The step-by-step guide to totally blow your startup’s Product Hunt launch
The what and how of everything I did. Learn from my mistakes.
tl;dr — Though I witnessed success of similar products on Product Hunt and did a ton of research about the platform, I didn’t succeed in getting Favorize much exposure. This long post is sort of a manual, where I describe my launch strategy, my thought process, my conclusions on why I failed to achieve my goals, and how I approach the results moving forward →
I’ve been on Product Hunt since 2014 and was waiting for the “right” moment to post Favorize. Over the past few of years, I watched the PH community grow and evolve, and knew it was one of the best (and only) opportunities for Favorize to get substantial exposure. I was excited to introduce Favorize and engage with the community, who fits our target perfectly, but I failed to reach and engage with a sizable audience.
What the hell is Product Hunt?
In their words:
“Product Hunt is a curation of the best new products, every day. Discover the latest mobile apps, websites, and technology products that everyone’s talking about.”
In other words:
What the hell is Favorize?
Why launch on Product Hunt?
Product Hunt is THE place to discover and discuss new products. Lots of journalists, investors and interesting people in tech hang out there daily. Aside from target alignment, I also witnessed how similar products to Favorize received a lot of love and valuable feedback. And when I read the success stories from multiple founders, I went B-A-N-A-N-A-S as one described 43,000 unique visitors!
Pro tip: browse all the knowledge bombs I found (and highlighted) on this Product Hunt tag page.
It was May 2016 when I decided to seek out tips about launching on Product Hunt. I figured there might be a handful of tips as Product Hunt was fairly new, and found an article “THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO LAUNCHING ON PRODUCT HUNT, EVEN IF YOU’RE NOBODY IN THE ONLINE SPACE.”
The article was a damn long read, which signaled there’s A LOT I could do to maximize exposure for Favorize. Since that was my #1 goal, I dove in and thoroughly read one after another mind-blowing tips from Ovi Negrean. I then researched and found a few more shorter guides, and stitched together all information to form Favorize’s launch plan.
So with that, here are the steps I took to launch Favorize on Product Hunt:
Step 1: Decide on your launch MVP (MUP)
Bear in mind the MVP has changed a lot in the past few years. When I took steve blank’s class The Lean Launchpad via Startup Weekend in 2012, it was actually about creating a minimum viable product (I highly recommend taking his FREE online class… it’s priceless.)
Don’t get me wrong, it is still about creating a minimal product, but that minimum is bigger than its predecessors as we all get better at doing things, which makes it easier (and cheaper) than ever to develop, design, and market high quality products on the internet. But it also means it’s harder to stand with your beautiful design or spread the word about your new product on the market. It’s a bigger, more saturated market.
The MVP is, of course, essential to get your product running, but more suited to early stage (alpha). When you launch on Product Hunt, I think it’s better to have what I call a MUP — Minimum Useful Product. Something the community can use and would want to promote to some friends right away (early beta).
Here’s what we set our launch MUP to have:
- Core features — simple value prop, two USPs only
- Sexy design — somewhat exciting, but not perfect
- Decent onboarding — minimal tour on how to use the product
- Marketing hooks — triggers to remind people Favorize exists
- Data tracking — measure and make sense of few KPIs
Step 2 — Get initial feedback
In preparation for launch, we set out to get initial feedback on our MUP so we can smooth out the experience as much as possible before the big day. I figured we can start hitting up our target audience by tweeting people that upvoted similar products to Favorize on Product Hunt.
On the first day of tweeting, I sent out 30 tweets, which converted to 3 new signups. 10% conversion! Woohoo this might be working :)
In the following days, I kept tweeting 30 people a day and was happy to receive more responses with positive feedback and see more upticks in signups. After 10 days and 300 tweets. It settled at 4% conversion — still good. It felt like a small product/market fit. These people were excited about Favorize, and their feedback was super helpful prior to launch. Big kudos to Michael Malo 🙌
Step 3 : Set launch date
My plan was to launch once the MUP was ready, and the sooner, the better. The measure for “ready” was the experience being smooth and acceptable by most active users. As part of the unique experience we created on Favorize, we also released features that similar products didn’t have, and I wanted to let the world know we made those first! I was also hoping our unique experience would appeal to people who were even using competing products.
Based on our timeline, we were on track to get the MUP ready by August. Luckily I met Bram around that time, and he wisely advised to wait until back to school in September. I realized August is kind of a dead month since a lot of people globally are off and usually travel. I agreed and we decided on September 8th, first Thursday after Labor Day weekend.
Why Thursday? From what I found, it’s best to post between Tuesday and Thursday, preferably later in the week, in an attempt to get featured in the weekend email.
As we got closer to the date, I read rumors that Apple is launching iPhone 7 on September 7th, which were confirmed shortly after. So to avoid competing for placement with Apple products, we set a new and final launch date to September 14th (a Wednesday).
Step 4: Make industry friends, globally
Slack is the hottest tool right now for work-related chat groups. Especially startup/founder invite-only groups. Most guides advise to be helpful and make friends on these chat groups. Just like the real world :)
It’s a fact that lots of people in tech are friendly, are more open to trying new products, and in need of feedback themselves. Since I didn’t have time to hang out on multiple chat groups making small talk or what not, I figured my way to help people was to answer their questions and give constructive feedback to product makers. Here are the Slack groups I joined:
And Facebook groups:
Here’s an example of how I posted on a Slack group:
On my first day on Startup Chat Slack group, I met a cool guy from the UK, who I made a meaningful connection with on video chat. I thought wow, Slack groups might actually be a good place to meet like-minded people. I kept popping in to see what’s going on in various groups, multiple times a day at first, which quickly tapered to few times a week.
To my dismay, there wasn’t much activity and very few people looking for feedback. I noticed mostly small talk about random topics or people just announcing their new product got hunted. I still managed to make a couple new friends from different countries, and that was worth it — Cheers Fred Rivett and Michalis Tiritas! 🍻
Step 5 : Target a few Hunters
Finding the right hunter to hunt your product is important for two reasons:
- Big following = more exposure — Every time someone submits a new product to PH, their followers get an email notification, which is huge as email is still the best marketing medium. Update: Mike informed me that this is no longer the case. If you follow a maker on PH, you’ll get an email when they launch something. There is no email for when someone hunts something anymore.
- Only some people can submit products on Product Hunt — even though I had the privilege to submit products on Product Hunt myself, it wouldn’t be as effective if someone with a big following did. There is also another class of hunters, usually uberhunters, who can submit products straight to the front page
I got lucky to meet Bram early on through Twitter (more on him later).
Step 6: Gather your supporters
Most guides advise on gathering an army to support your launch. The bigger, the better. How the hell are you gonna spread the word by yourself? You’ll need your closest allies to help share the news about the launch.
Ovi’s guide is on point when it comes to creating a list of supporters, aka “troops.” I took on his advice and created a Google Sheet, where I stored information about potential and confirmed supporters. I had sheets for Current Favorize Users, Friends & Family, and Similar Products Upvoters. I gathered info about people that I hoped will either share the news, upvote on PH or even sign up.
To help share the news, I created a Thunderclap campaign, which allows supporting on social media in advance.
What the hell is Thunderclap?
Thunderclap was easy to set up, and since one tweet/Facebook status isn’t a big deal for people, most were willing to support. To make it easy for them, I sent a short email describing Thunderclap along with a GIF showing how to support.
Pro tip: You should never ask for upvotes as Product Hunt doesn’t tolerate it.
Step 7 : Prepare various messaging copy
To avoid losing brain power or time on the big day, it’s advised to prepare in advance all messages, status updates, blogs, emails, etc. I created a Google Doc to centralize and store all related messaging. I suggest you create one too along with placeholders for all the platforms you want to announce your startup on. These were on my list (number of variations in parentheses):
- Intercom: email to current users (1)
- Reddit: /startups “share your startup” post (1)
- Facebook: personal account post, Favorize account post, and private message (PM) to friends (3)
- LinkedIn: blog post from personal account (1)
- Quora: blog post to from personal account (1)
- Slack: Slack groups post and PM to new Slack friends (2)
- Twitter: day-of tweet (both personal and Favorize accounts), @mention tweet to people who upvoted similar products (both personal and Favorize accounts), thank you tweet on launch day, thank you tweet post launch day (6)
Word on Twitter: it’s suggested to post multiple variations of tweets announcing you’re on PH every couple of hours throughout the day as tweets are ephemeral.
Notice I had separate variations for personal vs. Favorize account. Different persona, different tone. I sent Thank You tweets from my personal account only.
Lastly, make sure to check your PH posting for the next several days, and engage with new leads that upvoted/commented on your product post launch day
Step 8: Assemble media list
It’s also worthwhile to reach out to the media to let them know you’re featured on Product Hunt — someone might pick up the story. This is especially true if you build a relationship prior to launch, which unfortunately I hadn’t done.
After testing out a bunch of tools, I ended up assembling a list of journalists on hey.press. Hey.press was super easy to use and straight to the point. I went for the Pro plan at $49/month, which gives you access to view journalists by category, up to 120 email addresses per month and an option to export the data to a sheet easily.
Step 9: Write your launch story and pitch it to hunters
The first day I tweeted those who upvoted similar products to Favorize, one of the people who replied was Bram Kanstein. It was awesome to meet him through Twitter, and just at the right time. While researching Bram, I read he launched the #1 most upvoted product on Product Hunt!
Thanks to my amazing wife who acts as my CMO and editor-in-chief, I had a decent draft of Favorize’s launch story ready. I pitched it to Bram, asking him to be the hunter as he liked the product, and has a substantial following on Twitter and Product Hunt. I also liked the fact he was based in Amsterdam, giving me fresh perspective and feedback from another region (as my network mainly resides in Tel Aviv, Miami and SF). He agreed to hunt the product — awesome!!
Pro tip: Attach a Press kit to your launch story, it makes it look professional. I looked up a few kits and created a custom one for Favorize.
Step 10: Play out potential Q&A
I like to be ready for anything, so I rehearsed potential questions people could ask about Favorize. It was easy to assemble the Q&A as I already received multiple questions from users. Make sure you get that initial feedback!
Examples of questions I prepped:
- How is Favorize different than product X?
- Why is sign up only via Facebook or Google?
- Are there any plans for mobile?
Woke up at 3:17am (13 minutes before my alarm) for a scheduled 4am launch. Threw on my favorite sweatpants, a Favorize t-shirt, and warmed up the usual morning cup of bone broth. I checked-in with Bram, and he was quick to reply we’re on schedule.
Why 4am PST?
Bram and I agreed 4am PST would be the ideal time to post Favorize. That way, it could be featured for almost a full day, get an early wave of love from friends in Israel, and get in front of early risers on the east coast. Most guides suggest launching in the early am to maximize exposure globally, as the day officially starts at 12:00am PST on Product Hunt (early afternoon in Europe.)
Step 1 (4:15am) — Publish launch story
Soon after, Bram told me he hunted Favorize. I hit the Publish button on the Favorize launch story on Medium (unrelated: hitting that button has recently became one my favorite things.)
Step 2 (4:34am) — Let social media know we were hunted
I refered to my Google Doc and started posting on social media letting people know we were featured on Product Hunt! It was already 7:34am on the east coast and early afternoon in Europe.
Twitter — I pinned the first tweets early in the AM both on my personal and on Favorize’s account. Almost no action, tweets are ephemeral, and I don’t have a big following.
Facebook — not bad action, but is it the right audience?
LinkedIn — a little action.
Quora — almost no action. I’m not too active on Quora anymore and only have a small following.
Step 3 (4:45am) — Ask my supporters to spread the news
Since Favorize wasn’t on the front page immediately, and I set the Thunderclap campaign to go out at 9am PST, I started asking my family and close friends to share the news about the launch. I was worried Favorize wouldn’t make it to the front page, so I started texting and asking people via Facebook messenger to share the news.
The people who really care asked me if they should upvote, and of course I said yes. However I told them, please don’t ask anyone to upvote, especially on social media — my last wish is for Product Hunt to remove Favorize’s posting. Soon after, Favorize had 33 upvotes, but still didn’t make it to the front page, aka “Popular” tab. I was thankful for my amazing friends who signed up and supported, but I was also freaking out because Favorize wasn’t going to make it to the front page.
Product Hunt seem to have an algorithm that treats votes differently. For example, a vote from a “fresh” user, someone who upvoted a product immediately upon signup apparently doesn’t count as much as a vote from a longer time member. There is a chance that if someone upvotes a product from the product link, unlike by finding it through the Popular or Newest tabs, then it doesn’t count as much either. But I had to link to the Favorize posting, otherwise how would people find it among the other 160 products that were hunted that day?
Step 4 (5:59am) — Post Favorize on (Show) Hacker News
Since Favorize didn’t make it to the front page in the first two hours, I posted it on Show Hacker News AKA “Show HN”. I didn’t dedicate much thought to posting Favorize on Hacker News (HN) as I couldn’t find much information about it.
What I know about ShowHN is:
- Some guides suggest gathering up soldiers to promote this launch just like a PH launch.
- Hacker News is a community of innovators that is 4 times larger than Product Hunt.
- Wednesday is peak traffic day. Suggested posting time is 8am EST.
Will all that information in hand, I had two options: I could either have another launch day dedicated to Hacker News or I could post on it now and link to the PH launch, where it has more details and where I needed help with traffic.
But that didn’t work :/ I didn’t let anyone know I posted there as I didn’t want to ask people to do more than sharing the news about Product Hunt on Facebook, Twitter etc. Here are the results:
Step 5 (6:15am) — Tweet people that upvoted similar products
I started tweeting people that upvoted similar products, hoping some of them will get excited, upvote, and help get over the hump to the front page. Here is a tweet I sent out:
Update (8:52am) — Favorize made it to the front page!
I’m not sure what helped get over the hump to the front page: whether it was naturally discovered by random users, upvoted by people I tweeted, or upvoted by people through HN. It was a small win, and now we could get in front of more people!
Step 6 (9:00am) — Thunderclap Campaign went out
The Thunderclap campaign went out as scheduled at 9am PST. There were 51 backers and the potential reach was 114K people, but to my dismay, it didn’t work well :/
I was looking for the Facebook posts after 9am, but none of them popped up on my Facebook feed. I could see posts on people’s profile pages, but I don’t think it showed on anyone’s News Feed. I think it would have been better if I just asked people manually to post about Favorize that day. As for Twitter, the tweets went out, but not enough of them to get #Favorize trending.
Step 7 (11:30am) — Run paid Ads on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
During my research, I saw recommendations for running 24 hour ads on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram* to help drive traffic. I’ve decided to spend $100 on each campaign — YOLO! (You Only Launch Once)
* Instagram was included in the Facebook campaign, which allows you to advertise on Instagram without creating a separate campaign
The campaign proved useful, here are the results:
Twitter Campaign: 46.3K Impressions, 165 Link Clicks ($0.61 CPC)
Facebook Campaign: 10.8K Impressions, 662 Link Clicks ($0.15 CPC)
Pro tip: explore other platforms such as Pinterest and LinkedIn. I didn’t think about it at the time, but it’s worth looking into.
Step 8 (throughout the day) — Keep tweeting people who upvoted similar products
Throughout the day, I tweeted people who upvoted similar products to drive more traffic to the PH posting. To my pleasant surprise, it produced similar results to when I tweeted pre-launch to gather initial feedback.
But after a little while, I was asked to stop tweeting at Product Hunt community members:
I was pretty bummed about being asked to stop tweeting, as that was one of my best tactics to let people know Favorize is on PH. It was tough to get to the top the of page, competing for placement with Uber, Airbnb, FourSquare, Apple, Amazon, GitHub, Giphy, and other products. So I reached out to Product Hunt, and asked if there’s anything else I can do to keep reaching out to people:
Since I couldn’t tweet PH members anymore, and had reached out to as many people I could, I spent the rest of the day engaging with new leads and new users.
Step 9 (throughout the day) — Engage with leads and new users
I made sure to be available on Intercom, Product Hunt, and Twitter to answer questions, thank upvoters, and engage with new leads and new users.
Intercom — I used Intercom Acquire to engage with people and convert new leads. I set a Live Auto Message that goes out to leads after being on the site for 25 seconds. The message had an offer for a FREE swag package in it, and it indeed helped spark the conversation, which led to conversions.
Product Hunt — I made sure to respond and like comments people left on the PH posting ASAP. PH doesn’t notify you of new comments, which means you have to check the PH posting often. I did every 15 minutes or so to be prompt and make people feel like our conversation is live.
Twitter — besides tweeting at people who upvoted similar products, I also tweeted a “thank you tweet” to people who upvoted Favorize on Product Hunt, which helped some conversations as well.
Since I didn’t want to lose any leads, I stayed online until I crashed, which was around 10pm that night.
Finally, we get to the results:
Launch day results (after 24 hours)
- 119 upvotes
- 27 new users
- 610 page views
- Avg. time on site: 1 minute 34 seconds
Results after one week
- 136 total upvotes
- 39 total new users
I had high expectations of 200 new signups for the rolling week post launch, but I knew quickly I would completely miss it on the first day. Favorize got stuck below the fold for most of the day, and I think it had to do with upvotes by newly minted users. It might have to do with upvotes that entered PH directly through the Favorize posting (the link I shared), rather than finding Favorize through Popular or Newest tab (which is the natural flow of random community users).
I didn’t reach my goal because I rushed to launch. I wanted to ship as soon as possible because I saw our competitors already shipped their products, they were doing well, and I thought everything looked good enough for launch. I knew there were a couple of holes in the plan, but I figured it’s the first launch, and this community will understand what Favorize is about. They’ll fall in love with it just like others did with competing products. But here’s what I didn’t consider:
- Not big enough community prior to launch — I should have shared the product with more people months in advance and built a bigger community that could help support the launch.
- No influencers — I looked into influencer marketing techniques, but didn’t leave enough time to form a relationship with an influencer. I had no one to write something about Favorize, talk about it on social media or retweet anything. I should have taken the time to build the right relationships. My amazing friends shared and helped spread the message, but at the end of the day, you need to get the message to the right audience, and that’s where influencers are super useful.
- Value proposition not crystal clear — I didn’t do a good enough job explaining why Favorize is useful and how to use it. I took inspiration from products I admire and did a ton of research, but without a marketing team or a proper feedback loop, I didn’t produce high quality work. A bunch of people got Favorize fairly quickly, but not enough of them immediately understood how it could be useful to them right now.
- No mobile app — we built Favorize as a Chrome Extension app first rather than mobile as it was easier to build and test the market. Even though our site is responsive and people could check out and interact with Favorize on mobile, our main feature — highlighting and viewing highlights — was missing on mobile. I now have a difference appreciation to the importance of a great experience on a mobile off the bat, and that’s where we’re heading next.
Even though I was disappointed that day, I am happy Favorize is out :) Just seeing Favorize in the search results on Product Hunt was satisfying. People can find out about Favorize now, and even two weeks after, I am still getting new users through PH.
The launch was just another step for me and Favorize. Failing is just part of the game; you gotta get through it to achieve success. I will always take risks and keep pushing my limits. It’s my nature, and it’s my plan for growth. Now I gotta get back to work on Favorize’s iOS app.
See you at the next launch ;)
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill
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