The Australian economy has traditionally relied on commodities to drive its security and growth. Resource rich, commodities account for two-thirds of the value of exports and as a result, Australians have enjoyed decades of a continually maturing economy.
In recent years, however, there’s a growing recognition that innovation will be the driver of the country’s future prosperity and growth. The rise of entrepreneurs and creators are spearheading a new economic reality, and for many of them, innovation runs in their blood.
It’s something I’ve found that’s certainly true for me. I founded Linktree, alongside my brother Anthony and our friend Nick Humphreys in 2016. The idea for Linktree was a simple one. We had a pain point we’d come up against while managing social media accounts for the clients of our digital marketing agency, and found that there was no ready-made solution. Thus, Linktree was born into the startup landscape “Down Under.”
The Aussie startup economy is booming. In less than a decade, the sector has been flooded with investor and entrepreneurial support. We’ve seen widespread brand or entrepreneur-affiliated startup programs, government-funded innovation hubs, ATO tax incentives for early stage investors, and the growing number of enrollments in university entrepreneurial studies. All of this leads to a host of new ideas and opportunities from previously untapped sources.
Sydney and Melbourne have quickly become well-known innovation hubs, boasting high-levels of both talent and connectedness. In fact, Melbourne was named a challenger ecosystem in the Global Startup Ecosystem Report in 2019, while Sydney ranked 23rd globally as a major hub for startup innovation and success.
Linktree has been deeply ingrained in Australia’s innovation scene since launching nearly four years ago. It was founded off a simple social media problem our clients faced: Instagram only allowed a single link in every user’s bio.
Updating social media feeds for clients was not only time-consuming, but resulted in the loss of valuable content and click-throughs. We needed a launch-pad that would help us to direct followers in the direction of our choosing – like other social profiles, an ecommerce store, ticket box or content.
And so the first iteration of the Linktree platform was born. It took our developer only six hours to create and while it was simple compared to today’s platform, we quickly began rolling it out for use amongst family and friends.
It was the first to market of its kind and we bootstrapped the business from the outset. I think what set us apart from other startups was our focus on creating a product that had a clear need or niche.
We learned pretty quickly that our assumptions of how the platform would or could be used didn’t necessarily align with the way that people were actually using the platform. We have over four million users all of whom have different requirements and use Linktree in a different way. We tapped into our user base, taking the time to talk to them and understand their needs, instead of simply focusing on functionalities or integrations we assumed would be of interest.
It’s this focus on the end-user and quality product development which has been key to our success. It resulted in Alicia Keys joining the platform within six months of launching, along with many other influential users like Jamie Oliver, Naomi Campbell, David Guetta and marketing guru Gary Vee – all of whom found the platform organically.
In fact, until 2019 – and around three million users – we hadn’t spent a cent on marketing. We’ve been fully global from day one, and our innovative approach to creating a simple, easy-to-use app has helped propel Linktree into a top social app.
While there’s a strong belief that VC investment is the precursor to success, if our journey at Linktree over the last four years has shown us anything, it’s that it is possible to grow and scale a successful business without taking outsider funding.
In 2016, we could never have imagined that the platform we built in six hours would become one of Australia’s fastest-growing technology platforms. An entrepreneurial mindset comes from the ability to back yourself, and that’s something that we did instinctually from the outset.
Choosing to retain ownership of the business meant that we had the ultimate control and were 100 percent responsible for all decision-making. Until 2017, Linktree was a run as a side-hustle. It was our passion project, as well as a lesson in hard-work and determination.
We learnt some lessons the hard way and in the early days our small team was under an incredible amount of pressure to meet demand. The ability to grow and hire generally comes down to cost and affordability, and as a bootstrapped business it was something we were slow to do.
We quickly learned, however, that an initial reluctance to hire resources, can lead to hiring under pressure further down the line. Bringing people on to run the daily admin tasks like invoicing, office management or HR, frees you up to focus on what you are good at, and the business grows exponentially as a result.
There’s a common misconception that capital-raising is the only path to startup success, but I like to believe we’ve proven otherwise. By bootstrapping Linktree from the outset, we’ve created a platform that represents our vision and from growth, scaling, marketing, customer support and development, we’ve learnt invaluable lessons along the way.
For many startups, bootstrapping or funding the business from the outset is a struggle or simply not a possibility. While it allows you to hold control of the company and drive the direction and growth, it also means you have no outside help when it comes to issues of finances, advice, and experience.
In fact, cash-flow or simply running out of money, is one of the primary issues that many startups face. Fortunately, it was an issue that we were prepared for. Within one year of launching Linktree we created a freemium business model, which allowed Linktree to remain cash-flow positive and to create a foundation from which to grow and scale.
While at times a daunting task, bootstrapping has the potential to make you a better entrepreneur in the long run. As founders, we’ve needed to jump into every single aspect of the business – whether it’s customer support, finances, technology development or office cleaner.
Regardless of the funding model you choose, it’s important to just dive in. Don’t wait. Get started and build for scale.
Although Australia is successful in the technology and startup space – startup darlings like Envato and Canva are clear examples – we do face growing issues when it comes to tech recruitment. Tech businesses need to be able to grow quickly, but are constantly faced with the challenge of hiring technical talent with the right skill level. To drive innovation at a national level, it’s something we need to address.
What’s increasingly clear is that, across the world, technology and innovation plays a fundamental role in driving prosperity. It’s an sector unlimited by borders, or natural resources. In just a few years, the Australian startup industry has seen an incredible influx of talent, funding and growth. In order to capitalize on this successful local growth and the potential of the Australian startup ecosystem, genuine, long-term support is needed, now.
When Alex Zaccaria co-founded Linktree in 2016, he never guessed influential names like Gary Vaynerchuk and Chrissy Teigen would be among the 5 million brands, marketers, and creators using it to amplify their brand presence and connect followers to their entire online ecosystem within the fragmented social internet. What started as a fix to Instagram’s #linkinbio limitation has become one of social media’s most valuable tools. Before Linktree, Alex also co-founded Australia’s leading music and entertainment digital agency, Bolster, where he works with musicians and brands like RedBull and YouTube Music. A budding entrepreneur, he recently launched an innovative content and publishing platform, LNWY.CO.