You probably remember that Kevin Hart tweet scandal in the news in 2019.
Here’s a refresh: World-famous comedian and actor Kevin Hart is chosen to host one of the biggest entertainment events in the world, the Oscars. This is a huge deal for any celebrity, a sign that you’re a staple of modern showbiz. Something Hart had publicly stated he dreamed of doing.
Only one problem – shortly after the announcement, people started digging into his Twitter history and found some old Tweets from around 2010. They were what most people would consider homophobic. Long story short, Hart had to step down from his dream gig until it all blew over.
While Hart shouldn’t have written those tweets in the first place, Twitter is notorious for making it difficult to go back and view your tweets, much less delete them. That’s what one Latvian founder decided to capitalize on for his startup.
Fresh out of university, Jekabs Endzins created a simple product that deleted tweets so he could enter a local hackathon. Five years later, he transformed the side project into a powerful tool called TweetDeleter. It generates him and his three business partners a comfortable salary ten years later and is actively used by two million customers including celebrities, professional athletes, and regretful college students alike.
Here is how he did it despite Twitter lockouts, payment provider shutdowns, and hemorrhaging money just to maintain his servers.
A One-Off Idea to Enter a Hackathon
Throughout his twenties, Jekabs was fascinated by IT startups and steadily worked in the industry while attending university through to his graduation in 2010. Around that time, he entered a small hackathon hoping to widen his network. For tech outsiders, Jekab’s describes a typical hackathon below:
“On a Friday evening, a few hundred people meet in one place,” he says. “Then those who have ideas present them. Out of about 30 to 50 ideas 10 are selected. Then teams are created for each idea and they work for 48 hours on them. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, they present their progress and get prize money. Then it’s up to the teams to decide what they want to do with this idea and prize money after.”
Jekabs wasn’t at the hackathon to break ground, however, he just wanted to network with local coders. However, as a non-coder, Jekabs needed a project idea or he couldn’t enter the hackathon.
He quickly came up with a product called TweetDeleter, an app letting Twitter customers go back to old tweets and delete them without scrolling back through their Twitter feed. His project ended up being one of the 10 selected and created at that particular hackathon.
“I came up with it two days before the hackathon,” Jekabs admits. “At that time there were only one or two other solutions for deleting tweets with bad interfaces that didn’t function properly. There was no good solution yet.”
And so 48 hours later, Jekabs and a small team of developers emerged from the hackathon with the bare bones of an MVP for TweetDeleter. “At that time, it barely functioned,” he says. “There was just some crappy front end and some basic Twitter authentication done on the backend and that’s it – that’s how it started. We did not win the competition but we got some kind of small prize.”
Jekabs liked his team from the hackathon, but they were just starting their careers and no one felt like pursuing the project. “We were people from random companies, industries, experiences, and countries,” he says. “After half a year, we discussed whether we should improve it and nobody was interested. That’s how this idea died.”
Jekabs himself had begun his own small business: A client-based IT company he’d created alongside some buddies. However, he couldn’t help but notice his website kept getting consistent traffic. He stored that information for later and pushed on.
Returning to TweetDeleter After Five Years
And so for the next few years, Jekabs ran an IT consultancy while cofounding a slew of other small startups. After about five years, he and his partners found that while they enjoyed their jobs they were all growing tired of doing the same tasks for clients over and over.
“I honestly found it boring to just do projects for clients,” says Jekabs. “We tried developing some products ourselves in the mobile app industry and some other online tools but all of them failed. The business was going downhill and we were stretched thin. We thought either we’d shut it down, continue working on client requests, or invent something new.”
Desperate for another revenue stream, Jekabs suddenly remembered his project from the hackathon that was still getting a degree of traction online.
“I told my partners, ‘I have this TweetDeleter thing. Let’s maybe try building this.’ That was pretty much our last shot because if that failed, we’d most likely just shut down the company and do other things.”
And so, slowly, Jekabs’ company started iterating on Tweet Deleter. They had their work cut out for them.
“It was not functioning anymore, so we had to rebuild it,” says Jekabs. “We launched the first version and then pretty much every two years we launched a new version. The business model improved along with the backend. Today what you see is the third or fourth generation of Tweet Deleter built from scratch.”
A Bumpy Road Developing in Latvia
Running a startup out of Latvia was quite difficult for the founders. It took them many years to just break even and even more to profit.
“We had so many problems,” says Jekabs. “For the first five years, we did not earn a single cent. Our server costs were bigger than revenue. We thought we would earn from advertising which was a dumb idea.”
Besides coping with rising costs, Jekabs says they’d also been blocked or shut down by their payment provider and Twitter itself.
“Twitter blocked our account with 200,000 followers at one point,” he says. “We believe there was fake news from competitors that our business had been hacked. It’s hard to tell.”
One of the most interesting hurdles Jekabs went through was getting the company’s funds frozen by their major international payment provider.
“The only explanation for freezing our funds was that their bank believed that our service should be free,” he says. “They wrote that they didn’t believe people would be willing to pay that much for deleting tweets.”
Jekabs solved the issue through a chance elevator meeting. “I was in the US for a fintech conference,” he says. “I met a manager for this payment provider in an elevator. I asked if he had a minute. We had a five-minute conversation about it and he said that our problem shouldn’t have happened and he’d discuss it with a colleague. Everything was solved by the time I got home. For two weeks we’d been talking with them and sending every single document we could find including high school transcripts.”
Fortunately, after years of lockouts and hardship, TweetDeleter started to pay off for all of them.
Nothing Increases Traffic Better Than Scandals
TweetDeleter gets a lot of traffic today just due to its domain name. It’s probably the most SEO-optimized name Jekabs could have come up with. He also has the benefit of having owned the domain for 10 years. A huge boon for Google search rankings.
TweetDeleter as a concept sells itself too. Twitter has yet to add a service that easily lets customers scroll back to their tweets from a decade ago. In an age where it feels like there is a Twitter scandal every fortnight, Jekabs says it’s all the marketing they need.
“Nothing increases our traffic better than these scandals,” says Jekabs. “We’ve tried paid advertising and everything but it just doesn’t have the same traction. We’ve noticed January and February are when people most want to delete Tweets. That’s when our traffic always ticks up.”
We joke we could form an all-star team in any sports league out of our clients
Jekabs won’t reveal who exactly uses his platform, but he says there are quite a few celebrities today. Particularly athletes.
“I have been interviewed by lots of US media businesses at this point,” laughs Jekabs. “We don’t reveal who uses our service but there are lots of celebrities and well-known people. We joke we could form an all-star team in any sports league out of our clients. Often athletes hop on before and after being drafted. Many hop on after these scandals.”
Despite his product’s apparent success, Jekabs acknowledges they are only taking advantage of a product deficiency in Twitter. Any major updates could upset his business at any time. However, he is not too worried at the moment.
“If Twitter offers the functions of TweetDeleter we’re in trouble,” he says, “but that’s just what happens. On Twitter, they always want to upgrade their API with more functionality. We never know for sure. However, those tweets are their main product. If they make it too easy to delete them it’ll start to affect the product.”
How TweetDeleter Works
Aware that simple tweet-deleting is a one-off service and a business model that could be unseated at any time, Jekabs and his team have thrown in some additional features. “We have a few long-term solutions like automatic root word filters that automatically delete tweets with certain words,” he says. “We also have a solution for people who want to consistently keep only the tweets from the last three months. Twitter generally only lets 3,000 tweets be available on an account at one time. The rest are in public archives.”
Today, the partners at Jekab’s IT company still run everything. There are four co-founders: Jekabs, Reinis Vaivars (business development), Peteris Ozolins (IT project management), and Arturs Braucs (development and server maintenance).
Because of its automated nature, no one on TweetDeleter works on it full-time today. It has freed each of them to work on other projects with a large amount of side income keeping them afloat. They also have thousands of customers visiting the service every day.
“The majority of our clients are just visiting,” says Jekabs. “However, we have a couple million customers today and more than 100,000 visiting us every month. Sixty percent of all traffic comes from the US and 90 percent of purchases as well. We also have substantial traffic from countries like Brazil, Japan, and Turkey. There are many countries with at least 5,000 customers.”
Advice to Other Founders
Jekabs thinks the only way he could have grown TweetDeleter to where it is today was because he had other sources of income.
“If you start a tool like this you have to either really believe in it or have other income,” he says. “For the first five years, we only invested our time and money.”
Jekabs thinks the other half of his success is due to good SEO: a handful of quality blog posts, lots of backlinks, and a properly-maintained web page without error or broken items.
Rarely have I seen founders focus from day one on proper SEO. We ended up doing great with a 10-year-old domain with proper SEO
“Rarely have I seen founders focus from day one on proper SEO. We ended up doing great with a 10-year-old domain with proper SEO. We had a large audience and a niche product. When the search term is ‘delete tweets fast’ I am almost always in the top position.”
Jekabs’ story is another powerful example of waiting in an era that says you need to do everything fast. Whittle away slowly at an idea while experimenting to see what sticks. But make that webpage as soon as possible. The SEO benefits are huge.
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