4 things I've learned through launching side projects on Product Hunt

I've made and launched two side projects in the previous months, both made for fun and using Product Hunt’s API. This has been a good opportunity for me to see what happens when you launch on Product Hunt. One launch was quite successful and the other I would call failed (despite being on home page), so I think that covers much of what I had to know. :-)

The first product is Hunting Cabin, which was coined “google alerts for product hunt”. It didn't make it to the top 10 list, but ranked a not to be ashamed of 12th position.

The second one was Has Many :collections, a chrome extension that allows seeing which collections a product has been added to. This one ended bottom of the list and didn't get any traction (the first day), due to a big error of mine (more on this bellow).

I will not try here to tell you how to make a great launch, many people already have brilliantly written on that, based on the experience from products that were not side projects. You can see for example how Bram Kanstein launched the all time most upvoted product, what Kiki Schirr would have done differently if she was launching again or how folks at readme.io improvised a launch in nine hours after having been unexpectedly featured (which seems to happen a lot, be prepared!).

What I will do, instead, is to talk to you about 4 things I've learned that I did not see reported in the articles in came across.

1. Product Hunt is a social network

Probably the most common question I've seen is the following:

Why isn't my product on home page?

I've heard a lot of people being disappointed that they submitted their product and never made it to the home page. Many of those seemed clearly to be using the application for the first time (as denoted by the fact that they were asking for upvotes on twitter, despite this being often presented as not acceptable). I think they missed the social part of Product Hunt.

This is not just an app directory, where you submit your business and forget about it, like website directories were in the early days of the internet. This is a place where makers and early adopters can engage with each others, reversing roles when it’s their time to launch. This is a launch community.

You have to socially engage with people to interest them

Photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg, (licence)

As with all communities, you can’t expect people to be interested in what you submit if you are not interested in what they submit. I have seen several times debated the question of whether you should post your product yourself or get it submitted by someone else. From my (very short) experience, I would say you should post it yourself if you’re actively engaged with Product Hunt community (both on site itself and on other social networks).

Otherwise (and please, notice I’m not here recommending to harass people :D ), you probably should show your product to those active users. Look for people that are actively hunting (they have many items in the “submitted” section in their profile). When you find them, look at what their interests are (you can see this based on what they have submitted and what collections they have created, all of this on their profile page). Found someone with a hunter kind of profile that may be interested? Great! Contact them and explain how your product may match their interests.

2. Product Hunt taglines are of their own kind

You’re on the home page, now what? You’re among many other cool products, you have to be noticed. That’s the point of the tagline (which you cannot edit yourself, so make sure it has been prepared in advance).

This is not your usual catchphrase

On your website, you want your tagline to be catchy, so that visitors remember it. You may think of something like a pun, that will be remembered. It doesn't have to focus very hard on describing what you do, because your first time visitor probably will be on a home page that demonstrates it way better anyway.

On Product Hunt, you don’t have that luxury. A visitor will see a list of names, each having a tagline, and that’s about it. Now, visitors must choose which one to click. Your catchy tagline won’t help here: you have to write a tagline that will help visitors to understand immediately what you do. Rings a bell?

This is investor pitch tagline

Yep, that’s what a tagline for an investor pitch is supposed to be. This is that kind of tagline you should write, and it’s darn difficult (to me, at least :P ). When I first launched hunting cabin, the tagline I've chosen was: “Get alerts when what you care about happens on Product Hunt”. This was not something I have picked up on the run, I've had actually thought about that quite thoroughly. :-) A few hours later, Kartik Parija and Ryan Hoover came up (quite naturally) with an other one: “Google alerts for Product Hunt”. So much better.

This means something interesting, though: you can train at writing investor oriented taglines by hunting products and it gets validated the same way investors would do. I don’t think I know of any other application where you can do that.

3. Don’t change anything on launch day

Maybe you've already launched products for which you had gone “the traditional way”: you basically just put your service online and tweet about it, so that a few big profile people begin to look at it and talk about it. You ask your relative to spread the word. Then, you reach press, to try and get an article. Then you’ll hunt for more press coverage and partnerships. All in all, you will have several peaks of traffic, dispatched at the rhythm of articles or events you get. Those are slow launches where you can afford small mistakes and adjustments.

You've got one shot

When you launch on Product Hunt, you reach everyone at the same time: early users, investors, journalists. Just one day (well, it continues to drive traffic thereafter, but you have one “big day”). You can’t mess up, here, that’s your one shot. Of course, world existed before Product Hunt and you shouldn't focus on a single channel anyway, but you have here a big opportunity you don’t want to miss.

I missed.

When I launched my second product, “Has Many :collections” (in case you wonder, that’s a ruby on rails pun :P ), I've previously had spent just 3 days coding it, and 5 more days using it just to make sure it worked properly. And it was. Except that a few hours after launch, a friend told me that authorization was quite confusing on slow connections: it would display a blank page for long and users may think something was not working.

I spent quite some time on the server-side authorization part (read: half of the time) to make sure it was the most straightforward experience possible. Now, the idea of a friction at this point sounded horrifying. So I decided to quickly throw a change in there: I copied the HTML I used on that very page in case of Product Hunt communication error and used it for some friendly message to inform users that everything went fine and they could now use the extension. Totally forgetting that javascript code on that page relied on presence of content to determine if there has been an error or not. Nobody could authenticate anymore.

Change anything, and you’re not ready anymore

It took me a few hours to realize that, and nobody was reporting it. The only things that could have be a clue was the fact that upvotes were incredibly slow and even more, some previous upvotes were removed. It didn't take long before my post was in an unrecoverable state and got buried, even when I had fixed it.

I can only imagine what I would have felt like if that post was my beloved business just launched. This is an error I wouldn't have done any previous day (I would have tested it extensively). But launch day is of an other kind, where you literally are floating and under extreme pressure at the same time (even more on Product Hunt than for an “usual launch” because of that single opportunity thing). One thing I’m sure, though: on next launches, any change I will have to make will be on following days. What is released has been long prepared, will have to do.

4. Tech people are massively using chrome

I already knew that iOS was the best choice to create an app (and that’s an android user saying it, eek). But there is a clear winner in the browser category too, and it’s chrome. Of all traffic on Hunting Cabin, a stunning 73.2% was made on chrome — and ranking second is mobile safari, so chrome largely dominate desktop browsing for tech people. So, when I decided to make a chrome extension as second product, it was without any second guessing about number of users it could gather.

I think there is something vastly under-exploited, here. It’s quite obvious nowadays that when you want to make a service targeted at consumers, you should (if it makes sense, of course) make an iOS app. I’m pretty sure you can add a lot too in the b2b field using chrome extensions. Now, that’s an hypothesis that deserves to be tested. See you next time ;)