Launching on Product Hunt: How it All Went Horribly Wrong
A high schooler’s experience
By the time of our launch in July, we had been trying to fix this god-awful problem we first encountered 9 months earlier. My guess is that some of you might be familiar with the beast we’re wrangling.
Lack of Meeting Followup
Adhiv and I were both involved in student council. During our meetings, Nick, our secretary, would try and keep track of each person’s tasks. Afterward, he would take the time to individually type all of these tasks up and add them to a spreadsheet. This drudgingly slow busy work would take him upwards of 30 minutes each meeting… and worst of all?
Taking notes while tracking tasks was infuriatingly slow.
Our in-person discussions would be constantly punctuated by silence as we waiting for action items to be handled. Even after our meetings, tracking action items took exorbitant amounts of time. This is not only because Nick had to upload each individual task, but also because every officer had to track their own deadlines and constantly update the spreadsheet. We were micromanaging ourselves.
Adhiv got so frustrated with this busy work that he pulled aside Matthew, our longtime friend and project partner, and me and pitched us what would eventually become Action. The idea was straightforward: make managing action items drop dead simple.
Fast Forward 9 Months.
After months of iterations and ceaseless Slack messages, we were getting anxious to see social proof. I had argued for pushing off our release date several times, claiming that our extension wasn’t “ready.” In reality, I think I was scared of hearing what others had to say (or really, not say. Silence would have been worse than any form negative feedback). Yes, we had solved our own problem, but what if Action was worthless for everyone else?
In retrospect, this is exactly why we should have released Action earlier. We should have tried to diagnose our project’s viability as early as possible. That way we could just move on if it was ineffective.
During a late-night video chat, we decided that we had to launch before summer’s end. The date was set. July 29th.
Doing our research…sort of
Well, if we were going to be featured, we were going to do it right. We did what any other 21st-century adolescent does when confronted with a question. We Binged it. Okay, maybe most other 21st-century adolescents would have used Google…
So. We had the advice. All we had to do was follow these checklists and we could top the front page too, right? Wrong. So, so very wrong.
Thinking that a checklist was all we needed
This was a harmful mindset to have. After reading all of these guides, handbooks, and manuals, we strongly believed in our ability to “game” Product Hunt. We focused more on our nuanced launch techniques rather than what we should have been spending time on: the Action extension itself. No amount of cleverly worded tweets or emotionally appealing Facebook posts can make up for a bad product. The term “leaky bucket,” which I first heard in Gimlet’s Startup podcast, could’ve very well applied to our extension.
During our research, we also stumbled upon a cool service called Hunter Hunt. We pinpointed our Hunter: Jack Smith, legendary Product Hunt connoisseur. It is only while writing this post, months later, that I found out that Jack actually “hates” hunterhunt. (If you’re reading this Jack, sorry!) Luckily, we didn’t tweet him with the generic hunterhunt template.
We also wanted to be able to track online discussion about Action, and so we set up notify.ly, a cool service that tracks certain keywords on social media and slacks them to your team in real time.
With case studies accumulated and our ideal hunter decided, we starting throwing together a landing page.
Not spending enough time on the landing page
With our landing page we completely disobeyed one of the Product Hunt commandments: Thou shall make Hunters feel special. We had seen countless examples of Glasshole Kitty welcome mats but had forgotten to even think about a special Product Hunt welcome for Action.
In addition, our landing page just didn’t give a very strong first impression. Our copy was unpolished and overly vague. We had too many call-to-actions scattered across the pages.
Luckily, our biggest, boldest, baddest header clearly accentuated our value proposition.
“Help Your Team”? With what? Help your team schedule conference calls? Help your team order food from Slack?
First impressions are integral to a product’s success, and ours clearly wasn’t very strong.
Thinking we had nailed the landing page, we drafted short emails to our close friends and professional contacts, our first Product Hunt comment, and a Facebook post to publish.
Not having active Twitter accounts
So now we had the emails, the comments, and the posts. We also read somewhere that we should have tweets prepared. Except there was one problem. None of us had active Twitter accounts.
For us to try and publish Action on a Twitter-heavy site like Product Hunt without active twitter accounts ourselves was self-destructive. Upon logging in to my twitter for the first time in over a year, I discovered that I had actually been banned for “suspicious automated activity.”
Oh boy. We had an uphill battle ahead of us.
July 29th: Launch Day
Alright. We followed the pre-launch checklists, we prepared the content, and we had people enlisted to help us spread the word. Here’s how our launch day unfolded:
6:00 am: Action was posted (an hour earlier than we had thought)
6:30 am: We all woke up to find out that Action was posted early. We threw out any plan of having a video conference before our posting and just started going with it.
6:30 am: Tweeted @producthunt to get maker access
6:35 am: Uploaded media to our product hunt listing
6:45 am: Emailed all of our contacts asking them to take a look at the Product Hunt front page
7:00 am: Our first upvotes started coming in. This was it!
The rest of the day we were making our scheduled posts on outlets such as Facebook, hacker/startup groups, and tweeting at all of the people that had upvoted Action on Product Hunt.
Throughout the day, Action slowly climbed to the middle of the Product Hunt front page. In addition, our inboxes started to fill up with inquiries and feedback. Interestingly, we even got a couple of job applications.
During the launch, we had purposefully left our ages vague so as to avoid any positive or negative bias.We wanted people to judge our creation for what it was. Our biggest fear was that professionals would hold Action to lower standards simply because three 16-year olds had built it.
But these emails got us thinking. Was there any way for these strangers on the internet to find out our age? That’s when we remembered that our landing page for Action, action.mawteam.com, was hosted off of our public team website, mawteam.com. Uh oh.
Not double-checking all of the pages on our site
We had never fully polished mawteam.com and there was placeholder text everywhere. According to the site, all of our 6 projects were coded in “MySQL (l.o.l.)”
Hold up. MySQL?!
Whenever Adhiv, the designer of the team, creates mockups for our projects, he loves getting “creative” with the placeholder text. I had once been asked by a tech-aware, intelligent business man what our project, Action, was developed in. Under the heavy pressure of getting the “pitch” and my responses just right, I had actually told him that Action was developed in MySQL.
My ineptitude has since become a running inside-joke within the team. (For those of you who, like myself, aren’t super tech-savvy, MySQL is an open-sourced database, not a developing language. Almost every developer knows that.)
In addition, it was only in the afternoon, hours after Action was posted, that we threw up a quick Product Hunter welcome.
We had missed welcoming the first few hundred users, and with the MySQL blunder, our credibility was beginning to go down the drain.
And then it got worse.
In the late afternoon as Action hit the 100 upvote mark, we got a Facebook chat from a concerned friend.
“Hey, have you guys taken a look at your landing page on Safari?”
On Safari? Our use case was only users on either Chrome or Firefox. Those were the only two browsers our extension was compatible with at the time.
We indifferently opened up Safari and twiddled our thumbs as we waited for the site to load…
Then it hit us. We forgot to test our site on Safari.
Not doing cross-browser testing
The custom scrolling that we had built into our landing page completely fell apart on Safari. It was as though our entire landing page was having an uncontrollable seizure each time you tried to scroll.
Only 8% of our visits were from Safari browsers, but this final blunder seemed to nail the coffin lid on any remaining credibility we had.
At the end of the day, Action was nestled in at the #11 position out of over 20 products on the front page.
Traffic had steadily died down as the day went by, from 150 new hits per hour to 50. We had stopped getting new tweets or mentions.
All things considered, we didn’t have a terrible launch. Despite being tired, we all felt accomplished at the end of the day. We do wonder: how would our launch have gone if we had just prepared for it better?
Perhaps more so than any high school course, our experience with Product Hunt had taught us the value of just doing your research.
As I type this blog post, Adhiv, Matthew, and I are all in Adhiv’s living room, working on our next big roll out for Action: Action for Teams, featuring a task hub, calendar reminders, and integrations with Slack, Trello, and Asana.
My biggest take away from this whole experience is surprisingly not about the launch but about the post-launch experience. I had expected growth to just happen naturally after being featured on Product Hunt, but our daily page views died down very rapidly.
Our Final Mistake:
Thinking that a good launch was all we needed.
I think Paul Graham does a fantastic job describing the pitfalls of the “Big Launch” in this essay of his.
It’s not enough just to do something extraordinary initially. You have to make an extraordinary effort initially. Any strategy that omits the effort — whether it’s expecting a big launch to get you users, or a big partner — is ipso facto suspect.
We were lured into thinking that Action would be a “projectile rather than [a] powered aircraft” by the same combination of “solipsism and laziness” that Graham mentions. We got so caught up in getting our launch just right that we lost sight of the fundamentals.
As we’ve found out in the last few weeks, getting growth is very hard. And from here on out, it’s an uphill trudge in the snow for us.
To anyone out there preparing for a launch of your own, I dearly hope you don’t make the same mistakes as us.
Since our launch, we’ve made unexpected connections with so many great people.
Thank you again to our wonderful hunter Jack Smith, the supportive product hunt community, and all of our good friends, too numerous to list here, that helped us out with our launch. Thank you also to Nick, our amazing secretary, who put up with all of that meaningless work for a whole year.
If you’re interested in hearing more about Action or our experience, feel free to subscribe to our newsletter here or contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Action Team