How to build a $20 million community like Product Hunt
Learn how Ryan Hoover built the top tech community from an experimental side project!
When people think of building a startup, they think they need to be some genius engineer, reinvent the wheel, and solve problems in their everyday lives.
Fast forward a few years and we see that Product Hunt is now the go-to platform for launching products and was acquired by AngelList for ~$20 million after a few years.
Let's dive into how this happened 👇
🎬 How Product Hunt Started
Ryan Hoover was a complete startup junkie. His free time was spent scrolling Reddit, Hacker News, and attending startup meetups.
Whenever he met someone, the first thing he'd say would be, "What cool new products are you using?". Ryan loved these types of conversations.
But he realized there wasn't a Reddit-like community dedicated to this niche. So he thought, "What if there was a community for people to share, discover, and discuss new products".
But he needed a quick way to validate this idea.
Ryan wasn't an engineer, so funding a website would be costly and take too much time. Fortunately, he found a product called Linkydink. Contributors can add links and subscribers would receive these links in a daily email.
In 20 minutes, Ryan had an MVP ready to send to his network.
👨💻 Getting Users
In the beginning, Ryan simply shared emails with friends, family, and friends of friends. Most importantly, his network was filled with entrepreneurs and VCs he met through blogging, meetups, etc.
He had a lot of positive reception and his email list grew organically to a few hundred subs. This validated his idea and encouraged him to move forward by partnering with Nathan Bradshaw to build the "real Product Hunt".
Product Hunt 1.0
After completing the first version of the real Product Hunt, Ryan was able to grow Product Hunt quickly in a few ways:
Press release - Ryan interviewed with PandoDaily and Fast Company about launching his new product. These publications had an audience with similar interests and netted a few hundred subscribers (Ryan used to guest blog for them)
Manual outreach - Product Hunt's success hinged on building a strong community. Ryan monitored signups for quality contributors, or influencers, and would personally email them with details about Product Hunt. To make them feel extra special, Ryan gave these users "exclusive privileges" such as commenting and contributing
While this was a manual effort, it paid off! Product Hunt had 2000 signups in less than 3 weeks from its launch.
📈 Scaling to thousands of users
Ryan and the Product Hunt team knew one thing. The community had to grow organically and scale itself. Manual outreach to acquire users is great, and even though they got thousands of high-quality users this way, it doesn't scale.
After products made the top 10 list on Product Hunt, Ryan and his team would personally send the founders an email congratulating them. More manual work, but founders would provide feedback and share their experience.
And that was the key. Founders began to detail how Product Hunt helped land their first 1000 users or even secured funding within a day. Eventually, makers began to learn that launching on Product Hunt and making the top 10 would get them a ton of users, immediate brand recognition, and feedback from a high-quality audience.
And this is the key to Product Hunt's growth. It provides immense value. Users can discover new tools to help with their everyday lives. VCs/journalists find out about the "next big thing" they can invest/write about. And founders have a community to learn from, get huge distribution, and even funding!
Around 3 years after his initial experiment, Ryan sold Product Hunt to AngelList, a website designed for job-seekers and investors to discover startups. They both solve complementary problems, and Product Hunt was able to operate as a separate entity.
Ryan says the key is that Naval, founder of AngelList, invested in Product Hunt early, understood, and had similar goals for the app.
Without this, an acquisition wouldn't have been possible.
🔑 Key Takeaways
Validate ideas fast - No-code tools can be great even for engineers to create quick MVPs!
Personal outreach is your friend - Product Hunt was able to seed their initial users of investors and founders. Ryan met them by networking, cold-emailing, and asking friends! Later on, he personally emailed any founder, investor, or influencer who signed up to earn their loyalty and make them feel special
Share stories - Ryan tweeted and shared successful products. Eventually, the founders began wanting to as well. Give users a great experience, and they'll want to share it!
Communities need to add value - Founders had a distribution platform while users had a discovery
Focus on a niche - Reddit and Hacker News had forums where people shared products, but there wasn't a specific platform dedicated to it.
Keep doing what works -> If personal emailing works, why stop? Do things that work until you hit diminishing returns!
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