An Unoffical Guide to Product Hunt: Learnings from 15 Launches in 2018

Product Hunt has been an amazing launch platform for our image and video editing startup, Kapwing. We got to >300K monthly-active users last year with little marketing spend due partially to Product Hunt exposure. In this article, I’ll describe how Product Hunt (PH) works and share what strategies we’ve learned from fifteen PH launches in 2018.

Disclaimer: This is absolutely not official advice (hence the title), and it’s not representative of everyone’s experience. This article is our subjective learnings, so please take it with a grain of salt and experiment with your own strategies.

Background

Product Hunt is a community to discover new products, mostly apps and websites. It’s a website where you can see trending launches of the day and, if you’re a maker, you can post your own products to get some exposure. Posting - or “hunting” - new products is free, and many thousands of early adopters come to website every day to see what’s new and support makers.

Product Hunt has been an amazing launch platform for our startup, Kapwing. My co-founder, Eric Lu, and I launched 15 times on Product Hunt in 2018. Together, we’ve had a Top Product of the Day and two #2 products, and most of our features have done well. Recently, we were both nominated for 2018 “Makers of the Year,” and one of our products - Cartoonify - was nominated for the “Golden Kitty” award.

Top Makers

In the last year, Product Hunt contributed ~.005% of traffic to Kapwing. Although Product Hunt doesn’t contribute much website traffic compared to HackerNews or Quora (~.01% each), journalists and bloggers discover Kapwing when it does well on Product Hunt, attracting press coverage and consequently better Google Search rankings. Some of our earliest fans like Krishna De found us on Product Hunt, giving us great feedback and advocacy in the early days.

We love the Product Hunt community, both as techies and as small business owners. It’s an amazing way to find new users, discover useful resources, and distribute apps within the tech community. Here’s a bit of what we’ve learned along the way.

PH love

How Product Hunt works

The Product Hunt moderators look at new product launches when they are hunted and decide if it should get featured the next day. Once it is added to the “featured” group, you’ll only be able to access your launch from your URL; it won’t show up on the home page until midnight the next day.

Featured list

Over the course of the day when your product is “featured,” community members can upvote, comment, review, and read about your launch. The featured products are ranked, mostly by upvotes but also by comments, engagement, etc. Having a Top Product of the Day is a difficult and rare accomplishment for an Indie Hacker, but Product Hunt is a great free way to drive traffic and PR to a brand new site regardless of how it performs.

What to Post

The Product Hunt audience is a picky and specific demographic. In general, they:

  • Love: Cute webapps and resources for entrepreneurship junkies and designers.
  • Don’t love: Products for a niche group that isn’t the startup community: enterprise products, deep tech, or consumer packaged goods, etc.

If your products is related to software startups and design, PH is a great launch platform. If it’s not, you might consider making unrelated landing pages or art projects that appeal to the Makerverse. Our best performing Product Hunt launch, Normal Software, is just a collection of of blog articles in a custom layout.

How to Post

Before you launch, spend some time reading and browsing top products to get ideas and a feel for the community’s tone. Then, on the day before you want to launch, get all of your materials together for the Product Hunt profile:

  • A product name and square logo
  • The URL
  • A very short tagline
  • 0-6 photos, GIFs, and/or videos that demonstrate the product’s functionality and tell a story
  • [Optional] Links to your company’s social accounts
  • [Optional] A longer article or blog post explaining what the product does and how and why you built it

How to Get Featured

  • Have an influential maker hunt your product: You’re much more likely to get featured if you have a influential hunter hunt your product. Look for people who work at PH, used to work at PH, or who have hunted top products. My cofounder reached out to someone via Twitter DM in 2016 when he wanted to launch his first product. At the time, the person was a stranger, but (luckily for us) agreed to hunt several products for us. We would organize the launch info for him in a Google Drive folder (the title, the logo, the graphics) and ping him the folder link, then he would hunt the product with what we’d given him. We became friends with him and have stayed in touch even after he left Product Hunt in 2017. Now, we hunt new products ourselves, but in the early days his help and advice was incredibly valuable for our tiny company. Our friend doesn’t hunt for random hackers he meets on Twitter anymore, so you’ll have to find someone else to copy this strategy. But most coders are willing to do favors for others, if the product is cool enough. FYI, it’s common practice to thank whoever hunted your product in the first comment.

  • Make your launch materials cool: On Product Hunt, you have a short description and a series of images or videos to convey what your product is or does. You should assume that very few Product Hunt voters will visit your landing page and almost none of them will actually try out your app or service, so making your Product Hunt page cool, beautiful, and eye-catching is important. We got ideas by browsing through some of the top launches. GIF logos may help (plug: you can make an animated logo with studio + GIF converter). See our video resizer launch to see how we experimented with screenshots layout.

Interesting layout

  • Introduce it on Medium or your blog: Product Hunt lets you link to any press coverage about your product, and blog posts about your product make it seem more legit. Write an article explaining how and why you built the thing and link the article to your launch. If journalists do write articles about your product, make sure to link to those articles too. Here’s an example post that Eric wrote for Motion, our most recent Product Hunt debut.

Around the web section

  • Make something innovative and shareworthy: If you can’t find a Top Hunter, don’t stress. If the launch is cool enough, they’ll feature it regardless.

How to Get Upvotes Once Featured

  • Pick the right day: Hunt your product on Monday-Wednesday so that it is featured on Tuesday-Thursday. We’ve been more successful with getting traffic during the middle of the week.

  • Leave a friendly intro comment: You should leave a friendly, casual comment introducing yourself right after the post goes live. PH is very casual, so ditch the fancy words and pack your intro with personal anecdotes. Product hunters love cat emojis.

Intro

  • Get votes before midnight: If you want your product to be really successful, you need to get some people to upvote it before your launch is featured at midnight. If you can get ~20 upvotes, your product is more likely to appear in the Top 5 featured products, which leads to way more upvotes because your launch will be “above the fold” when the clock strikes midnight.

  • Look out for competition: Beware that products from big companies like Google and Snap often overshadow Indie products because they quickly attract the most attention. Try not to launch on a day that’s over-crowded.

  • Engage commenters and reviewers: Product Hunt is not all about the rankings! Who upvotes and how much discussion the post generates also matter. If more people review, comment on, and engage with your launch, it will improve its ranking among the Featured products of the day. To promote engagement, make sure to ask questions is response to people’s comments (i.e. “Do you have any ideas about things we could improve?”) so that they re-engage. You can also upvote others’ comments and tag other members of the community in your posts if they inspired or help your launch.

  • Publicize: Send your friends the launch! Eric and I spent a lot of time in the early days messaging our friends and activating our community to get traction.

top launch Proud maker moment: #1 Product of the Day

Conclusion

A few founders have expressed to me that they feel Product Hunt is rigged, that there’s no way for them to get attention on the platform because they don’t know people on the inside. But Eric and I honestly had no connections to Product Hunt before we started launching there, and within the last 12 months we’ve gone entrepreneurial nobodies to Makers of the Year. It’s true that Product Hunt relies mostly on human moderation, but we’ve found that getting featured on PH is much more democratic than, for example, press coverage or fundraising. In our experience, PH is actually less preferential than HackerNews.

Of course, our experience isn’t representative of everyone’s (see disclaimer^). We’ve certainly had a few disappointments on Product Hunt (like why didn’t yall love Motion? 😿), but we try to embrace the randomness and luck of Startup Land. I hope these tips help other makers get their side hustles out to the world – happy hacking!