Last January, I was watching my Google Analytics when I saw a big spike in traffic coming from something called “Product Hunt.” I had never heard of Product Hunt and thought it was probably some sort of bot or spider hitting our site. But when I took a closer look, I found that someone— presumably a Foundersuite user— had submitted us to the daily leaderboard, and people were voting on and discussing Foundersuite, along with about a dozen other products.
It was a mixed experience. On the one hand, it was awesome to get a wave of free traffic and a surge of new users without lifting a finger.
On the other hand, the overall community reaction was tepid, and it was *really* hard to watch people people pick apart my baby without being able to respond or comment. After two days the traffic boost stopped.
Fast forward nearly a year. Since our initial debut, Product Hunt’s traffic has grown exponentially (Ryan and Erik- care to add some stats?), and the company raised a big seed round from some serious Silicon Valley heavyweights. It has also released numerous new features and made several major site improvements, like allowing makers to comment and respond to questions— thus solving the “frustrated bystander” problem.
During that time, we’ve been hard at work as well— we’ve run hundreds of hours of user testing and put in thousands of hours of work on the product squashing bugs, removing friction, and improving the UI. We spent the better part of the last year listening to our users, and one of the most common bits of feedback was that although they really liked our Investor CRM, they also wanted a way to find the right investors.
Hence, we built a new product called Investor Search + Filter.
Never one to miss an opportunity for free publicity, I pinged my friend Dana Severson about getting our new product on the leaderboard. Dana is a Product Hunt “community member” (which carries privileges to both comment on and submit new products). He wasn’t sure it would work, since as a company we’d been on the site before, but I emphasized this was very much a new product, not just an enhancement of existing tools.
I went to bed on Sunday night thinking it was probably a bust, but on Monday morning I checked my Google Analytics. By 7:30 am it was already lit up. I quickly scrambled to add an extra dyno on Heroku, and I leaned on Dana to extend me an invite to be a community member so I could fully engage with users.
For the next 16 hours, I was glued to Google Analytics and my inbox. I told a bunch of friends we were on PH, but I made it a point to never explicitly ask people to vote for us, which is frowned upon.
The net result? A ton of new and very relevant users, and the reinforcement of our brand in front of some major influencers.
Our results, in more detail:
Votes: 243 upvotes vs. 32 upvotes last January
Website Traffic: we saw 2,094 user sessions on the first day, which is 10x to 12x a typical day. The spike continued at about half these rates for another two days.
New User Signups: we signed up 402 new users on day one, about 250 on day two (vs. a typical day where we bring on 25 or so new entrepreneurs).
Monetization: we converted at about 2x the normal rate. Not huge, but my sense is that because it’s an early adopter crowd, keen to try out new products, more of the burden is on us to retain and convert them.
Influencer exposure: harder to measure direct results, but our strong showing on the site helped reinforce our brand and credibility with some accelerator partners we are negotiating with. It also helped move things along with a couple seed investors we are getting to know.
Clearly, PH has some serious clout and power. Color me impressed. A few lessons:
Control your Product Hunt launch (if you can). I appreciate the sentiment of our first launch— a fan of Foundersuite listed us, probably thinking he was doing us a favor— but frankly, we weren’t ready. We were still working out a few kinks in our on-boarding process and in our overall UX. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can totally control when you go live…if someone submits you and you’re chosen, I think you’re on there. But in most cases, startups tend to work to get themselves submitted.
Get a veteran community member to submit you. Not mentioned above is that I had originally asked another friend to submit us, but nothing happened. It wasn’t until I pinged Dana— who had a track record of companies and was very active in the community— that things fell into place. I’m speculating, because I don’t know how their selection algorithm works—computer, human or otherwise— but my impression is the “who” matters. My suggestion is to browse the pages of active submitters until you find someone you know, and simply ask them to nominate you.
Post a shout-out / hello early in the morning. This was suggested to me by Dana. Around 8:00 am I posted a short blurb on the origin of this new product— the “why we built it” story. I also tried to head off at the pass a known quirk with the product by giving a “tip” (namely that users must wait for the Autosuggest list when typing the industry). Hopefully this prevented a few bad user experiences.
Spark discussion. Again, I’m speculating here, but my sense is the daily rankings are a function of both the # of votes, and the # of comments or discussions around your product. We had been trending to #2 on the leaderboard, and we ended the day with the third highest number of votes, but we only had 9 comments, whereas the products above us had more. In retrospect, rather than posting the “back story” of the product, I probably should have been more solicitous of feedback and tried to prompt more discussion or debate.
Offer a deal or discount. Again suggested by Dana— we created a custom code that gave Product Hunt users a 27% discount off all paid plans. A couple people took advantage of it. We also offered a 2 month free trial if users contacted me directly, which was more popular. To note, PH has also recently launched an Offers section as well.
Be ready for (sometimes brutally honest) commentary. The flip side to being exposed to such a large community is that you might literally be picked apart by that community. However, most folks on PH are not like your standard comment board trolls; instead, they are product junkies who offer candid, super valuable feedback. Sometimes the hardest feedback to hear (e.g. “your design sucks!”) is actually the best thing for you. Be humble and thankful for this free user-testing-on-steroids session.
Strap in and prepare for blastoff. If you know when you’re going up on the site, I suggest you clear your calendar. Cancel all appointments for the day, and be prepared to run triple-duty on: i) inbound email and support issues; ii) responses to comments on the site; iii) working every available social media channels. At the end of the day, I had sent somewhere close to 300 (both outbound and in response to inbound comments and questions. I ran flat out for 16 hours straight. I was exhausted.
End your day with a very tall beer. It’s wild. It’s an adrenaline ride. It’s exhausting. But it’s fun, and it’s one of those “startup growth milestones” you can check off the bucket list. At the end of the day, toast to your success with a few beers (or whatever your preferred indulgence is). You earned it!
Product Hunt is a machine. Getting on the site casts a large, bright spotlight on your startup for a couple of days. It’s a great way to drive a surge in new users, and generate some focused, candid feedback on your company. We definitely plan to engage more with the community, and will turn to the site again when we launch new products.
Overall, a really fun experience. Feel free to ping me if you have questions or need more advice.