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How Grew to Over 9 Million Users In Less Than 3 Years

Unfollowers (UF) is a social network management application that allows you to see who unfollowed you, who doesn’t follow you back, who is fake, who is inactive or spam. The application allows you to connect your Twitter, Instagram or Facebook account to then optimize your accounts to better your social networks. It is currently used by over 9 million people worldwide.

In response to the strong user demand, Unfollowers released the Unfollowers Android Application in April 2013 and is available in 8 different languages (English, Arabic, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian). Over the 3 months it has spent in the Play Store, it has been downloaded more than 1 million times. Owing to its clean design and intuitive UI, the app currently holds a 4.5 star rating and has garnered rave reviews from users.

Unfollowers was created in May of 2011 by Tushar Mahajan with the help of his brother Rishabh Mahajan in the town of Amritsar, Punjab in North India, home of the exquisitely beautiful Golden Temple.

Because of Tushar’s phenomenal success building and growing UF, we thought it would be great to interview him and share his experience and insights with the world. So you can imagine our pleasant surprise when he agreed to take some time from his busy schedule to talk with us; and today, we’re very excited to share with you this interview.

Tushar casts light on the otherwise dark and often uncertain topics surrounding the building and growth of social media tools. So a huge thank you to Tushar for his valuable feedback!

What are some of the projects you’ve led?

I initially worked on another web ­analytics tool called ‘Pagerank and Alexa’  (unoperational). This service allowed web ­services, blogs to monitor their online rankings like Alexa, pagerank etc for SEO purposes. I also used to write blogs on how to improve ranking on search engines. The blog itself ranked really good in search engines and so I started to get a lot of advertisement requests. I earned a lot of money from it. But it started to take a a lot of my time and didn’t seem to be scalable. I had to abandon its management and took down the site.

My other project Linuxers was a linux blog, when I used to maintain it, we made it one of the most read linux blog out there. The effort that went into the website was too much, and I wasn’t seeing it going anywhere.

My third project was Unfollowers which got the initial traction that I wanted and I can see the reward. It made me work hard on the project.

Subsequently I launched which was a fun project but now I don’t have time to maintain it anymore.

What was the inspiration behind Unfollowers?

Unfollowers was released on May 26, 2011. In my 3rd year of college, I started a Linux blog named Linuxers with a friend. Our articles on Linux garnered a great response. At this time, I realized that some Twitter users kept unfollowing us after 2-3 days. I was curious to know why people unfollowed us.

The growth of Linuxers was organic, and we were posting multiple articles a day. Hence we were a little worried about our progress due to this phenomenon. So I decided to make a small program to trace those unfollowers using Twitter API and my own database. I wrote a simple version of Unfollowers in 2 days and then I started to analyze the trend.

Whenever I found an unfollower, I looked at their profile, their pic and bio, and saw the people they were following. I realized that a lot of unfollowers were never really interested in Linux or what we do. I started to fear if our audience really consisted of such Twitter users. In next few months I started to put more of my time into Unfollowers and listened to every feedback which helped me decide the initial course of the project.

I didn’t looked at other services when I started it, because I was building something for myself and never planned to release it. After running it for 2 months i found couple of similar services. But they were in the similar stage as Unfollowers. I was convinced I can do better in this space.

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced?

The challenges I faced were more personal. I live in a small town in North India. There is almost no entrepreneurial culture in the city, even the internet is not the best around here. We had electricity issues and power cuts.

I never realized that Unfollowers will be used in so many countries around the world, with non-English speaking users being the majority. The biggest challenge that I faced, and I still face to current date, is providing a better customer support in their native languages. Since I work from a small city in India, its very hard to find the right people.

How long did it take until you really started to see traction and growth?

The growth of Unfollowers was organic. After a year of getting initial users. I started concentrating on the product and the customer service. I realized that whenever I pushed a new feature into the product, I saw more engagement of my users with the application.

I started to go deeper into the analytics and started tracking usage patterns. It was in February 2013 that I pushed a very major change to the application, changing it into a one page application. The was 3x faster and had enriched user experience. At that time I started to see 2x more engagement of my users with the app and more users started to pay for premium features in the application. That’s where I realized that Unfollowers had a lot of potential.

A month after that, we also started to develop an Android application which was released in a month later. Its been about 15 months since then and I have seen growth from 3 million users to 9 million users for the web application and from 0 to 1 million downloads for the Android application without having spent a single dollar on marketing.

What contributed to your first million users?

The viral nature of the sharing of one’s Twitter stats as tweets contributed a lot to get our first million users. I didn’t spend any money on marketing. But I had an idea creating such a feature will definitely draw attention to the service, and it did.

Traditionally people rely on email to tell everyone about their product. I don’t like promotional emails, so i didn’t send any email promoting Unfollowers. I identified one channel and tracked it well, it was Twitter.

What was the largest contributor to your growth?

I took feedback and every feature request very seriously. Every week, I used to set milestones about the various features that should go into the product and Unfollowers evolved gradually into what it is today.

I think the fact that unfollowers is free and it has social in its DNA, helped us grew exponentially in the past year and a half. It was easier for us to grow because we knew our audience very well.

We had easy sharing on our site. Most websites have tweet, Facebook and other sharing buttons. But they get rarely used. We provided a way for users to share some insights about their accounts easily with just one click and we had seen such high click through rates for that feature. I think the fact that we made sharing so easy and fun made us popular in such short time.

What are some of the viral mechanics of Unfollowers that led to its success?

Checking the recent followers and unfollowers is always something users are curious about. Unfollowers started the trend of sharing the followers/unfollowers on their Twitter feed so that they can share with their followers that they are growing and are a reliable source of information. Since those users were attracting more followers, the more our tweets got shared to their followers, the more new users got aware of our service. This is the most vital viral feature that we have and to this day, this is what attracts a majority of new users to our service.

Another feature that lead to the viral spread of our service was to greet the new followers by a mention tweet or Direct message. Our users had the sense of gratitude of getting followed by someone and used our feature to thank the new followers which also proved to be an icebreaker for striking the first communication point with their followers. They were relatively more engaged with their followers. Their followers also liked the way they were greeted, got influenced by the feature and thus started to use the same feature themselves for greeting their followers. This is the most important feature that has driven user­ engagement with their followers and has lead to more loyal followers.

What were some marketing strategies that worked really well?

Notifications. ­ You have to remind people to keep coming back to the site. Our email notification system keeps users informed about their account activity in the email. Our notification system is a great success. We introduced chrome plugin for notification, android push notification and email notification. They are the backbone of our website.

Internationalization. ­ There is a great opportunity if you go international. It worked really well for us. Concentrating energy on the right thing. In unfollowers I spend all energy on building the product. For example In my other website, I concentrated on SEO, in unfollowers I never cared for SEO.

Where do you see Unfollowers in the next couple of years?

I never thought of that long period. I only think about next week to the max. But there is a lot of work to be done in our space. Unfollowers keeps track of social graph, relationship between two points in the graph and the interactions in it. Each connection on this social graph is important, every unfollow or a new friend has a story to tell.

We want to explore this area more in coming year, so we can tell you what you did wrong and how you can improve your social network.

Besides working on Unfollowers, what else do you like to do in your free time?

I am learning Piano these days. I play sports and played a lot of sports (table tennis, basketball, cricket, snowboarding, ice skating) to name a few.

I have a lot of hobbies, its good to have hobbies, where I live there is not much activity, so my hobbies keep me entertained after stressful hours.

Where do you get inspiration for your ideas?

Having hobbies is important. I have so many hobbies, but only if I am satisfied that I have done something important in the day, I will take out time for the hobbies. Its like a if ­ this ­then that relation. I have to work so that i can spend time on my hobbies. And also I love what I do.

What are your thoughts on Twitter Automation?

Automation saves time, but Twitter inability to control spam has made them tighten their rules around automation. We had some really time saving features around automation that were asked to take down by Twitter. I tried my best to convince Twitter about some of the features and its use cases. But they always win and you have no choice but to do as they say. I won’t say its their fault entirely, spamming in Twitter is still making it unusable.

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