How one founder used Instagram likes to earn $500K in new business

February 14, 2014: 10:45 AM ET

Fueled's Rameet Chawla built a hack for others to "like" their way to Internet fame and real-life fortune.

140214102924-lovematically-620xaFORTUNE -- Whether or not anyone admits it, we, the people of the Internet, love virtual validation. It comes in many forms: Facebook likes, Instagram hearts, Twitter favorites, Pinterest pins. The more we post, the more likes, hearts, and favorites we get. The more we get, the more we crave. This is no accident. Social sites like Facebook (FB) are specifically engineered to give us an emotional high.

In fact, most of us remember our highest liked post on social media, says Rameet Chawla, founder of mobile development and design agency Fueled. "Likes aren't just trivial feedback points, they're something we internalize," he says.

Last year, just for kicks, Chawla hacked together an experiment to see what happened when he spread the "like" love. Called Lovematically, his hack automatically likes all his friends' photos on Instagram within two minutes of their posting it. He started it three months ago, and the results have gone beyond what he imagined.

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For starters, his popularity on the social network skyrocketed. Since he implemented Lovematically, he's averaged 30 new followers a day, boosting his follower count by 2,700. Those new followers have pushed his posts into triple-digit likes. "Hearting someone's photo is a way to put a little billboard up with your name on it," says Fueled Director Ryan Matzner. "You get this real estate right below their photo."

All of that is a fun little social experiment. And hey, maybe this hack could be helpful for brands looking to build a following on Instagram. (Instagram's nascent advertising program is still not open to most brands.)

But more intriguing than simply gaming the system in pursuit of Instagram fame is a valuable business case for Lovematically. Spreading the Instagram love actually boosted new business at Chawla's agency.

Within three weeks, potential new clients started coming to Fueled. Several of them specifically attributed their interest to Chawla's engagement on Instagram. Over the last few months, Lovematically has snagged Fueled four new clients worth $500,000 worth of development business. According to Matzer, the clients said things like, "I hadn't talked to Rameet in about a year, but then he kept popping up on my Instagram and I had this project and so I reached out."

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It speaks to the power of the virtual like: Studies show that the more we "like" things on social media, the greater our social capital becomes. To be sure, I experimented with Lovematically for around 12 hours and saw an immediate boost to my follower and like count. (I quickly turned the app off because it felt too forward for my style -- I'm more of a lurker than the life of the party on social media.)

Of course, once people figure out that the likes are automated, they're less excited. Beyond that, Instagram has not authorized the app, and it likely violates the company's terms of service. Instagram may shut the whole thing down.

Until that happens, Fueled and Lovematically will be automating virtual validation. In honor of Valentine's day, the app is open to 2,500 new sign-ups at Lovematically.com. Fueled isn't trying to turn this into a business. It's just a fun way to, spread the love, Matzner says.

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