Product Hunt made my startup $75k — and we’re not a tech company

My Product Hunt story starts with a lie I told Erik Torenberg.

Erik is part of Product Hunt’s founding team. He cold emailed me last year:

“Do you want to feature Book In A Box [author note: that’s my company] on Product Hunt? We’ve had Mark Cuban, Alexis Ohanian, and many others feature their products. Would love to do a special one to advertise what you’re up to!”

I only had a vague idea what Product Hunt was.

So of course I told Erik I was a huge fan.

I’m going to embarrass myself by quoting my email:

“I love Product Hunt. I don’t have an account on Product Hunt because I’m lazy, but I’ll go sign up right now.”

I know, I know — let’s all pause and laugh at my transparent BS.

The funniest thing is that I ended up getting sucked into the vortex of interesting that is Product Hunt, and am now an active member of the community.

By the way, if you don’t know what Product Hunt is, then you’ve been living under the same rock I was a few months ago. Basically, Product Hunt is a discovery platform where people can submit new and interesting tech-focused products, and the community can discuss them and upvote them if they like them. It’s kind of like Reddit for tech products.

I’m not here to tell you how great Product Hunt is for users. I’m writing to show the specific ways that Product Hunt was a great promotional tool for our start-up, even though we aren’t a tech company (and help you decide whether or not to use it for your non-tech start-up).

Product Hunt for the Rest of Us

Internally, we debated whether or not it made sense to launch on Product Hunt, since we don’t have a traditional tech product. What we do is offer a service that takes an author from idea to professionally published book, and all they have to do is spend about 12 hours on the phone with us.

Of course we use lots of different technologies to accomplish this, but most of the hard parts of our process are done by very skilled editors and writers, not software.

We plan to eventually create a SaaS product that makes our service more widely available (it’s very expensive right now because of the skilled labor aspect), but until we do that, we’re just not a tech company.

We decided to launch on Product Hunt anyway for these reasons:

  1. Not much downside: Even though we don’t fit the traditional mold of a tech product, the worst that could happen is no one voting for our product. Not that big a deal.
  2. The Product Hunt/tech community is great: We could have positioned our company as a publishing company, or a media company, but the reality is that the tech community in general, and the Product Hunt community specifically, are full of optimistic, helpful people who root for other people to succeed. This is NOT true of the publishing and media communities at all. Being positioned as part of the tech community is optimal for us long term (even though it’s sub-optimal short term).
  3. Might get some decent press and media attention: Lots of journalists use PH to find stories, and since the small amount of press we’ve gotten has been good for us, we thought it might be a route to more.

Here is the launch data from February 24th, 2015 to March 31st, 2015:

1. PH Upvotes: ~230 (the first day). In and out of the Top 5 all day, never #1.
2. Direct referrals to BookInABox.com from PH: 3500 (more if include secondary referrals the week of launch, estimated around 8k)
3. Qualified leads (from the direct referrals): 93
4. Sales calls (from those leads) : 26
5. Actual sales (from those calls): 5 (so far; our sales cycle can last up to 3 months, and this is just 5 weeks)

This might not look like much, until you realize that our services start at $15,000. Which means the revenue directly attributable to our Product Hunt launch has been over $75,000… so far. It’ll probably go up this month as the longer sales cycles close.

The one thing Product Hunt did not get us was press or media attention. This makes sense, after all, we aren’t obviously positioned as a tech play, and until we have a working SaaS product, we don’t expect to get much tech media — nor should we get it, to be honest.

But we did get something I did not expect: lots of tech community attention (especially investor attention).

Unintended Consequences

We launched about two weeks prior to SXSW. I live in Austin, 4 blocks from the convention center, so I kinda have to go to SXSW, even if I don’t want to. I would estimate that I met about 400 people during SXSW, and at least 100 of them said that they had heard of my company because of Product Hunt.

They named Product Hunt as the source, without me prompting, which blew me away. I had no idea how widespread the community was.

We also had several investors reach out to us wanting to talk about maybe getting in our seed round. The only problem is that we don’t have a seed round. We aren’t raising, nor do we plan to anytime soon. We’re already profitable.

But still, two of the people who reached out were pretty notable investors, and having people of that caliber tell you to call them if you ever raise is nice.

Here’s another cool thing about Product Hunt that I think very few people actually understand: all of this happened even though we did not have a special Product Hunt launch strategy.

When you launch on Kickstarter, if you don’t do have a serious press and launch strategy, your project will probably flounder. The platform itself is not enough. All we did for Product Hunt was push this out to our personal social media accounts.

Yes, I have a lot of social media followers (350k+ on Twitter, 500k+ on Facebook), but a very low percentage of those people care about my company or are on Product Hunt. In fact, Twitter’s analytics say my tweet only pushed about a few thousand views to Product Hunt.

Give Value, Get Value

The point is this, and it is powerful: Product Hunt has it’s own audience, and it is responsive and actively looking for new things. You don’t need to build an audience, they lend their valuable audience to you — for free. If you understand the nature of modern media, and how product discovery works, then you understand how incredibly valuable this is.

Furthermore, the community is great. People comment on products, ask questions, and generally engage the makers. And since it’s not anonymous, the community tends to be respectful and nice, and ask serious questions.

One thing I should warn you about: the community there is great, but they are not push-overs. They are very intelligent and sophisticated, and you can’t talk to them like an advertiser or marketer addressing a bunch of captive dolts. They will ask hard questions, and judge you based on how you respond. You have to be real and answer their questions directly and honestly, or they will see through your BS and not engage you or your product.

The only person you can easily BS is Erik Torenberg ☺.

So to sum up, Product Hunt is awesome, and I highly recommend you use it — even if you don’t fit their traditional product profile.