Paul Graham’s Startup Advice for the Lazy


Paul Graham is a renowned programmer and wildly successful venture capitalist. He also happens to be a talented writer.

I highly recommend you stop reading this and just go read his actual essays, but if you’re short on time, I’ve cropped the most important pieces from my favorite essays below.


Startups in 13 Sentences

  1. Pick good cofounders
  2. Launch fast
  3. Let your idea evolve (most ideas appear in implementation)
  4. Understand your users (many successful startups make something the founders needed)
  5. Better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent
  6. Offer surprisingly good customer service
  7. You make what you measure (measuring something has an uncanny tendency to improve it)
  8. Spend little
  9. Get ramen profitable (just enough to pay the founders’ living expenses)
  10. Avoid distractions (the worst type are those that pay money like day jobs and consulting)
  11. Don’t get demoralized
  12. Don’t give up
  13. Deals fall through

Organic Startup Ideas

  • The best way to come up with startup ideas is to ask yourself the question: what do you wish someone would make for you?
  • If you want to come up with organic startup ideas, I’d encourage you to focus more on the idea part and less on the startup part. Just fix things that seem broken, regardless of whether it seems like the problem is important enough to build a company on. If you keep pursuing such threads it would be hard not to end up making something of value to a lot of people, and when you do, surprise, you’ve got a company.
  • Don’t be discouraged if what you produce initially is something other people dismiss as a toy. In fact, that’s a good sign. That’s probably why everyone else has been over- looking the idea.
  • There’s nothing more valuable than an unmet need that is just becoming fixable.

How to Get Startup Ideas

  • The very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they’re something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing.
  • It sounds obvious to say you should only work on problems that exist. And yet by far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.
  • You can either build something a large number of people want a small amount, or something a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter.
  • If Mark Zuckerberg had built something that could only ever have appealed to Harvard students, it would not have been a good startup idea. Facebook was a good idea because it started with a small market there was a fast path out of. Colleges are similar enough that if you build a Facebook that works at Harvard, it will work at any college.
  • It’s even better when you’re both a programmer and the target user, because then the cycle of generating new versions and testing them on users can happen inside one head.
  • You’re doubly likely to find good problems in another domain: (a) the inhabitants of that domain are not as likely as software people to have already solved their problems with software, and (b) since you come into the new domain totally ignorant, you don’t even know what the status quo is to take it for granted.
  • It’s exceptionally rare for startups to be killed by competitors — so rare that you can almost discount the possibility. If you have something that no competitor does and that some subset of users urgently need, you have a beachhead.
  • A crowded market is actually a good sign, because it means both that there’s demand and that none of the existing solutions are good enough.

Do Things that Don’t Scale

  • The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them.
  • We encourage every startup to measure their progress by weekly growth rate. If you have 100 users, you need to get 10 more next week to grow 10% a week. And while 110 may not seem much better than 100, if you keep growing at 10% a week you’ll be surprised how big the numbers get. After a year you’ll have 14,000 users, and after 2 years you’ll have 2 million.
  • You’ll be doing different things when you’re acquiring users a thousand at a time, and growth has to slow down eventually. But if the market exists you can usually start by recruiting users manually and then gradually switch to less manual methods.
  • How do you find users to recruit manually? If you build something to solve your own problems, then you only have to find your peers, which is usually straightforward. Otherwise you’ll have to make a more deliberate effort to locate the most promising vein of users. The usual way to do that is to get some initial set of users by doing a comparatively untargeted launch, and then to observe which kind seem most enthusiastic, and seek out more like them.
  • Tim Cook doesn’t send you a hand-written note after you buy a laptop. He can’t. But you can. That’s one advantage of being small: you can provide a level of service no big company can.
  • A consulting-like technique for recruiting initially lukewarm users is to use your software yourselves on their behalf. We did that at Viaweb. When we approached merchants asking if they wanted to use our software to make online stores, some said no, but they’d let us make one for them. Since we would do anything to get users, we did. We felt pretty lame at the time. Instead of organizing big strategic e-commerce partnerships, we were trying to sell luggage and pens and men’s shirts. But in retrospect it was exactly the right thing to do, because it taught us how it would feel to merchants to use our software. Sometimes the feedback loop was near instantaneous: in the middle of building some merchant’s site I’d find I needed a feature we didn’t have, so I’d spend a couple hours implementing it and then resume building the site.

Startup = Growth

  • A startup is a company designed to grow fast. A good growth rate during YC is 5–7% a week. If you can hit 10% a week you’re doing exceptionally well. If you can only manage 1%, it’s a sign you haven’t yet figured out what you’re doing.
  • The best thing to measure the growth rate of is revenue. The next best, for startups that aren’t charging initially, is active users.
  • We usually advise startups to pick a growth rate they think they can hit, and then just try to hit it every week. The key word here is “just.” If they decide to grow at 7% a week and they hit that number, they’re successful for that week. There’s nothing more they need to do. But if they don’t hit it, they’ve failed in the only thing that mattered, and should be correspondingly alarmed.

The 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups

  1. Single Founder
    You need colleagues to brainstorm with, to talk you out of stupid decisions, and to cheer you up when things go wrong.
  2. Bad Location
    The kind of people you want to hire want to live there, supporting industries are there, and the people you run into in chance meetings are in the same business.
  3. Marginal Niche
    You can only avoid competition by avoiding good ideas.
  4. Derivative Idea
    Instead of copying Facebook, with some variation that the Facebook rightly ignored, look for ideas from the other direction. Instead of starting from companies and working back to the problems they solved, look for problems and imagine the company that might solve them.
  5. Obstinacy
    Most successful startups end up doing something different than they originally intended. You have to be prepared to see the better idea when it arrives. Switching to a new idea every week will be equally fatal. Ask whether the ideas represent some kind of progression. If in each new idea you’re able to re-use most of what you built for the previous ones, then you’re probably in a process that converges. If you’re thinking about turning in some new direction and your users seem excited about it, it’s probably a good bet.
  6. Hiring Bad Programmers
    Business guys can’t tell which are the good programmers.
  7. Choosing the Wrong Platform
    How do you pick the right platforms? The usual way is to hire good programmers and let them choose. But there is a trick you could use if you’re not a programmer: visit a top computer science department and see what they use in research projects.
  8. Slowness in Launching
    It’s only by bouncing your idea off users that you fully understand it.
  9. Launching Too Early
    Think about the overall goal, then start by writing the smallest subset of it that does anything useful. If it’s a subset, you’ll have to write it anyway, so in the worst case you won’t be wasting your time. The early adopters you need to impress are fairly tolerant. They don’t expect a newly launched product to do everything; it just has to do something.
  10. Having No Specific User in Mind
    You can’t build things users like without understanding them.
  11. Raising Too Little Money
    If you take money from investors, you have to take enough to get to the next step. Usually you have to advance to a visibly higher level: if all you have is an idea, a working prototype; if you have a prototype, launching; if you’re launched, significant growth.
  12. Spending Too Much
    The classic way to burn through cash is by hiring a lot of people. Don’t do it if you can avoid it, pay people with equity rather than salary, not just to save money, but because you want the kind of people who are committed enough to prefer that, and only hire people who are either going to write code or go out and get users, because those are the only things you need at first.
  13. Raising Too Much Money
    Once you take a lot of money it gets harder to change direction. The more people you have, the more you stay pointed in the same direction.
  14. Poor Investor Management
    You shouldn’t ignore them, because they may have useful insights. But neither should you let them run the company.
  15. Sacrificing Users to (Supposed) Profit
    Because making something people want is so much harder than making money from it, you should leave business models for later.
  16. Not Wanting to Get Your Hands Dirty
    If you’re going to attract users, you’ll probably have to get up from your computer and go find some.
  17. Fights Between Founders
    We advise founders to vest so there will be an orderly way for people to quit. Most disputes are not due to the situation but the people. The people are the most important ingredient in a startup, so don’t compromise there.
  18. A Half-Hearted Effort
    Most founders of failed startups don’t quit their day jobs, and most founders of successful ones do.

The Hardest Lessons for Startups to Learn

  1. Release Early
    Get a version 1 out fast, then improve it based on users’ reactions. I don’t mean you should release something full of bugs, but that you should release something minimal. Users hate bugs, but they don’t seem to mind a minimal version 1, if there’s more coming soon.
  2. Keep Pumping Out Features
    You should make your system better at least in some small way every day or two. Users love a site that’s constantly improving. They’ll like you even better when you improve in response to their comments, because customers are used to companies ignoring them.
  3. Make Users Happy
    The most important is to explain, as concisely as possible, what the hell your site is about. The other thing I repeat is to give people everything you’ve got, right away. If you have something impressive, try to put it on the front page, because that’s the only one most visitors will see.
  4. Fear the Right Things
    Way more startups hose themselves than get crushed by competitors. There are a lot of ways to do it, but the three main ones are internal disputes, inertia, and ignoring users.
  5. Commitment Is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
    The most important quality in a startup founder is determination. You have to be the right kind of determined, though. You have to be determined, but flexible.
  6. There Is Always Room
    The reason we don’t see the opportunities all around us is that we adjust to however things are, and assume that’s how things have to be.
  7. Don’t Get Your Hopes Up
    It’s ok to be optimistic about what you can do, but assume the worst about machines and other people. When you hear someone say the words “we want to invest in you” or “we want to acquire you,” I want the following phrase to appear automatically in your head: don’t get your hopes up.
  8. Speed, not Money
    Economically, a startup is best seen not as a way to get rich, but as a way to work faster. You have to make a living, and a startup is a way to get that done quickly, instead of letting it drag on through your whole life.

How to Convince Investors

  • Convince yourself that your startup is worth investing in, and then when you explain this to investors they’ll believe you. And by convince yourself, I don’t mean play mind games with yourself to boost your confidence. I mean truly evaluate whether your startup is worth investing in.
  • If it isn’t, don’t try to raise money. But if it is, you’ll be telling the truth when you tell investors it’s worth investing in, and they’ll sense that. You don’t have to be a smooth presenter if you understand something well and tell the truth about it.
  • To evaluate whether your startup is worth investing in, you have to be a domain ex- pert. If you’re not a domain expert, you can be as convinced as you like about your idea, and it will seem to investors no more than an instance of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Which in fact it will usually be.
  • And investors can tell fairly quickly whether you’re a domain expert by how well you answer their questions. Know everything about your market.
  • Founders think of startups as ideas, but investors think of them as markets. If there are X number of customers who’d pay an average of $Y per year for what you’re making, then the total addressable market, or TAM, of your company is $XY. Investors don’t expect you to collect all that money, but it’s an upper bound on how big you can get.
  • Your target market has to be big, and it also has to be capturable by you. But the market doesn’t have to be big yet, nor do you necessarily have to be in it yet. Indeed, it’s often better to start in a small market that will either turn into a big one or from which you can move into a big one.

How to Present to Investors

  1. Explain what you’re doing
    Say what you’re doing as soon as possible, preferably in the first sentence.
  2. Get rapidly to demo
    A demo explains what you’ve made more effectively than any verbal description.
  3. Better a narrow description than a vague one
    Your primary goal is not to describe everything your system might one day become, but simply to convince investors you’re worth talking to further.
  4. Don’t talk and drive
    Have one person talk while another uses the computer. As long as you’re standing near the audience and looking at them, politeness (and habit) compel them to pay attention to you.
  5. Don’t talk about secondary matters at length
    If you only have a few minutes, spend them explaining what your product does and why it’s great.
  6. Don’t get too deeply in to business models
    That’s not what smart investors care about in a brief presentation and any business model you have at this point is probably wrong anyway.
  7. Talk slowly and clearly at the audience
    If you feel you’re speaking too slowly, you’re speaking at about the right speed.
  8. Have one person talk
    Startups often want to show that all the founders are equal partners. This is a good instinct; investors dislike unbalanced teams. But trying to show it by partitioning the presentation is going too far. It’s distracting.
  9. Seem confident
    I mean show, not tell. Never say “we’re passionate” or “our product is great.” If you’ve truly made something good, you’re doing investors a favor by telling them about it.
  10. Don’t try to seem more than you are
    All you need to convince them of is that you’re smart and that you’re onto something good. If you try too hard to conceal your rawness — by trying to seem corporate, or pretending to know about stuff you don’t — you may just conceal your talent. They’re probably better at detecting bullshit than you are at producing it.
  11. Don’t put too many words on slides
    When there are a lot of words on a slide, people just skip reading it. Don’t read your slides.
  12. Specific numbers are good
    If you have any kind of data, however preliminary, tell the audience. Numbers stick in people’s heads. If you can claim that the median visitor generates 12 page views, that’s great. But don’t give them more than four or five numbers, and only give them numbers specific to you. You don’t need to tell them the size of the market you’re in.
  13. Tell stories about users
    It’s good if you can talk about problems specific users have and how you solve them. The best stories about user needs are about your own. The next best thing is to talk about the needs of people you know personally, like your friends or siblings.
  14. Make a soundbite stick in their heads
    In the startup world, they’re usually “the x of y.”

Published in Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking

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Next Story — Illustrations Are More Than Digital Eye Candy
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Illustrations Are More Than Digital Eye Candy

Individually, illustrations can give content its identity; collectively, they form your brand’s visual fingerprint.


Since the early days at Help Scout, we’ve outfitted all of our blog posts with custom illustrations.

While bright colors and clear theming provide something fun to look at, illustrations are much more than digital decor. Individually, they reinforce and even further develop important points in a piece of writing; collectively, they coalesce to form your brand’s visual fingerprint.

Illustrations give content its identity

If you think about media that you love, you’re likely to recall its “identity” in addition to the content itself. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is inseparable from its iconic album cover, and it’s hard to discuss “Jaws” without picturing the emblematic movie poster (and the chilling theme music). Identity is a collage of many different elements, and they all contribute to a lasting impression. This impression is your brand.

Now consider this in the context of a blog post, and the use of a hastily chosen stock photo doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. Do you really want to form your content’s identity with snapshots from the bargain bin?

It’s true that The Old Man and the Sea doesn’t contain any sweet graphics. Good writing stands tall without ornament. At the same time, every piece of a creative canvas should be put to good use. Wasted space is wasted opportunity.

A start-to-finish time lapse of a recent illustration.

Forming a visual fingerprint with illustrations

The best way to create a consistent visual imprint is to establish (and follow) a set of concrete principles. They become your approach — a way to stay on the right path, a way to make work repeatable but not repetitive. With regard to illustrations, here are a few ways we steer the ship.

Favor connections over decoration

Every visual should augment the content it inhabits. Otherwise, it’s just a cute drawing, and those belong on the fridge. A successful visual interpretation can introduce a new perspective in the prose , so start by understanding what key points the author is making.

I begin by reading the post once to get a summary. Then I read it a second time to scan for copy that I can turn into an illustration. More often than not, there’s mention of a salient person, place, or thing. Sometimes it’s blatant, sitting right there in the title, or it may be hanging out as a metaphor. Other times a little extra creativity is required to draw something tangible out of the abstract. There’s no standard procedure, and occasionally the solution is a visual that, at the bare minimum, doesn’t require guesswork from the reader.

Explore widely, refine deeply

Once I’ve chosen which visual direction to take, I quickly sketch out a few concepts. Here’s where it becomes obvious that drawing isn’t my forte.

Rough concept sketch vs. final illustration

That’s OK. The goal of sketching is to let quantity lead me to quality. Rough mockups help to evaluate composition, color, and how engaging the idea will be before diving in and creating an entire illustration. No need to sweat the details yet — I normally limit myself to five minutes max per concept. If in that time I’m not satisfied with the result, it’s time to explore elsewhere (R.I.P., Unicycling Robot. You will be missed).

Design the frame before the frills

Once I have a basic direction, sketched out or mentally drawn, I build the skeleton with vectors. Vectors are digital point-to-point paths that can be drawn as simple shapes, then manipulated into virtually any form imaginable.

Example of vectors creating simple shapes.

Though some may find it debatable, there isn’t a single object in this cosmic, multifarious universe that can’t originate as either a square or circle. For that reason, I start each illustration with a square (or on rare occasion, a circle), set the color and width of the border, then scale it to about the size I want my first object to be. I continue this process of combining and subtracting shapes until the object has taken form.

Step-by-step process to transform simple shapes into an object with depth.

Once the objects are created and make up an aesthetically pleasing composition, I add some flair to make it pop a little more. This final 10% of the design process is the most important; it’s the chance to make something good into something great. This includes nudging shapes, adding depth by creating reflections and shadows, and perhaps scattering some stars across the background. It’s important to find a balance here, because too much glam will eventually become noise. Subtlety is the name of the game, since harsh shadows or two many sparkles will only distract from the story being told.

Be deliberate about color

The world of color is complex, and with infinite ways to harmoniously combine tints and shades, it can be extremely daunting. Begin by creating a palette, including colors and shades, and stick with that palette for all your illustrations and publications. When choosing colors for the Help Scout blog, I started with the jobs they were responsible for. First, they should represent our company with a bright, optimistic feel. Second, they needed to grab the reader’s attention and keep a firm grip.

That’s because editorial content doesn’t just live on your site; it’s distributed through other systems. Every piece of the puzzle — headline, copy, and illustration — must compel people to click, while not succumbing to the clickbait arms race. I decided on bold colors that could stand alone or cohesively exist altogether. The palette includes 6 main colors, each with 7 different shades. It also includes a family of black, because just try to take that away from me.

Strong identities don’t happen by accident

Illustrations are a dynamic method of communication that put designer and writer on the same page. You can help tell more vivid stories, and you can connect with readers before they start the first sentence.

While they aren’t required to build a strong visual identity, remember that whatever impression you choose to pursue doesn’t live in isolation: it contends with everything else. If you don’t actively strive to stand out, you’ll be sure to blend in.


Next Story — Release Notes that Get People Excited
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Release Notes that Get People Excited

How we found ways to turn updates into something people talk about

A Lot of Release Notes Suck.

Other than this…

A couple things about release notes make them even easier to ignore.

  1. They’re unidirectional
  2. Dry & Technical

There’s always ways to improve a product experience — one thing to note is that experience doesn’t start and end at the product. We knew that there was something that could be done to turn “bug fixes and performance improvements” into something fun and memorable.

Here’s what we did.

1. Shoutouts

A big part of how we were able to rapidly iterate our product was through the help of our amazing Alpha Testing community. Release notes were a unique chance to give our testers credit for their contributions, and to share the part they played in the product.

2. Want Stickers? Read our Release Notes!

We looked for more ways to grow this feeling of appreciation and interaction. Sometimes we tucked in small prizes in the release messages, giving stickers to people that always took the time to read through. This one left users with a fun prize and introduced lighthearted competition to tweet first!

GIFS made it more fun
Want stickers? Read our release notes!

3. Release Notes For Charities!

On our last release, we asked our users to tweet, and we’d personally make a small donation to the first five that tagged us and their favorite charity.

This was our latest and my personal favorite! I loved how it captured who we are and the values that we have as people in the company. We learned about a ton of amazing causes and had fun doing it. So far, I think this has gotten everyone the most excited — from within our company, the winning tweets, the charities, and the communities they serve!

So far release notes have been another unique way to connect with our community at Polymail and we’re always on the lookout for more ways to inject personality and those little things that leave everyone happier.

Let us know about any other release notes you love! You can find me on Twitter @bshins or @PolymailApp!


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Next Story — Product Hunt 101
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Product Hunt 101

Tips from a top hunter on how to crush it on Product Hunt

I first heard about Product Hunt a couple of years ago through Ryan Hoover, who I had gotten to know through his side projects, and I started using it right away. It was a great way for me to stay on top of products, but also a great way to connect with other people interested in sharing and discovering the best products. If you’ve been hiding under a rock and haven’t heard of it yet, check Product Hunt out here — you’ll get some great insights and ideas from companies and people. It’s a pretty amazing community.

Getting my PH 🔑

Fast forward two years — the Product Hunt community has exploded in growth, and I still use it almost every day. A lot of companies use Product Hunt to launch their products, and many have seen thousands of users join/use their product in a single day.

List of the top 10 hunters on Product Hunt

I love submitting products and was a very active hunter, in the early days. I had a natural knack for finding cool tools and apps, a few of which made it to #1 — this eventually put me Product Hunt’s top hunters list. I’m currently sitting at number 9 on the leaderboard in between Erik Torenberg and Hiten Shah. Because of Product Hunt’s traction and my profile’s visibility, I get pitched a lot about product submissions. I’m also frequently asked by friends and entrepreneurs, “How do we get on the front page of Product Hunt?”

The answer is a simple one, but requires a bit of context and insight into how Product Hunt works. Here’s the breakdown:

How does Product Hunt work?

Product Hunt is a social news site where community members post interesting products. It’s usually (but not limited to) digital products. The website is extremely popular, and has quickly grown into an equivalent to what Hacker News is for developers.

Generally, products get submitted and upvoted (like Reddit and Hacker News), and the community has conversations about these products. It’s a place for product discovery. By association, users also discover the companies and people behind these products.

TechCrunch exclusively used to be the holy grail of product launches, but Product Hunt is quickly giving it a run for its money (also see this and this).

Next Keyboard’s pre-launch Product Hunt post

It has become a part of many companies’ promotion strategies (for launches, updates, etc). Some people do customer development on there as well, getting real, high-quality, feedback, like what we did with Next Keyboard to acquire beta testers. Product Hunt has even recently expanded into games, books, and podcasts.

How to crush it on Product Hunt (pro tips & best practices)

Product Hunt front page

The Product Hunt front page gets a lot of exposure, but it’s doubly as important because top products get picked up and promoted in the email digest. Ideally, when you launch something on Product Hunt, you want it to get upvoted enough to stay above the fold (the visible part of the screen without scrolling or clicking anything), so you’re always visible to people landing on the website. The algorithm is similar to Hacker News, Reddit, and such. I recommend not sending direct links or getting people from the same IP address or location to upvote it, otherwise your product has a chance of getting blacklisted. (A simple way around the IP address issue is to get people to upvote via the app, or on a cellular data connection.)

You need an invite from a current member to be able to comment on submissions and to submit something new. And by the way, just because you can submit, doesn’t mean you should.

Submissions

Oftentimes, people try to get top hunters to submit their products. This is because top hunters have more followers. When they submit something, all their followers receive a notification that they submitted a product. You can find a list of top hunters here.

Influencers also have posting privileges that get their submissions directly to the front page. If you’re trying to go down this route, look at people who have submitted a lot, and see if their submissions have made it to the front page.

Scheduling

Ideally, you want your product posted first thing in the morning PST time. Product Hunt refreshes its leaderboard around 12am-12:30 PST everyday. Folks who live in the west coast or in Europe have an advantage here. I typically post around 6 or 7am EST. By that time there’s already a few products getting some traction usually.

Pick a good day of the week to do it. Weekends are usually slower. I prefer middle of the week, between Tuesday — Thursday. If Product Hunt is anything like Reddit, then Monday — Thursday are probably the most trafficked days.

Discussion

Reply to everything! It shows you’re active in the community and that you care. It also makes your post look more active, which helps to push your post up on the home feed.

Upvotes

Don’t ask for votes directly. Ask for support, love, feedback, shares but don’t ask for upvotes. (Also, as I mentioned previously don’t send people direct links.) The best way to ask for support is not to ask for support. This is similar to the VC adage, “Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money.”

A good example of asking for support on Product Hunt

Share the news with friends, and friends of friends, and in your networks. Think Facebook groups, Whatsapp groups, etc. Line up your supporters, fans, investors, beta testers in advance and let them know that the PH launch is coming. Similarly, if you’re planning on doing an email blast don’t forget to reach out to existing customers, letting them know you’re on Product Hunt.

Hunt details

Adding your hunt details — Old Flow — New flow is much better 👌🏾

Here’s what to keep in mind as you fill out your hunt details — the form before submitting an app:

  • Name: pretty straightforward, the name of your product
  • Tagline: should be descriptive — not your marketing tagline
  • Direct URL: URL to your product
  • Images and videos: share screenshots, promo video, marketing images. GIFs should be square and under 3MB. A GIF in your thumbnail helps the post stand out. This image should be added first
  • Twitter: Makers’ Twitter handles
  • Categories: These will enable Product Hunt users to discover your product as well
  • First comment: You should have your first comment written the day before your post goes live. This should be a short blurb from you, the maker, about things like why you built the product, who it’s for, why you think it’s great, and a call-to-action (something like, “Looking for feedback,” or, “Let me know if you notice any bugs!” It could even just be, “Thanks for checking it out :)” Ask your friends to upvote this so it floats to the top, and so that people know that you made the product and are responsive to comments.
  • Collection: For more exposure in the long run, get your product added to a popular collection related to your product. This way, more people will find your product through organic search.

This is all the information you need to consider, and provide, when you’re submitting a product yourself or trying to get the attention of a top hunter.

How to Pitch Hunters

Most top hunters have their own day jobs and are super busy people. They are also bombarded with submissions from other people hoping to hit the front page. Top hunters also love interesting products — that’s why they joined Product Hunt in the first place. They would love to submit something that resonates with the community. You can provide them with that. However, you must tread the very fine line between pitching (authentically) and spamming (annoyingly).

When in doubt, pitch like you would want to be pitched. Ask for feedback, speak to the person before asking for something, and spark up a conversation before you need the submission.

Figure out who the top hunter is, what pains they might have in their day-to-day job, what kind of products they’re interested in, and add value if you can. Maybe send them a couple of interesting products that you discovered, so they can submit them. With that said, I know that time can be a luxury sometimes. Even if you haven’t prepared or started a conversation with them prior, at the very least, be real and authentic when telling them about your product.

Ideally, do your homework to see if your product is something they’d be interested in. Product Hunt shows you all of the things they’ve submitted, upvoted, and made. You can tell a lot about a person based on those three things.

Don’t take it personally if you don’t hear back, because they might be preoccupied with other tasks or priorities. If they choose not to submit it on your behalf, it simply might not be a good fit for them. Similarly, don’t spam random people on Product Hunt to ask for feedback when you really want upvotes. (Spamming random people is very different from genuinely asking feedback, which I recommended earlier).

When you’re going to submit to Product Hunt, plan ahead. Your conversations should start when you start building your product. Build relationships, not just products. That way, you’ll have a community and stakeholders — people who are genuinely curious about the product — when you’re about to launch.

A Great Sample Pitch

I get pitched somewhat frequently. I run a studio, so it’s difficult for me to respond to each one. With that said, I like great pitches — and this was a great pitch.

The team at Core15 reached out to me with a short, concise, customized, email, but also made a video for me. They talk about how they like my app Quick Fit, which was closely related to their app, and they also provided a promo code within the description so I could give it a try if I was curious.

I didn’t know the Core15 co-founders before, but their cold email felt really personal. I was happy to submit it for them. The co-founder, Fei, kicked off the discussion with comments and promo codes for fast movers of the Product Hunt community.

The Calendar Invite

Another approach I’ve found to be super helpful is asking makers who I’m submitting a product for to send me a calendar invite for really early in the AM on the day they want it posted with all of the details I’ll need to make the post. Here’s a calendar invite my friend Mike Murchison recently sent me.

Calendar invite Mike sent me for a fun side project he was working on

Deconstruction Complete

Now that you have an idea of how Product Hunt works, I highly recommend checking the community out for yourself. Dive deep, be yourself, and share your favourite products. Reach out to other people and get deeper into the product community. While Product Hunt is established and has many users, I think that it’s still in its early days.

We regularly explore product-related ideas in our mailing list. Give me a shout if you have any questions, and obviously, if you think you have a great product to submit. I’m @robjama on Twitter.

BONUS TIPS:

Speaking on a panel at Product Hunt TO meetup in Toronto 🎙

Use Slack to connect with other makers and PH community members. If you’re a maker you should consider joining MakerHunt, an invite-only Slack community for makers. You can also talk to makers in your city on the phglobal.co slack group and at Product Hunt meetups IRL > https://www.producthunt.com/meetups

If you like this post, you might also like:

Robleh Jama is the founder of Tiny Hearts, an award-winning product studio. They make their own products like Next Keyboard, Wake Alarm and Quick Fit — as well as products for clients like Wealthsimple and Philips.

Check out our blog and join our newsletter to learn things like ‘How to get discovered on the App Store’ and ‘How to Make Products that People Love’.

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Next Story — The Perils of Politeness
Currently Reading - The Perils of Politeness

The Perils of Politeness

Real candor is built by assuming positive intent, not by shying away from honest feedback.


‘Just be nice’ is emotionally resonant but nutritionally shallow advice, paying no mind to the complexity of candor.

Does respecting someone’s work mean being honest enough to say hard things? Is staying silent when standards aren’t met a selfish gesture, not a caring one? Is motivating someone through stress actually kind in the long run?

Being nice vs. being kind

Mental shortcuts, like assuming there is a clear right and wrong in any given situation, are tempting because they promise us concrete answers with minimal effort. Perhaps this is why “niceness” has become sloganized. “Don’t be a jerk!” cries the Internet. Sure, but don’t be a doormat either.

If we aren’t careful, this simplistic thinking can confuse what it means to be nice with what it means to be kind. The end result is that “niceness” becomes a black-and-white trait with no nuance, one that more readily resembles politeness than the spectrum of ways to make a kind, thoughtful gesture to a peer or colleague.

Nothing represents this well-intentioned pursuit of niceness better than the compliment sandwich.

Recipe: take some honest feedback and sandwich it in between two compliments. This brown bag psychology implies any sort of critical feedback requires double the praise to make up for it, even if you have to reach.

You’re left making a dangerous assumption: that critique and criticism are inherently unkind. Operating with this mindset creates an unhealthy expectation for “conversational fluff.” People start tip-toeing around each other and resort to using undecipherable soft language that’s sole purpose is to ward off conflict and protect feelings. The truth inevitably becomes buried under a pile of pleasantries.

Soon enough you’ll be stuffed on compliment sandwiches and starving for some honesty.

Assumed benevolence

A smarter approach is to have a built-in good faith clause — to always interpret feedback and judgment from your team as coming from a good place.

This isn’t to say working together requires pre-emptive pardons for reckless insensitivity. Being honest doesn’t mean being a brute. But you’re better off accepting that a little friction is bound to happen. Friction in small doses is perfectly fine; it’s the only way to make sparks fly.

At Help Scout, we have an unofficial principle built around this idea called Assumed Benevolence. Consider it a modern twist to Hanlon’s razor:

Always assume miscommunication over malice.

Born from the reality that remote cultures rely on text and text is easily misinterpreted, it also applies to co-located teams. With benevolence assumed, you’re free to share the unblemished truth. No need for defensive language; everyone should already be assuming positive intent. When you comment, “This hasn’t hit our standards yet,” I know you think I can make it great.

Here are a couple of side benefits we’ve personally seen:

More speaking out for quality. When you work with people who know what they’re doing, it can be intimidating to challenge the Subject Matter Expert. Truth is, quality control is everyone’s job. We’ve seen cross-discipline challenges lead to better results, and now they happen more often, all due to one internal assumption: we’re trying to make this thing the best it can be, regardless of everyone’s roles. Fighting to make it right > being polite.

More speed, reduced confusion. Earlier this year the marketing team found itself with too many project cards containing comments like, “Can you please take a look at this?” What a polite way to ask! One problem: no hard edges or due date means it’s going to slip to the bottom of someone’s list. We now skip the circular talk and insist on keeping it short and sweet: “I need this by EOD, thanks!” If you can’t make it happen, reply honestly; assumed benevolence goes both ways.

Giving good weight

The web is littered with personal essays on “that one time I had the wind taken out of my sails and was better for it.” We already know this stuff. We know frustratingly high expectations come paired with similarly high beliefs in our talent. We know radical candor can actually be a positive form of pressure — a “good weight” for us to carry.

But we seem to hesitate when it comes time to give good weight.

I more than sympathize; I actively make this mistake all the time. Reasons abound to just do the polite thing. Let the high fives ring and the good times roll, right? I often need to reflect on what “kind” really means, and how avoiding tension isn’t always to someone’s benefit.

There’s no catch-all solution for the tangled mess of emotions inherent in giving hard feedback. But it’s better to strike at the core of the problem — the intent we assume — rather than take a duct tape approach by using insincere courtesies to patch up any misunderstandings.

Stick to assuming benevolence; when working with great people, you’ll rarely be wrong.


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