We launched it on ProductHunt. What we learned.

That’s Note Instantly, my New Tab in Chrome, in the screen grab above. It’s a nice photo, yes, and it’s a notepad. Jot down what‘s on your mind. Don’t forget! Beat browser tab ADD!

Awesome. Simple. Scratches our own itch.

Actually, it’s also a minimum viable product.

We are neck-deep in building this super-ambitious platform called Knotable, and along the way we decided we should think of something we can actually launch while we finish making the rest.

So we launched it on ProductHunt last week, since that’s what everyone does these days. How’d it go? You must be curious. (We learned some hacks for the Hunt too. At bottom.)

Marketing as a background process

First, how to prepare.

We’ve been running an open alpha and open beta of Knotable —so we have lots of signed up people floating around.

One bonus of this complexity though is lots of organic users and friendly users — thousands of them.

Since it will be part of the final product, we’ve been building notifications and email newsletters to the user group. So we talk to our testers — they know us, they hear from us, and when we “launch” we can ping them.

Being open, and having a channel to early users — that’s the background marketing we have been doing.

We write to our beta users every week, so we have a channel open to folks.

While we built, we kept a list of places we would launch or announce the beta when it was ready. Here’s a knotepad of startup launch sites (worth browsing actually; if you log in you can add your own) that lists a bunch of the places we meant to eventually ping folks.

The stack and tools

  • Typical cloud stuff. AWS, Docker, load balancers, 3–4 app servers. We were ready to add more servers.
  • Meteor and MongoDB. You should look into Meteor if you don’t know it yet. Lots of packages, easy to work with. Biggest hassle for us has been speed — making it’s frontend and the data exchange efficient and fast.
  • App stores. We had stuff in the stores for a few weeks before we ‘launched it’. We showed it to friends and made sure things worked.
  • Customer support is basically email. We have a few places where users get pinged by our team accounts. We made sure the apps had links to email us if there were problems.
  • Mixpanel. We have some drip campaigns set here to ping people after they join.
  • Our own admin panel. Can’t-live-without some tools we built into our app to look up accounts, and reset passwords etc. plus the all important godmode that lets us go in as a user and see what they see.

But this is a ton of stuff. We were just launching a Chrome extension that lets you write a few notes and save them…


Testing the waters

We figured we should practice before hitting Product Hunt so we posted on these honest-looking but kind of sleazy sites BetaList and StartupLi.st — they used to be where people who announce stuff. We actually listed Knotable on both of these a year ago and never heard anything. Clearly these are pure paid sites.

OK, well we checked the prices and decide fine. Let’s pay the $199 for BetaList and $99 for StartupList to just get out there. They posted to their communities and we got 150 downloads. Not a great value really — clearly our funnel has problems (can’t act on the Chrome app in mobile and…it’s a Chrome app while lots of people use Firefox or Safari even).

These communities require you to be “pre-launch” so your landing page shouldn’t have a signup button. We put an email signup box and that was fine.

Unforeseen consequence? Some turkey actually submitted us to ProductHunt. Yikes! We didn’t even notice till a week later.

We let these go for a few days and saw what folks did. Then we decided to do ProductHunt.

Going for it on ProductHunt

The outcomes: we got listed May 28, got 220 votes or so, didn’t make the top ten, and the experience seemed to drive 400 downloads that day plus seemingly 50–100 per day for the week since.

But what did we learn?

Time of day. If you start strong by 9am Eastern time you are way ahead. The top three by that time just get tons of ‘free’ votes all day. So launch super super early.

Who launches you? One of the annointed Product Hunt mavens can submit you, but that group is getting big. And there isn’t any real difference between the people. I myself am one of them — I thought I shouldn’t submit my own thing…it didn’t matter.

Trusting other people to submit you. We tried that — asked a friend. Fail. We should have just submitted it ourself at the perfect moment.

Test runs? Yeah, do one. Just click the + and start submitting. You might be surprised by what happens — like you’ll find someone else submitted you a week ago! That happened to us.

What if you were already submitted? We just changed our URL and submitted anyway. Same product. Worked to beat the algo filter.

But there is also a human filter! There is a community manager person floating around that you can @ to on Twitter and they will do stuff for you like customize your little profile page. In our case they messed up the link to the Chrome extension download URL, and we didn’t get so many downloads. But this works in your favor too — you can get a little help.

Can you promote? I am very sure people promote their stuff. I get emails all the time from people running campaigns for votes. The FAQs on PH are very clear: don’t do it. But everyone does. If you don’t promote early in the day and you are nowhere, I think you are toast. We emailed everyone we knew to get them to vote — maybe 2% did. Normals don’t have Twitters! So that filters a lot of your ‘friends’ out.

The referrer link. PH adds a referrer to the URL they pass you. It might break your landing page if it has anything delicate running.

Who cares about winning? Well if you are in the top ten you live on their homepage for a while and collect more clicks/votes, and you get featured eventually in their newsletter to all users. So getting votes = more visibility later.

What about the awesome product feedback? We hardly got any from the actually PH page or comments. Lots of PH brown-nosing in the comments there. The early users that came in were really interesting though and some had real comments/questions.

Platforms. People are clearly on their phones when they use ProductHunt far more than on laptops. The laptop is dead.

Guide to the startup launch sites

If you want to see the barebones version of the stats from various launch sites we tried, and get the updates from the next steps (what happens as we talk to the bloggers of the world and community/influencer types) go here → stash all about the startup launch sites

If you login when you get there you can add your experiences too since it really ought to be a collective repo not a single anecdotal tale.

Oh by the way, here’s that Chrome Extension again, in case you want to put a notepad on your New Tab that will help you stay on task and remember what you are working on.