How Product Hunt Transformed from an Email to Friends Into a Startup in 3 Hours

Shannon Byrne
Oct 26, 2014 · 8 min read launched on Tuesday (10/21) morning as a half-baked idea, and quickly gained traction after being Product Hunted. Here’s the story.

The Backstory

I’ve always said that I’m great at execution, but not so much an “idea person,” wishing I was more creative. So naturally, when I finally had an idea, I immediately got to work executing it.

Ideas usually come from either a place of frustration (solving a pain point) or passion (doing what you love). This one came from both.

Friends and acquaintances are always asking me where I find new music. Each time, I give them a wordy explanation and send them apps and newsletters, and have even written blog posts on the subject. It never fails that two months later, they come back asking me the same question.

It’s not that this bothers me. I LOVE talking music any time, any day, with anyone. But clearly there is something missing. These people are busy. They’re entrepreneurs, startup folks, attorneys. They have families, hobbies, and well, lives that don’t revolve around listening to music and going to shows. They already have plenty of apps and tools for their everyday jobs and they don’t need more. That doesn’t mean music isn’t important to them, it’s just that they don’t have time to hunt for it.

I thought A Song A Day was something that some of my close friends would enjoy — a project that would require me to wake up an hour earlier to send some emails. It turns out far more people were into it than I thought.

So Here’s a Little Story I Like to Tell…

I went for a run around 7:30pm Monday night, and for whatever reason was thinking about this issue (as I was either jamming out to Ty Segall or dance-running to Paul Simon) and thought “I should just send these f*&%ers a song a day so they don’t even have to worry about it.”

By 9pm, I was working on a far-from-perfect website. By 12:30am Tuesday, it was complete (enough) with domain purchased. I sent the link to a few friends and went to sleep, sort of. My friends liked it, so I went ahead and threw a tweet out there at 8:53am.

A couple of minutes later, several people had RT’d it, including Nathan Bashaw (thank you, Nathan!). Soon after, it was posted to Product Hunt by Jesse Middleton (thank you, Jesse!), then all of the sudden I was informed that it was trending. It hung out at number six for quite some time. Talk about a freaking thrill! It was beyond humbling and a bit surreal seeing the “Maker” sticker on my PH profile page.

By the end of Tuesday, we had 403 signups and 2,372 unique visits to the site. We’re currently at 606 sign ups and a total of 4,147 unique website visitors as of 6pm on 10/25, with very little promotion beyond PH.

Since being featured on Product Hunt, I have been overwhelmed with the kindest, most encouraging emails and tweets I’ve ever received. I’ve had to choke back tears of joy several times reading these emails when in public.

I’ve had people beyond my friends offer to help develop a product; I’ve received amazing and super smart feedback; had several people ask to be curators (30 curator sign ups + people who have emailed, tweeted, called me, etc.). People have been thanking me; telling me how impressed they are; telling me that my story has inspired them to get serious about their side project; and the list goes on….Someone even sent me a logo they designed for the project!

Then I received the ultimate encouragement (other than my brother telling me he was so f@&*ing proud, of course)…

These people are makers themselves — creatives, developers, designers, entrepreneurs, journalists. They’re passionate people who love music as much as I do. They’re people who have inspired me online and off. Considering I have a fairly demanding day job (that I love) and have been sleeping very little this week, this encouragement has kept me going.

Our Mission

This is probably a good time to share the mission of A Song A Day:

To introduce people to music they’ve never heard, to remind them of the greats they have forgotten. Selected songs are based on every community member’s unique preferences and habits — curated by humans, not robots.

You’re Probably Wondering How In the World I am Managing This

Rightfully so. In hindsight, I probably should have started the waitlist MUCH sooner than I did. Of the 606 people who have signed up to date (as of 6pm on Saturday), I have been working my very best to send 358 of them a song a day. I’ve been doing this manually, as I wasn’t kidding about the human algorithm thing on the site.

Daily song delivery hasn’t exactly happened, but I’ve come close to a song a day to everyone, and I think most people understand I am doing my best.

Here’s my current process:

I look at everyone’s preferences and listen to bands that they love, but I’ve never heard of. Next, I batch people together based on these preferences and choose songs that span the spectrum, to the best of my ability. I then craft a personalized email for those interests and send via a Gmail mail merge. Although, I am switching to Intercom. Here’s one of the first emails I sent (this one was super personalized, as it went to one of my closest friends):

I included a link to a survey in the first couple of rounds of emails. This was a great idea in theory, but extremely time consuming and difficult to cross-reference hundreds of individual survey responses and a spreadsheet of 358 people. For now, I’ve highlighted the people who didn’t like their songs, so if nothing else, I know that I have to look for something different for them. This process needs to be more seamless.

This system has holes. A lot of them. I’ve revamped the submission form since first launching and am working on a few solutions to make more sustainable and scaleable, without losing the human touch.

There’s nothing more important to me than keeping the human touch in this project.

We’ve already come across some minor issues building v1.5. I know that the site has a stupid hamburger menu that doesn’t make any sense, and that when you share the site it says “Intro.” These are all things I’m working on fixing now. It goes against my natural instinct to ship and work out kinks so publicly, but it’s kind of a rush. I’m definitely enjoying the experience.

Building a Community…

As soon as I hit “publish” on the site Monday night, I realized that this thing could and should be much bigger than me. The Product Hunt success reaffirmed that. For every 10–15 people who want new music, there’s one person who wants to share their favorite music with them. That’s not based on exact data, but it feels right based on my conversations with people.

Not to mention, listening to someone else’s music and finding songs you think they’ll like is A LOT OF FREAKING FUN. Seriously. As I was curating, all I could think was “I could do this all day long and be 110% happy.” My friend Maria, who is now helping me curate said the same thing.

So I am building a community of music curators. I’m not sure exactly what that will look like, and it’s going to be a ton of work up front, but I am super pumped about it. If you’re interested in being a part of this, please fill out the form on the site.

So What’s Next?

Right now, a friend is building a basic MVP (minimal viable product) allowing me to partially automate at least the song hunt process and email distribution. Not to worry, a human (not a robot) — me and a couple of close friends for now — will still be making the final decisions on which songs get sent to who based on all of the preferences members have filled out.

I’m already thinking about what v2 will look like and all of the features I want to see in the final product. But first, and far more importantly, I need to figure out what the exact appeal of A Song A Day was to these hundreds of people who signed up.

I’m sending out two surveys today — one to those on the waitlist and another to those who are already receiving emails — asking them why they signed up. I’m assuming the appeal is the human aspect, as there are other similar products out there. But I could be wrong. I need to figure this out before moving too far along. I look forward to writing about my findings.

Am I Totally Nuts?

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they like the project and the idea, and that has been beyond validating and encouraging, but I still wonder if I am completely crazy. What do you think about the project? Don’t hold back.

Thank you to Jessica Barnett, Maria Bhim, and Priti Trevedi for helping turn my ramblings into a real-life blog post.

Shannon Byrne

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created + @theprocessco. craft words + strategies for small biz. enthusiast of music, mountains, travel, dogs, laughter.