Ryan Hoover on Startups, Success and Staying Curious

Danielle Newnham
Aug 15, 2020 · 28 min read
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Ryan Hoover taken by Christopher Michel, Hawaii 2018

*This interview first appeared in my newsletter here. Sign up to be the first to read all my interviews here.*

Ryan Hoover is the founder and CEO of Product Hunt — the site where anyone can launch and discover new products. He started it as a side project back in 2013 before selling to AngelList three years later for a reported $20 million. Following the sale, Ryan started Weekend Fund in order to invest in early stage startups.

In this interview, we revisit his childhood, how Ryan got into tech, and how being curious has led him here today.

Here’s his story:

Newnham: Can you tell me about your background? What were you like growing up?

Hoover: I grew up in Eugene, Oregon and for those who don’t know, Eugene is a college town. The University of Oregon is there so a lot of the culture and social activity revolves around the school and sports.

I grew up in a middle class family. My parents are entrepreneurs — my dad, specifically, has been starting companies since his mid-twenties, in all kinds of different industries. He always had this saying that stuck with me which was: “Find a need and fill it.” It is a very simple saying but it’s an interesting way to frame entrepreneurship. It’s all about finding some sort of need whether it’s super obvious like, here’s a business that has a very specific problem even to psychological needs like loneliness… so, people are lonely so how do you solve loneliness?

My father was always encouraging entrepreneurial projects. I grew up with him saying, “Do yard work Ryan and we’ll give you an allowance.” Basic, normal kid stuff where you’re mowing lawns, doing household chores and then doing more creative things.

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A younger Ryan and his brother at their lemonade stand. Image via Shari Hoover

He also had a video store when I was a kid which was pretty awesome because I got to play all the video games for free. As a result of that, when I was really young (around eleven), he allowed me to manage the gumball machines. Basically, they were gumball machines with Runts and M&M’s and essentially, I was responsible for collecting the quarters and counting the money then inputting it into my grandpa’s old Mac computer spreadsheet and then I would go with them to Costco and bulk buy candy to refill it. So super simple but, as a kid, this taught me the basics of business, opening my eyes to a new way to make a living beyond an hourly paycheck.

And I have always hated hourly jobs, traditionally because what you are doing is getting paid for your time, no matter what you do, rather than your output and your impact. And, in those scenarios, there is no way to effectively make $1,000 an hour. You’re always limited to say $15 an hour. So a lot of the things that my dad encouraged and gave me access to led to me wanting to try and find ways to make money as a kid, outside of a traditional hourly job.

Newnham: When did you first get excited about tech?

Hoover: Video games were my gateway into tech. Early on, I wanted my own computer, mostly to play games like Half-Life and Starcraft, but that led me to a world of creating online.

I think it was also at that point that I ended up learning how to build my own computer, just by piecing together different parts. I did a lot of research figuring out what’s important. What’s a CPU? I also wanted to build it so I could play video games on it. So that was an early example of getting into technology and more into the technical side of it. And then through that, in high school, I built a website — taught myself basic HTML, CSS and at the time was using Dreamweaver as well to make it easier for me. So I built my own website and was hoping to make money through advertising and email signups. I ended up making like $70 despite dozens and dozens of hours building it but it was a great learning experience.

Around that same time, I also bought and sold electronics on eBay. I basically browsed FatWallet — looking for really good deals on electronics through price matching and rebates. I probably sold between $100,000 — $150,000 of merchandise over the course of seven years. Admittedly, I didn’t really keep track of my margins so I don’t know how much I actually made but it was probably around $10,000 or $15,000. Not a lot but I learnt, OK, I can put these things on eBay and I can make money. And it wasn’t necessarily an hourly job. I could make like $20 when this thing sells and it might only take me half an hour to set up. That was still while I was in high school.

Nenwham: So you then went to College, how did you end up at InstantAction?

Hoover: That was my first career job. I had a few different jobs before that. Before I was sixteen, I was obviously working at my dad’s video game store — under the table kind of working, then my first official legal job was actually at a pool company. They basically sold pool chemicals — just behind the desk, answering questions, selling merchandise. The job after that was at a home improvement store — it was a fine job but I would hate myself if I had to work there now. It was basically picking up carts in the driveway, helping customers take things out to their cars.

Then the first job I really loved and got excited about was InstantAction and that was an internship in my senior year in college. I heard about this internship, applied, got it, and basically I was just a marketing intern, helping them with some of their social stuff and supporting some of their marketing efforts. I was doing that for about three or four months as an unpaid intern before I got hired into a full-time marketing role there. Then they moved the offices to Portland so I moved there shortly after graduating college.

It was a great experience — I had a marketing role there then I actually fell into Product Management whilst in that role. They didn’t have a formal marketing team — I reported into the VP of Product at InstantAction and he and I got along really well. I learnt a bunch from him and at one point, he was like, “We have this open role for a Product Manager and you already seem to be showing interest in this type of role…” So I took advantage of that, became a Product Manager, did that for about a year, as the company was going through a number of changes; some of them were CEO changes and some other kind of wild things… Long story short, InstantAction was really ambitious but a good example of what happens when you try and do too many things at once — it was basically three businesses in one. One was building video games — original IP, another one was building a game engine, similar to Unity. And then what I was focusing on was the platform side which was technology to embed any game on the web or on Facebook. So Call of Duty or War of Warcraft, you could play it in your browser which is pretty remarkable — this was back in 2009/2010. The problem was they just couldn’t execute — it was really hard to build, technically, so I ended up leaving shortly before the company shut down in 2010, and going to PlayHaven.

My path to PlayHaven was actually through one of the execs at InstantAction — he left before me. He was the CEO there — Andy Yang. I got connected to him after he left and found out that PlayHaven was hiring a Product Manager. At the time, it was clear InstantAction sounded like it would probably go under, people were leaving left and right, so I was exploring options and I talked to Andy. I ended up applying and getting the role then moving to San Francisco.

Newnham: What lessons did you take from these two jobs to starting Product Hunt?

Hoover: One of the lessons is certainly that having focus is important. In trying not to do too many things at once is extremely important — this relates more to InstantAction. It was a 100-ish person company when I was there — like three companies in one and it was just too scattered. The other part that was a learning experience too was the way the teams were structured at InstantAction was really bad, in the sense that we had an office in Portland, an office in Vegas, and the incentives were not aligned between both but there were dependencies across the teams. Essentially, the team in Vegas had dependencies on the platform team in Portland but the team in Portland — their goals were not to help the team in Vegas, essentially. And so it was a classic example of if you misalign incentives, and reward teams and people in ways that cause friction, it can cause a lot of issues.

One is that work doesn’t get done. Two, there becomes a lot of political headbutting that happens because people are like, “Well, my product is important, I need to get this done and I need your help” but then you’re like “Well, my product is important and that’s not what my boss is telling me to do” for example. So I think that was a good learning experience.

I think at PlayHaven, one of the biggest learnings was also personal — I was young in my career in Product Management and I made a lot of newbie mistakes in how I was prioritising my time. In some cases — and I would love doing this — I would run into the office every weekend and I would wireframe ideas, come up with product features and things I thought we could build. And I would spend all this time spec’ing things out and writing in detail how it would work, without talking to the team. And so one of the mistakes is you end up presenting this wireframe which you’ve spent all this time on and then you present it to the engineering team and they’re all like, “Well, this is the first time I’m seeing this. You have so much of it defined” and they don’t feel invested in it because they’ll say, “Well, this isn’t my idea — it’s just your idea that you came up with.”

So I learned that through my career at PlayHaven — to not be too detailed with the specs and to have more conversations because conversations take up a lot less time and result in better product building, especially in a smaller team.

Newnham: When did you decide you want to go off and do your own thing?

Hoover: It was about three years into it. PlayHaven went from ten people then down to about six people as there were a few layoffs after I joined, then we grew to about one hundred or so in three years. And after about three years, I really loved what we were building and loved the team but I started to feel like I was having less impact.

As a team, we were getting bigger and bigger but one of the mistakes was at the time we had a lot of tech debt which had been racked up as a result of prioritising shopping new features more quickly and what that caused was a lot of slowness in our execution. So, as a Product Manager, one of the most depressing things is when you have an idea and you talk about it with the team but the reality is that it’s going to take months before you actually ship it. And then that accumulates over time; more and more ideas and more and more delays. It’s very frustrating.

So part of the reason for leaving was that and part of it was also that I wanted to do something different. I wanted to build something consumer-focused and ideally, something for myself — something that I would personally use. I found that incredibly appealing, especially being in San Francisco where you’re constantly using new apps and products and thinking, Well, I would love to work on something that I use every day. And, also, it was to challenge myself into doing something new, outside of gaming, because I had been in gaming for the first two startups.

So after about three years, I decided that for myself, it was best that I do something different but I don’t know what to do yet. So I ended up taking to my boss and saying much of what I just told you. I said I wanted to do something different and would give two months’ notice and that will give him plenty of time to find a replacement. And it will give me time to do a knowledge dump because there was a lot of knowledge which I held in my head, having been there the longest time out of any other Product Manager in the company. And that two months essentially turned into a part-time role so instead of leaving after two months, I ended up switching to like twenty hours a week and I stayed on for four months or so whilst I was exploring news ideas for startups.

Newnham: So, at this stage, you didn’t have the idea for Product Hunt — is that right?

Hoover: Right, I didn’t think of Product Hunt at all. There were really just two or three paths at this stage — one of them was to join a startup so I interviewed with a couple of startups. One was actually Medium — this was pretty early in Medium days, I think they were maybe twenty or thirty people, maybe less. I met up with Ev and Jason (Goldman). I really loved what they were building, I was using it, but long story short, and I knew this going into it, they were like, “Well, we hire designers and engineers — that is literally all we hire. We don’t have any Product Managers.” I don’t think they even had any marketers really and so at the time, it wasn’t really a fit at all.

It was actually through a mutual intro — Nir Eyal— he was connected to some people at Medium and he sent them an email saying I would love to chat so there wasn’t actually an open role I was applying for specifically. It was just a general chat with Ev Williams and the team rather than finding a role for me.

There was one other startup I was considering but culturally, it wasn’t the right fit I don’t think. And they ended up getting acqui-hired a year or two after anyway.

So that was my path — either that or starting my own thing but, initially, I didn’t know what I wanted to build or start. And then the third path which I thought about was getting into venture because I love talking to founders and supporting technology but I never formally applied to any venture roles.

Newnham: So how did you settle on the idea for Product Hunt?

Hoover: It was fairly organic in that I had always shared new products and apps that I had found with friends — we’d share them through text messages or there was actually, at the time, a MessageMe group which were entrepreneurs, investors and friends of mine. And we’d always share cool things that we found. And I realised that I love exploring new things. I used to browse AngelList way back when, just looking at startups for fun. It’s not built for that. It’s not built for consumers to discover new products at all but I would use it for that because I was like, “Hey, here is the website with all these new startups which is cool.”

I have always been super geeky about that stuff. And I realised there was no place on the internet that had just a list — a simple list — of here’s what’s new and cool in tech. And the closest thing I found was just tech publications, in general, where there are articles, funding announcements, and interviews. But it wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t great for just discovering products — it just wasn’t in the condensed, easy to consume, format that I wanted.

One reason is that they end up hiding the links to the products themselves embedded in the article and I was like, “Just give me the link to the product. I don’t want to read everything about the product itself, I just want to go download it or go try it out. So I thought that maybe there were other people who would also want to create a list of cool things every day so I saw this tool… Do you know Makeshift?

Newnham: Yes.

Hoover: Do you remember Linkydink?

Newnham: Yes, Stef Lewandowski was behind it.

Hoover: Yes, Stef Lewandowski was working on it, Jon Gold, and Nick Marsh. We followed each other on Twitter and I had been following what they had been building, playing with their new things. And so when Linkydink was announced, I was like, “This is really cool.” You can create an email list that can be community curated essentially, and it only takes a few minutes to set up.

So it was a combination of having an interest in discovering new products, and realising there was no existing place right now and two, there is this Linkydink tool. So these two ideas collided and I was like, “Aha, maybe I could create an MVP of this thing and me and my friends could just share the cool stuff which we find via email.”

The tweet that became the start of Product Hunt

And so I went to Philz and one morning at 6am and came up with the name Product Hunt… I don’t exactly know how or when it came up, but I think I was looking at a thesaurus. So I set it up and just published it to some friends on Twitter and got some subscribers.

Newnham: You already had a community from blogging. Did you get much traction from the get-go?

Hoover: In the beginning, it wasn’t massive but it was encouraging. So we had maybe a few hundred subscribers sign up the first few days and that was enough to at least have some number of people looking at it.

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The early Product Hunt team — Erik Torenberg, Corley Hughes, Mike Coutermarsh and Ryan Hoover

That was great because it was like, OK, this not just me and my friends. People are actually reading this. And then over a couple of weeks, we grew more and more and then other people and friends would say to me, “I really liked the email you’re sending out — the Product Hunt digest. It’s really cool. It’s useful and I cool find things on it.” And it was kind of a combination of the number of subscribers and that feedback which encouraged me to say, “OK maybe there is more here. Maybe this can be something much bigger

Newnham: And didn’t you get someone on board early on to help you create Product Hunt?

Hoover: Yes, so after some weeks, after the initial launch, I was like I want to build this out. What might it look like? How would it work? In my head, I was imagining something like Reddit or Hacker News because the product specs were really simple: 1) I need a website where people can interact because email is pretty limited. 2) I want to have comments so that people can talk about these things in the same way that me and my friends talk in our private chat groups. 3) We need some way to curate because as we get more things posted, we can’t just have a static, flat list, in reverse chronological order. So basically, all the fundamental behaviours and things that you see on Reddit that people understand and use was kind of the model.

So I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like, generally, but I didn’t know exactly the best path to build it so initially I was looking at something called Telescope by Sacha Greif which he built a long time ago. It was a way to build a lot of that same functionality; it’s all open source and something I could set up without much technical knowledge at all. So that was one option I was exploring. And then the other way I was considering was building a simple Ruby on Rails app and building it myself.

I actually emailed a couple of people and one of them was a friend of mine — Nathan Bashaw and I said, “Hey, here’s what I’m wanting to build; here’s the basic feature set — kind of like Reddit — how do you think I should build it? Should I use Telelscope? Should I use Ruby on Rails? If so, do you recommend a particular path to learn how to do it, and he just said, “This is cool. Love what you are working on. Do you want to work on it together? Thanksgiving’s coming up, I’m going to be at my parents’ place so I’ll have plenty of free time.” And I was like, “All right, that sounds great. Let’s do it!”

I knew Nathan from a couple of years prior to that. We probably met on Twitter at some point and then we met up in person and became friends.

Newnham: So you start building it. What was your mission? And did you have any inkling how big it was going to be?

Hoover: In the very beginning, it really wasn’t fully thought through. It was just, I want this thing to exist for me, and my friends might use it. Then it evolved into, OK, more than just me and my friends want to use it. And, as the weeks passed, it became clearer and clearer the opportunity and the market need.

I don’t think there was a tipping point or a particular moment but at some point over time, we realised wow this thing keeps growing. We’re seeing more people sign up and it’s pretty much all through word of mouth. And we realised that one, there’s a hole in the market to some extent within tech where there really was no community for people in technology to come together and geek out about these things. That was one piece of it and the second piece was that increasingly some makers and people building products were desperate to get users and desperate to get feedback, just because there was no place for that. If you publish on the App Store, you are among millions and millions of apps and unless you get featured by Apple, which very few do, you’re probably not going to get discovered there.

There are also traditional tech publications and the press in general — some people find initial launch traction through there but, again, it’s very few people in the wide world of startups and building who get covered, and furthermore to get coverage, you have to have an existing relationship or hire a PR firm and, in most cases, the average maker doesn’t have those connections to get that kind of coverage.

And then there was a number of makers giving me feedback saying, “Hey, thanks so much. It’s amazing the traction we got from Product Hunt is so encouraging.” In fact, yesterday, I spoke with a maker who launched maybe almost two years ago. And, and he basically said, “Product Hunt is the reason for my success so far.” It enabled him to have an accelerant of new users using his early early product. And what’s interesting about his situation was, when you’re first building something, you’re like, “Does anybody want this?” “Is anyone using it?” And that accelerant that spiked initial traffic gave him the confidence and also the user base to then continue to work on it, whereas in other scenarios, you might have actually stopped working on it entirely because you just couldn’t get it out there.

Newnham: From the start, Product Hunt made an inclusive space for all makers. Was that intentional or a reflection of your company culture?

Hoover: I was actually talking to someone the other day about team culture, and I’m no expert in that but what I do realise and observe is that a lot of company cultures and the culture that exudes from a company or product, comes, in many ways, from the founder and early team. And Product Hunt is maybe not for everyone but, for me, I want Product Hunt to be the one place where I love discovering new things. I’m naturally a very curious person — as illustrated by all the things I did as a kid, and I want it to be a place for people to come with curiosity, discover new things that literally didn’t exist yesterday, and also be a place that is somewhat playful. We wanted Product Hunt to have a friendly feel that’s accessible.

But the really important part of this is the reality that people are launching their products, things that they’ve been working on for months or years — and it’s a very vulnerable position to be in in many ways, it’s kind of putting your neck out there, and putting yourself up for feedback — and so I knew that for Product Hunt to succeed you can’t have a negative culture or culture that inspires people to basically sh*t on people’s products. Because in that situation makers would not want to be there, it would actually make your heart sink.

A lot of the early community were fellow makers — people in technology building products — so they naturally have an empathy for others that are launching. They realise the effort and also the feeling of launching something — so there was almost this natural influence I guess that lends itself to more positivity.

Newnham: What were the some of the highs and lows in the early days? When did you start generating revenue?

Hoover: Yes, there’s high highs and low lows in startups. The highs are amazing where you’re like, “Wow everything’s working, all the metrics are green. I have a really clear path, as a team, of where we want to take this. We just raised funding so we have money in the bank so we don’t have to worry about, “ Are we going to eat today?” So there’s those highs and then there’s certainly the lows that vary from just the small things like, “Oh, we launched this feature and nobody used it — that sucks” to really tough things where you have to let people go for various reasons — those are really tough conversations.

With regards to revenue — we had a lot of debate throughout like, at what point do we focus on generating revenue versus…? At the end of day, when you focus on revenue, you’re basically giving up something else. So you’re organising that over something else. And so, initially, we were making some money in job postings before we raised money, and then when we raised money, it didn’t really make sense that much financially to try and get $5,000 a month to be honest. Because that wasn’t going to move the needle— we would have increased our runway at the end of the day for like a week, so it was not worth prioritising. So we ended up not prioritising revenue initiatives and I do wonder if maybe we should have. It’s hard to say because hindsight always changes perspectives, but I feel like we made the right decision with the data we had at the time.

And then, there’s ongoing team challenges as you grow as a team. How do you keep everyone aligned? How do you keep everyone motivated? How do you ensure that people feel like they’re heard, and also ensure that everyone’s working on the right things? Those are probably the most difficult things to get right.

Newnham: You mentioned fundraising. When did you start thinking about raising money?

Hoover: There was a time in the early days when it was taking off, we got a bunch of traction — a bunch of people were using it in technology and we still weren’t even incorporated, hadn’t raised any money... And it was really — what I call a crossroads where you’re like, “OK, I’ve got to figure out what to do with this long term. There’s one path where we remain bootstrapped and we make money on job postings, and we continue to grow and turn it into like a half a million ARR kind of business, something that generates a nice healthy lifestyle. That’s one path.

The other path is to raise money, hire people so we can accelerate and build more things faster. I thought a lot about those two different paths and Garry Tan was the first person I talked to at Y Combinator and I basically laid it out and said, “Hey Gary, here’s where we’re at.” He already knew the product because he actually reached out to meet up. And then I talked to Alexis Ohanian, and Kat Mañalac and Kevin Hale at YC as well and ultimately decided to go through YC. At that time, I wasn’t 100% sure if we were going to go down the venture route but the opportunity to join YC and go through that experience was, I think, an obvious choice.

And then, a long story short, I ended up raising money so that we could hire and build a lot more things than we could if it was just me and one or two other people.

Newnham: So would you say that the main reason for the funding was really to grow out the team in order to move faster and further, or was it a longer term plan where you were thinking of selling the company?

Hoover: Yes, exactly. I was talking to someone yesterday about this but the primary reason why people raise money, usually, is to hire a team, or to pay people, and to have more people as you have an idea and a vision of where you want to go and you want to get there faster. I think there’s a lot of pressure to raise money, especially in Silicon Valley. And I don’t think everyone should raise money by any means because ultimately, raising capital is a tactic or a means to an end in many ways, and in some cases it’s the only way depending on the industry or the market that you’re tackling. If you’re in a really competitive space, and you’re trying to bootstrap with two people versus your competitor who’s thirty people and well capitalised, then it’s really hard to compete in those situations.

Newnham: Once Product Hunt was up and running and you had gone through YC, Did you see much competition?

Hoover: I never had a legitimate worry. We did have people doing spin offs like Product Hunt for organic foods. There’s a lot of iterations of the idea, in general, but I didn’t see any real concern. There was one open source version of Product Hunt at one point, sort of the same concept but it was almost like the floodgates were open and they just had literally hundreds of products posted on the homepage and it was noisy. So we saw direct competitors in that sense but they were all projects that people were experimenting with, not like where you have a zero sum game where it’s very competitive and you’re competing for the same consumer.

Newnham: When did you meet Naval and how did the topic of conversation turn to eventually selling?

Hoover: I met him Naval Ravikant back around the time when we were raising our seed round so back in 2014.

He had been following Product Hunt and we follow each other on Twitter and, then we met met up and talk a walk around their office. I’ve always admired AngelList from the beginning, Like I said earlier, I would literally browse the site looking for startups for fun. And so we chatted and after that he emailed me and said he’d love to invest and long story short, he invested in our seed round, invested in our series A later on and he had been a supporter, following along as an investor, for I guess two and a half, almost three years.

Then in the middle to late 2016, we were evaluating the next steps as a company and exploring what options we want to pursue. Also, even in the early days, going back to that first conversation with Naval, he kind of casually mentioned, “Would you ever be interested selling now to Angel List?” So he dropped that seed early on because he saw the opportunity to work together to create a consumer focused platform to discover products where AngelList, at the time and still today, is focused primarily on fundraising and talent. So he sort of planted that seed then and that seed stayed in my mind for years.

And then in 2017, we got talking more about what a sale might look like, how it would work. And also thinking more about the opportunity and the synergies when it comes to working with AngelList. It just became really clear to me that this was the best path and an awesome opportunity.

Newnham: And did the mission change after AngelList bought Product Hunt or has it remained the same?

Hoover: No, it hasn’t hasn’t really changed, I think there’s some things that are certainly different but the way we’ve been working hasn’t changed much in the sense that we have the same direction. And still a distributed team — that part hasn’t changed much. Our mission has always been, and still is, how do we help people find awesome products and help makers find users? And that’s still our number one focus from even a metrics perspective. Product discovery is what is still our number one, our North Star.

Newnham: OK, quick fire round. What advice do you have for others looking to start a business from their side project/experiment?

Hoover: Traditionally, there’s this thought that there’s only one way to do it which is to quit your job and then go leap off a cliff and then try and figure it out. And that’s how a lot of people do do it. However, of course it’s very risky and so for many people, it’s not realistic. Maybe you have only one month’s worth of runway so you just can’t afford to quit your job.

I also think obviously you have to be careful about what you work on if you are a full time employee of a company. You will have to prioritise your time but if you’re open and honest with your employer, I think there’s opportunities to start working on side projects that don’t eat into your time and primary responsibilities. Or you could do something like I did where if you’re at a stage in your career where you know you’re going to leave then just have an honest conversation with your company saying, “Hey here’s my situation. “I’d love to stick around longer but you know I’m going to leave, eventually.” And everyone gets it — not everyone sticks to the same company forever. So instead of either just quitting straight up, or trying to be sneaky about it behind your employer , talk to them. The one thing you want to avoid is building anything competitive when you’re at the company — which seems like obvious advice but some people don’t think about the potential legal issues.

Newnham: Anyone I meet connected to you, holds you in high regard. What makes a good CEO?

Hoover: I think part of it is empathy in that empathy is important because the best CEOs are essentially just leaders of a team. And if one can empathise and understand what other people on the team might be struggling with, or their thought pattern, it can make it a lot easier to work with them and have those kind of one on one conversations.

Another which is similar is communication. And I’m still working on this myself, honestly, and always will be. How do you communicate clearly Communication is so important because it’s storytelling, that’s how you get people to join you. How do you get people to commit to leaving their job and trusting you in this company? You — you tell a good story and you communicate it really well. It’s also how you raise money. It’s also how you market your products and get users and customers. So I think your communication is paramount to the CEO job, which is one reason why I think I recommend writing. It’s an undervalued skill because it not only helps with communication but it helps with all of those other things that go into building a great company.

Newnham: And what about mentorship? Didn’t Steven Sinofsky become a mentor to you after Andreessen Horowitz came on board?

Hoover: Yes, Steven came on when we raised our Series A with Andreessen Horowitz and it was just me and him on the board and we quickly connected. He’s a really passionate and excited guy who loves technology. Him and I could just geek out about new stuff, so personality-wise we get along really well. And it’s also what got him excited about Product Hunt because he could see it was a place to discover and share that excitement with fellow enthusiasts. He’s been awesome and helped guide me as a first-time CEO.

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Ryan and Steven Sinofsky

And then there’s number of other people whether they’re founders or VCs that I’ve met over the years that helped lend advice, connections that have helped me at key moments like Josh Elman. There’s been a lot of different people that have supported in different ways.

Newnham: Doing what you do, you see all the difference facets of the tech industry up close. If there was something you could fix tomorrow about the industry, what would it be?

Hoover: It’s always hard to choose one because if you choose one, there’s always someone who will say this is more important. There’s generic stuff like people should treat each other with respect and dignity and not be assholes. But that’s kind of just life in general. I think another part is there’s a lot of criticism and snarkiness that that we see in tech and that’s evident when someone launches some new app or product and a bunch of press or people start saying how dumb of an idea it is and why are they wasting their time and why are they building products to the 0.1%?

For me, 1) I don’t think you have to like everything that people build and 2) I see technology is, in many ways, like a form of expression — similar to art or music or other forms of cultural significance — in a sense that you see today, more than ever, people building apps and products that are an expression of themselves, or things that they want to exist, and also people are building things just for fun to learn. And for someone to judge and say like, “Why are you working on that?” “You shouldn’t build that” is just so short sighted I think, and not empathetic at all.

It’s kind of the same as if you tell a kid who’s producing his first song and you say, “Oh, your song is shitty.” It’s not very motivating and I ultimately think that that behaviour may prevent people from building things, or just cause undue stress within the ecosystem. And I think having people build things just for the sake of building is okay, and a good thing, because it inspires new ideas, it helps people learn and it leads to more awesome ideas over time.

Newnham: What are you most proud of?

Hoover: I think I’m most proud of what we’ve done as a team at Product Hunt to support so many different makers across the world. And some of it’s even the smallest things like getting another thousand new users which is a pretty big deal for a lot of people. In other cases, they’re butterfly effects that happened through Product Hunt that resulted in things we just don’t even know about, whether it’s new funding or someone like the guy I spoke to yesterday — maybe he would have quit working on this project two years ago if it weren’t for Product Hunt and the community.

Newnham: And, finally, what advice would you give your younger self?

Hoover: Stay curious. And what I mean by that is curiosity is how Product Hunt started. Curiosity is something that got me into technology, going back even to me wanting to build a computer.

So I think curiosity opens up pathways and doors to try new things that can lead to pretty cool life-changing moments. It’s also a mentality that I think is good when putting it within technology, where if you go into everything with a curious mind rather than a closed mind or a, “This is not going to work” kind of mentality.

An experimental mentality is good because it can help position one to try new things that wouldn’t be tried otherwise.

Product Hunt / Weekend Fund / Ryan on Twitter / AngelList

*This interview first appeared in my newsletter here. Sign up to be the first to read all my interviews here.*

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Danielle Newnham

Written by

Writer. Founder. Interviewed 300+ founders and innovators and I’m sharing their stories here. 📚 Author x 2.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +755K people. Follow to join our community.

Danielle Newnham

Written by

Writer. Founder. Interviewed 300+ founders and innovators and I’m sharing their stories here. 📚 Author x 2.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +755K people. Follow to join our community.

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