Your Friendly Neighborhood Product Hunt Success Story

A story of success, failure, and Product Hunt

At this rate, dude, we really need to think about how soon we should stop working on Fancy Footage Club.

I said this the day before Fancy Footage Club landed itself on Product Hunt. You’ve read these stories. We got on Product Hunt and grew by X! How being featured on Product Hunt changed my life. Me too. They’re great, encouraging essays by founders who needed a win. So, here I am, another founder who enjoyed a huge spike in traffic after being featured on Product Hunt.

Is it a success story? Not sure yet — ask me in a year.

Is it an interesting story, at least? I think so.

Was this whole thing incredibly overwhelming? You bet.

Let’s start at the beginning of the end of our side project turned startup, Fancy Footage Club.

The Beginning of The End

I’d like to say I know exactly how much time I’ve spent designing and developing Fancy Footage Club with Kevin. I think early on we realized that keeping track of that number would serve as a disservice to ourselves, so we canned the idea. If I had to guess, it’d be somewhere around 400 hours since January, clearly not a lot. Though, it’s not so small when squeezed between a full load of course work, client projects, a part-time job, and a girlfriend-soon-to-be-fiance-if-I-can-count-on-her-saying-yes (she said yes, btw ☺).

Wait. Quick interruption.

The Beginning of The Beginning

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fancy Footage Club or how it works, check us out. This is both a shameless plug and a helpful reference for the remainder of my story. I’ll sum it up for your sake:

Fancy Footage Club produces, purchases, and curates high quality stock footage for the web. We noticed that there is a healthy selection of beautiful stock photography — to the benefit of smaller organizations and individuals who can’t afford or source this quality of work — but not video. Additionally, the few places where there is content, there isn’t fair compensation for the content creators. Opportunity!

Okay. Interruption complete.

So, there’s me, overwhelmed with my life and there’s Fancy Footage Club, slowly but surely bringing in enough subscribers to keep me holding on. We take some feedback from early members and even people who refused to deal with us until we made some changes (people like Product Hunt) and we set out to make improvements. This took time, of course; time is money and we’re poor college people with very little money, trying to start two businesses at once.

And they say people who go to college are smart

Lost in this flurry of business was my self-worth. I was starting to burn out. You see, working incredibly hard on something can only be fueled by a few simple things (ordered by their actual effectiveness):

  • Passion
  • Somebody else’s passion
  • Money
  • Bat-shit-crazy-drugs

Well, when you’re a realist, that list is a bit different:

  • Energy
  • Money
  • Bat-shit-crazy-drugs

When you’re afraid of bat-shit-crazy-drugs, you’ve only got your energy and money. Except, I had neither. We had been pushing footage, working with contributors, and attempting to get feedback out of our subscribers — is this like pulling teeth for everyone? And even still, we were facing a measly 1 to 2 subscribers a week. We didn’t know what was wrong or right. It was, in a word, defeating.

Try to remember that the sole motivation for this project is a passion to do something important. I’m not so foolish to think that Fancy Footage Club is the most important thing I could be dedicating time to, but I believed in it — and I still do, for the record. Most times, that’s enough. After a while, though, it isn’t.

I soon realize that the whole thing is a hopeless mess. The only thing to do is talk to my co-founder about said mess and suggest we clean it up, quick and painlessly. Imagine Kevin Spacey in that first episode of House of Cards. With the dog.

Fancy Footage Club was the pain beneath those ruthless hands.

I was hoping Kevin would tell me that I was right, that all this hard work with no forseeable pay-off was useless pain. Instead, he did what all good co-founders do. He told me I was being stupid and we talked it over. I laid it all out. How we’d missed our milestones regularly for weeks. He countered that the project was still only a few months old. I told him our current users didn’t want to give us feedback. He reminded me that our contributors and potential users had. This went on for some time and eventually, I realized I was being stupid. These things take time. More than that, they take patience. Luckily, Kevin’s patience hadn’t worn thin with mine.

This is the single best part of starting a venture with a team. It’s very unlikely everyone will be on the same depressing-as-fuck page as you. That is important for the future success of the project. Rely on your team when you are feeling discouraged.

Good Morning, You’re on Product Hunt!

The picture they went with is a poor representation of how awesome the website is. Trust me.

Can you believe the sweet irony of that? I couldn’t. I truly believed that this was our break. All that hard work, finally paying off. I was on top of the world. People were visiting our website in droves and subscribing to the monthly newsletter. Nothing could stop me.

Except for an email.

And then a tweet.

And then a Facebook message.

All these new signup’s emails were being directed to spam.

We had been enjoying a tremendous conversion rate on our monthly newsletter signup, with even better open & click rates for the emails that followed. We were on track to keep up — maybe even improve — those numbers with all the new subscribers. Unfortunately, not every win is so simple. There’s always something. In sports, the star player wins the game but sustains an injury. With startups, you experience a huge amount of traffic but might lose it’s potential on a technical difficulty.

So, that’s it then? You just give up?

Not quite.

Junk Filters Are Like Racists

Fancy Footage Club had been sending monthly emails with new footage since January of this year. Throughout that period of time, we never experienced a drop in opens or clicks, until our most recent email. An email sent in March, the month of our imminent Product Hunt feature. We thought it was weird, but it could have been a fluke — bad tracking, maybe we sent it at a bad time. Something that wouldn’t happen again.

As it turns out, we had been blacklisted by Gmail and Outlook. We scoured the internet for solutions. After hours of this and some really great support from MailChimp, we realized that our name had been blacklisted. To this day, if we use ‘Fancy Footage Club’ in the FROM field of an email, our Gmail & Outlook subscribers will not see the email. If they’re lucky, they can dig it out of junk, otherwise its completely missing — I’m looking at you, Outlook.

But why?

Well, junk filters are a lot like racists. They pick one flimsy trait to discriminate upon and then they vigrously discriminate against it. In our case, we had become associated with the word ‘free’ in our subject line — as in ‘royalty-free’ — something junk filters have been taught to regularly discriminate against.

It was bittersweet.

All this traffic (an uptick to the tune of +17,000%) and so many attempted email signups, but very few signup confirmations. It was a needed win and it helped us uncover a serious problem. A problem we might have not seen without such high levels of traffic. Luckily, we circumvented the email junk filters within 24 hours of the feature and have managed to send email without issue (to our knowledge) since. There’s always a silver lining.

Starting a business is difficult. It’s easier with money. It’s easier with exposure. It’s easier with time. Entrepreneurship is about persevering through these challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities that present themselves. For us, that opportunity was being featured Product Hunt. We’ve seen tremendous growth and interest in Fancy Footage Club since we hit their front page. There isn’t anything like that kind of validation to motivate you to keep going. Maybe my list from before could use an update:

  • Passion
  • Money
  • Product Hunt Feature

Being on Product Hunt doesn’t take the cake, of course, but it’s enough to remember you’re solving a problem. Maybe that’s enough to remind you of what you’re passionate about. Maybe it’s enough to help you make some money. For us — for me — it was enough to remember what we set out to do. We set out to bring designers great footage to push their designs forward, and fairly compensate the talented videographers who made that footage possible.

What I realized through all of this is that these success stories have a few things in common. The most important, in my opinion, is that these founders have products or services that are really solving problems and bringing together communities. If you can do either of those things and you have the passion, money, or bat-shit-crazy drugs to accomplish it, you’re friendly neighborhood Product Hunt feature will come.

We’re excited to improve the future of video on the web. If that interests you at all, please check us out.

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