Stop Complaining about Your PR Firm. Here’s How the Media Works

Startups need to stop blaming publicists and journalists for their lack of press and learn how the media works. Here’s a peek behind the curtain.

“Journalists are biased.” “Our PR firm just doesn’t ‘get’ our message.” “We need at least one media hit a week.” Oh, and my personal favorite: “Can we review and edit quotes before the piece is published?”

As a journalist who writes about pretty much everything for pretty much everyone (most recently The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Smithsonian Magazine), all of the above are things I hear on a pretty regular basis.

They’re also indicative of a rather significant misunderstanding of how the media works. That’s largely because both people who work in the media and the PR industry as a whole sort of like to keep it that way, in spite of the fact that they also like to complain about how no one else gets it. Members of the media have had just about everything stripped of us in the last decade—salary, job security, respect—but the one thing we have left is the cloak of mystery surrounding what we do, and so we tend to cling to it. Hey, I may get paid shit, but when I sit next to people on planes and they ask me what I do, that question always leads to several more because at least what I do is interesting and that counts for something, right? Right?

Publicists have an even clearer cut reason for keeping their knowledge of the media to themselves: It’s the product they’re selling. If you know how things work, the thinking goes, what do you need them for? You can just craft your own media strategy and hire a few interns to execute it for you. Unfortunately, that logic keeps publicists from educating their clients, which only makes their job—and mine—harder.

And I’m tired of it. So here are a few things you should, and may not, know about the media. Things that will hopefully help you figure out how to deal with us (and maybe your PR firm) better.

  1. Editors are important. Freelancers are your best friend. Okay yes, I say this as a freelancer, but hear me out. I’ve been on staff at various publications, too, and here’s how it works: If you’re on staff and you find a cool product or company to write about, you write about it once. Maaaaybe you include it in a roundup a year later. And that’s it. As a freelancer, if I think a topic is interesting, I look for every possible angle on it and try to sell as many variations of that story as possible. I make more money that way, see? And I maximize the investment of my time. So yes, build relationships with editors. But also learn which freelancers cover your space and get to know them. They will likely appreciate your effort, and if they’re interested in what you’re doing, they’ll get you many more hits than an editor ever could.
  2. The most important PR move you can make is to build and maintain relationships, and be patient. In his “I Fired My Startup’s PR Firm” post, Web Smith got a fair amount right, but he got a few big things wrong, too. You should not, for example, fire your agency just because they’ve been in business for 25 years. If they’re any good, that means they’ve built some incredible relationships and it does not have to mean at all that they’re dinosaurs with no understanding of social media or content strategy. I’m not saying that there aren’t dinosaurs out there—there certainly are—just that having been in business for awhile is not the #1 indication that your publicist doesn’t know what they’re doing. Here’s another thing: Sometimes when I meet with a company about what they’re doing, I don’t write a story right away. Maybe their product doesn’t actually exist yet. Maybe I’m waiting for a newsy hook to peg it to. You know what I hate? When the publicist sends me three emails a week to find out when I’m writing the story. You know why the publicist does that? Because his or her client is sending equally as many emails. Back off, people. Take a breath. Did I say I was writing a story? Then I am. You want to check in once in awhile, great, that’s perfectly acceptable in a human relationship. You want to harass me? Go work for a collection agency.
  3. Your story is boring until proven otherwise. Hat tip to my writer friend Lora Kolodny for the perfect phrasing there, but every journalist I know feels the same way. No one is biased against you. We don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat or how you got funding or whether your product targets tweens or grandmas. We care about whether your story is interesting. To put a finer point on it, we care about whether your story is interesting to us. And by that I don’t mean “to us, the liberal media.” I mean figure out what I actually write about and how, and pitch me something that fits. That means, I write for the WSJ’s small business section, so don’t pitch me your Walmart story. It means, I’ve covered cleantech for years, so don’t come to me with your “we just put solar panels on the roof of our headquarters” story.
  4. Keep it short, I’m busy. Reporters now have to produce three times as much content in half the time and for half the pay. That means I am not going to have multiple conversations with you about a story I’m working on. I am not going to come to your offices for an afternoon. I’m probably not going to tour your factory unless it’s REALLY interesting and is going to turn into three more stories for me. I’m also not going to read your looong email.
  5. Pitch me like I pitch my editors. Contrary to popular belief, journalists—and yes, even bloggers—don’t get to just write about whatever tickles their fancy. We generally have to sell our editors on the idea, even if we’ve got a regular gig going. When I’m pitching a new editor, here’s what I do: First, I read the last few months of content for the particular section I’m going to pitch. I do this both to make sure they haven’t recently run something similar and to get a feel for what they cover and how they cover it. Then I compose no more than two paragraphs that summarize the idea, why it’s perfect for the publication and why now is the perfect time to cover it. Get a writer you know to send you a few of their successful pitches. This is what your PR pitches should look like—not exactly, of course, but pretty close.
  6. Stop worshipping at the altar of print media. For whatever reason, people still think of print coverage as the ultimate feather in their cap. In fact, a lot of journalists have the same bias. Writer friends of mine will routinely ask each other “Oh was that for print, or online?” Also print media pays more—usually a lot more—than online, which is strange because it costs more to make and has fewer readers, but hey, I didn’t make the system I just work in it. At any rate, for a company, I’d say hands-down you’re getting more out of an online hit than a print piece. So stop riding your publicist’s ass about not getting you in the print edition of TIME and thank her or him for the mentions in various Time.com blogs. You may not get a photo of yourself in TIME to frame for your office, but chances are those blog posts will be read more and pay back more over time than that one print hit will.
  7. The press release is dead, please stop trying to revive it. If I get nothing out of this post but a few fewer press releases, my time will have been well spent. No one in the media reads press releases. Not a single person, I promise you. For some reason, companies still ask for them, publicists still write them, the wires still publish them—this whole completely unnecessary and ineffective ecosystem still exists. Stop it. Please. The only time I ever, ever hear a media person mention a press release is to mock it.
  8. Figure out what you do and don’t want to say before the interview—there’s no changing your tune after the fact. About once a week these days I have someone ask me if they can change their quote. Not to address a factual error, but to sound differently or introduce some piece of information they forgot to include in the interview. The answer will always be no and the question will win you a spot on most journalists’ black lists, so stop asking it.
  9. Brave the occasional conversation without your publicist in tow. I recently wrote a story that entailed several months of research and multiple conversations with one company in particular. The first three times I spoke with my contact at the company, he was on his own and the conversations were great. He was honest, interesting and engaged in the dialogue. I got all of that story’s best quotes from those conversations. The fourth and final time, the company’s PR person was on the line and I got the distinct sense she’d caught wind of him speaking to me unattended and didn’t like it one bit. That will go down as one of the worst interviews I’ve ever done. So. Boring. A complete waste of time. My previously chatty, casual source was so worried about stepping afoul of the PR rules that he said nothing remotely interesting. So look, I get that everyone’s worried about saying the wrong thing or being misquoted, or making sure the journalist understands what you’re saying and that you don’t forget to include anything. But once in awhile, brave a real conversation. It will usually pay off.

I could go on and on, but this is a good start. Just remember that “the media” is really just a bunch of people, and we’re actually fairly approachable. Next time you meet a journalist, ask them about their job. They’d be only too happy to tell you, trust me. And before you decide to fire your PR firm because they haven’t gotten you press this week, think about whether you did anything press-worthy.

Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to this post, I’ve compiled many many more dos and don’ts, as well as advice on finding and contacting writers and editors, and several real, deconstructed pitches, here.

Published in Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking

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Next Story — Are You On The Field or In The Stands?
Currently Reading - Are You On The Field or In The Stands?

Are You On The Field or In The Stands?

Unlike professional sports, owning your own business doesn’t require physical gifts. You don’t have to be freakishly tall to build a piece of software. You don’t have to be able to bench press a VW Bug to write a book. You don’t even have to be able to run at a moderate pace to start a website.

As a result, everyone thinks they can just jump into the entrepreneurial game and start playing. Worse, they think they’re playing when they’re actually just scarfing hot dogs, vying for the Kiss Cam, and yelling a lot.

People think they’re on the field, but they’re actually in the stands

They read articles and books so they think they can do and teach the same things they read (hello, life coaches).

They buy products/services/software and think they know all the intricate details of how to build those things and how to improve them.

They sit atop their social media thrones and cast judgment and criticism without having any experience to back things up, and without understanding the negative effect their opinions can have on the people who are actually building things (sure, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it doesn’t mean you actually have to give it).

People tend to think starting a podcast, launching a website, or creating a social media strategy is a business. But unless you have an exchange of goods or services for money, those things are just sprinkles on an empty ice cream cone.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it takes actual work to be on the field.

Sitting in the stands is easy

It’s easier than ever to feel like you’re on the field when you’re not. Creating a logo for your business idea and launching a website can be done in a matter of a few minutes. That’s easy. Anyone can do that. But can you:

  • Get people to show up to your website?
  • Clearly explain what your business does?
  • Get the people who showed up to your website to purchase your product or service?
  • Understand whether your product or service actually worked for the people who bought it?
  • Help people when things go wrong with your product or service?
  • Get the people who bought to talk about you?
  • Get ongoing attention for your business as it grows?
  • Stand out in an insanely crowded landscape?
  • Build something sustainable, that isn’t just a flash in the pan of success?
  • Ignore all the people who will criticize you? (Even friends and family?)

Those are just a handful of things that happen on the actual field of business. And each one of those bullet points has a bunch of nested bullet points below it that you can’t be prepared for or even predict.

If you can do them, great. In this case, you’re not joining the masses who are already playing the game — you’re actually one of the few who stepped out of the stands and down onto the field. And in that situation, you’re the one who gets the credit — not the people who’ll criticize you for the rest of your time in the game.

There’s a great Roosevelt quote that Brene Brown made popular in her book, Daring Greatly:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Maybe you don’t actually want to play?

You know what’s even easier than starting a business these days? Working for someone else. There’s nothing wrong with that. Let someone else navigate the field. All you have to do is show up and do what they tell you to do.

Many people aren’t cut out to handle all the work it takes to be on the field. They even have little voices in their head and feelings in their gut, but they ignore those things. Instead they force themselves to be on the field and be in a worse situation than just working for someone else (and avoiding all the bad feelings).

Knowing who you are and what you value in life is incredibly important. So if being in the stands, or maybe not even coming close to this metaphorical stadium, is right for you? Great. Embrace that. Live that life. Be happy you don’t have to worry about the 10 bullet points I listed above (that each have at least 10 hidden bullet points nested below them).

If it is right for you, though, know that the game looks a lot different from ground level than it does from the nosebleeds, the lower bowl, or even the box seats.

Once you get down here, you could swear it’s not even a game at all.


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Next Story — The Future of Growing Startups
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The Future of Growing Startups

the growth hacking myth
Mockup

When I decided to start freelancing for startups, people kept advising me to always ask for the client’s budget right at the very beginning.

So I asked.

“Hey man, oh yeah, thanks for asking. Well, as you know we are a startup and we don’t have a budget yet but we’ll give you a lot of exposure.”

A lot of exposure? What does that really mean?

While I was spending the early days of my freelancing journey sending out pissed-off emails to free riders, I noticed those free riders were at least being honest.

I’ve seen clients disappear without paying right after I sent them the final project files, while some others pretended to be upset so they could still disappear with the files.

According to some close friends, the reason I couldn’t make freelancing work was obvious:

“Stop wasting your time trying to target desperate entrepreneurs and startups. Go offer your marketing services to big companies with deep pockets instead. Entrepreneurs are broke and they don’t even know what they want. They are the worst clients ever.”

I never managed to find a corporate client “with deep pockets,” whatever that really meant. But I decided to start approaching startups that I knew had raised at least some funding, instead of targeting the so-called “broke entrepreneurs”.

I also figured the founders of these just-funded startups still had to build their in-house teams so they would be open to getting some freelancer help down the road.

But getting paid wasn’t the only trouble with serving startups.

Every time I approached these clients telling them I could help with marketing or growth, I was treated as a magician who was expected to bring phenomenal growth overnight.

Some religiously believed their growth had to be similar to those hyper-growth startups like Slack and a few were sharing example stories such as how Airbnb achieved spectacular growth by growth hacking Craigslist.

slack-strong-growth
Source

Having such sudden and crazy growth expectations wasn’t entirely the fault of those founders, though. It was the new trend in town:

Growth hacker in. Marketer out.

The first decade of the 2000s in tech were the days when being a marketer was still cool. There were no words like “hacker”, “startup”, or “growth” attached to it.

And when someone asked about what we did, our answer was pretty simple: marketing.

Then in 2010, Sean Ellis appeared on the tech scene and coined the term “growth hacker”.

sean ellis
Source

His insanely popular “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup” essay had something bold to say about startup marketers:

“…Rather than hiring a VP Marketing … I recommend hiring or appointing a growth hacker. A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.”

Soon the term was everywhere and many influencers were helping it spread further. According to Neil Patel, growth was the sun that a growth hacker revolved around and the marketers didn’t revolve around that sun in the same way:

“Of course, traditional marketers care about growth too, but not to the same extent.”

While some people had difficulty understanding the hype around the “growth hacker”, the term was too cool to ignore.

I was one of those many marketers who were rushing to update their Twitter bios by changing their job titles from the boring “marketer” to the new, cool “growth hacker”.

It was also when the word “hustler” was just starting to become popular. So we were now both “growth hackers” and “hustlers”, and we were boosting our egos every time we told people how busy we were growing the hack out of startups.

growth-hacker-magician

While most of the growth-hacking advice contained invaluable lessons, we the marketers managed to ruin things yet again. With the excuse of hacking our way through, some of us started to employ heavily aggressive and spammy tactics.

Using tactics like Twitter follow-for-follows, spammy email pop-ups, black-hat SEO backlinks purchased for $5 on Fiverr, auto-favouriting tweets, or Instagram like-for-likes were enough to call ourselves growth hackers.

And the last few years have seen numerous examples of failed spammy tactics and sparked a huge discussion that questioned if growth hacking was bullshit or ethical, or whether throwing away your integrity was worth a few extra clicks.

While I understand the critics, I fully trust it wasn’t the intention of Sean Ellis or his followers, whose insights helped many startups grow. He probably had no idea to what extent the world would misinterpret his term and confuse it with employing nonsense hacks.

After all, it’s fair to say that many of those shortcut tactics actually worked.

The cycle is always pretty straightforward:

  • A tactic starts to work great.
  • Others (Hello, marketers. Oh wait, hello, growth hackers) notice it’s working great.
  • More people adopt the tactic.
  • The tactic soon becomes fatigued, typically by the time someone writes a blog post to brag about how they grew their startup by 345 percent without spending a single penny on marketing.

While we’re too busy milking each tactic for all it’s worth, the consumer isn’t a moron. Her BS-detectors are getting better and she’s becoming smarter than ever before at ignoring our old-school tricks.

“Hey, but I’m sure my audience pays me attention,” you try convincing yourself. But recent research suggests that the average human attention span of people is now shorter than that of a goldfish.

And the moment you hope to get some search traffic, you realise there are now businesses dedicated to ensuring your content never makes it to the front page of Google.

Come on. Let’s not even talk about the millions of blog posts published every day, the ever-rising shopping cart abandonment rates, or the percentage of people who never read your content to the end.

internet-live-stats
Source

But enough with these depressing stats, because I’m not writing this essay to add yet another point to the growth-hacking debate or to talk about the first-world problems I had when freelancing for startups.

Instead I want to highlight a few points on what all the clutter and sad stats might actually mean for the future, especially for those of us who are spending their days and nights trying to grow a startup on a journey full of ups and downs.

The Future of Startup Marketing

  • Not only that, but giant gatekeepers such as social networks continue to declare one war after another against those shortcutters. Google is now moving more email campaigns to spam folders than ever before and they just announced they’ll be starting to punish sites with annoying pop-ups.
  • The slippery road of chasing such “get rich quick” hacks matter also for the type of audience you might want to build for your business. By engaging in those short-term tactics, we only attract customers who have short-term goals, and frustrate other people whose trust we lose.
  • Envisioning the future of startup marketing begins exactly at this moment, when you realise the cost of playing the long game is actually not any higher than following the shorter path which takes you only so far. In the most cluttered marketplace in history where ad blockers are now topping app stores, playing the long game thus requires reconsidering the way we ask for a sale:
  • To cut through the clutter of today, best-selling author Jay Baer suggests your marketing should be so good that people would gladly pay for it if they were asked. Marketing today is defined by how useful it is to your customers. And the bar for what’s useful has risen substantially, so substantially that it’s getting increasingly difficult to impress your audience. Take the marketing we do at Crew as an example. Despite having a blog with over a million annual readers, a series of popular podcasts, and tons of useful side projects that attract quite a few million monthly visitors, we’re still struggling to impress even our most loyal audience. We’re constantly reminded that if we quit creating extreme value, they might as well quit sticking with us as they’re surrounded with many other awesome options. Applying Jim Rohn’s advice, we realise…
…the secret to growing a startup is to find a way to do more for your audience than any other startup is doing.
  • And when the bar to impress people is so high, instead of trying to create value on their own, a growing number of startups now form strategic alliances together, such as Product Hunt teaming up with Amazon or Crew with Designer News.
  • Of course, there are many other ways to deliver extreme value. When growing the top of your funnel is getting increasingly expensive, many startups are finally recognising the importance of retention over acquisition. They focus on word-of-mouth-driven growth strategies, mostly by delighting their existing users and setting Net Promoter Score — ‘the one number you need to grow’ as many refer to it — as a company-wide metric. Slack is probably the best-in-class example when it comes to relentlessly focusing on customer experience.

Growth doesn’t come from reading a bunch of growth-hacking articles or applying a set of universal tactics just because they worked for another random startup. And it isn’t necessarily a job reserved only for the growth hackers many love to call magicians.

Rather, growth starts with the very first line of your code and needs a great product that your full team works hard to improve, day by day, one baby step at a time. Growth is thus everyone’s job, not just marketer’s.

And growth often happens to those who are here to stay and start a business they hope will last forever; those who believe in the power of consistency while the majority find it boring and don’t have the patience or vision for it.

Growth doesn’t happen overnight.


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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 — A magic business model: Help someone sell leftovers
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A magic business model: Help someone sell leftovers

As the saying goes: One man’s junk is another man’s treasure…


Like many businesses, Uber and Airbnb exist to make something easier. For Uber, it’s making getting a ride as easy as possible. For Airbnb, it’s all about easily finding a place to stay.

But if there are so many businesses that make something easier or better, why do Uber and Airbnb standout as being ‘revolutionary?’

Apart from being significantly better compared to alternatives, one of the reasons why Uber and Airbnb stand out is their business models are built on an ingredient that feels magical: they help people sell their leftovers.

Selling leftovers

I first heard about ‘selling leftovers’ from a post called ‘Sell Your By-products‘ by best-selling author and founder of Basecamp, Jason Fried.

Jason writes about one example in the lumber industry where lumber businesses have figured out how to create revenue sources from selling their leftover sawdust and other by-products after they cut wood.

Selling your by-products, or leftovers, means selling the leftover things lying around after you made your core thing.

Finding by-products in your process and packaging them up for sale not only saves you time but it turns something you might have thought was waste, into something of value.

Basecamp has made a living selling leftovers.

Their best-selling books were leftovers created from the experience they went through while building their company. The popular programming language, Ruby on Rails, was a leftover from creating their product. Even their blog is a leftover that has turned into significant value. Basecamp has never paid for any marketing. Instead, they’ve partially relied on selling their leftovers to build a multi-million dollar company.

The beautiful thing about the businesses models behind companies like Uber and Airbnb is they help lots of people sell their leftovers. They allow almost anyone with a car or home the opportunity to get something from nothing.

With Uber, you can make money from the leftover space in your car.

With Airbnb, you can make money from the leftover space in your house. Or your trailer. Or your treehouse.

That costly car or home, can become a cash machine overnight. And this feels like magic.

Why you feel like you get more from selling your leftovers

Selling a leftover feels special because of how you perceive the gain.

Here’s an easy example:

Let’s say you had a pretty table you wanted to sell. You thought it was worth $200, but you didn’t know who to sell it to and you didn’t want to take the time to sell it.

Then, a business came to you and said they’ll help you sell that table for $400. In exchange, they keep $100. You get $300.

If the table sold, you’d be happy. You didn’t have to take care of selling it and you got $300, $100 more than what you thought the table was worth. You’d feel like you came out on top.

Now let’s say you had a table you thought was so ugly that you were going to throw it away in the garbage tomorrow.

Then, a business came to you and said I’ll help you sell that ugly table for the same thing, $400. They keep $100. You get $300.

This might seem like the same deal but because you valued your ugly table at $0, you perceive this second deal as better. Three times better to be exact.

Pretty table deal:

$300 (What you made from the company who sold your table) — $200 (What you thought the table was worth) = $100 perceived gain

Ugly table deal:

$300 (What you made from the company who sold your table) — $0 (What you thought the table was worth) = $300 perceived gain

Though you make the same $300 whether you sell your pretty or ugly table, your perceived gain is three times more when you sell your ugly table.

How would this make you feel? Most likely, you’d have more positive emotions attached to the business that was able to help you make money by selling your ugly table and you’d be left thinking about that business, wondering how they were able to help you make something from nothing.

You’d probably come back to this business to see if they could help you sell more of your stuff you were going to throw away. You might even tell your friends to do the same thing, too.

Selling leftovers can have a bigger impact than selling more efficiency

These ‘Wow moments’ — the positive feelings people get from your product — are what makes you stand out in our hyper-competitive market today.

The more ‘wow moments’ you create, the more you stand out.

If you’re offering a better product but it’s still not good enough to produce ‘wows’, people likely won’t feel strong enough about you to switch from whatever they’re currently using to get the job done.

Mentally, our brain wants to do what gives us the biggest reward with the least amount of work. So if you’re not making things easier, why would anyone choose you?

This is a wall companies often run into.

They may have built a better product but they haven’t built it better enough to make up for the cost people perceive of switching from what they are currently doing and starting something new.

You have to build something so good that switching becomes obvious.

Multiple ‘wow moments’ in a product experience aren’t easy to produce. They can often take years to get right.

People were blown away by the original iPhone but it took 5 years to build right.

This is why figuring out how to help someone sell their leftovers can be an easier road to produce a ‘wow moment’ than selling someone more efficiency through better or more features.

When someone realizes you help them sell leftovers, that can stand out more than a feature.

Though not easy, thinking about how your product could help someone sell their leftovers will bake a ‘wow moment’ into your product. One that may leave an impression as strong as multiple ‘wow moments’ created by the features you build.

I’ve seen the impact firsthand.

Unsplash is a photography website we started that offers hi-resolution photos for free that you can do whatever you want with.

We primarily built Unsplash because we didn’t like any of the alternative stock photo options but it was also built on helping sell leftovers. Our leftovers.

We started Unsplash because we had leftover photos from a photoshoot that we weren’t going to do anything with. Rather than leave them in a folder and let them go to waste, we decided to give them away for free.

We thought if people found our photos useful, maybe we could get some exposure for our core business, Crew.

Because we weren’t using these photos anyway, in our mind, they were worth zero. So when tens of thousands of downloads of these photos happened, along with substantial exposure and sales for Crew, we were blown away.

Today, our aim with Unsplash is to do this same thing for lots of people: turn what may be leftover photos into value. Based on this model, we’ve seen Unsplash take off, growing to over 50,000 contributors, almost a billion photos viewed per month, and a lot of good vibes.

When you help someone sell their leftovers, it can be easier, yet more effective, than trying to sell someone another feature in a slightly better product.

In order to work, a business needs to be better than existing alternatives. But if you can somehow mix helping someone sell leftovers into your model, you’ve added a dimension to your business that will help you stand out even further.

If you help someone sell a leftover, more people will be struck with an ‘OMG, that’s amazing’ feeling toward you.

One of the best ways to figure out how you could help someone sell their leftovers is to look at your own leftovers.

What do you have sitting around creating no value?

What do your customers have sitting around creating no value?

For us, it was photos.

For the lumber industry it was sawdust.

For Basecamp it was books, a programming language, and a blog.

There are opportunities everywhere to build a product that helps someone package up a leftover and sell it.

Figuring out how to help someone sell their leftovers can have a bigger impact than selling someone more efficiency.

Want to build a way to help someone sell leftovers?

Check out my company Crew, where you can begin working with an acclaimed designer or developer in less than a day. Over 10 million people have used products made on Crew. And over 3 million people have read our blog. Join them here.

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