Bootstrapping to 140,000 users with Twitter

twitter growth

We are huge fans of Twitter at Drifty. And for good reason: we used Twitter to grow Drifty into a profitable startup with 140,000 users in just one year. Not to mention we did it for $0 and formed strong relationships with our customers in the processs.

By some measures, our startup shouldn’t be notable on Twitter: a small team in a small city in the Midwest that hasn’t raised VC and rarely leaves the office. Yet we’ve defeated the typical odds to become relevant and sustainable without needing outside investment, in large part because of the equalizing effects of social networks like Twitter.

I’ve noticed that most startups don’t utilize Twitter much at all. They might have a profile but never tweet, or they just consume content and never share anything with the world. It’s also possible they think they need a PR/social media person to be successful on Twitter.

If two introvert nerds can be successful on Twitter, anyone can. And they can do it for cheap, potentially avoiding the need to raise outside capital to reach a real audience.

Find your Community

When we launched our first product Codiqa, a super simple HTML5 app builder (it’s free to try!) in January 2012, all we had was a cool landing page. What we didn’t have was any users!

Unwittingly, we built Codiqa following what has become a core product strategy for us: build something valuable for an existing community, start participating in the community, and work towards bettering that community.

For Codiqa that community was jQuery Mobile, since Codiqa was initially launched as a simple interface builder for jQuery Mobile.

When we first started tweeting for Codiqa we included @jquerymobile in all of our tweets. Since the community we were targeting all knew @jquerymobile, but no one knew Codiqa, it was a good way to indicate we were interested in becoming part of the group. Eventually @jquerymobile retweeted our initial tweets and we started to see users signing up for our private beta and further tweeting the link to their followers. It wasn’t long before links to and reviews of Codiqa showed up on the web, which boosted our SEO ranking.

For Jetstrap, our second product focused on Twitter Bootstrap development, the community was Twitter Bootstrap, which was already quite large and growing when we released our first versions of Jetstrap.

We approached Jetstrap the same way, by mentioning important bootstrap accounts like @twbootstrap, @mdo, and @fat. We had some really great luck where the bootstrap guys tweeted about Jetstrap and @mdo even mentioned us in a really great blog post about Bootstrap 2.1 and the future of the project.

In some respects we have been lucky that these communities are active on Twitter, but if you look hard enough you’ll be surprised how many communities use Twitter to share timely and relevant content, and they would love to share something that contributes to that community in an authentic way.

Enable Sharing

If you are authentically contributing to the community and bring value, people will want to share your stuff with the rest of the world.

Make sure you have Tweet and Follow buttons on all important landing pages, and put some thought into writing solid copy for the Tweet that will be shared. If you haven’t made yourself known yet in the community, make sure your tweet mentions important accounts that will help you gain visibility.

Invest some time into writing good copy for your Tweet button. Pretend you are going to Tweet this yourself, does it give your followers a good impression of you?

Here is the Tweet copy we had on the Codiqa beta landing page:


This tweet no longer had mentions of @jquerymobile because they already knew about us and we didn’t want to annoy them, but the copy was enough to make it dead clear where our product fit into the community.

Be a Creator

There are many different types of Twitter users. Some only consume, less consume and produce, and even less produce more than they consume.

As a creator, you have to produce more than you consume. This means finding interesting content to share to your followers, but also sharing your opinions and thoughts.

It’s also important to be personable. Many businesses sign their tweets with the person that is writing them, but another strategy is to engage followers with a personal account. This also helps build your personal brand which has value on its own.

Amplifying content for other users is also important, but you don’t need to make it 50% or more of your tweets: producing meaningful content is a positive contribution in its own right.

Tools and Services

There are many tools that help make you more awesome on Twitter. The two that I absolutely love are TweetDeck and Buffer.

TweetDeck lets you add multiple columns of tweets based on a filter. I often do a “search” query for my products since it’s more encompassing than a “mention” filter. However, having “mention” filters means you can favorite tweets for the account being mentioned. Otherwise, TweetDeck uses the default account set in the preferences. This is what my TweetDeck looks like (I have a few other columns that don’t fit into this view):

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 5.22.34 PM

Buffer, on the other hand, lets me queue up Tweets and posts them at certain times during the day. This is great because I often think of things to tweet in bursts, and Buffer distributes those tweets over a more reasonable stretch of time so I don’t annoy my followers. Buffer also has analytics so you can see the impact of your tweets. Here is a shot of our Buffer dashboard with a Tweet we shared on our Jetstrap account:

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 5.24.22 PM

Buffer also has great extensions for the browser so you can share the pages you are on easily, and those guys are Twitter experts and super nice. Check out their blog for a wealth of info on kicking ass on Twitter.

Start Now

Twitter is an investment, so it’s best to start early. Some days I feel like all I did was waste time on Twitter, but those days pay off when our product announcements reach a larger and larger audience. TweetDeck and Buffer can be highly addicting, so use them in moderation (that advice is meant for me more than anything).

If you are completely new to Twitter, I suggest sharing articles that are relevant to your market, and work to become an expert in that market. Follow relevant accounts and engage with them in an authentic way (read: don’t just spam them to buy something). Find a healthy balance of personality and professionalism that is appropriate for your market, and don’t be afraid to take risks.


How about you? How do you use Twitter to grow your business? Have you experimented with unusual Twitter tools or services? Anything that I can improve on? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

  • Casey Havenor

    Great stuff guys – we are gearing up our social presence as well and this had some great points. Pushed it all out.

  • Michael F.

    I think what really hits is how well you guys are building your personal brand in the process. Cheers!

  • Philip Brown

    Great post. It really shows what you can achieve when you put the effort to contribute towards community!

    • Max Lynch

      Thanks Philip. We are definitely excited about helping these communities grow, that’s a large part of the satisfaction we gain from our company. It’s a delicate balance to build a commercial endeavor in a community, but for open source, commercial applications are an important part of the ecosystem and help contribute great things back to the community.