Building an Online Audience in Tech 🐦

How Francesco Ciulla interviewed 100 tech leaders in 100 days and went from zero to 35.000 followers in less than a year.

I discovered Francesco on Twitter a few months ago, and I was instantly hooked.

I loved how he mixed programming advice, interviews to popular devs, and memes. He also had one of the coolest jobs in the world — at the European Space Agency — and was Italian like me, so I knew I had to connect with him.

Two weeks ago I reached out and proposed to interview him, basically to understand more about his content creation work, and how building an audience has helped him as a tech leader.

I was prepared to some great insights, but I wasn't prepared to have my mind blown discovering that:

  • Francesco started programming just 5 years ago.

  • He started using Twitter one year ago and went from 0 to 35K followers.

  • He leveraged this popularity to start a Youtube channel where he interviewed 100 tech leaders in 100 days.

Let's start! I embed here the video interview, and you will find below the written version 👇

Luca: Hi Francesco! Thank you for joining me and telling your story. Would you introduce yourself?

Francesco: thank you for having me! I am a developer and a content creator. Like you said, I basically started programming at 32, a little more than 5 years ago.

I finished university and I got a job at the European Space Agency, which I left...two days ago! I am now focusing on content creation and some freelancing.

If the interview stopped here this would already be a great story. You know, the tech world is always accused of ageism, with many people believing you need to pick up programming at a very young age to be successful.

Yeah, and I was late at social media too! Being an introvert I used to hate Facebook, I was really the kind of person who is invisible online and never posts anything.

I am registered on Twitter since 2013, but I started tweeting just one year ago.

Why and how did you get into Twitter?

It all started when I made a small mobile app. Nothing fancy, it displayed the periodic table and little more — for me it was a way to practice programming.

I started using Twitter and LinkedIn to promote the app, and it really snowballed from there. Over time I created content about various topics with tweets, articles, and videos. But I didn't have a plan to become a "tech influencer" or anything like this.

At the beginning I tried to be disciplined: I decided I wanted to talk about programming, so I cleaned my feed and started following only developers. I focused on people who seemed very knowledgeable, it didn't matter how many followers they had.

My takeaways here are 1) it's never too late — just like in programming, also in building an audience, and 2) focus — like having on your feed just the topics you want to talk about. Am I right?

Definitely. You want to follow and connect with people who talk 90% about your chosen topic, so you can interact and comment on their content. This way they get more engagement and you tap into their audience, which should be close to yours. It's win-win, and things compound very quickly.

About choosing your "topic": many people feel they need to be experts at something to be able to write about it, and they don't feel they are expert enough about anything! So how did you start? What's your take on this?

I believe this happens because many people try to force themselves to create content just for the sake of creating content. They think hard at some arbitrary niche and want to go for it.

I think it's way easier to create content as a byproduct of some other work you are already doing. Say you are working on a project using CSS: well, do it in public, create a tutorial or a blog post attached to it. It's more efficient and you don't have to "split" yourself between your public persona and your actual job.

It's very tiresome to have this disconnection between what you talk about and what you actually do most of your time. It's unsustainable in the long run.

I have talked with other successful creators in the past and many have said the same thing: don't think too hard at what your niche should be, just start.

Start with what comes easy to you, probably because you like it, or you already do it at your job. And eventually you will get there, you will understand what's your place.

Yes exactly, and if we go back to the "being an expert" argument, let me add that you don't need to write about super advanced stuff.

It's incredibly valuable, for example, to take basic things and explain them well. And you also help more people that way.

True. I read many newsletters written by people who take complex stuff and make it simple. And isn't Twitter the epitome of this? Compressing information and making it digestible.

Another point I want to stress is you shouldn't be afraid to slightly change topic over time. You don't have to get stuck on something. You are here for the long run, people are first and foremost building a connection with you, so it's fine to expand your borders from time to time.

But again, for those who are anxious at the beginning, the brutal reality is that you shouldn't, because very few people will read/watch what you create anyway! So just start.

When you do, you will notice the switch of mindset from being a "consumer" to a "creator". It changes how you consume content as well.

I felt the same when I started writing this newsletter. I had never written in public, especially with a precise commitment, like once per week.

It changed completely how I read things. Now I have this background process in my brain, when I read something, that says "okay this is nice, I can write about it".

And it's a flywheel for growth: you create more content, grow professionally, get more network, and that eventually creates more opportunities for content and growth.

I feel the same. One of the reasons why I started creating content was to give back to the community, but it's impossible because the more you give back, the more people give to you! It's incredibly motivating.

You know, maybe it's because both of my parents are teachers, so it's in my DNA somehow. I have been a volleyball coach for 20 years, so I was already a teacher before programming.

When I started, I was a bit uncomfortable at recording videos. My concerns were 1) my English and 2) looking good in front of a camera.

So last October I challenged myself to create 100 videos in 100 days, interviewing other popular developers.

This had a snowball effect:

  • From a personal point of view, I became better and more confident day after day, as I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.

  • From an audience perspective, the channel growth skyrocketed to more than 3.000 subscribers, which in turn allowed me to start getting real revenues from it!

As an introvert, for many years I thought this wasn't for me, but here I am. I am telling you this because people don't have to hide it. It's important to show your true nature.

So you can be an introvert and also create Youtube videos. I also coined a term: Introvertuber (laughs).

Introvertuber is great! Someone said writing is networking for introverts. It makes people reach for you instead of you reaching for people. So I would say creating content is especially good for introverts!

And about showing your true nature: I believe a big part of building an audience, that is often misunderstood, is that people want to connect with other people genuinely. When you watch a video or read something written by someone, it is way more effective if you are able to feel a connection with this person. And you can't fake it, people will feel it. You have to stay true to your nature.

This is powerful because your weaknesses, or things you believe are your weaknesses, like introversion, or English, actually create a connection with people who feel the same. You empower them. These people become your biggest fans.

Exactly! I talked with a guy some time ago who asked me if it would be better to start his Youtube channel in English or Romanian, because he wasn't sure about his English. I told him: both are fine!

I started mine in English also to practice my English, so this could be a great thing for you. But you can also be super successful by creating videos for your domestic community.

You know the saying that niches on the internet are always bigger than you think, even after you account for the fact that niches on the Internet are bigger than you think.

Yeah, and if English is your blocker, of course doing videos in Romanian is way better than not doing videos at all.

Francesco this was a great chat, thank you so much. Before we leave, do you have any plans for the future? Anything you can tease?

I have some big announcements, but still can't tell in public, so you have to stay tuned!

I will keep doing videos on my channel and creating content on Twitter, but I will also keep coding because I love doing that and it also keeps me grounded.

And I want to debunk this myth about content creators just working on content all the time. 99% of people I have talked to also does freelancing for a good chunk of their time. It's normal, you don't have to think this is black or white.

I would love to be a full-time creator but there is no need to rush. I want to enjoy doing this, keeping a balance with my life and everything.

📚 Resources

🎁 Deals and sponsors

I have started accepting sponsorships from a few tools and initiatives I really love and use myself 🤗 here is the one for this week: 👇

📈 Waydev

Waydev provides visibility into engineering work by aggregating Git data into actionable insights and real-time reports.

It’s a great tool. As a subscriber, you can try it for free and then get 20% off with the following code: LUCA20

Learn more here

And that’s it for this week! This was the first time I published an interview instead of an article. Did you enjoy it? If you have any feedback please let me know! I read and reply to all emails I receive 📬