Full story of how I built & shipped a #1 PRODUCT OF THE DAY on Product Hunt
Find out how I started from scratch as a solo maker and shipped a simple product idea that got 1300+ upvotes
For a long long time, as a non-technical founder, I stayed on the sidelines without taking action & turning my ideas into real products. My excuse was that I was not a full stack developer and hence couldn’t build and launch my ideas (which were mostly web products) to market.
However, by November 2018 I grew tired of making darn excuses. When I came across the hustle, hard work and consistency of amazing solo makers out there in the Product Hunt community (h/t Ben Tossell, Mubs, Pieter Levels to name a few) I vowed to myself that I won’t just stop at “brainstorming product ideas” but will take the plunge and go build them. With or without a coding background.
So I decided I’ll take my next idea and hustle my butt to bring it to reality without any judgement or huge expectations of success.
And one morning as I was finishing my daily journal, I caught myself reflecting on an article from Paul Graham that I read the previous night. It was about “Things That Don’t Scale”, a counter-intuitive approach to getting customers. Paul argues all the greats do this (shares 3–4 examples) but I believed there would be many more stories we simply aren’t aware of. The traditional tech media doesn’t give enough attention since these are not much widely talked about.
So I wondered:”What if there was a way to curate and showcase early startup experiments and unscalable hacks?” I figured I could simply ask the community themselves to share their personal stories while I curate the best/most resonating ones and surface them on a simple platform?”
That’s it. That was going to be my next product.
A curated database of unscaleable hacks and stories from real founders.
I didn’t think twice and snagged the domain name straight away. “DoThingsThatDontScale.com”
The next day, in a hope to get some traction on the idea, I posted about it on Hacker News, the no#1 community for startup founders with war stories. Also I knew that this community discusses Paul Graham almost daily so I figured they’d resonate well with the idea.
I simply posted a question encouraging people to share their unscalable startup hacks/stories and it FREAKIN’ BLEW up. It reached astounding engagement numbers and shot up to #2 thread on their home page raking more than 260+ comments. This further validated my assumption that people would like to learn about this topic.
I collected their responses and saved them in an Airtable database.
I couldn’t stop talking about this with people. I set up time to discuss this idea and run it by Leandro, a fellow founder friend (who I first met on Twitter!). He immediately saw the value and encouraged me to pursue this idea further. I also spoke to Sharath (my childhood friend and another fellow maker) on this topic and he too was quite stunned by the incredible Hacker News response and propelled me to take this further. And I knew it was time to just build this thing.
I searched for a simple site builder and chanced upon an incredible tool called “Sheet2Site” on Twitter. It uses Google Sheets as a database and I thought this would be perfect for my project. As I toyed around with it, I came to appreciate how clever the tool was. However, it didn’t have the look & feel per my taste and I decided to look for a better alternative.
Again, I was searching on Twitter (my feed is 90% makers and products) and chanced upon another tool called “Table2Site” which uses Airtable as the database and the front end looks much better. Voila!
It was perfect for my situation and I started playing with it. The user flow was super intuitive and well documented to cater to even a non-technical maker like me. I still had some questions and when I reached out cold (again via Twitter) to the founder of this site Maarten, he turned out to be exceptional in his support. He personally loved my project idea and fine tuned the tool’s settings to make it look sharper. I worked quite intensely on the following weekend to make sure this tool is well presented.
So in about 5 days, I brought this idea from a mere scribble in my notebook to a functioning product.
Now anyone can go to the site, pick their favorite tags and can discover a curated list of startup hacks. I will never forget the high of building and launching your 1st solo web product.
The Launch on Product Hunt:
I knew a lot of founders and makers on Product Hunt would find value in the site so it was obvious to me to launch there. I shared the excitement of the PH launch with everyone, my girlfriend, my sister, fellow Atlanta Tech Village friends and harassed them to test the site. They all did and everything worked perfect.
Except on the actual Product Hunt launch morning.
As per our plan, Leandro graciously agreed to “hunt” the tool on the wee hours of Nov 14, 2018. When I woke up, I cleared my mind to begin the day with very humble expectations. I really told myself if the product gets just 10 upvotes, I should be happy. Little did I l know I would wake up that morning to 90 upvotes already. However, there was a twist: When I opened my laptop, I was welcomed with non-stop with tweets complaining that the link from Product Hunt’s post wasn’t working. It was so weird since I tested it that morning and everything seemed fine. The product was soaring up to the top yet there were many people who couldn’t land on the home page.
It seemed like a minor technical glitch yet I couldn't trace the reason behind the issue. I started writing apologies to each and every tweet/comment and asked them a few minutes of time to fix it.
I hurriedly made a few Google searches on how to fix this error.
Meanwhile, the PH staff tweeted at me requesting me to either fix the error or to take the product down since the link was erroneous.
I kept pinging Maarten non-stop until he woke up from sleep (timezones!) and found a solution. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, I returned to engaging with the community over Twitter and Product Hunt. I’ve spent time personally thanking every person for their time and attention. It was unreal. My fingers were racing like never before.
The entire day was unreal. The product has resonated with people all over the world. There were so many encouraging comments (below are a few snippets):
“So awesome.” — David Cancel, Co-founder/CEO at Drift.
In addition to just visitors, the site was also attracting a lot of founders who wanted to share their stories with the community. I kept getting so many emails (such as the one below) where startup founders recounted their stories from early days and how creative they had to get to get customers. It was both entertaining but also fascinating how real these stories felt.
Meanwhile, the site traffic was soaring thanks to the network effects of Product Hunt and Twitter. Here’s a snapshot mid-day:
One of my favorite parts of the launch day was this message from someone in Brazil. The guy below (Ale) found out about the tool from Product Hunt and loved it and wanted to translate the site into a Portuguese version that many more non-English speakers could value in it. I was not expecting this so it truly made my day!
Ever since, we worked together and he eventually launched a Portuguese site a few days later which is a mirror of my original site in English. Here’s how it looks:
Anyway, by the end of my wild launch day, below were the recap stats:
User-submitted stories: 54 hacks
Newsletter subscribers: 43
Page Views: 6300+
New Users: 4600+
What a fantastic day it was! I couldn’t have asked for more and honestly it still feels super humbling and satisfying!
Where am I now & What’s next:
The positive responses haven’t stopped coming in even after the launch. Even now, every other day I get someone on Twitter DM me about the site or enter a new hack into the database. The upvotes after the launch day have doubled and the email newsletter is growing well. I hope to keep the momentum going week after week.
A month after launch, as of today (Dec 14, 2019), these are the latest stats:
Upvotes: 1393 on Product Hunt (2x from launch day!)
User-submitted stories: 54 hacks
Newsletter subscribers: 204
Avg open rate: 54.8% (vs industry avg of 13.45%)
This entire project taught me so much about building products. I’ve come to realize how much of product building is really “audience building” and sharpening your intuition on what they might like to use. Experience is 100x more valuable than plain theory and knowledge. With this and many such simple tools, I hope to compound on my insights and experience of building products that people truly love.
Lesson I learned: It all starts with taking action, no matter how simple the scope/idea seems to be.
What’s next: UnDeck
If you are a busy founder/professional, I hope you’ll agree that there is so much clutter out there in the “presentation templates/decks” space. So for my next project, I decided to curate and hand-pick the outstanding decks and showcase them. UnDeck will be a simple platform where you can FIND beautiful decks for your next project for FREE. Templates will cover Google Slides, PPT, Keynote and Prezi and more eventually.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best in your product endeavors. If there’s anyway I can help, I would love to. Please reach out to me on Twitter at @thisiskp_.