
$300,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
7
Employees
market size
$581B
avg revenue (monthly)
$413K
starting costs
$11.7K
gross margin
90%
time to build
210 days
growth channels
Word of mouth
business model
Software
best tools
Google Suite, LinkedIn, Twitter
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
tips
10 Tips
Discover what tools Thibault recommends to grow your business!
email
social media
productivity
payments
advertising
design
affiliate
freelance
seo
Discover what books Thibault recommends to grow your business!
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello! My name is Thibault Louis-Lucas, and I am the Founder of Taplio and Tweet Hunter. With these startups, I strive to help creators grow their brands in the digital world.

Our flagship products, Tweet Hunter and Taplio, cater to Twitter and LinkedIn users, respectively, and focus on providing tools that empower content creators and individuals to improve their social media presence, enhance their content, and reach a larger audience. In the end, they help creators grow their businesses.

Our customers are creators, freelancers, and startup founders who understand the incredible trust boost you get from posting on social media. In 2 years, we went from 0 to $3.5m in ARR, a growth we didn’t anticipate.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but a few months ago, we announced the acquisition of Pony Express Studio by Lempire, which could range from $10m to $15m, depending on the growth in the next year.

pony-express-studio

What's your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?

My entrepreneurial journey began while pursuing my MBA program, where I met Thomas Jacquesson, my co-founder. During this time, we established our first startup, Pistache, which focused on motivating kids to do their daily chores through an app.

However, being first-time entrepreneurs, we made all the mistakes you can imagine, and after two years, we realized we couldn't scale it as we had hoped and ended up selling the business for a fair but average amount.

Following this, I founded Dreamz, an educational game aimed at making people discover coding through a fun and engaging gaming experience. Despite raising funds and building a bigger team, the startup failed to generate revenue, eventually leading to bankruptcy.

pony-express-studio

During this time, I joined MakeMeReach as the CTO, an 80+ employee startup scaling up quite fast. But realizing I wanted more, we quit our jobs with my wife in early 2020 to travel the world. Worst timing, even as COVID struck, my original plans were put on hold.

pony-express-studio
I had to wait for the end of 2021 to start nomading with my family

Later, Thomas and I joined forces again, co-founding Pony Express in early 2021. With our previous experiences in mind, we committed ourselves to building new products every week until one of them gained traction.

This time, we did things differently. We started this insane challenge of building a new product every week until something stuck. We ended up making ten products that were not doing good, one of them reached $400 MRR, and another one $200. It was intense but beneficial given a total change of mindset: our first intention was validating, not selling.

Our "aha" moment we occurred in May 2021 when we developed Tweet Hunter, a simple search bar that retrieved viral tweets on a given topic. We quickly saw its potential, and after reaching out to Twitter creators for feedback, we evolved the concept into a complete Twitter tool that helps users build their brand by identifying viral tweets they can model to improve their content.

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

Tweet Hunter has been built for us in the first place.

We realized that Twitter was the primary source of acquisition for all our projects, so we wanted to grow our Twitter audience. Many tools were helping to schedule content, but NO means assisted in the content creation.

Sometimes, deciding the industry you will work in will account for the essential part of your success.

We started with the simple idea that “looking at great content helps you come up with great content”. And when everyone was leveraging GPT3 to generate content, we used it to analyze and categorize tweets to find viral content that looks like what you usually talk about.

The initial MVP was a simple search bar that retrieved these tweets. I built it alone as the 11th project of the “build one product every week” journey. By recycling every piece of tech already made in previous projects and building on top of super modern frameworks like NextJS, I could build this one in under a week.

And it worked.

It made it much easier for me to write engaging tweets just by looking at those great tweets and making new connections between those ideas.

Describe the process of launching the business.

We shipped it with a payment gate as soon as we had something usable. The payment was an incredibly important step for us as it was the unique KPI to decide if we would kill the project or continue.

We tweeted about it and quickly got our first subscribers ($9 / month at the time).

Then, something crazy happened. A few weeks after, when the Saas was already doing $1k MRR, I contacted some Twitter influencers to get them to promote the tool. One of them reacted unexpectedly, he wanted to join the project and get equity.

pony-express-studio

That was not the plan, but we did it.

Together with JK Molina, we worked on a big Twitter launch that we executed a few months after. This simple launch made us go from $4k MRR to $20k MRR. After that, he set up campaigns and heavily promoted Tweet Hunter.

This strategy of partnering up with an influencer worked so well that we looked to replicate it in a new product, this time dedicated to Linkedin instead of Twitter.

But why build a new product instead of supporting Linkedin inside Tweet Hunter? That was what our competitors were doing. However, we attributed a big part of our success to having a product 100% dedicated to a specific social media. It makes it the best for this one by perfectly adapting to social media constraints.

So a few months later, we copy-pasted the entire code base and started Taplio, a product dedicated to growing a personal brand on Linkedin. Surprisingly, Taplio is now increasing faster than Tweet Hunter.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

In addition to our Influencer partnership strategy, we had this unique side-project marketing way of promoting Tweet Hunter.

The idea was simple: create many small and free tools that would rank well on Google and/or have the opportunity to go viral on Twitter.

We created a ton of them:

https://besttimetotweet.io/
https://whattotweet.com/
https://unretweet.com/
https://tweethunter.io/trending
https://tweethunter.io/generate-tweets https://tweethunter.io/tweets https://taplio.com/lookup https://taplio.com/generate-posts https://taplio.com/what-and-when-to-post https://taplio.com/sponsorship https://taplio.com/trending https://taplio.com/influencers

And many others …

This strategy made me the “Maker of the Year 2022” by Product Hunt, one of the highest honors I could get.

pony-express-studio

How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?

To give you an idea of the business, our ARR for both tools is about $3.5M, and we have a 10% to 20% growth MoM with a 50%+ gross margin.

Since the acquisition, we have been working with the Empire team to reach $10M ARR by the summer of 2024. We’re on track, but it’s not done yet, especially given all the current changes in the AI and Twitter spaces.

Starting something is the most crucial step to acquiring the industry knowledge that will help you have better and more great ideas.

The crazy thing, our company has been acquired by Guillaume, who I knew from middle school 😅. After not seeing each other for ten years, I discovered the fantastic product he built, lemlist, and we did connect again in 2021. When he learned we were looking to sell the company, he was interested from day 1.

pony-express-studio

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The most important lesson is the sell/validate balance. When we started as 1st-time entrepreneurs, we were trying to convince everyone that the idea was great. A dangerous mindset makes you work on something for two years, whereas the product should not exist.

Another one is scaling the team. I understand now that hiring needs to happen after the product-market fit. Otherwise, a big group will be a liability, not an asset, when pivoting and exploring.

To finish, being in the right place at the right time and riding the wave of trending topics, like working with creators on social media platforms, was a huge factor in success. Sometimes, deciding the industry you will work in will account for the most essential part of your success.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

To prototype quickly, we started with card and bubble. They let us validate super soon.

Then, we moved to React, NextJS, and Vercel, which are great technologies for developers, allowing us to move very quickly.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Definitely the “Lean Startup” which you need to read a 2nd time to acturstand it.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I would advise anyone to get started with the first idea they like. Most people suffer from “idea paralysis”, waiting for the one big idea. You will probably end up working on something different, but starting something is the most important step to acquiring the industry knowledge that will help you have better and more abungreatas.

Some other quick tips that made a difference for us:

  • be your customer, make the motivation to improve the product x10 higher

  • decide on a customer target to work for first instead of random, unconnected ideas

  • Embrace the audience first by documenting all your process on social media which would give you a distribution channel

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re always looking for talented developers who define themselves more as makers than developers. This means people who want to build great stuff and will handle all the processes from the creation to acting a product in the hand of customers.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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