Ten things you didn’t know about Product Hunt

After launching two software products on Product Hunt, I’ve learned the ins and outs, dos and don’ts, and the pros and cons of being featured on Product Hunt. While there have been countless articles about this Silicon Valley phenomenon on Medium and elsewhere, here are ten things you probably didn’t know, unless you work for, have invested in, or are friends with staff of, Product Hunt.

1. Who hunts you matters.

Contrary to previously published advice about Product Hunt here and here, who hunts you is the #1 factor in determining whether your product is “featured” on the celebrated homepage or relegated to the Product Hunt graveyard, the Upcoming page. I have it on good authority that there are about 2,000 people with instant homepage posting privileges. Your mission, if you desire to be “featured” on the homepage, is to track down one of these 2,000 powerful souls and convince them to “hunt” your product for you. Both of my products, Wordzen and GMass, have been featured on the homepage, but their journeys to the homepage were vastly different. I hunted Wordzen myself, and given my peasant status in the Product Hunt world, it was immediately relegated to the Upcoming page, where it lasted for a few hours before being removed entirely. After an exhausting emotional roller coaster and lobbying various Product Hunt staff on Twitter, it was featured on the homepage the next day. With GMass, I wised up, left nothing to chance, and found a top hunter to hunt it. The result? Instant appearance on the homepage. Interestingly, someone else had hunted GMass the week before, where it sat, lonely and untouched on the Upcoming page, further demonstrating that it’s not necessarily the merit of the product that determines whether it’s featured.

2. Some of the enthusiastic comments are staged.

Before my products were featured, I found myself constantly experiencing product-envy — seeing comments on others’ products and wondering how they garnered such a loyal and enthusiastic following so quickly. I felt like my users would never be as passionate about my product as their users are about theirs. The day your product is featured, however, Product Hunt staff gives you three invites to dole out to friends, users, investors, or whomever you would like to invite to participate in the discussion. Typically makers will use their three invites on people who will naturally make positive statements about their product. It’s like asking a job candidate for references, and the references all being friends or even parents of the candidate. Looking at GMass, can you tell which commenters were invited by me?

3. Collections matter.

In fact, just two weeks ago, an update to the Collections feature was announced that lets you follow collections, annotate them, and search for them. What is noteworthy, however, is that there are likely collections to which your product belongs but is not a part of. Both of my products are extensions for Gmail, so naturally I wanted them to appear in the official Product Hunt “Apps for Gmail” collection. It’s been months since Wordzen was featured and weeks since GMass was featured, but being listed in that collection still drives website traffic, and ultimately new users. Getting added to a collection doesn’t just happen automatically, however, even if you’re featured or rise to #1 on the homepage. You have to ask to be added to an official Product Hunt Collection, and your best bet is to ask on the day you’re featured. Why? Keep reading…

4. Product Hunt staff is most responsive on the day you’re featured.

On other days, not so much. Understandable though, as they’re busy. Product Hunt has become the de facto standard for launching a tech product, and judging by the amount of traffic my websites have attracted from being featured, I can only imagine they have millions of users and likely thousands of inbound requests from product makers coming in via Twitter and email. I made two requests via Twitter on the day I was featured, both of which were honored in record time. First, I asked a staff member to change GMass’s tagline. Unfortunately GMass’s hunter neglected my wishes and used a less than optimal tagline, and I, having planned out every detail of my Product Hunt launch, wanted to specifically use: “A beautiful mass email system for Gmail”. I tweeted my request to a Product Hunt community manager, and my wish was granted, almost instantly. Secondly, I asked for GMass and my previously featured product Wordzen to be added to the Gmail Apps Collection, a request which a month prior, had gone ignored. This time my wish was fulfilled, and with gusto to boot.

5. The ranking algorithm is simpler than you think.

There has been much speculation about the algorithm that determines where you rank on the homepage. As many have discovered, the order is not determined purely by numbers of upvotes. There are other factors at play, such as the length of time that has passed since the product was featured, and who specifically has upvoted. The website states that products are “ranked by the number of upvotes, time since submission, and other factors.” If I was the software developer in charge of preventing people from gaming Product Hunt, this is what I’d do:

a. Count upvotes and weight earlier upvotes greater than later upvotes.

b. Weight upvotes from top Product Hunt hunters heavier than those from everyone else.

c. Ignore upvotes from Product Hunt users with no past upvotes.

d. Penalize upvotes from Product Hunt users linked to Twitter accounts with fewer than five followers.

6. Reddit is a fertile pre-Product Hunt testing ground.

If you want to know how you will fare in the Product Hunt community, post your product’s story to the /r/startups sub-reddit. I did that the week prior, which provided the validation I wanted to confidently launch on Product Hunt. My reddit thread was the #1 thread on the /r/startups sub for a day and a half with 85 upvotes. Note that Product Hunters are generally “nicer” than most redditors, so if you can pass muster and handle the vitriol on reddit, you’ll likely do well on Product Hunt. In fact, several supporters commented to tell me that my next step was to get GMass featured on Product Hunt. As I mentioned in point #1 above, someone actually did take it upon himself and hunt it, but since he didn’t have Product Hunt clout, it was left ignored on the Upcoming page.

7. There is no correlation between upvotes and product success.

It’s counterintuitive to think that the #1 upvoted product for the day, week, or month doesn’t immediately become a household name and get acquired for billions. Here are some examples in my world of Gmail extensions. Boomerang is the world’s most popular Gmail extension, with over 1 million users, yet it falls below GMass in the Gmail Apps Collection! Funny, because in comparison to their 1 million users, GMass stands at a lowly 1,000. The #1 product in the Gmail Apps Collection, Sortd, was also the #1 product of the day when it was featured eight months ago. Yet from the lack of recent blog posts and plethora of recent one-star reviews on the Chrome Web Store, it seems that it’s been abandoned. That doesn’t stop people from still upvoting it though; in fact, despite it being featured eight months ago, it has a few more upvotes today than it did when I last checked a few days ago. Finally, Google’s own “Gmail Offline” garnered only 115 upvotes on Product Hunt, but actually has more than 5 million users.

8. The Product Hunt “rules” aren’t engraved in stone.

Like any popular forum, Product Hunt has rules to tame the chaos, but some are enforced less than others. Not every “product” is a product, some products have been featured before, and some featured products don’t even exist yet. Just yesterday, The Free Help Guy was featured. Cool idea? Maybe, but a guy with a website offering to help people is hardly a product. The day GMass was featured, it was competing alongside How Much To Make a Video, which any software developer can tell you is a website with a single CASE statement that spits out a number based on a series of answered questions. A Gmail extension called MixMax has been featured twice, once when it originally launched, and again when it became available for Google’s Inbox. Volley, a service where people help each other, has been featured three times: once originally, then again when they made some improvements, and yet again when they launched an iPhone app. Despite Product Hunt’s own rules and echoes of YOLO (You Only Launch Once) reverberating as gospel in startup water cooler conversations, that’s not the reality. I’m hoping I can take advantage of this as well, like when I change the background color on the GMass website next week.

9. Ryan Hoover won’t respond to your email.

Want to be featured and run an exclusive? You might just think you’ll kick off an email to your buddy ol’ pal Ryan Hoover, and voila, he’ll get right on it. He does, after all, make his contact information available on his About page. My three emails have gone unanswered, although he has responded to and favorited a few of my tweets, which was exciting. He’s a Silicon Valley superstar with 40,000 Twitter followers and a boatload of incoming emails competing for his attention, so it is likely physically impossible for him to respond to the volume of email he receives. Emailing him nowadays is likely similar to emailing Bill Gates. Although if he entrusted his email to Wordzen, he wouldn’t need an army of staffers to manage his Inbox.

10. It takes more than a Product Hunt feature to be successful.

At one point during GMass’s Product Hunt launch, I was getting one new sign-up every two minutes. We didn’t do as well as Matt Sydeworks, but I was thrilled nonetheless. If only that continued post-Product Hunt. Those 400 signups in the first day dwindled to 200 signups the next day, then 100, then 50, then 25…and now I’m losing 10 users/day. I jest, but the Product Hunt effect doesn’t last forever, but it is a fantastic springboard for getting other press. As a result of Product Hunt, GMass has been mentioned here, here, and here, and when I pitch to journalists, it’s beneficial to be able to say, “GMass was the #6 product on Product Hunt.”

This all could be moot considering that today, Product Hunt unveiled a mockup of the future of Product Hunt, and there has been spirited discussion around some of the exact points I make in this article. I just hope that the changes aren’t so drastic that it goes the way of TaskRabbit. Despite its idiosyncrasies, present and future, getting your product featured on Product Hunt is absolutely worth the effort, even if such effort involves stalking Ryan Hoover at conferences. Despite what some people are postulating regarding Product Hunt fatigue, not even a TechCrunch write-up will bring you the kind of lasting traffic that Product Hunt will. Actually I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never been mentioned in a TechCrunch article, but at least now when I pitch a TechCrunch writer, I can offer the social proof of having been gloriously featured on Product Hunt.

Like this article? You can read more on my blog and find me on Twitter. Please also try my two Gmail products, Wordzen and GMass.