Making Product Hunt

Ryan Hoover
Oct 8, 2014 · 6 min read

The Product Hunt story told in tweets, photos, and emails.

Product Hunt began as an email-first experiment less than a year ago. Since then, nine awesome people have joined the team and I’m happy to introduce a few more amazing people in our story. ☺

Today, I’m proud to announce our $6.1M in Series A funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from some people I greatly look up to, Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of reddit, along with a new, most-appreciated mentor, Steven Sinofsky, who will be joining the Board.

I’m also very appreciative of follow-on investments from our early supporters: A-Grade Investments, Abdur Chowdhury, Andrew Chen, betaworks, Cowboy Ventures, CrunchFund, Greylock Discovery Fund, Ludlow Ventures, Naval Ravikant, Nir Eyal, Slow Ventures, SV Angel, and Tradecraft.

Instead of the typical funding blog post, I wanted to tell a bit more of the Product Hunt story as I experienced it in tweets, photos and emails.

Humble Beginnings

Product Hunt began as an email list. I threw it together one early morning, invited some friends to contribute, and shared it online.

I posted it on Quibb and received positive feedback from fellow entrepreneurs and investors. That was encouraging.

To my surprise, hundreds of people subscribed to the email list within the first week, without much promotion.

People seemed to like it but the email list was limiting. I wanted to build a site where I could chat about products with fellow enthusiasts. So, I asked my buddy Nathan for guidance.

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While Nathan was at his parents’ house over Thanksgiving break, we hopped on Skype and bounced around ideas, sharing sketches of what Product Hunt might look like. Here’s an early wireframe he created:

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But before building the site, we reached out to friends and early users of the email list, asking for feedback. Ben Yoskovitz and many others were kind to help.

Nathan spent his afternoons and late nights, designing and coding our humble little Rails app. Within five days, we had a functional site and began sharing it with a small group of close friends.

The site looked like this:

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It didn’t take much to reach the top back then. ☺

After a week of beta testing with a few dozen people, I reached out to Carmel DeAmicis, a reporter at Pando at the time. We met at a bar and I shared the story of Product Hunt. Two days later, she published this:

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Ironically, Product Hunt joined Y Combinator six months later.

Building Community

We were off to a good start and spent the following months doing a lot of unscalable things. We knew we had to keep up the momentum, so we continued to gather feedback and personally welcome people to the community that signed up.

I blogged openly about our learnings and approach to community-building. Here’s an article published on FastCo:

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We continued to “build in public,” involving the community in the design process. It was particularly fun to share early mockups of new features and reviewing their annotated feedback and suggestions.

We printed “Glasshole Kitty” t-shirts, designed by Product Hunt fan, Jesse Thomas.

With Reuben’s permission, I used this photo in my Y Combinator Demo Day pitch.

We surprised a few people with stickers in the mail.

I think I was more delighted by this tweet than Natalia was by the surprise stickers.

We invited some of our closest supporters to private brunches.

Big thanks to Monkey Inferno for hosting at their beautiful “office” (it’s too nice to call it an office ☺)

We hosted larger public meetups.

NYC’s happy hour was a bit crowded. A few months later, we hosted another meetup at 620 Jones in SF. Over 900 RSVP’d (!!!).

And then people in the community started to do the same, hosting meetups across the globe from Hong Kong to Toronto.

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We created a page to highlight community-organized meetups. Fun fact: 45% of the community is outside the U.S.

This video from a meetup in Amsterdam made me tear up.

Big thanks to @bramk and TNW for hosting.

A Community of Makers

Something especially surprising started to happen. People in the community started building apps on top of Product Hunt.

The first one came from Yvo Schaap, a talented engineer from Amsterdam. It was a leaderboard, ranking products and product hunters from the site.

More followed. Andreas Klinger created a Product Hunt Chrome extension, surprising me with a tweet.

Andreas later joined the Product Hunt team and has been critical to our success. Super happy to have you on board, homie.

We featured dozens of creations, from an analytics platform for called Huntalytics to a “Tinder for Product Hunt”.

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Although it made me nervous, we recognized an opportunity to encourage the community to become part of the product, and support creative hacks by offering an official API. Naturally, we launched it on Product Hunt.

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Thousands of developers signed up for access within the first few weeks and in late October, we’re hosting the first hackathon.

Impact

As the community grew, so did its impact within the startup ecosystem. Makers blogged about their experience being featured on the site.

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Point launched on Product Hunt by a small team of three. Within 24 hours it became the most upvoted product. One of the members of the community, Tosin Afolabi, was introduced to the team through Product Hunt and later joined the team.

Product Hunt was driving significant traffic to early products and in some cases, real revenue.

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BRANDiD did well

Makers often emailed us, sharing their results. We continue to receive motivating emails like this:

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I really like what Jordan and team are building with Kindly (kindlychat.com)

Helen, a long-time member of the community, gave me chills from across the globe.

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Perry’s email from her 89 year-old father, made me laugh.

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Thanks for that, Homer ☺

The Beginning

When I met with Steven Sinofsky for the first time one-on-one, we chatted about products, community, and culture. As we discussed our vision for Product Hunt, he said something that stuck with me.

There are all sorts of people crazy about cameras, knitting, games, and just about every category you can think of. They’re passionate about their craft and thirst to discover the latest.

He’s right. My Aunt loves scrapbooking. She regularly visits Michael’s and has a room in her home dedicated to fuzzy wire and pattern scissors. A former colleague of mine proudly displays his growing video game collection in a carefully groomed online catalog. My good childhood friend frequents music blogs, hunting for the latest undiscovered hip hop artists.

We’ve captured the attention of a passionate group of early adopters; a group of makers and enthusiasts that enjoy geeking out about the latest tech products, but Product Hunt’s crowd-curated, community model is needed in so many other verticals. This explosion of creation isn’t isolated to tech products. We see it happening in games, movies, music, books, and fashion, among other categories.

I’m happy to have Steven, incredible investors, a kickass team, lifelong mentors, and of course, our passionate community, supporting our vision.

This is going to be fun. Happy hunting. ☺

— Ryan (@rrhoover)

Read more about a16z’s investment in Product Hunt: A Passion for Products, the Makers Behind Them, and the Community Around Them by Steven Sinofsky.

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