Listen Up IH - Episode 16
"Technology is part of our culture and it’s in many ways a way to express yourself. The same way that music is a way to express yourself”
That’s how Ryan hoover looks at the world of tech products and the maker community behind it.
When it started in 2013, PH began as a simple mailing list, where Ryan would discuss his favorite products.
It evolved into a community over time.
And today it is the number one site to launch new tech products.
Back in August 2018, Ryan came on the IndieHackers podcast hosted by Courtland Allen.
They talked about the maker and entrepreneur communities, the differences and similarities between Product Hunt and Indie Hackers. And how to start a community.
As per the latest Similarweb report, Product Hunt receives close to 4.5m organic page views a month. That’s huge!
But back in 2013, it launched as a humble mailing list.
Ryan was passionate about products.
Before founding ProductHunt, he had experience in Product Management and product marketing. He kicked off the PH mailing list as a way to talk about his favorite products.
He used to browse new products on the iOS Appstore and AngelList every day. But they weren’t product discovery platforms.
He also used Facebook and Twitter to share his favorite products with his friends. But they were social media platforms.
Websites like Techcrunch used to write about startups. But they were tech publications.
What Ryan really wanted was a simple list.
A list of new and interesting products that he could scroll through.
He used a now-defunct tool Linkydink to collaborate with a few friends and curate the best products every day.
He used writing as a vehicle to learn and to understand products and ideas.
With a small audience through his mailing list, Ryan had built a bare-bones community of people interested in tech products.
Email was an MVP for the community, and then later on for the website that would become Product Hunt.
And as per Ryan’s vision, it was a simple list of products.
People could upvote and comment on them. And search for products.
This is what it looked like back in July 2014 – a screenshot from wayback machine –
This is how Ryan describes it –
“…there’s a bunch of social networks like Twitter and Facebook to find these things. There are online publications like TechCrunch but really what I want is a list. Just a simple list of cool stuff, every day, and I want also a place to talk about these things…”
Comparison with Indie Hackers
Product Hunt is often compared to Indie Hackers itself.
Both being communities of people interested in building tech products.
It was interesting listening to Courtland and Ryan talk about the comparisons between PH and IH.
Courtland believes, in a way IH is inspired by PH. Here’s how he describes it –
“…I can tell you that Indie Hackers itself was largely inspired by a website called NomadList and the creator of that website Pieter Levels was himself inspired by Product Hunt and so it’s pretty safe to say without Product Hunt there would be no Indie Hackers…” – CA
Differences between IH and PH
- Indie Hackers skews towards bootstrapped founders looking to build profitable internet businesses
- Product Hunt is more focused towards people looking to build products for the sake of building products. Not necessarily for revenue.
- PH is also used as a launch platform by startups and larger tech companies with no intention of making immediate revenue
Similarities between IH and PH
- Both platforms are in the game of inspiration. They inspire makers to build their own tech products by looking at other products.
- Both platforms surface stories that inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
- Both platforms are community-driven. The community is the core of both products, and even many product decisions are taken with the community at the center.
Community-led product development
Over the years, PH has launched many features inspired by the requirements of the community.
Some examples –
- Chat – Launched back in 2018. It was based on the insight that makers usually end up ****exchanging emails or Twitter handles to have private 1:1 conversations. Read Ryan’s thesis behind it on the Chat launch page.
- Collections – A way for users to bookmark and curate a bunch of products around common themes and share with each other. They observed users bookmarking products using tools like Tello or Wunderlist. And sharing those links with each other. Read more on the Collections launch page.
- Ship – A SaaS subscription business. It’s a way for makers to build landing pages, email forms and communicate with their users directly from a single place. Previously they had to use 3 or 4 different tools to make it happen. Read more on the Ship launch page.
Ryan’s journey with Product Hunt is a great way to learn lessons on Community Building and eventually building a company on top of a community.
- In the very early days, Ryan used to send a personal e-mail to all new members joining in. He was doing things that didn’t scale.He made sure to write a personalized mail so it was obvious that it wasn’t automated. And he sent it from his personal Gmail account.This helped get the first passionate community members.
- There is a Flywheel effect that PH enjoys.Whenever someone launches a product on PH, they bring their friends over to help promote the product.This brings new people on the site who later go on to launch products of their own.
- Lately, the best growth channel for PH has been Organic Search.They have built “alternative and related products” pages for all products.These are popular search terms and bring in new users on to the platform.****This is a page you get when you search for alternatives to Product Hunt itself. This was number 2 in the search results.
Product Hunt monetizes mainly through sponsorships.
But it’s not simple as buying out “product of the day” on the site. You can only sponsor a spot on PH if you have previously launched your product there.
It’s a nice way to re-feature products which were launched a week or a month ago.
According to their sponsor page, you can also do topic-based in-feed advertisements, or sponsor the PH newsletter that’s read by hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Best and Worst parts of running a community
- For Ryan, the best part about running a community is the “mushy feely” stuff.It’s not the millions of website visitors, but the individual messages and emails he gets from people that tell him that they started their online businesses after being inspired by the products they saw on PH.
- The worst part about running a community is having to deal with spam and trolls. Being a high-volume site, PH gets its fair share of spam.
Trends for the future
Ryan feels the maker community is going to strengthen with time –
“…technology is part of our culture and it’s in many ways a way to express yourself. The same way that music is a way to express yourself… That is something that I definitely foresee continuing and is something that I certainly want to support because I think it’s good to support these people who are building things and using code and design and marketing or whatever their passion is to express themselves… “
It’s easier and more affordable to build products on the internet today. And we will see more and more people becoming product makers going forward.
Advice for someone who wants to start a community
We are living through a communities gold rush at the moment. If someone wants to kick-off an online community of their own, they should follow Ryan Hoover’s lead:
“… there will always be an opportunity to create a community around something. I think my my advice or guidance would be pick a very specific community an audience
look to yourself and be like, what am I passionate about?
..Where did those people hang out today? And is there maybe an unserved need to build a community around this particular interest or demographic or what not…”
Thank you for reading🙏
Every week, I share the most actionable insights and inspiring tips from successful Indie Hackers FOR aspiring Indie Hackers
Ideas + Insights + Inspiration for building profitable internet businesses💪
Sign up to Listen Up! IH and join 1300+ spirited Indie Hackers who read this newsletter every week.
Thanks to Seth King for editing this post