Tales from Launch Day — Product Hunt, The Next Web and a few more surprises…
Being featured on PH and TNW is great. But something else brought us twice the traffic. Lessons learned from launch day.
My co-founders and I believe that side projects are a great way to enhance your brand.
This is the story of how we launched our side project two weeks ahead of schedule, and what we learned from it.
TL;DR Being third on Product Hunt and having a post on The Next Web covering you on launch day is amazing; but there’s one more thing you should do that can elevate your launch much more than those first two — a step that startups tend to forget.
Before I get into this “other thing”, I want to go over what I learned on our launch day, in order to help others with their big day.
Surprise, You’re on Product Hunt.
Our side project Photype accidentally launched a month ago.
I say “accidentally” because we planned to launch it two weeks later, including an impressive “featured on PH” campaign — you know, a by-the-book launch.
But then reality caught us unprepared.
At 11:30AM, a friend FB-messaged me a link:
Damn — I thought — someone else used the same name for their product, and it’s already on PH?!
I clicked the link.
Oops, it’s ours.
Apparently it was featured by Ben Tossell, an awesome guy from the PH team:
“F*ck! We’re not ready yet!” — I messaged back.
I could feel the blood flowing to my brain.
“No worries, you’ll be fine. You got my upvote AND a comment ;)” — he wrote back.
Sure. I’ll be fine.
Just kill me first.
30 minutes and 3 espressos later, my office looked like a war room.
My notebook filled up with ideas, my screen was covered in sticky notes, and I had three chat windows open: With Shayna, our community manager, and with my two co-founders — Ran and Ayal — who, like myself, had different plans for the day.
My tab count on Chrome hovered somewhere around 120, most of which had some of the following keywords:
“Get big on PH”
“How to win on PH”
“Launch day on Product Hunt”
You get the idea.
I cancelled every meeting I had, told my girlfriend not to wait for me that night, and prepared for war.
How can you pre-launch if you’re not ready?
Sometimes, when you’re lucky, you’re pretty much launch-ready anyway.
Thankfully (thankfully!) we believe in “soft” launch — so we put our products out early, when they’re only 80% ready.
Move fast and break things, they say. Sometimes they are right.
The lack of a few features we planned to add before the official launch weren’t really a big deal for users who saw Photype for the first time. Yes, some of them commented on PH that they’d rather have those features, but hey, it’s more important to see that the product, you know, exists. And that your servers aren’t angry at you.
Lesson No. 1: Don’t wait to launch until everything is perfect and you have 100% of the features you wanted.
You can do quite well (and we did — as you’ll read soon) with even 80% of the features ready. The price of waiting for 100% can be a few months that are probably unnecessary.
But none of this is new — what I learned (and what surprised me) is up ahead.
Wait, what is your side project anyway?
Quick overview, and then we’ll get back to “How To Launch 101”.
At the nuSchool (our startup) we’re helping creatives with the business side of their career.
But since most of our audience is designers, we decided to create a side project to help them save some time on searching the best-fit stock photo. The first idea was to create something like a “Google for Designers” — helping designers to search for whatever sources they need.
Here’s the first mockup we had, with a temporary name, Doogle:
After 30 interviews with real humans (“get out of the office” style) and six revisions, Doogle turned to be something a bit different, called Photype.
Photype is a search tool for anyone who uses stock photos. It lets you see how stock photos look cropped and with overlay text, before you decide to download them.
Or, to put it into a GIF:
How did it go on Product Hunt? Did you learn new tricks?
I’m not going to rewrite here all the mountains of advice the web has to offer about how to do well on PH. There’s enough of that already (e.g. this post on Medium).
But I still want to mention a few little things before I move on to the most important lesson I learned from launch day.
Not many people know, but the PH algorithm is a smart one. It doesn’t give the same weight to a vote by someone who joined it on that day just because they want to help you (hi Mom!) — as much as it gives to someone who’s in the PH community for a long time.
This is why on the same day, a product with over 1000 votes appeared just under us and finished only #4 (while we had less than 500 votes).
It was a product launch run by professionals with a huge network who brought tons of people to vote for them on PH — but those people were new users on PH, and so, with only 400+ votes we were above them — because those were “organic” votes.
How do you get more “organic” votes from the PH people?
Make the effort. Be funny. Be thoughtful.
Firstly, we made sure that if you get into Photype from PH the default screen you’ll see is this:
It didn’t take more than 20 mins help from Ayal (our developer Co-founder) to make it happen. And it got lots of smiley faces.
Also, we mixed our fav medium on earth (GIF) with PH’s fav animal on earth (CAT) to create the cute gif you saw above.
You know who else loved it? Ryan Hoover — one of PH co-founders — who shared the gif on Twitter:
I can tell you that it for sure helps when Ryan is tweeting about your product.
Lesson 2: Put in the effort for the Product Hunt community
The best votes you can get on PH are from real product hunters, not from your mom. So put in the effort to make THEM happy, 10 times more than posting the link on your FB, asking your family and friends to upvote for you.
Doing the extra mile
At 6PM we decided to put in even more effort, even though we were already half-exhausted.
Ran— my co-founder and designer has started working on a video that shows the design process behind our project. I then updated the PH link with the video, which brought us even more traffic and enthusiasm.
If you love design processes it’s a great video to watch (posted on Ran’s vlog — Flux):
Lesson 3: do the extra mile
Use the best of your creativity to create more interest in your product. Share the “behind the scenes”, think how you can give more value to your first users… anything goes.
Overall, the launch went well on PH
We got 3rd on that day, which is quite good considering we weren’t prepared at all! Plus, on that day #1 was an Adobe product, and #2 was a Facebook product - two companies that have no problem getting all of the votes they need.
Total views from Product Hunt: 3,300
Hi, The Next Web, happy you found me
As super exciting as it is to appear on The Next Web on your launch day, I can’t give it too much credit in our launch story, since it didn’t bring in lots of traffic.
Also, it was pure luck that we got covered. We didn’t reach out to TNW or anyone else — there was no time. I mean, I was planning on doing so, but as explained — that launch was supposed to be in the future, not in the present.
The only thing I can say that I learned from this is that you better have you a good story. Note how on my main PH comment, instead of listing the features of the product, I used a simple story every [potential user] can relate to.
And Ben Woods from TNW got it. So he wrote about it. (BTW he’s a great journalist — he covered the project better than I would pitch it myself).
Lesson 4: Journalists want a good story
Don’t talk too much about your features. Let people imagine what your product can do for them, which pain it solves for them. And make a good story, this is how people digest information anyway.
The thing with TNW is that they have so many new stories published every day, that even if you’re covered there, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get millions of new views to your product.
Total views from The Next Web: 276
The most important thing you should do for getting lots and relevant traffic for your startup on launch day
At some point, I was so concentrated on “winning” the Product Hunt race that I almost forgot why we even built our side-project and who is it for.
And I see the same thing happening to lots of startups.
You see, PH has became such a great traffic source (indeed it is), with so many quality users that can get you places (e.g. covered on TNW). So “launch day” for many startups pretty much means “PH Launch day”.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. Are our real customers on PH? I mean, some of them might be there but not too many. Photype was built for designers, and there are plenty of designers who love PH, but where do the vast amount of them hang out?
We tend to forget that it doesn’t help you if you have 3,000 views from people who won’t ever be your users.
And what happens the day after the PH launch?
Shouldn’t we all be running after our end-users? Shouldn’t we take a great effort to find where THEY hang out over the interwebs?
Of course we should. And for many of us, PH is just the easy thing to do. It lets us postpone dealing with the real problem most startups have — find your real users and make them come.
Well, thank god the Internet is big, and every niche has its traffic leaders.
Where’s my niche?
Around 3PM, between the sticky notes and the open tabs, I figured that I need to launch our product on it’s niche traffic leader.
We built Photype for designers, so I had to be featured somewhere that will lead designers to my product.
And do you know what happens when you find your niche traffic leader? It feels like heaven.
For us, it was Muz.li. This is a Chrome Extension that shows you a design inspiration board every time you open a new tab (instead of the clean default new tab you get on chrome).
Muz.li shows news about web design, UX, graphic design, interactive — articles, portfolios, and whatnot. And the most visited category there is their own curated board — AKA “Our Picks”.
This is where I need to be in order to be in front of my potential users — designers — eyes.
I messaged Eyal Zuri — one of the co-founders at Muz.li — telling him that we’re having an accidental pre-launch, asking him gently to add us to their board. And Eyal was kind enough to feature us on their “Our Picks”:
[I want to believe that he did it because he thought our project was worthy, not because he’s a nice guy — and to prove it I heard many “NO”s from him in the past.]
Are you ready for the numbers? Look at the following table:
Views from our niche traffic leader*: ±6,000(!)
*Since our product was anonymous at the time ,analytics showed zero visits before launch day. So I assume most of those (direct) views arrived from Muzli.
Yep, Muz.li brought us almost twice the traffic we got from PH and TNW combined. And more importantly, this was highly relevant traffic, since their audience is our audience — designers.
We then got 750 more views from the awesome guys at HackingUI — another blog that targets designers and I have a good relationship with. That’s three times what TNW brought us.
Lesson 5: Find your users niche traffic leaders and befriend them
By the time you’re doing your launch, you should have a good network in the niche of your users. I know the Muz.li guys for a few months now, only because we’re both in the design community — and I keep on updating them what’s up with our products.
How it all ended
After Muz.li featured us, it all exploded. We appeared on over fifteen more small and medium design-related blogs by midnight from all over the world.
That’s it. I hope you’re going to have an exciting launch day, and you can take the best out of our own accidental launch lessons.