Launching on Product Hunt

The good, the bad, the ugly

Penny's Product Hunt landing page

For those of you who don’t live and breathe technology, Product Hunt may not mean a lot to you. I’ll let the venture capital firm First Round Capital explain its significance around the time we were starting Penny:

Product Hunt is now the place to discover the “next big things” in tech. Every day, it curates a list of the top products and startups that people haven’t heard of yet and lets a widening yet select group of members upvote, comment and discuss. The result is a daily top 10 list of what people should be paying attention to across the industry. Founders are using it as a launch pad, investors as a hunting ground, and many others just to stay in the know._

For me and Alex, sharing Penny on Product Hunt was a no-brainer — the only consideration (and cost) was how much time to put into it.

We expected Product Hunt to be the first significant source of non-friends-and-family traffic. But alas, the best laid plans of Mitch and Alex…

Preparation

Let’s start with how we prepared for the launch. The first question we asked ourselves was, “What’s stopping us from launching on ProductHunt?” At the time, we had a working prototype and some early beta testers. The list we came up with was:

  • Incorporating to protect ourselves from liability
  • Improving our marketing page
  • Choosing a launch date and time
  • Finding an influencer to share Penny
  • Crafting the post

Here’s a quick look at each of these.

Incorporating

More info on why we opted to incorporate and our process for doing so can be found in this post. Spoiler alert: it’s easier than you might think, but don’t do it unless you absolutely have to.

Marketing Page

A good marketing page is a powerful tool for conversion (more on that in this post) and a prerequisite to making the most of a Product Hunt launch as far as we’re concerned.

In addition to the marketing page, we also added a custom animation for all traffic that hit our site from Product Hunt; you can see a preview in the screenshot at the top of this post. On launch day, we added a banner for non-Product Hunt traffic to inform them that we had launched on Product Hunt, the theory being to drive any auxiliary traffic back to our Product Hunt page in hopes of generating some extra upvotes.

Launch Date and Time

Alex originally posted to our Facebook group letting them know we’d be launching on Product Hunt at 12am. Proving just how little we know about these sorts of things, about five minutes later we read that it may be better to go live around 7am and changed our minds. Basically, we had no idea what we were doing so we were grasping at straws.

We finally settled on posting around 6am so that we (1) would be awake for the entirety of the time we were on Product Hunt, (2) wouldn’t lose momentum while we slept (Product Hunt’s ranking algorithm is a secret, but momentum was definitely a factor around this time), and (3) wouldn’t have to compete with Product Hunt’s European and Australian populations.

The data was also conflicted about which day was best to launch on, so using a similarly super-scientific approach we opted for a Tuesday, because it begins with a T and that’s a cool letter. And for everyone that just asked about Thursday, stop it. You’re thinking too hard.

Finding an Influencer

Ideally, you want your product to be shared by a top Product Hunter since they have more followers and therefore more reach. We used the now-defunct hunterhunt.co to see if anyone would be willing to hunt Penny; unfortunately, we didn’t have much success.

As it turns out, cold contacting people is no easy task, especially when you’re doing your absolute best not to cross the thin line to spammer territory. We tried a few different strategies, including cold — but polite — emails and direct messages on Twitter, but didn’t get any bites.

We ended up contacting a friend with moderate influence to post our product so as not to delay our launch. Unprompted, they forked over their password and suggested we post ourselves rather than wake them up extra early… I think my next post may be on password security.

The Post

You need to have the name of your product, a short tagline, your welcome announcement, and some screenshots of the product.

Given that the tagline is what will first catch a user’s eye, we spent the most time on that. We looked at the average length of existing taglines (around 45 characters) and leaned on the highest performing posts for inspiration. We eventually settled on the tagline “A personal finance coach that’s simpler than Mint.” We weren’t thrilled about comparing ourselves to Mint, but direct comparisons are an effective way to quickly describe a product.

The Build Up

The night before the launch, we laid out our loose plan for the following morning:

  1. Deploy the website updates
  2. Make Facebook and Twitter posts
  3. Contact people to let them know we’re on Product Hunt
  4. Engage with people who upvoted the product on Twitter

Cue dramatic music.

On August 4, at approximately way-too-early-in-the-morning, I woke up, went to my computer, and got to work.

I pasted in the copy Alex and I had decided on from our Google doc, added a single image for Penny, took one last deep breath, clicked enter…

…and was promptly redirected to a post someone else had made sharing Penny with the Product Hunt community.

End dramatic music. Follow with crashing plates or something.

To say I was confused would be an understatement. In my defense, this was at 6am, sans coffee. I tried posting again and the same thing happened, only this time I noticed the banner at the top stating that someone else had already shared this product. That person’s earlier post, well intentioned as it was, was effectively blocking our Product Hunt launch.

After a few minutes of trying the same thing and expecting different results, it finally set in: our launch was a bust.

Damage Control

Alex and I hopped on a call to discuss our two options:

  1. Use a different website link so that our post wouldn’t be blocked
  2. Reach out to Product Hunt and ask for help

Reaching out to Product Hunt likely meant postponing the launch, since there was no reasonable expectation that they would get back to us early that morning. Using a different website link that redirected to our home page would probably work, but it was entirely possible that Product Hunt would decide to remove our post as a duplicate and that all of our work would be wasted.

After a couple minutes of back and forth, we opted to play it safe and go with option two.

We quickly reached out to Product Hunt via their “support” email, the catch-all hello [at] producthunt.com, and prayed they’d get back to us quickly.

All told, this process took about an hour and a half from start to mood-crushing finish.

It took over a day and a follow up email from us before they finally responded:

Hey Mitch & Alex!

The Penny product page is in the submissions list and I’ve added you as makers! From here you can reach out to the PH community on Twitter and get them interested in your product. There are a handful of people able to post products directly to the homepage and they could help. Get them interested in what you’re doing!

We had no idea what any of that meant, so we followed up with them in hopes of getting more clarity.

As it turns out, there were multiple types of Product Hunt users with varying degrees of permissions.

  • Public — anyone who visits the site can view products but can’t interact with any of them
  • Plebeian — once you make a Product Hunt account, you can upvote any product you’d like
  • Patrician — if you get an invite from an existing Product Hunt user, you’ll be able to actually comment on those products
  • Magician — at some point, the Powers That Be grant you the ability to post products directly to the front page (!)

Disclaimer: These are my unofficial names. I have no idea what the different permission levels are actually called.

It was that last group that we wanted to target since that could have a huge effect on our ultimate performance come launch day. It’s not impossible to make it to the front page without the help of a magician, but it sure makes your job easier.

All that said, we were sufficiently peeved by our experience with Product Hunt that we decided to table any further discussions for the time being.

Bouncing Back

As laid out in a previous post, we quickly turned our attention to other channels of growth.

However, a couple of weeks later we decided to take a second stab at Product Hunt. After all, what was the worst that could happen?

We did a bit of digging and found a hunter that was at least willing to listen to our pitch.

Somewhat surprisingly, he actually responded! We emailed him the details of what had happened and, after requesting some basic info from us (original Product Hunt post, Penny URL, tagline, Twitter handles), he sent back a brief but awesomely exciting response:

ok, I will anticipate tuesday, about 6am-7am PST

We were finally a go for Product Hunt!

Round Two

Somewhat surprisingly, things went off without a hitch. We were notified via Twitter that we had been added as a makers to Penny shortly before 6am; in fact, the message was waiting for me when I got up.

At long last, we were live! 🎉

In rapid succession, we did the following:

  • Added pictures and banner images to the post.
  • Posted to our Facebook group.
  • Deployed the relevant marketing page updates.
  • Emailed a few people letting them know we were live.

Up, Up and Away

By 8:30am, we had 54 votes and 584 unique marketing page views. Ten minutes later, we had cracked the top 10 — right behind an airbag helmet for cyclists and right in front of a watercolor painting generator. Yeah, you heard me: Penny was hotter than a watercolor painting generator.

At 9:45am, we got our very first corporate email:

Hi, I work for [big bank] based in San Francisco looking at new technologies. I wanted to get in contact to understand more about Penny and potential synergies with [big bank].

So exciting! They used the word “synergies”!

During those first few hours, Alex and I were tracking down the handful of small issues that cropped up and thanking upvoters on Twitter. Alex wrote a nifty little one-line script to generate the list of upvoters to thank; everything else was done by hand. I’d estimate that at least 80% of the thank you tweets were favorited by the recipient, and 20–30% of them resulted in responses or further engagement on Twitter. Translation: it’s a nice thing to do, it doesn’t take much time, and it may even lead to more traffic.

Just after 11:30am, we crossed 100 upvotes.

By the time I finally left for dinner around 8pm, we had amassed 200 votes, 30 comments and over 2000 unique page views, 30% of which clicked the download button.

Despite some stiff competition (Google launched two new products and Product Hunt launched a product of their own… 😒), we somehow managed to finish in the top ten. That’s a big deal, since it meant that Penny would continue to show up in all of the prior day top ten summaries for anyone that scrolled down far enough.

Conclusion

It’s not wise to rely on any one platform as a magic bullet for getting your name out there, but a successful Product Hunt has a lot of upside potential.

Alex and I posted a thank you to our Facebook group summarizing our reflections on the day. The two key take aways were:

  1. Actual votes are just the tip of the iceberg: 200 upvotes corresponded to well over 2,000 unique people visiting our marketing page. The ratio of 1 vote to 10 views was relatively constant for us throughout the day.
  2. 30% of visitors clicked on the download button, which we’re taking to mean that (1) our marketing page does an okay job at conveying the value proposition of Penny, and (2) the value proposition of Penny doesn’t suck. If either of those were untrue, that number would be much, much lower.

All told, we had hundreds of new users sign up on the day of the launch, not to mention the stream of users that continued to find us through that post. More importantly, the feedback we got from those new users was both thoughtful and constructive.

Product Hunt isn’t right for every new product, but it sure got the ball rolling for us 📈

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