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How Launching on Product Hunt Acts as a Fluid & Rigid Forcing Function for a Startup

On Friday, 12:01am, our small, nimble team at TOMO launched our first public product onto the web.

And, as you can probably imagine, t’s been a blistering 3 days (and some change), we’ve learned a ton, and I wanted to make sure that I could capture some visceral thoughts on digital paper before they disappeared into the void of improvements, iterations, and work that’s piling up.

So here are a few things that we’ve learned from our experience with launching exclusively on Product Hunt and how the Product Hunt, as a service, created much-needed forcing functions for us as a team. Perhaps you’ll be able to draw some lessons from this for your own use.

Good luck — you’re in for a ride.

When you’re in the business of building a technology product you constantly feel like you’re sitting on a pendulum of emotion — either you’re going to ship the next best thing since sliced bread or you’re going to deliver absolute dog shit; there’s no in-between.

Of course, this isn’t what really happens but the emotions of shipping a product publicly can become so powerful that it can literally stop you in your tracks: Some of your most base and childhood tendencies, fears, and anxieties can come into play at a massive scale: “What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like me?

Disturbing memories of recess and playground time during elementary school can slowly creep back into my conscious and drain the life out of me — is there anything quite like being picked last for the kickball team?

Aside: This is one of the reasons that I think it’s infinitely better to have a team, by the way, since working through these natural emotions is better when you’re not doing it solo.

What I have to do as a leader, among many things, is to provide guidelines and clear timetables for the team to rally around and execute against. Product Hunt allows a fine-tuned balance of rigid and fluid forcing functions that we could assemble around.

(Just in case you didn’t know, a forcing function is any task, activity, or event that forces you to take action and produce a result.)

If you’ve done your research then you already know that there are clearly defined times when it is best to publish and “hunt” a new product, and that’s 12:01am Pacific Standard Time.

Math, so useful.

There’s also a bit of math that plays out here, but, simply the earlier you submit the higher the likelihood of you getting more upvotes and possibly being FEATURED in the community and getting additional press necessary to keep the votes coming and the traffic building.

But why is Product Hunt both a fluid and rigid forcing function? And why is this an incredibly-powerful decision-making tool for a small startup team? Here’s why:

You Have The Power (Options)!

You still retain a lot of executive control on when you want to launch during the week and how you want to go about it. Clearly, if your product isn’t anything close to being ready then you shouldn’t launch it. Product Hunt isn’t going anywhere and will be available to use when you and your team are most poised to strike.

via Quora

But, there are statistically a few optimal days that people have calculated and it’s up to you as to when you want to go public. It’s mathematical but also a lot of intuition and gut, mind you.

Sure, you could launch on Tuesday but statistically you’ll be going up against more folks too. The choice is yours. You decide. And, of course, the amount of effort that you want to throw at Product Hunt when you launch is also up in the air too.

In fact, as we got closer to midnight I kept refreshing the Product Hunt homepage (and the “Recent” and “Newest” groupings) and couldn’t believe that people were submitting new products at 11:30pm!

These folks either didn’t care about the performance of their listing or they did zero preparation and research — probably both. Consequently, they got the results that they so rightly deserved. It’s up to you, the creator and your team, and that’s a beautiful thing.

There Are Clear Best Practices (And Results)

Product Hunt as a more rigid forcing function also lands squarely around decision-making in a number of great ways. The first is easy to identify: Launching a product optimally is time-based, to the day and hour.

As a natural consequence of knowing these things we, as a team, were able to set our sights clearly on a time that we wanted to launch. Ultimately, we decided that launching Friday morning was going to be best fit our goals and our timeframe and this allowed acute timetabling and focus.

In other words, 12:01am on Friday was a clear and rigid forcing function that aligned our engineering, marketing, and operational efforts. Clear, tactical, and strategic — we got this.

My calendar invite for Friday, the 18th of March.

Earlier in the week we had agreed, as a team, that this was going to be our “drop-dead” date for delivery and that we’d do everything that we could to make it happen.

It’s moments and decisions like these, by the way, that I really do relish as a small and early stage startup — they define you as a company and create massive alignment with the team unlike anything else. You feel, if but for a brief moment, in control with the destiny of your venture and it’s a brilliantly-fantastic feeling. And the reason you cherish them is because they are so rare, few and far between.

In addition, choosing Product Hunt exclusively to pour our marketing efforts allowed us to also focus-fire our operational points of execution. We knew, for instance, that our product wasn’t going to “naturally” bring a ton of upvotes (it’s not like a soupe du jour slackbot, if you know what I mean).

Consequently, we had to consider building collateral that would appear nicely in the comment section and that would allow for robust conversation throughout, going one step farther than just product screenshots:

A little design went a long way to differentiate and we opted to upload these images into Product Hunt instead of directly on the landing page itself. If you quickly scroll and scan you can’t help but see these in action (as you can see above in the screenshots of our “hunt”).

“Featured” — BOOM.

In the end were really fortunate to find a FEATURED spot for the day and we were able to hit our internal goal of 200 upvotes within 24-hours!

We had met our expectations and were even able to exceed a few others! But, most importantly, it gave us a huge push in the right direction and we had real customers using our new micro-service, just as we had hoped and prayed for.

Totally worth it.

Worth It.

Now, I’ll be honest: I had originally started this blog post as more of a listicle — yeah, I’m glad I didn’t end up doing that too, which was essentially going to be more of a “10 Things I Learned from Launching on Product Hunt” but if I’m to be even more honest I’m not sure that I was able to come up with anything uniquely original.

You can, at this point in time, Google a ton of great articles that provide even more in-depth analysis of Product Hunt as a launch and marketing vehicle and how to become so well equipped and prepared as to almost guarantee success (although there isn’t a real guarantee… this is the internet, remember?).

For us, as a small engineering-lead startup, this was another opportunity for us to exercise one of our core values, which is being relentlessly resourceful in the face of large-scale odds.

What would you know…? This is what we had to do as a team because we were facing some big competition for attention against the likes of a WordPress-centric product (WP powers 25% of the web…), Roomba (what… the… fuck…), a Mac App that’s been around for years (which is actually amazing), a YCombinator-backed company (they’ve got a huge network and pull, great product too), and others. We were the small guys.

And it allowed us to prove, internally, that we could ship a public-facing product with those limited resources with time constraints and do it with excellence. I think we hit high marks and we proved that we could effectively launch Version Zero Dot Zeros — a huge win for us.

Anything that keeps the pace of the high amount of velocity that we’ve created as a team and keeps morale as high as possible. Scary, but, we’re just getting things started.

This is our story of how our small team at TOMO dreamt big and executed our way to fulfilling our vision of creating a truly paperless world. Follow us on this blog, on Twitter, or subscribe to our spamless email newsletter.