Sheehan Quirke went from working at McDonald’s with 0 followers to over 1.5 million Twitter followers in 18 months.
He has grown an audience faster than most people could even dream of. This is like the 4-minute mile of Twitter growth.
And it’s not due to a bunch of growth hacks. His content is a masterclass in the power of focus and creating truly unique content.
How did he do it? Let’s look at the timeline first.
The Growth Timeline
The growth timeline for the Cultural Tutor is pretty straightforward…
Until you look at the dates and see just how quickly he’s been able to grow his account to a mind-boggling 1.5 million followers.
And while there are spikes around viral posts and other media mentions, he posts one thread a day, every day, and the growth reflects that consistency.
As a side, his newsletter count is a little questionable. He’s not updated it in months, but I’d venture to guess he’s crossed the 100k mark, even though his website has shown 78k since July.
How Sheehan Makes Money
Sheehan has a pretty straightforward monetization strategy. He struggled with monetizing early on but another creator stepped in to help out.
Writer in Residence
When he hit 100k followers on Twitter in under 2 months, Sheehan caught the attention of David Perell.
But not for the reasons you might think.
David had already been following and enjoying The Cultural Tutor’s work, but around the time he hit 100k followers, he saw this tweet:
In that thread, Sheehan mentioned that he was going to start a paid newsletter.
David knew this would stunt the growth of the account and that the wider world needed content like this for free. But he didn’t even know who this person was to get in touch with him.
Then David realized Harry Dry knew this guy because he commented on his post, and he asked Harry to put the two in touch.
David got on a call with Sheehan and told him it was a terrible idea to create a paid newsletter because it would slow his growth a lot.
He eventually asked him to become a “Writer in Residence” for Write of Passage instead. David would pay him a salary to keep writing every day.
He literally paid Sheehan to not create a paid newsletter. Now Sheehan literally gets paid to write, which is what he absolutely loves doing.
I don’t know the details of how much he gets and what the agreement is, but this sounds like a dream for anyone who wants to write and not worry about monetization.
More recently, Sheehan has enabled subscriptions on Twitter, where his fans can pay $10/mo and support him as a creator.
I subscribed to see what kind of content he has in there, but he hasn’t yet posted anything unique for his subscribers.
It seems like you can ask questions in the comments and get prioritized answers, etc.
The number of subscribers he has through there is not public, but I’d venture to guess it’s at least a few hundred.
The Growth Levers of The Cultural Tutor
There are a number of ways Sheehan has grown Cultural Tutor, but here are some of the more impactful ones I’ve found.
- The first 38 days. In the early days of his account, Sheehan was absolutely working his butt off to grow the account. I’ll share some of the ways he got his first 1,000 followers and the evolution of his content.
- Ask for (& accept) help. Not only did he listen when others tried to help, but he also reached out and asked for it as well. Something many creators fall short of.
- Twitter thread templates. There are a number of “templates” Sheehan uses to put out content. This is a brilliant way to create his content.
- One single objective. The power of his focus has been instrumental in the growth of his audience and newsletter. And his ability to fuse what he’s innately curious about with his writing makes it magical.
- Brand mentions & SEO. This actually stuck out to me quite a bit, because 40% of his traffic seems to be coming from a source that’s kind of unpredictable.
Let’s dig into these growth levers a bit more.
1. The First 38 Days
Twitter threads are quite literally the foundation of how Sheehan built his audience. But he wasn’t always good at them.
I want to walk you through his semi-rough start so you can see that it takes work to find your angle and figure out what your audience wants to see.
If we go back to the beginning of his account, he didn’t start off writing one thread per day. And most of his posts weren’t “real threads” in terms of what any Twitter user today would expect.
He was trying to post insightful ideas with minimal context. And he was posting A LOT.
Here’s the first post on his account:
And the rest of the post looks like this:
Is it technically a thread? Sure. It’s more than one tweet. But the other two parts don’t really add much to the story.
And then 7 minutes later (I’m not kidding), he posts another one like it:
Okay, now things are getting interesting. The hook is better, he’s building curiosity, and we have these two eye-catching images.
Let’s see what’s next! Here is the second part of the thread.
Okay, kind of interesting. But I don’t know what to think here Sheehan, what did the archaeologists think?! Do tell!
And then we get this…
He was trying, but he wasn’t pulling the threads out long enough to tell a true story.
And you can see these aren’t getting many likes, if any.
But the best part about this?
He went so hard into this and didn’t stop after these “failed” tweets. He kept iterating and trying new things.
And then he posted this one, which seems very similar to what he currently posts:
He goes on within that thread sharing multiple examples and tells an interesting and useful story for the readers.
And the engagement on this one really shows people are interested.
Over the next few days, he posts some no-so-great threads and standalone posts.
Like this one:
He could have left out the first 3 paragraphs and made an incredible hook around what a symphony is.
The Effort is Real
I don’t show you these to rip on Sheehan’s style – clearly, he’s learned what’s working now. I’m sharing these with you to show how you can iterate on your own social posts.
And give you some context to show that the people succeeding out there at building an audience are working their butts off to figure this stuff out.
Not only was he trying a lot of types of posts, but he was posting a lot. I want to share these numbers to show this with data:
- May 12: 4
- May 13: 1
- May 14: 2
- May 15: 1
- May 16: 2
- May 17: 3
- May 18: 1
- May 19: 3
- May 20: 1
- May 21: 2
- May 22: 1
- May 23: 2
- May 24: 2
- May 25: 3
- May 26: 2
- May 27: 2
- May 28: 1
- May 29: 3
- May 30: 4
- May 31: 1
- June 1: 4
- June 2: 2
- June 3: 6
- June 4: 1
- June 5: 2
- June 6: 3
- June 7: 2
- June 8: 2
- June 9: 4
- June 10: 2
- June 11: 4
- June 12: 2
- June 13: 3
- June 14: 2
- June 15: 1
- June 16: 1
- June 17: 2
And then, on his 38th day running this account, on only the 72nd tweet he’d written, he had his first massive, mega-viral post.
This thread is so good that it still gets quoted and shared in other articles online.
It took him 38 days to get his first hugely viral post. He kept writing multiple times a day until June 20th, when he began posting just one thread per day.
From there, hit posts started getting more engagement than before, but he didn’t have another viral post until he posted using the same template as the first one:
After that post, he was consistently getting a few thousand likes on each tweet.
And although that template didn’t work as well afterward (he tried it again with a few more that only got 1-2k likes), he learned what was working for his account.
This second post pushed him over the edge to 100k followers, and that’s when David Perell reached out.
This all happened super quickly, seemingly overnight, but he also was posting multiple times per day. There was a lot of work going into this account, but he also did something else really smart.
2. Ask for (& Accept) Help
I mentioned Harry Dry earlier, but he played a bigger role here than just introducing Sheehan to David Perell.
Harry and Sheehan have been friends for a long time, so when Harry told Sheehan he should start a Twitter account to promote his “Cultural tutor” service business, he listened.
Yes, he was actually tutoring people about culture, which is where the name came from.
Not only did Harry tell him to start the account, but Sheehan also credits Harry with teaching him the concept of “make it falsifiable”.
Make It Falsifiable
Making something falsifiable can also be explained as “introducing doubt” into the mix.
Instead of just showing a picture of a painting and saying, “This is one of the most famous paintings in the world, here’s a deep dive into it.”
He creates a hook to get people so curious, they can’t not click on the tweet:
“Because it isn’t actually a painting….”
Wow, super powerful stuff right here. Thinking through this, I can see that some of my better tweets came from using this curiosity hook as well.
In the DMs
Sheehan said that he would direct message (DM) people on Twitter who were ahead of him in terms of growth.
When he had less than 1,000 followers, he would DM people with 2k, or 10k followers and ask for advice. Did they like the hook, how did they grow their own account, etc?
But he also did something really out-of-the-box. He would message every person who liked his previous tweets when he posted a new thread and would tell them about it.
This method might get you blocked quite a bit these days, but it seems to have worked out well for him. And he probably had a nice approach to it, not just “here’s my new post!”
He said that sometimes these people would retweet his threads, or share them with others. That was a big piece of him getting his first 1,000 followers in the first 2 weeks.
But let’s get more into the content of these Twitter threads that are now the staple of his business.
3. Twitter Thread Templates
There is a lot that goes on within these threads that makes his work stand out, so I wanted to dive deeper into a few of them to better paint the picture.
So let’s jump into some of the templates I’ve observed Sheehan using in his tweets and threads.
Images as a Hook Amplifier
Before we jump into some of the templates, I want to you keep an eye on the images he’s using. These amplify the written hooks a lot and make the whole thing much more compelling.
While most creators are trying to write the perfect hook, Sheehan takes it to a new level with the visuals.
These visuals immediately create a sense of wonder in your mind about the topic, making it hard to scroll past his posts.
A lot of them have words and simple arrows to show why something matters. But if the subject is well-known enough, he just leaves it as is.
I actually wonder if he decides on a topic, and then tries to fit it into one of these buckets before writing the hook.
Here are some examples of thread templates he uses to get more eyeballs on his posts.
A. Cultural Connections
He called this finding everyday connections to things that are thought of as high-culture. Essentially, he takes things that are culturally trending, like movies or pieces of art, and compares them to times in history.
This reminds me of how Heather Cox Richardson writes her newsletter, talking about current events from the lens of historical events.
While a lot of other creators are just talking about the days’ events, Sheehan takes it a step further and helps teach you about history from this context.
B. Explanations Behind Common Things We Take For Granted
Sheehan also finds everyday pieces of art and architecture that are common today but weren’t always that way.
Take this example of how people had drawn horses before photography was a thing.
The average person never even considers how hard it must have been to draw a galloping horse before photography was a thing.
Sheehan realized this and decided to tell the full story.
He created this captivating image showing a before and after of just how ridiculous the horses look. It’s hard to scroll by that one.
C. On This Day
The Cultural Tutor also posts threads that are related to that day in history.
As we’ve seen with others, he’ll often combine the “on this day” with some interesting fact about a well-known piece of art or historical figure.
And don’t forget that amazing image. The thread is about Alexander the Great, a really well-known historical figure, and he’s showing a picture of him among hundreds of other people.
The image makes you wonder even more why he was so interesting.
D. “World’s Greatest ____”
Another common thread type he’ll use is “the world’s greatest ___.” Often, he’ll combine the “on this day” type threads with these.
Sheehan will find the world’s greatest bridges, or architecture, or even train stations.
E. Before & After or Present Day Comparison to History
This template I want to share is Sheehan doing a side-by-side comparison of a present-day replica of a building many people would recognize from history.
F. Famous person/place/art, weird fact
The last template is one of my favorites from The Cultural Tutor. He finds these super fascinating backstories, or the people behind famous figures, and brings them to light.
4. One Single Objective
Sheehan has a very specific, yet unorthodox, routine.
He wakes up in the afternoon, sometimes around 4 p.m. He’ll walk around London taking in the city and smoking cigarettes for hours until time is no longer on his side and he knows it’s time to write.
Although he says he tries to put off writing as long as possible to be able to fully think through an idea, eventually you have to sit down and get those ideas into the world.
He’ll then write a Twitter thread about an idea he’s had, or something he’s curious about learning.
He doesn’t use fancy tools, he’ll just write in the native Twitter compose box.
It often takes him into the early morning hours to finish writing, and once he does, he watches the sunrise and falls asleep.
I don’t share this routine to imply that you need to follow it, but simply that there is a routine. Sheehan isn’t waiting for inspiration to strike, or for the stars to be perfectly aligned before he puts pen to paper.
He just writes. Every day. No matter what.
Always Strive to Be Better
Because he is always writing, there will be days when he doesn’t feel like his writing is perfect. That’s how this content creation game works.
In an interview with David Perell, Sheehan shares a quote he loves from Leonardo da Vinci that went something like: “Your judgment must always exceed the work.”
He interprets this to mean “you must always believe that it’s not as good as it could have been.”
As soon as you think, ‘oh I’m happy with myself. That was really well done.’ you’ll become complacent and you’re losing.
He told David Perell in an interview, “I’m certainly never particularly happy with anything I’ve written…The first thing I think when I send out any work is ‘wow, that could have been so much better.'”
You simply need to follow consistency and some days will work out better than others.
There are so many times when creators put out something they wrote in ten minutes because of a looming deadline and those end up being their most popular posts.
But other times, you spend tons of time on one piece, think it’s the greatest thing you’ve created and then everyone else thinks it’s just “meh.”
5. Write About What You’re Innately Interested About
Instead of trying to make the algorithms happy, Sheehan writes about topics and ideas he’s extremely interested in.
“I’m not an expert I haven’t studied any of the things I talk about but I’ve got a passion for them.“Sheehan Quirke
“My principle with the Cultural Tutor was to try and bring a little bit of depth to the internet. Something that is non-political, not trying to make you money, not trying to make your life better.”
Sheehan said this in a presentation he did for Write of Passage, and I absolutely love this quote. He’s just trying to bring some depth to the wide world of the internet by sharing what he’s innately curious about.
The World Cup
For example, when Lionel Messi was celebrating his World Cup win in 2023, he was watching Lionel Messi lift the trophy and thought “Why are the Argentinian national colors blue and white?”
And that sent him down a rabbit hole of trying to figure it out. He went and found books about the topic and did a ton of research, and this Twitter thread came out of the research:
He had a question, did some research, and then shared his findings. People LOVED this.
6. Brand Mentions/SEO
If we look at this SimilarWeb data, we can see that Sheehan actually gets more traffic from organic searches than from social media.
Of course, with a typical website, this much organic traffic would be attributed to specific articles ranking highly for keywords.
But in the case of The Cultural Tutor, it seems that his organic search traffic is mostly due to brand mentions.
What I mean here is that his content gets mentioned elsewhere, and then people are going to search for “The Cultural Tutor” to find his articles. Or they search his name, or the name of his newsletter.
This can happen if someone mentions him on a podcast, on social without linking to his account, or even a mention in a YouTube video.
When he was interviewed on David Perell’s podcast, I have no doubt that people went to Google and typed Sheehan Quirke, or The Cultural Tutor and his website showed up first in the results.
He’s getting these mentions because of the great content he’s created. And also, because he’s partnered with David Perell, when David goes on a podcast and mentions him, people search his name.
This is really hard to replicate, but I think the takeaway here is that when you create really great content, you’ll get a mention in places you wouldn’t expect.
When you get a mention like this, a lot of the time it’s not a link to your site so people have to go to a search engine and find you that way.
Google, or Reddit?
I had an experience like this a few weeks ago. Someone posted on Twitter asking about audience growth, and this person replied saying Growth In Reverse was a great place to go:
I was getting more subscribers than normal from Google that day, and thought it was odd. Then someone replied to my welcome email saying they found me on Reddit. I went digging and found this mention.
Technically, it’s “organic” traffic, but in reality, it came from Reddit.
How You Can Replicate His Success 🗺️
While Sheehan has grown in a mind-boggling rate, I think there are still some ways we can replicate some of his success without growing a massive Twitter account.
Be Willing to Stick With It
Sheehan wasn’t exactly “winning” with his early Twitter posts. But that didn’t stop him from figuring out what worked and being able to scale his account extremely fast.
If he had posted a few tweets, gotten bored, and given up, as a lot of people do, he might still be working at McDonald’s and not getting to do what he loves: write.
Building an audience online can be challenging. And because of that, a lot of people don’t stick with it.
But if you focus on input goals (posting a thread every single day) vs output goals (how many likes you get) in the beginning you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.
Focus on writing 72 tweets in 38 days. Don’t focus on getting 100 likes per post.
Focus on a Single Objective
It’s easy to get sidetracked and excited about new ideas all the time. But Sheehan stays focused on a single objective: write one Twitter thread every day.
He’s not cross-posting to LinkedIn. He’s not adding in Instagram.
He’s just been writing a thread every day.
When you have a single objective, the work gets done.
Sheehan has one goal every single day: write an interesting Twitter thread.
He has confidence that everything will fall into place if he just does that one thing.
What’s your single objective, or “one thing” that you will commit to getting done every day or every week?
Create the Content No One Else Wants to
I say this a lot, but it bears repeating in this case.
If you spend more time creating something than anyone else will, your work is going to stand out.
No one wants to sit down and do deep research to find out why Lionel Messi is wearing that specific shade of blue on his jersey, but a lot of people want to know why.
No one (except for me) wants to reverse engineer creators and spend 20-30 hours researching and writing a deep dive into how they did it.
But around 25,000 people do want to read them every week. And if you’re one of those people who haven’t yet subscribed, I’d love to have you as a reader of the newsletter 🙂
Create the content no one else wants to, but that a lot of people want to read. That’s a recipe for a brilliant content business.