As more startups are formed, the web continues to break down into smaller independent services, increasing the amount of awesome SaaS tools available but also changing the way they are promoted. No longer are new ideas granted 15 minutes of fame — it’s 5 seconds at best. Enter Product Hunt, the Internet’s leaderboard for cool products and tech. Product Hunt is a community driven site that is becoming more and more important for discussion around new apps, devices, and APIs.
A Y-Combinator graduate, Product Hunt (PH) is an upvote list-structured platform that relies on the addictive nature of learning about new technologies. Users can upload or claim product pages, categorize them by category, create product collections, and follow other users. What Product Hunt offers is a viral potential to have hundreds or thousands of users test a burgeoning API in the matter of a day. But as profiles remain visible on the site, it can also add steady traffic for months, or even years following. This scale of exposure could very well be positive to establish name recognition, refine products, and acquire new developer consumers.
If you haven’t profiled your API on the site yet someone else could always could, meaning there’s always the potential for a front page feature and unanticipated attention spike. However, truly successful Product Hunt campaigns are given forethought, utilizing referral links, a carefully maintained sign up list, and a vigilant eye to respond to user comments and fix bugs that may arise in the process.
There are evidently best practices for owning your Product Hunt presence and utilizing the community as a means to announce a release. Thus, in this article — another component to our track on API Marketing techniques — we review some success (and horror) stories from past releases on Product Hunt. We’ll interview folks from Sheetsu and Batch.com about their PH launches, and also tune into past campaigns from API Plug, API Castor, Algolia, and others. We’ll use these collective experiences to arrive at ideas on how to correctly prepare for your own future release. Though we’ll focus on the unique qualities of API evangelism, the same general roadmap can be followed by other types of startups creating a Product Hunt campaign.
Alpha, Closed Beta, Open Beta, or Full Release?
VentureBeat identifies Product Hunt as a “Lanuchpad for startups and VC deals.” The projects here are new, but are well executed.
Knowing this, when is best to launch a campaign? When do you announce a release? There are benefits for structuring your campaign as a closed beta, giving Product Hunters a rare look inside your platform. But for the most part, it’s safer to announce while in open beta or full release. As Michael Oblak, creator of Sheetsu, told Nordic APIs:
“Always allow users to check your full product. So never closed Beta or Alpha. Allow all users to sign in, take a look, check your landing page, use your product … Product Hunters really like to check the product and play with it. ”
Product Hunters have high standards for functionality, usability, and appearance. Therefore, submitting a pre-launch alpha is discouraged. Antoine Guénard of Batch.com echoes this sentiment, acknowledging that though a closed beta could include exclusive deals for Product Hunters, you will miss organic traffic following your announcement; “Open beta or full release are the safest then; your product is mature enough to keep the users and benefit of huge organic effects.”
Preparing for a Release
Now that we know what to release, how do we do so using PH? As your PH post will direct visitors to your developer center, keeping updated documentation, tutorials, and other developer resources is critical.
Michael Oblak shared some insights on preparing your product that he picked up from his success demoing Sheetsu:
- Check for bugs, be sure that everything functions appropriately: “Be sure that everything is working like a charm. You can’t afford 404 pages or your server returning 500 errors. Everything needs to work. Treat PH submission as a ‘big opening day’”
- Simplify the use of your product: “If you are providing an API, you need to provide docs, which are easily accessible, with examples of usage, which are also very clear for the reader … prepare an easy tutorial for them, with screens if needed, to help them configure and use your API.”
- Prepare easy signup process and retain emails: Prepare for the surge of interest by creating an easy way to collect emails. The most clean way to do this is without those pesky email confirmations.
- Have a ready-to-use demo: “PH submission is a chance for you to demo your product to many people. Make your demo short, easy and preferably with your user’s data, so it’s more appealing to them. With that, they can see value instantly.”
Under the hood APIs are complex, so mask this with an easy-to-consume demo that impresses. In the case of Sheetsu, the Product Hunt profile brings visitors to a demo where there is a quick login using Google. All visitors have to do is paste a link to the Google Spreadsheet, click a button, and the tool generates a ready to consume API using data pulled from their spreadsheet.
- Present examples and use cases: Demonstrate the example use cases for your product. These could range from apps already in use, to potential uses or end user experiences.
- Increase server capacity: Though Product Hunt itself won’t “hug you to death”, it could lead to it. In preparation, make sure that your servers will handle the traffic. Oblak advises to prepare to handle at least 1k concurrent sessions. This amount is petty for larger organizations, but a startup with limited space may need to increase capacity or put a limit on traffic. API Castor’s unexpected Product Hunt experience found that implementing a wait list feature would have been helpful:
“Mental note 1: Consider limiting signups to a set # and having a waitlist feature in place prior to launch to ensure traffic is predictable and potential signups aren’t lost.”
- Enter the community as soon as possible: Aside from the product side, it’s good to start establishing yourself within the community early on. This obviously means creating an account, playing around and commenting on the site, and perhaps seeing if a friend has an invite code [explained later].
- Reach out to the makers: People like Bram Kanstein have great insights on the PH process. Kanstein is the creator of Startup Stash, the most-upvoted product so far. For example, as the Board of Innovation began to prepare for their hunt, he offered invaluable advice on optimizing their landing page and PH post.
- Reach out to moderators for help: They seem like a friendly bunch. Here’s their About page. This is essential if you intend to make your hunt an exclusive…
Offering Exclusive Deals: The Gold Star
Another thing to consider in the preparation stage — some developer programs go full out with a dedicated landing page to welcome Product Hunt visitors, offering discount codes and sweet deals. This could include a cost savings, free use for a certain period, free server space, or other creative gifts. Being a PH exclusive hunt also comes with a gold star, and a bit more attention and love from the community.
You can can sign up your exclusive with the PH team here, and the PH FAQ also explains what qualifies as an exclusive program — basically offering a meaningful discount and clearly introducing the deal. Algolia, for example, offers 2 months free to Product Hunt visitors:
Or, API Plug’s Product Hunt referral page offers a 20% discount and $25 Credit from Digital Ocean:
In Batch’s case, the team opted for the Exclusive access using a dedicated landing page, which gave the community early access for 24 hours. This preparation took a bit of planning for the team and required “managing individual sub-access accounts, handling redirects, and ad-hoc design integrations,” but they found that it helped grant more control on launch day, and enabled them to work more closely with the Product Hunt team to schedule their launch.
Actually Submitting a Profile on Product Hunt
Definitely read through the Product Hunt FAQ. Part of the allure of Product Hunt is that it is still partially an invite-only network — anyone can register and upvote, but only members can comment and post new products. To get around this, you’ll have to be nominated by a member in order to submit. With a little finagling, you should be able to find a connection to the platform. If not, moderators will usually help credible makers enter their realm.
Once you have permissions and are ready to submit, the “+” button in the top right will create a profile submit page. There are a few categories to fill out:
- Category – e.g. Tech, Games, Podcasts, Books
- URL – Direct link to the product page (avoid links to press or blogs)
- Tagline – Very short description of the product
As you’re trying to create the best first impression possible, succinct eye-grabbing copy triumphs. As PH describes:
“Taglines matter. The best taglines are succinct, describe the product, and avoid cliche descriptions like “email on steroids” or superfluous buzzwords like “a beautiful SoLoMo livestreaming experience.”
Lastly, to maximize the amount of upvotes, timing is huge. Kanstein recommends that 10.30AM CET is the best time to post to PH, while Oblak recommends aiming for the Europe lunch time and USA morning.
The Launch: Introduce Yourself, Play Nice, Get the Word Out
So, you’ve hit submit. Now what? Well, don’t expect to sit back — posting is only the beginning. It’s a great idea to kick off conversation with a comment that introduces yourself, and details the functionality of your API, and what you hope to achieve.
Lastly, don’t rely on random upvotes or soliciting likes, but try to increase traffic using natural means, like sending a newsletter, sharing your PH profile across your social networks, and contacting podcasters like who may be interested in featuring you.
For many, the gauge of success on PH is becoming featured. Though PH won’t disclose the exact algorithm that powers their ranking system, it is certainly a combination of upvotes, time, and traffic that decides what appears on the home page. Even after all this prep, traction will largely hinge on word of mouth, ultimately decided by the awesomeness of your API demo. If you mimic other services or don’t have a niche unique value position (if you are one of the hundreds of SMS APIs, for example), or if your presence is too technical for the non-developer to understand your API parameters, then you likely won’t be successful on this platform.
The Unanticipated Launch
Ready? Maybe you’re not. In late October 2015 API Castor Nicholas Hilem, founder of API Castor, awoke to a slew of notifications related to his startup. Oh no, he thought. Someone has added me to Product Hunt. He was only half prepared. Cancelling all plans he had, he tried to fix as many bugs as possible before traffic exploded.
“Apparently, one of the PH mods had seen our HN [Hacker News] posting and submitted us. A sense of dread washed over me as I anticipated the flood of traffic that might follow. I quickly made a short list of easy polish items that I could still tackle that night. Cracked out 80% of them, accepted our fate, and called it a night.”
Since any member can post to the site, this sort of potential is always there. If it happens when you’re not already a member, tweet at @ProductHunt and they’ll likely give you access to claim the post. Horror stories aside, the moderators are pretty understanding, and have allowed teams to submit again in the past to get the traction they deserved.
The Return on Investment
So is it all worth it? From what we’ve heard from others, the whole experience can be really helpful in getting leads and retaining users, allowing others to validate early stage products.
“Product Hunt produced a solid amount of traffic (4696 visits in 24 hours) with a decent sign-up rate (6.63%). More importantly, PH set themselves apart in their ability to continue to drive traffic to our site over the week, amounting to an additional 150% of what we had on launch day, resulting in a grand total of 13,866 visits. They have a tech-loving audience with a product/design angle, who posed very interesting questions from the community.” – Batch.com
For Sheetsu, Oblak is still “noticing visitors from PH today (10 months after submission). Many of my first customers and users were from the PH. Most of them are still using Sheetsu now.”
The Internet’s Watercooler is Product Hunt
You may be astounded — how were we able to write an entire blog post about Product Hunt with only two cat pictures? Though PH certainly acts as an anchor for meme culture, founder Ryan Hoover and the PH team have created a seriously useful platform, which has become a staple addition to the startup marketing arsenal. What makes PH alluring is not a multi-million person userbase; it is that the community is made out of influencers like product creators, managers, and entrepreneurs.
Just because it’s free to submit here doesn’t mean you shouldn’t devote attention into preparing your launch using these tips. Granted, the platform is still in flux, so these processes may change in due time, but hopefully the best practices we’ve learned from past campaigns will aid the tenacious and earnest API advocate.
It’s also important to note that many strategies listed here are core tenants of developer experience, and can help prepare for listing your API on other sites. PH, Reddit and Beta List can be helpful, but adding your stack to Stackshare.io or posting your API to Hackernews are even more relevant to APIs as they appeal to a more technical crowd.
After you’ve had a successful campaign, it’s tradition to write about what you learned, share statistics, and help others succeed. Good luck hunting, and be sure to follow us for our upcoming release on API Marketing for more insights like these!
From the Product Hunt team:
- Product Hunt Pro Tips
- Product Hunt FAQ
- APIs with exclusive offers to the PH community can sign up with the PH team here
- Here is the entire PH team and their Twitter handles