How I got #1 on Product Hunt (600+ votes) with a Badly Designed Product (& no planning)
Lots of products which get featured on Product Hunt are MVPs or first versions, but one thing most have in common is that they are pretty well designed — they at least look like slick finished products.
Not mine. I’d like to tell you about how my app, Party with a Local, got to #1 on Product Hunt just over a year ago, without ever having a designer involved, and a widely regarded ‘sketchy’ design…
There’s lots of information out there now how to launch & do well on Product Hunt, talking about all the pre-planning required to give yourself the best chance of being featured (like How we got to number 1 on Product Hunt — and stayed there for 24 hour).
I knew none of this when Party with a Local was posted, in fact I’d only heard of Product Hunt 1 day earlier. Despite this Party with a Local got to #1 for the day with a good amount of votes. How??? Read on.
How I (think I) did it
Having read a lot of the ‘#1 on Product Hunt’ stories and posts, I realise I did a lot of the things you are ‘supposed’ to do, instinctively (and by sheer dumb luck):
1. Who posts your product matters
This is well known now — products that ‘influencers’ post (people who’ve hunted a lot of products and gotten a lot of upvotes for their hunts) get featured featured on the front page by default. So who posts your product really matters. I managed to get my friend, and little known to me at the tim one of the all-time top ‘Hunters’ (and #1 most upvoted product of all-time ‘Maker’), Bram Kanstein to post Party with a Local.
How? I just happened to know Bram for years (via mutual friends) — I sometimes ran in to him at the gym or the supermarket in Amsterdam. He already knew about Party with a Local, but we hadn’t hung out in ages. My buddy Greg was actually the person who told me about Product Hunt and the first place and said ‘you should get Bram to post it for you dude, he has a lot of influence there’. I reached out to Bram on Facebook Messenger, he said he’d be happy to post for me the next day. Sorted. Conclusion — know or get to know a recognized ‘hunter’ and get them to post your product.
2. Name of the product matters
Many Product Hunt users I assume just browse the list, perhaps not even taking a good look at your. If your product or startup name stands out, my hunch is that this will lead to more votes by random people outside your network.
Party with a Local — the name says it all. Other products with explanatory names which have done well on PH — Startup Stash (Bram’s #1 upvoted product of all time) & Startup Launch List. If you aren’t a recognized brand yet, a product name which explains what your does helps.
Also ‘Party with a Local’ — sounds fun, right? It is.
3. A good tagline matters
Our tagline usually reads ‘Party with a Local is a free app that connects travelers and locals that want to party’.
When posting it to Product Hunt, Bram shortened this to: ‘Connecting travelers & locals who want to party.’ Short, sweet and to the point (thanks Bram). It backs up the product name (in case there was any doubt what it was about from the name!).
4. Design — doesn’t matter… that much!? (for upvotes anyway)
Yes, we had an ordinary design at the time — both in the app and on our website. And a lot of the comments on Product Hunt were negative ones about how bad the design was. To defend in hindsight — that version of the app was made by me, and 2 very part-time developers with little design sensibilities, and on the smallest of shoestring budgets. Yet we still got a lot of upvotes with this poorly designed product. How?
Despite the poor design, our app was simple, functional and intuitive. Of course design is a hugely important factor, especially for an app, and the PH comments were part of the driving force behind recruiting Julia Grandfield to join the team to improve the design in version 2.0.
5. Tell people about it — but not too many
Most of my friends were not on Twitter and at the time I think about 3 were on Product Hunt (including Bram). I told all my friends who were mildly active on Twitter (which totalled around 15 people) that Party with a Local was on Product Hunt . Their early upvotes helped Party with a Local climb to #1 as we got votes before most regular Product Hunt users were awake or online yet (see time of day below).
I also posted about it on the Party with a Local Facebook page (with around 1200 fans at the time) and shared to my personal Facebook. I didn’t know at the time it was not ok to ask for upvotes, so I’ll admit I did ask just a few people to do this. The total I asked who actually voted was so small very small anyway — maybe 10 people. But be careful about this — Product Hunt are very clear about this now. Do tell people you are on Product Hunt, but don’t ask for upvotes. Let the community decide for themselves what to vote for — that’s how it should be IMO.
6. Day of the week matters, depending on the product
No prior planning went in to the launch day. Our app was already live. I heard about Product Hunt on a Thursday and got featured the next day. A Friday — in hindsight makes a lot of sense for a product like ‘Party with a Local’, with people thinking about Friday nightlife plans.
7. Time of day matters
Bram posted Party with a Local just after lunch Amsterdam Time (GMT+1). We managed to get to #1 within an hour, and stayed there for the rest of the day (by a big margin). This was good timing in hindsight as we were were already at #1 as the USA (and the majority of PH users) were just waking up. Once you’re on top, it’s easier to stay near the top (I think).
8. Category matters
Together with startup resources, the ‘Stacks’ and ‘Stashes’, which always tend to do well on Product Hunt, ‘Meet New People’ apps and services seem to do well. An example is Serendipity which recently got to #1 and over 1000 upvotes with a simple landing page and Typeform survey. I believe this is because meeting new people isn’t currently solved at scale (apart from for dating). It’s just something that people would like to work that doesn’t yet.
9. Comments are good (even negative ones)
We got quite a few comments on Product Hunt. Many about the bad design of course :-( But I think this lead to more views and more votes.
I don’t know how the Product Hunt algorithm works and whether the number of comments plays a factor in the ranking, but the fact that you can see on the homepage how many people have commented, gives people an incentive to check it out — people are talking about it and cared enough to comment on it.
I was asked by the Product Hunt team to join as a ‘Maker’ and happily answered questions and responded to comments — a great thing to do too which probably helps drive more votes.
We happened to be posted the day after Product Hunt themselves launched the 1st version of their iOS app. We had a mobile app too. No doubt this was a factor in driving more votes (and downloads of the app) this particular day as people were trying out the Product Hunt app. We also happened to launch on a day without heavy competition. You could be unlucky and launch the same day as a ‘Stack’ or something Pieter Levels built :-P and have virtually no chance of competing for the #1 spot.
Since being on #1 on Product Hunt
We saw a big spike in new app users, rise in app store rankings in many countries (we even became the #1 app in the Travel category in the Tajikistan iOS App Store!) and lots of traffic to the website from being featured on Product Hunt — from virtually zero to almost 5000 page views in a day:
We also got some follow on press coverage in the months following the Product Hunt feature, The New York Times being an absolute highlight. I got contacted by a few companies very interested in partnering with Party with a Local and interest from some US-based investors (even 2 big name VCs). In the end the Product Hunt feature was one of the social proof points I used to eventually close a round of investment from an Angel investor in the Netherlands.
Most of all it gave me a lot of confidence that I was building as a side project and as a solo founder something that people liked and wanted, even if it wasn’t perfect yet.
Product Hunt is a huge part of why I’m still working on Party with a Local, now together with an awesome team.
We’ve just launched a fully revamped Party with a Local 2.0 app for both iOS and Android. I’m hoping with a better design, and just a little bit of planning, that we’ll do just as well as we did 1st time around! So exciting to be featured on Product Hunt!