How to launch

I have the pleasure of speaking with Ryan Hoover. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
Can you introduce yourself?
Yeah, my name is Ryan. I am founder of Product Hunt and if people don’t know Product Hunt is a site where people submit links to new products. It’s a community of product enthusiasts. A lot of investors, entrepreneurs, founders, makers talking about new technology. So websites, apps, tech gadgets, that kind of thing.
And you recently launched Collections?
Yeah, that was last week we launched collections. So now people can start curating collections or themes of products whether it’s their favorite design tools or favorite podcasts. So it’s kind of fun to see what people are creating.
How do you decide what you should launch on Product Hunt? Because I can imagine there are millions of suggestions, especially from the community, but also within the team as well. How are you sort of filtering what to go through? Just user feedback. How do you monitor that? How do you track that? Do you store that somewhere? When do you revisit it?
For better or for worse and actually, it’s a great thing in that we have a community of people that love products and actually a lot of them are building them themselves. And so we don’t have a– we have more than enough feedback being given–
I can imagine, yeah.
It’s not [crosstalk] feedback, which is great. Of course, my job really is to say, “No, or at least not now,” for 95% of those pieces of feedback, but you start seeing patterns and you start seeing things reemerge. For us, we don’t record explicitly feature requests because it’s just too much work and ultimately if it’s that important, it will just come back to you. So we internalize it, we share it with the team, and we start trying to identify patterns of things that are continually coming up. So there’s always the actual feedback that they’re giving us and telling us but what’s more useful is identifying actual behaviors that they’re doing and even going to collections that we just were speaking about people were building these collections before we released this feature. They were either writing blog posts of curated themes of categories of products that they found on Product Hunt. They were creating Trello boards of products and categories. They were bookmarking products using Pocket or other tools. So that’s a lot better signal than someone saying, “Oh, I want to create a collection.” What they’re really doing is already doing that using other services and other tools.
It’s almost like what Twitter does is they see what everyone else is building on top of their platform and then they go and do it [laughter].
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s actually one of the benefits and also risks of having an open EPI is that you can let just 1,000 flowers bloom, and most of them will not flourish – most of them will die [laughter] – but there will be a few things you’ll learn that you might want to build into the product itself.
I remember we spoke a couple of months back now, and it was about the Product Hunt API and initially you were quite reluctant to sort of release that. What was the sort of hesitations and what are the benefits now of having that API apart from what you just said about seeing what people do? I mean, I assume a lot of growth came from that?
Yeah. Yeah, the API initially was something I was nervous about and I think it’s kind of natural [laughter]. My nervousness was because one, when you have an API or when you give people the autonomy to build on top of your platform, you never know what will be created. And there’s sort of the irrational– there’s the extreme irrational fear of, “Oh someone will build a competitor. And they will use your data and your community against you.” And I believe I knew that that was just irrational, to really have that fear, at least in our stage right now. And ultimately, after thinking more about it, after seeing hundreds of people request access, many of them were actually scraping the site allready, so it’s not like we were providing anything new that they couldn’t get elsewhere. And actually speaking with YC, particularly Sam Altman, we realize that this is just a great opportunity. We’re super fortunate to have people that want to build on top of this. So we really saved Guy several months ago, and we’ve had dozens and dozens of products and apps created. One guy, it was actually at a hackathon which we did two or three months ago, they’re building things that we would never build that are just really cool and experimental. He built a world map that highlights the locations of all the makers. All the people that have built products that have been on Product Hunt. He’s showing a map of where they’re located. So you can kind of see this ecosystem that are kind of centered around tech hubs, whether it’s SF, or Paris, or Berlin, London. It’s really cool. So there’s stuff like that that we’re never going to build. It’s not competing with us anyway. It’s only giving our community more cool things to explore.
How have you been able to create this thriving community? I’ve only seen it a handful of times. You’ve got Hacker news, you’ve got Reddit, you’ve got you guys, you’ve got Designer news. Of course, you have more communities, but from what I use. Where people are engaging. They’re commenting. They’re visiting again. For those listening to this podcast now, I think you’re sort of the best person to talk about such a thing in creating a community. What can they do even if it’s around their block or around their podcast [laughter]? How are you able to get such high engagement and get people to come back? What have you learned? What do you do?
Yeah, I mean I think there’s a number of things from the tactical to kind of the more strategic. Product Hunt is centered first around products. And before Product Hunt existed, which has been around for just over a year now, this discussion and this discovery and sharing of new products and new tech gadgets always existed. I mean, for several years it’s existed. And so I think my first piece of advice is to think about what is the medium, or what is the nucleus of what the community is about? And what is going to bring them back? And for us, it’s new product launches, which people are sharing and discovering every single day. And they do that today on Twitter and in the Tech Press and on other communities like Reddit and Hacker News and so on. So for us, that’s what we attach ourself to, and that’s why people come back. It’s kind of the vehicle for interaction. So there’s always that important piece. I think building a community on top of something that basically, a behavior that doesn’t exist or less frequent than product launches or product discussion would be really hard. There are communities around traveling, let’s say. But to build an actual daily kind of habit of participating in a traveling community is not going to be very common for a lot of people. So that’s kind of like at its core. That’s one reason why we are succeeding because we’re centered around products and launches and things like that.
Is that something that happens very often?
Yeah. With communities, it’s also a lot of them start off in the beginning, and they look really cool and they’re new, and people get excited. But if they don’t kind of reach this escape velocity where you have enough people interacting, enough content being produced, then they can thrive. But if you get to the point where it becomes stale, or there’s no new content for people to– or substantial amount of content for people to come back every day, it’s really hard to build that habit and that long-term engagement.
Do you think you would have been successful if you were outside Silicon Valley? How important was those relationships?
It was, yeah, absolutely necessary. So, before Product Hunt, I’d been doing a lot of blogging, and writing, and things like that. And my audience wasn’t massive by any means, but it was just big enough to see the community of Product Hunt. And these people are also very well-connected in the startup scene, especially in the US more so than internationally, to begin with. So that definitely helped. Now, I actually– being in Silicon Valley certainly helped. There’s a lot of serendipity in meeting people. In fact, I was walking across the street and I saw Jason Calacanis. And it’s funny. I was looking down at my phone and he’s like, “Ahh, I love Product Hunt,” because he saw me. And we started chatting for like, five minutes about his launch conference coming up. So that’s one example of the serendipity you see in San Francisco. That said, it’s easier and easier to build a startup and tap into this ecosystem of startups, being outside of the Valley. You don’t have to be here. I think it’s helpful, and it’s definitely the place where I want to be. But my blog has traveled around the world. It’s shared everywhere, and there’s no geographic boundaries for that type of content. Or if you’re doing a podcast, you are across the world right now, and you’re talking– I’m looking at your site right now. I don’t know how many interviews you’ve done, but like, a ridiculous number of interviews with some of the best names in the startup ecosystem.
So, how much have you raised?
We’ve raised a total of $7.1 million.
Wow. Why do you need so much money?
Yeah. Good question. I’m realizing, this is my first startup that I’ve founded. I’ve been in a few startups prior to this, but this is the first one I’ve founded, and I’m learning a lot. And one of them is just, it takes a lot of people to do what we want to do, long-term. Now, when I say a lot of people, we’re at 12 right now. I don’t expect us to be much more than double that by the end of next year, so not massive. But you need money to pay people – especially if they’re in San Francisco – a competitive salary. And for us, at the stage that we’re at, raising series A somewhat prematurely, before we absolutely needed the money, was strategically the best thing for us, and also the partners we had on board. Andreessen Horowitz lead the round. They’ve been tremendously helpful in guiding us. So for me, it’s– I’m just excited to have raised this money so that we can not have to raise money in the short-term, and so that we can focus on the Product Hunt community, and build an awesome team.
How helpful are investors? In particular, your investors? Because there is some kind of give and take. There is a sacrifice. You have to give equity in return for this cash. How can investors sort of take you to that next stage? Do you need them? When should you give away that equity? How much equity have you given, for example? Can you say?
We can’t say exactly how much, but you can make some assumptions in what kind of the typical ranges are. So, you know, it’s– I think the first question, really, is– it’s a very contextual question, of course. And the one personal question, I think, that I would always challenge founders or people asking them that question to ask is, first off, is this– is what I’m working on something I want to work on for a decade? Literally, is this something I want to spend my life on? Because in a company or start up, you can leave anytime. It’s really easy. I cannot leave Product Hunt, nor do I want to, but I can’t. I’m locked in because I made this commitment.
How long are you locked in for?
Well, I mean there’s no specific time range or anything. But it’s not like I can pick up and say, “Hey guys. This has been fun. I think I’m going to move on [laughter].” So you better like what you’re doing because you’re going to be doing it for a long time. So there’s that aspect of it. And of course there’s also should this be a VC-funded company? And I think there’s too much pressure and too much sexiness around raising money. Danielle Morrill from Mattermark, they just announced their series I think yesterday. And she sent out a private email to a bunch of people and she just reiterated that fundraising does not equal success. And I don’t think guilt’s the right word, but I’ve always felt almost like when people congratulated us for raising money, that’s great. I appreciate that. But at the same time, I’m like I’m like all right. Now I have to prove that what we’re doing is going to be meaningful. And this fund raise is not success. This is just the start. So getting back to kind of the point. I think you need to understand, is this a VC-backed company? Is this something that is going to make your investors happy? Is this going to be a multi-million dollar company? And is it something you want to work on for a long time? Bootstrapping, self-funding is completely appropriate for probably the– well, definitely the most companies. So I think you need to have that honest– you need to answer that question honestly. And then there’s also just the aspect of, are the investors that you’re choosing the right investors? For a number of reasons. From capital is one thing but of course it’s connections. It’s relationships. It’s ongoing support. There’s a lot of decisions that go in there.
How have they helped you there? How’s Andreessen Horowitz helped you guys?
Yeah. So Andreessen Horowitz is unique in that they have a team of people from marketing to recruiting and other functions that are working in a supportive role. They’re not employees. They’re not working like a marketing person would or a recruiter would in house by any means. But they do forward on and pride guidance. Like earlier today, I was having a conversation with someone who works on the recruiting side and getting some advice on compensation and that kind of thing. A few days ago they forwarded on an iOS candidate that we’re looking at. So they just put out a lot of support. I email them and say, “This is what we’re looking for. This is what we need help with,” and they enthusiastically support in any way they can. There’s also Steven Sinofsky’s on the board and he’s been a great mentor to me personally. And also helped kind of with a lot of the kind of company building and managerial side of building Product Hunt. There’s also just of course the funding. There’s the brand recognition. There’s longer term. It enables us to build connections and relationships with other industries and other eco systems. They can make those introductions and they provide a lot of help in those ways.
Tell me about this transition from my side project, my sort of hack into building this company, and then just like what you said. This sort of managerial role. Having to deal with compensation, hiring, recruiting, culture. Give me some tips. Give me some advice about how I can do that as well. When it comes to sort of motivating the team. What happens if somebody is behind on their deadlines? What do you do? What’s your style? What has worked for you in building a culture and building a team?
Yeah. I’ll be honest. I’m learning a lot of this as I’m going and I’m also– I’m also realizing as I meet more people and as I’m building my first company, true company, I’m also realizing this is pretty typical. This is normal. I shouldn’t be afraid [laughter]. I think some of the advice that I have internalized is that, one, transparency is– it’s always better on transparency. And you also need to– you need to earn people’s’ respect. And when everyone on the team respects everyone else for what they’ve done and accomplished and the contributions they have, it makes everything so much easier. It’s when you don’t have that respect that I think things can break down culturally and in other ways. So we’re still really early, but what’s been great for us is most of the people, I think every single teammate on the team right now, began as a user on Product Hunt. They actually were not to just join Product Hunt. They first were users of it, and it was through that that we have this common bond and common interest in what we’re doing and trying to achieve. And so that just really helps ease out a lot of the more difficult kind of conversations or working together that are inevitable in any company.
I was listening to a talk, and the speaker was saying that it doesn’t matter how successful you are, there’s always going to be problems. It’s just a different type of problem or the magnitude sort of changes. What’s the challenge that you’re facing right now? Because everyone’s looking at products. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. Look at what Ryan’s accomplished, so the central place now.” But I’m sure there’s things that you’re struggling with that you’re going to solve now. What’s that sort of pressure when you get to that sort of stage where you’re at that people don’t realize?
Yeah, there’s a lot of little things. There’s a million things that come up when it comes to this, where we’d finally found an office, but today, this morning, I’m going through the contract, and so that’s on my to-do list is to read a 20-page contract, go back and forth to the lawyer. There’s accounting, which I’ve honestly been procrastinating a lot of the accounting side of things that I also have to do as well. And we’re bringing someone on to kind of take over a lot of these administrative operational things. But what I’m really realizing, there isn’t a lot of stuff when it comes to building a company that’s not– when you start as a side product or experiment, it’s entirely product and it’s usually maybe you and one or two other people, and you’re not focused on all this other stuff. there’s also the fundraising. The fundraising piece alone is you can spend more than half your time for several months trying to raise money as a CEO. So I have a lot more newfound respect for people in other functions that I’ve worked with at other companies now, having had to try and fill some of those roles.
So Ryan, you’ve raised $7.1 million.
I imagine you’re pitching investors. I’m sure you’re noticing patterns. The same questions are being asked. Walk me through. So you’re in the office. What kind of typical questions would they ask? So you’ve done your pitch. You’ve prepared your deck. And now it’s question time. Walk me through that thought process of sort of trying to pick holes within Product Hunt or– and for those listening now, sort of preparing them in advance of how they can sort of respond to those questioning.
Yeah. Well, so Product Hunt has had an interesting and unique kind of fundraising experience. When you said deck, I– up until– I never prepared a deck in the seed stage. In fact, I had built relationships, and a lot of the investors that did invest were first users of Product Hunt. So we have an advantage and we had an advantage in that we were already in front of investors. They were already using the product, already knew about it, so I didn’t have to go in cold like a lot of other people who maybe don’t know these people that they’re talking to and they’re introducing their company to them pretty fresh. For me, it was more a conversation about, “This is what we’re planning,” and less about, “This is what we’ve done,” because they already knew that. And so for us, actually it was around YC time period is when I spoke with SV Angel, and they were kind of the first serious conversation I had. They quickly jumped in, and I knew Abe and Brian’s mother is there, and they wanted to have a conversation about fundraising, and I was still debating whether to raise or not. Long story short is they ended up committing, got into YC, and then it was a couple of weeks after that kind of a flurry of other introductions and conversations with a bunch of other great people. Some of them again were people I’d built relationships with them in the past, so they knew me already. So for those conversations, it was literally emails and phone calls, and some in-person conversations just to quickly raise that round. And it was pretty fortunate for us in that it wasn’t a big long pitch kind of process. It still took a lot of time, even though it was relatively painless to some other situations. Still took a ton of time to do all of that. Now, moving on to Andreessen Horowitz and Series A that was also a little bit unique in that Mark approached me and emailed me during YC, sort of towards the end of it, and just wanted to catch up and talk more seriously. Well, he didn’t say anything about investing at the time in that email, but it was pretty obvious that they were looking at us, and they were interested. So we had a conversation – a few conversations – and then at some point, he said, “Hey, you want to come in and speak with the rest of the partners?” And I thought this was just going to be seven or eight GPs but really it was a room of 25 people.
Oh wow [laughter].
And he gave the context, “Have your pitch tech ready if you have one. If not, show some numbers.” And when I got that email I’m like, “Oh, shit I don’t have a deck. I never prepared one.” So spent a really late night preparing something, but it wasn’t a formal– it wasn’t the most amazing deck. And the thing is at the end of the day traction is what really matters. Pitch decks are important, but they’re more important when you’re speaking with people that don’t know you or don’t know your product very well. So yeah, it was an interesting experience and I can go on and on about that, but I think our situation is a little bit unique. Now, I guess getting to your other question though about what types of questions come up for me again, they already knew about the products that I had. Didn’t have to describe it much, but what was important is they were looking to understand how do you think about product hunt and product and how it fits in this ecosystem in the world and where you’re taking it. The big question that they have is, how do they turn this relatively small startup community into a big business? Those are the fun conversations. That’s when you get to really spark their imagination, and you get to see your vision of where you’re going.
So when are you going to start making money?
I know this sounds stereotypical, but it’s– this is one reason why we raise money is because for us to become a big business, we need to grow and become much bigger. So for us, we’re really not focused on monetizing. I have people emailing me saying, “I would love to charge to promote my product and product hunt. I want to promote in your– advertise in your emails,” and that kind of thing. And I intentionally will push that off just because it’s not a focus right now. So for us, some time next year is when we’ll probably start experimenting with some monetization and long-term, it’s a place where people are coming to visit to find products, so I think we won’t have a hard time monetizing. We just need to focus on growing our user base, making sure people are still loving it.
And if you can’t monetize would that be a disaster because the other approach is then just to exit?
Yeah yeah [laughter]. I mean, at the end of the day, what we should be doing is building a business, and a business needs to make money [laughter]. Now, that business doesn’t need to make money right now. It may not make significant money for several years in fact. Just look at many other companies. So it really depends on strategically, what makes most sense. And I could be wrong in that next year we start monetizing. We may even push it off further, because we have this money that we can use as a runway to grow our user base. But, yeah, I mean I think it’s foolish and wrong to think about acquisitions or at least plan for acquisitions because that just puts you and the team in the wrong context and state of mind. You should be really focused on building a great product and ultimately a business.
The Silicon Valley model though is to sort of flip it at the end though? I mean, that’s sort of the repeatable pattern.
Yeah, it’s very common. Incredibly common, in part because very few companies actually stay long-term. It’s less risky to play the two-decade old game than it is to sell for a healthy sum of money.
What would you sell for?
I don’t know [laughter]. It’s always a fun question. I mean, if someone gave me $1 billion, of course, I would say, “Yes. I think all my investors would be happy about that.” But, yeah–
What about 100 million?
100 million not right now. No, not at all.
Yeah. Is there a lot of pressure to grow quickly now that you’ve raised this and everybody’s looking or do you still feel insulated, and you can just– you know how you felt in the early days sort of experimenting, just trying new things, but now that everybody’s watching closely, do you have that pressure?
Yeah. There’s definitely pressure, especially when people are watching– it’s almost more pressure than before because you have expectations now. You have people to disappoint. You have people moving from Vienna– a couple of guys on the team are going to be moving in early January to San Francisco, and they’re trusting me, they’re trusting everyone else in the team for their livelihood, and this is what they’re dedicating their life too. That puts out a lot of pressure on just not me, but all of us. So there’s certainly that pressure. At the same time, we’re also not– we have a runway. We have also investors that understand that this is a long game. That if traffic happens this lump next month or the month after yes, that sucks. Yes, we should worry about that, but also this is going to be multiple years that we’re going to be working on this thing, and it’s almost like this sign wave when you look at startups and their metrics. And I look at the metrics every single day, and I get stressed out irrationally. I know I’m irrational [laughter], but I’ll look at today’s numbers and, “Oh, it’ll be down from last Wednesday.” And I’ll get nervous about that, but I also realize if you pull back it’s really the trend is what’s most important. So for us, we’re absolutely focused on growth, but more importantly, we want to make sure we don’t mess up what we have right now, and we don’t want to make foolish mistakes for the sake of growth that might damage our community or ruin what we have working today.
Typically, a founder thinks, “Okay. I need to grow. Time to get covered by TechCrunch, Mashable, The Next Web, and that’s where I’m going to get my users from.” Does that help getting that press coverage from journalists or did you already have momentum and then journalists were writing about this, “Oh, Product Hunt. Check it out.”
Yeah, it really varies depending on who you’re targeting in some ways. So today my friend Shaun from Monkey Inferno they just launched Bebo. Bebo is an app that’s for messaging, and it’s targeted to a younger audience. There’s value in getting coverage in TechCrunch and even Product Hunt in other publications for them, but it’s not that meaningful for them ultimately because we’re not their audience. TechCrunch isn’t their audience. So I think press for us has been very useful. If it’s the right audience– with us, these are people that go to tech publications to find new products, and so we’re of course super applicable to them. It’s been a good user acquisition channel. It’s also provides other value depending on your stage of your company. If you’re trying to raise money, and you have a spike in traffic, and you have all these write ups in different publications that also helps. It’s on investor’s radar. So that’s also something to consider as well if you’re trying to get press. But I think my advice is, don’t focus too much on it because press will help, especially early on when you kind of need to kick start growth, especially with the community. It’s super helpful, but long-term the product itself should grow itself, and you can’t rely on press to build a sustainable business.
How are you going to grow internally then sort of just relying on your own platform? What kind of hacks will you do? I mean, for example, Dropbox did, “Share this with a friend and you’ll get extra storage.” That’s sort of a nice hack. What do you plan to do? How do you plan to grow?
Yeah. There’s a number of things that we could be doing and there’s almost this big brainstorming session that we could do in terms of growth hacks or whatever you want to call them. But at its core, what we’re trying to do is– going back to collections, collections allow– well, one it deepens the engagement. It provides new ways of curation. New ways to explore Product Hunt. Just all sorts of data to use in the future. But more importantly, it gives people an opportunity to curate and build investment in the service and share these collections and so on. So the collection’s aspect is very early, and we have a lot plans to improve that, and that’s just kind of one example of how do we just enable people to become curators to share things to build investments for us. There’s also other aspects of Product Hunt like longer term expansion to other verticals is really what the big growth will come from. It’s not just going to be about tech products and mobile apps, but you could imagine a community around fashion, perhaps or books or movies or mobile games, for example. There’s bigger markets than what we’re in right now that I believe we can expand to that also have the same kind of characteristics as the Product Hunt community today.
Yeah. What’s your experience been with being a non-technical founder?
Yeah, I mean when people ask me, “Do you wish you were an engineer or do you wish you were technical?” Of course, I would say yes. I wish I was a lot of things [laughter]. And in my life, I just got invested in becoming technical. Now, I can do front end development and some basic stuff and I can speak with engineering, which is important if you’re doing any kind of product role. My background is in product management, so that’s important. But I’m not one that can build an app, and I didn’t touch really any of the code outside of maybe some copy changes and a few CSS changes if you look at the GitHub history [laughter]. So yeah for me, it depends on– it’s always better to be more technical, but I also think there is too much emphasis on technical skills and technical abilities. What I mean by that is there’s a lot–
I think so too, yeah.
Yeah, there’s a lot that goes into building a good product and a good business and some of that’s marketing. It’s design. It’s product. It’s sales. It’s all of these things. And I think it’s important to have a team of people that can fill those different holes. And so for me, we’ve assembled an awesome team, and I trust them entirely the engineering team to do what they do best, and I don’t question them when it comes to engineering things. And so I’ve been fortunate  to have people itching to cover that piece. For us, like in the early stages, and when I say early it means now and next year or so, we’re not going to fail because we can’t technically build something. It’s, again, like you said, the community is what makes it valuable. And it’s relatively simple technologically. Now, that could change long-term as we start getting into some more interesting data science related things potentially. But at its core, it’s not a technical challenge to achieve. And that’s why I’m able to found this company. Because if it was a technical challenge, it was something very complex technically, then I should not be the one running that company at all. And I think it just ultimately depends on what you’re going to build whether you need to be technical or not as a CEO.
So you’ve got the sense of product launches. What advice would you have? Building parts is really easy now. Everybody is building it, you know? Shipping is now easy. But getting through that noise, cutting through the noise, and getting that traction is the hard part. What should be on your checklist for when you announce a product to the world? Let’s take it back to basics. So, number one. Launch at product hunt. After that, what should they do?
Yeah. Yeah. It’s kind of one of those contextual questions that I think I go back, again, to who are you building this product for? And where do those people hang out, ultimately? Are they in certain communities? Do they read the tech press? If not, then the tech press probably won’t be a great user acquisition strategy. I think that’s the first question you have to ask. And then, I think this is more applicable to most products, if not all of them, is just have a really clear value proposition. And understand how do you communicate? How do your customers, and your target audience communicate their needs or their values? And coming from the context of product and I see so many products right now, and a lot of them– some of them do really well, some of them don’t do so well in communicating what they do. You click on that link. You view their home page. And if I don’t understand what you are, who your product is for, in about five seconds, I’m going to bounce. And so it’s really important just to keep it simple. I see a lot of founders get way too creative. Because these are people that are living and breathing their products. So they’re almost too close to it. And so they start making up words, and getting way too clever in their language, and their copy, and sometimes it’s just best to talk simply. So that’s kind of general advice, I think, that’s applicable to probably any company launching.
So go where your users are. So you find them. And then what?
Yeah. So if it’s a launch strategy, I mean, it can also be– I think what’s kind of fascinating, especially as we have more and more networks emerging, is – this is maybe not super specific to launching but it’s more of user acquisition strategy or thought – is how do you embed yourself within existing, thriving communities? And how do you effectively siphon filters from those communities to your products? An example of that is, on Pinterest. Did you hear where, let’s say, building a fashion related company, maybe Pinterest is a great place for you to look at. How do you build content within Pinterest? And how do you pull Pinterest users, who might love your product, to your product? Or to your community? Thinking about that, I’m actually seeing some interesting things with Snapchat. Some people are kind of hacking around the API and building ways to create stories that are different or unique. And those are the types of things that I love seeing because it’s just creative ways of directing people’s attention from existing networks to into your own?
Coming to a close now, and I really like this emphasis on building a community. And I think all products now need that, having users that love them. What did you do in the early days to get that, to get those core users and have that strong base?
Yeah. Yeah. Before Product Hunt, I did build somewhat of an audience, so I at least had some people to talk to and to say, “Hey, I’m working this email list called Product Hunt.” That’s how it started. And so I at least had that, and that was something I built over a couple years or so just blogging, and meeting people, and building relationships. But then once Product Hunt got going, there were a lot of manual things that we did, a lot of unscalable things, as Paul Graham would describe them. Some of them being looking at who was registering. Who was signing up on Product Hunt? I would use Rapportive, at the time Rapportive, and I would see who’s signing up. Where do they work? And I would email them personally. Just say, “Hey. Welcome aboard.” I’d include something specific to their product or their company, so it wasn’t, clearly, just a copy and paste. This is like, Ryan spent some time to email me. And a majority of those people would respond, and in most cases, they’d be delighted and they’d be surprised. Because how often do you get an email from a founder of a company when you sign up? You never do. And these are not the cheesy kind of templates that pretend to be fake, or pretend to be real [laughter]. [crosstalk]–
Pretend to be real.
Yeah. These are genuine emails, and unfortunately, I don’t have time to do that very much anymore. But early on that’s super important because it’s more memorable to build this connection, this bond with these people, and in the beginning, you need to build those really strong relationships. So things like that are really important. I mean, as we started growing we just had people in the community vouch and recruit other people. And it sounds really simple, but honestly, what we would do is, before we had an invite system where it’s somewhat automated where people can invite other people without our involvement– before I would just email the most engaged people and say, “Hey, thanks for helping out Product Hunt and being a part of it. Do you know a couple people that would love to be involved, too? Do you know some people that love products? If so, let me know. I’d love an introduction,” and just manual stuff like that helps a lot. So you have to be– you need to have someone on the team when you’re building community, that’s not afraid of emails, and I’ve sent a ridiculous, and I still do send a ridiculous number of emails because having that personal touch is really important, especially in the early days.
Anything else that you want to say for those that are sort of aspiring to launch successful products?
Yeah. If you’re launching a product, I kind of touched on this before, I think one of the biggest things that I see– biggest, I guess, mistakes that I see, oftentimes, is people try to change behavior too much or they try to introduce something that is too unusual for people, whether it’s how you market it, how you message it, or it’s just the actual underlying behavior itself. What is the user trying to do? What are you trying to solve? And does your solution try to change that behavior too drastically? And there’s always room for huge behavioral shifts, of course. There’s always opportunity to really change that, but it’s a lot more difficult to change existing behavior. So for us, it’s what behaviors exist out there. How can you improve upon those? How can you add more value to those? And those are the types of things that I personally would look for when I’m building a product or a company.
Just behaviors that have been since the beginning of man.
Yeah. Yeah. If it’s rooted in psychology, especially, it doesn’t change as much. Now, interfaces will change, technology will change, but the underlying solution that you’re providing or problem you’re solving shouldn’t.
Ryan, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. Thank you so much. Thank you.

The podcast audio file has been transcribed exactly as it is. We don’t take responsibility for grammatically incorrect language or errors in general.

Follow this story


Zero spam, we’re here to help you grow your business, not overload your inbox