How to Grow from 1- 100,000 users this year

Early lessons from one of my favorite founders, Product Hunt CEO Ryan Hoover

Below is an breakdown that Ryan Hoover gave in an answer to the Quora Question before he had even launched PH: “Startup Traction: How do social sites (e.g. Hunch, Foursquare, Reddit, Digg) go from 1 to 1000K users?”

Target Influencers

  • Focus on influencers within specific communities to drive WOM and evangelism of the product
  • Almost every product starts with a core audience (Crossing the Chasm)

Indulge Early Adopters and Listen

  • Promote early adopters and make them feel special
  • Engage with early adopters and listen to their feedback wherever they leave it (ex: Twitter, forums, blogs, Get Satisfaction, etc.)

Make it Useful w/o Users

  • Early adopters’ friends won’t be on the service so it must be useful w/o them
  • The initial user experience may not be focused on friends (Hashable as an address book, Foursquare as a game, Instagram as a way to publish photos across various social networks)

Ride Waves

  • New technology opens up opportunities for disruption (ex: iOS and the app ecosystem, HTML5, smart phones)
  • Cultural changes limit but also introduce new interactions and user behavior (ex: location sharing/checking in, increased internet video consumption, gamification)

Provide the Pickaxe

  • Similar to riding the wave, provide the tools needed for publishers (ex: YouTube’s video publishing, Soundcloud embeddable audio player, Wordpress blogs for writers)

Create Exclusivity, Scarcity, Urgency

  • Private and invite-only betas increase user’s desire for access and can help generate some hype
  • Emulate a land grab by providing users the ability to claim “land” on a first-come-first-serve basis (ex: About.me’s vanity URL registration before launch, Convore’s chat room creation/moderation)

Give Users Tools to Evangelize

  • Embeddable widgets that allow users to distribute content across the web, particularly powerful when its their content (read: expression)
  • Make sharing easy, fun, and intrinsic

Fake It

  • Fake user activity early on to make the product feel desired and active (ex: Dating sites w/ fake user profiles and messages)
  • Fake technology before its built in order to validate the value of the feature or interaction — allows for faster iteration (ex: Aardvark manually categorized and directed questions to users initially)

Seed Content and Communities

  • Seed user profiles with personal content to add immediate personalization and usefulness (ex: fflick aggregates Twitter user’s movie mentions, Squarespace provide blog importing tools)
  • Create communities around a specific entity (person, brand, etc.) to encourage those entities to claim ownership and engage (ex: Get Satisfaction, LinkedIn company profiles)