How Tibo Louis-Lucas went from startup bankruptcy to $10M exit within 3 years

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I am excited about writing this article on Tibo Louis-Lucas (otherwise known as Tibo Maker on Twitter).

When researching his journey, what immediately struck me was the incredible highs and lows he experienced: From raising hundreds of thousands to declaring bankruptcy, from building multiple products and teams to going solo… And finally, to pulling off an incredible 8-figure exit.

There’s a lot we can learn from his persistence and ability to bounce back after failures. Today, we will look at how he did it.

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What you will learn

  • How he raised $1m for his prior startups but will never do that again
  • The strategy that exploded Tweet Hunter’s MRR to $20k via a single launch
  • Why he gave away 1% of his company to micro-influencers asking nothing in return
  • Why he is keeping Tweet Hunter and Taplio separate even though they are basically the same
  • Who eventually bought Tweet Hunter and how they structured the sale
  • An action plan with five tactics you can implement in your startup today

Grab your popcorn, this is going to be a juicy one.


Who is Tibo Louis-Lucas?

Also known as Tibo Maker on X, Tibo Louis-Lucas is a French entrepreneur and co-founder of Tweet Hunter and Taplio. He started Tweet Hunter, a Twitter scheduling app with Tom Jacquessson after filing backrupcy for his second investor-backed startup, eventually leading it a $10M exit within 2 years.

That’s the short version. Now let’s look at his journey.

A brief backstory:

In 2015, Tibo did what any highly qualified software engineer with an MBA would do. He raised money to build a startup. Together with Tom Jacquesson, they co-founded Pistache, an app to make chores fun for kids.

After successfully raising €200k, including €20k from a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, they immediately got to work. Over the following 2 years, they built a team of 15 people and grew the app to an impressive 500k downloads. Despite their rapid growth, they simply couldn’t get their business model to work. Eventually they ran out of money and shut down the business.

Instead of giving up, Tibo tried again.

This time he raised €500k on his own, hired a team of 20 to build his second parenting startup called Magicats, which aims to helps kids learn to code by playing games. It was an award-winning app that attracted the attention of industry giants like Ubisoft. But this time, a licensing deal with Ubisoft fell through and they ran out of money again. Unfortunately, Magical owed so much money, including a €250k loan from the French government that Tibo’s Magicats had to file for bankruptcy to clear of the debts.

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker Validate Ideas

His confidence was at an all time low. He took a job at a scale-up as their CTO but then Covid hit and he lost his job. This was February 2020.

Tibo decided to reach out to his cofounder from his first startup, Tom Jacquesson again, who also happened to be looking for a new venture. Naturally, they decided to team up but this time, they wanted to take a completely different approach:

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker Validate Ideas ship fast

And just like that, within 3 years, Tibo went from bankruptcy and collecting unemployment benefits from the French government to selling Tweet Hunter and Taplio for over $10M to Lempire.

As of the date of writing, he now works with Lempire to continue growing Tweet Hunter and Taplio beyond $6M ARR (annual recurring revenue) and has just acquired a tweet to video generator, Typeframes into his product studio.

Well now that you know his backstory, let’s look at how he pulled this off.


How Tibo Louis-Lucas went from backrupcy to multi-millionaire in less than 3 years

This is a story of persistence through many twists and turns. Tibo’s journey highlights many key lessons and growth levers for fellow bootstrapped entrepreneurs and creators. The 4th idea is my favourite and the main catalyst for both Tweet Hunter and Taplio’s exponential growth.

Here are the main highlights before going into each in detail:

  1. Don’t raise or hire too fast – We will see why Tibo thinks most startups raise too soon and end up hiring a big team that counter-intuitively slows down growth. Stay lean for as long as possible so you don’t end up playing the role of a manager instead of a startup founder.
  2. Launch again and again – Not only did they launch 11 unrelated products within 4 months to find their next idea, after they decided to go all in on Tweet Hunter, they continued to launch multiple micro-tools all with the aim of directing potential customers to their one core product.
  3. Unbundle features and build best-in-class niche products – Neither Tweet Hunter nor Taplio was the most feature rich products in the social media scheduling market. Instead, they went hyper-focused on serving the needs of one type of user – creators looking to build personal brands.
  4. Give equity to micro-influencers – This is a super-interesting tactic. Tibo proactively offered free equity to micro-influencers while asking for nothing in return. This risky but calculated bet paid off. The influencers promoted their products heavily and exploded Tweet Hunter’s MRR (monthly recurring revenue).
  5. Sell your startup to a buyer that “gets it” – Tibo tried the conventional route of selling his business via brokers but none of them understood the value of his product. He eventually found a buyer, a customer of Tweet Hunter who happened to be his middle school classmate. I will show you the deal structure they agreed on and how Tibo will make even more money post deal.

Let’s dive into each of these points in detail.

1. Don’t raise or hire too fast

“Raising money is easy.”

Says no founder ever… except Tibo. To be fair, he is not wrong. Investors NEED to put their capital to work and are always looking for the right founder and idea to bet on.

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker Startup Fundraising Advice

Tibo’s first two startups, Pistache and Magicats raised several hundred thousand euros quickly, which was invested into hiring staff – 15 and 20 people respectively.

In hindsight, Tibo now realizes this was a mistake. Though it stoked their egos to manage “big” teams and look like successful founders, the high burn rate limited their ability to test ideas.

The early stage is all about testing and failing fast. But with employees and investors onboard, there is pressure to look like you have the answers all the time.

Here’s what Tibo said in an interview with KP from Build in Public Podcast:

Big teams are good for ego, but not good for early stage startups. It looks better at Christmas dinners to say you’re the manager of a big team, especially if you come from a corporate background and are looking to replicate the same “image” of success.

Tibo Louis-Lucas, paraphrased

When Tibo reconnected with Tom in February 2020 they decided to do things differently this time.

Instead of raising money immediately, Tibo stayed lean and supported himself by drawing unemployment benefits from the French government. Yes, you read that right. He did this for a whole year, which gave them the freedom to rapidly build and test different products before committing to any single idea.

Without investors or employees, they didn’t have to schedule board meetings to change direction or draft mission statements to make sure employees understand their vision.

They just kept shipping and iterating.

So if you’re an early stage founder, understand why you are fundraising or hiring. Then, ask yourself it there is an alternative method to achieve growth without funding or headcount.

2. Launch again and again

There are actually two meanings to this advice.

Firstly, you should launch NEW products, again and again until you find a winner. The second meaning is that even after you found your winning product, you should keep launching the SAME product again and again.

Let me explain:

a. Keep launching new products again and again

If we rewind back to when Tibo and Tom just got reconnected in February 2020. They decided to start a business together again, but didn’t know what they wanted to build this time.

Instead of coming up with one big idea, they committed to just keep shipping and sharing their launches in public until something kicks off. This allowed them to gather data on what ideas showed most promise before spending too much time or money.

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker ship more ship fastTibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker ship more ship fast
A list of their product launches. Source: Reddit and Pony Express, their product studio.

The results were astounding. In just 4 months, they built and launched 11 different products. 4 of those made some money.

But it was the 11th product that really stood out. Within 3 days they had 6 paying customers and $100 MRR. Within 2 months they were hit $1,000 MRR.

That product was called Tweet Hunter, a Twitter tweet scheduling app.

That’s when Tibo and Tom realized they were on to a winner and they decided to stop testing new products and focus all their efforts on Tweet Hunter.

b. Keep launching the same product again and again

Launches are great because you build up a ton of momentum, gain a lot of visibility and new customers on a single day. But after a while, the hype dies off and you’re left wondering if you will ever see the kind of activity like you experienced on launch day ever again.

This is when Tibo did something not many founders do. He launched Tweet Hunter again.

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker Product Hunt launch Tweethunter
A history of Tweet Hunter launches on Product Hunt

Every time they had a significant update, or when they launch a side tool like the Twitter Growth Challenge or the Dynamic Twitter Banner, they turned it a full launch event, drawing in curious crowds that would eventually give their core product – Tweet Hunter a try.

In short, here’s what you can do for your own startup:

  1. Keep launching new products until you find a winner
  2. When you have a winner, keep launching to support the winner

3. Unbundle features and build best-in-class products

This comes from an unexpected lesson Tibo learned from building his second startup – avoid scope creep.

When they were building Magicat, the app that helped kids learn via coding, they ended up adding so many features to their build that they had to postpone their launch date over and over again.

First, it was 2 weeks, then 2 months, then 6 months… eventually they had to raise another round of funding to extend their runway before finally launching an unvalidated product a year behind schedule.

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker scope creep Magicats

That’s why when Tibo launched Tweet Hunter, they intentionally limited their scope to just one platform – Twitter.

Rather than creating a cross-platform tool like what everyone else were doing at that time, Tibo and Tom’s decided to make their product work and optimized only on one platform – Twitter.

This meant Tweet Hunter was perhaps the only tool at that time that was optimized for writing threads – a feature that is unique to Twitter and was growing fast in popularity among creators building personal brands.

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker Niche Features
Tweet Hunter was made for Twitter, whereas Buffer was made for cross-purposing content

Optimizing their tool for a single platform was their USP. That was why when users started asking them for an equivalent LinkedIn tool, instead of extending Tweet Hunter’s capabilities, they decided to build a second, separate brand – Taplio, a LinkedIn content scheduling tool, intentionally keeping the products separate to better align their features to optimize for each social platform.

He believes this “unbundling” to build focused, best-in-class products is still a big untapped opportunity across other social media platforms, an a huge opportunity for someone to do the same for Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

In other words, you can find opportunities by unbundling successful products and building niche features ignored by the big guys who are at scale. Use that as your hero feature.

4. Give equity to micro-influencers

By far the most significant strategy Tibo and Tom leveraged to grow Tweet Hunter (and later, Taplio) was to recruit micro-influencers as their co-founders.

A few months after launch, Tibo learned about influencer marketing and decided to give it a go. He sent private DMs to Twitter influencers to try to get them to try his tool.

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker JK Molina Tweethunter Influencer marketing
Tibo’s cold DM to JK Molina

One such influencer was JK Molina who at that time was a ghostwriter and had ~30,000 followers on Twitter. To Tibo’s surprise, 2 days later, JK Molina DM-ed back to say they he loved their tool so much he wanted to help them grow. But there’s one caveat, he didn’t want an affiliate link for Tweet Hunter, he wanted equity.

In an interview with JK Molina, Tibo and Tom revealed that they structured an agreement that gave JK Molina an increasing share in the business as it grew, which incentivized him to promote Tweet Hunter everywhere.

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker JK Molina Influencer Marketing Tweethunter
JK Molina wrote about Tweet Hunter constantly

That partnership grew Tweet Hunter from $3,000 MRR to $20,000 MRR within 3 months. It was then that Tibo truly understood the power of influencer marketing.

This led him to take another bold bet: They started proactively offering 1% of Tweet Hunter’s equity to other micro-influencers. (You can the YouTube linked in section 1 above, minute 12:30 where he talked about this strategy in detail.)

Tibo believed that even without asking for anything explicit in return, these influencers would be excited to post about and support a product they now co-owned, just like JK Molina.

Although I don’t know how much equity they ultimately gave away, here is a list of influencers who may own a piece of Tweet Hunter thanks to this strategy. Lots of familiar faces.

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker Tweethunter influencer marketing

Thankfully, he was right – with skin in the game, the influencers actively promoted Tweet Hunter to their combined hundreds of thousands of followers. By June 2022, Tweet Hunter hit $100k MRR, just 1 year after launch.

If you are building a SAAS, let this be a reminder for you to think seriously about partnering with creators, many whom are craving for ways to monetize their audience.

A few good partnerships can completely transform your growth.

5. Sell to a buyer that “gets it”

As builders, Tibo and Tom always knew they wanted to exit the company when it got to scale. A year and a half after they started Tweet Hunter, they hired a broker to find a buyer for their company.

In the process though, they realized most corporate buyers didn’t quite understand the value Tweet Hunter brought and why people would even pay to create content and build a personal brand.

They did eventually receive a multi-million dollar offer. Uncertain, Tibo reached out to a middle-school friend who had previously exited a SAAS business for advice. They met up in Paris for lunch to discuss Tibo’s options. That night, Tibo sent this friend, Guillaume Moubeche (founder of Lemlist) a text:

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker GUILLAUME MOUBECHE Tweethunter deal

Turns out Guillaume was already a Tweet Hunter customer and was excited about buying Tibo’s business. After some back and forth, Tibo and Tom eventually received this term sheet from Guillaume:

Tibo Louis Lucas Indie Maker Deal Structure Tweethunter
source: Lempire Blog

In the end, Tweet Hunter was acquired for an 8 figure sum via a 2 year earn-out deal. This means Tibo and Tom will continue to work with Lempire to grow both Tweenhunter and Taplio for 2 years before they are free to leave and do whatever they wanted as multimillionaires.

Lesson: A buyer is buying your startup’s future growth, not past performance. It might take time to find someone who understands the potential of your product the way you do.


Bonus growth strategies

Because Tibo has been building his startup in public – here are a couple more tactics I found for you to try:

  • Use publicity flywheel – I’ve already mentioned this is my last article about Jordan Hughes who grew a Figma template business to 100k users so I won’t repeat myself. The idea is to create inherently shareable features to drive eyeballs to your product. For example, Tweet Hunter’s “What’s my Twitter profile worth” was designed specifically to be shared.
  • Offer free trials AFTER taking prospective customers’ credit card information for auto renewal after the trial period. Then, honour every request for refund immediately. You will attract higher quality customers even if you have to process a lot of more refunds.
  • Offer good customer support. Until recently, the “Contact support” button goes straight to Tibo’s Twitter DM. It makes customers feel heard when problems and feature requests are resolved quickly.

He just acquired Typeframes from a student indie maker and is documenting his journey growing it. The product just hit $2,204 MRR so it’d be interesting to see how far he takes it.


Juicy ideas to replicate success

Few founders experience what Tibo Louis-Lucas faced in their entire life time – raising $1M, filing for bankruptcy, negotiating high stakes partnership deals, exiting a company for millions. His life story could be a movie and full of growth tactics you can steal:

  1. Raising money is easy but that doesn’t mean you should. Avoid raising money or hiring for the wrong reasons to maintain your ability to iterate quickly without excessive accountability.
  2. A launch event builds up hype. You can engineer launch events for v2 of your product or the release of a side tool to give your core product a boost.
  3. Unbundle market-leading competitors to build “best-in-class” products. Focus on solving ignored needs for a segment of users, especially in a growing category (in Tibo’s case, personal brand builders).
  4. Give equity to micro-influencers instead of investors. They are invested in your success and arguably brings more value to you than investors.
  5. Not all buyers are the same. Buyers are buying future growth of your business and the best buyers are the ones that can see and understand your vision.

What’s next

In the next issue, we will look at how Marc Kohlbrugge, founder of BetaList’s story. You will learn what it takes to keep shipping new products as a bootstrapped founder for over a decade.

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