Gabor Papp

Head of SEO at The Pitch

Launching on Product Hunt: what works and what doesn’t [guide & case study]

Shapr3D launched on Product Hunt in December 2016. Here’s the exact workflow and the numbers behind the campaign.

Shapr3D is 3D modeling application designed specifically for iPad Pro. We released the new, 2.0 version last December, and part of the roll out strategy was to submit the product on Product Hunt.

This article will show you how to launch your product on Product Hunt and how to make it successful. I don’t only share the experience, but the actual numbers we had during the launch.

The new way to find early adopters

Product Hunt is a daily voting based, popularity contest for startups. The prize of this contest is that you can appear on the multiple platforms of Product Hunt (website, Twitter, newsletter). Ever since it’s inception in 2013, Product Hunt became an essential part of most Silicon Valley product launches. The biggest advantage of this platform is that you can appear in front of various journalists, tech people, fellow founders, potential users and basically anyone who is involved in the tech business.

It’s set out to be a meritocratic system where the ranking isn’t based on “who knows who”, but rather on the quality and the perceived quality of each product.

I’ll also share my thoughts on whether this is really the case.

Angellist bought Product Hunt for a rumored 20 million dollars because they wanted to help their founders appear in front of early adopters. With 100 million product discoveries and 50K launches, Product Hunt proved to be the most successful one in this space, we must admit.

The way Product Hunt works

Product Hunt is a hunt for the best products. Every product has a Product Page, where users can comment, upvote and reach the website / app page.

The products are grouped across various topics (like Tech, Games, Books etc).

The most successful ones appear on the Homepage, which refreshes daily, and shows a ranking of the launched products each day. The products are submitted by Hunters, and is credited to the Makers. The Hunter either names you or you have to apply for the Maker title from Product Hunt itself if you were not mentioned properly.

After submission, the product will participate in the daily race.

The race starts PST 00:00 and finishes PST 23:59. You have to get as many upvotes as you can by the end of the day.

During the day Product Hunt will post your product (if you’re lucky) on its platforms (push notification for app users, 9 Twitter accounts), which can be pretty nice, and will definitely generate some upvotes and traffic for you. But not everyone is created equal when it comes to how people can interact with Product Hunt.

The hierarchy of Users

There is a 3-level hierarchy among Users. There are those, who

  1. can only vote
  2. can vote + comment
  3. can vote + comment + hunt

There is a hierarchy among these groups as well. It is important who upvotes your product. Every user has a unique score, which is based on their previous activity, and their embeddedness in the PH ecosphere. You can get into a higher group by joining the waiting list or by getting an invitation from someone in a higher group. This will be an important thing to know moving further.

The Product Page

Each company has a dedicated product page which is generated from the information you or the Maker uploads.

The product page of Shapr3D on Product Hunt

These pages have the following building blocks:

Get it+Upvote: This brings you to the website or to the App Store. Next to it, you can upvote the product by clicking on the “arrow + number” button.

Topics: you select the various topics you want your product to be featured in.

Hunter/Makers: This is where the Hunters and Makers show up

Discussion: This is where people can comment and join the discussion

What to use Product Hunt for?

Originally PH started as an organic product finder, but this goal was later modified, and it also became a marketing channel, which you can use to gain some initial exposure. In this sense:

The goal of PH slightly shifted to delivering your product to relevant early adopters in the most professional way.

This doesn’t mean that your product can’t get there accidentally, but your chance of success with only random discovery is very low. This is what happened to us a while back, a little after we launched Shapr3D 1.0. Somebody randomly posted us on the site and tt came as a surprise for us. We weren’t prepared for it, and the results were horrible. If you want a second chance for a professional launch you can always write to the PH staff, who will delete your Product Page and will give you a second opportunity. We came out with a relevant update when we launched 2.0, so the product itself was legitimately resubmitted (according to the PH guidelines).

Learning from our first mistakes, we prepared ourself for the launch by creating a point-by-point gameplan. But before we discuss that, let’s see how the ranking algorithm works.

How does the algorithm work?

The algorithm is not public, but we can narrow it down to a simple rule book based on its behavior. It is pretty clear what it likes, and what it doesn’t. Also, the algo can put you on a black list, in some extreme cases.

What the Product Hunt algorithm likes

  • Top Hunters / Influencers vote and hunt
  • vote happens after the organic discovery
  • Product Hunt staff who helps you elevate your story to the featured page
  • Lots of comments, and a growing discussion
  • early votes during the day
  • people checking out your site

What the Product Hunt algorithm doesn’t like

  • aggressive upvote generation through multiple platforms (direct promo)
  • upvote, without going to the website
  • vote of brand new (or very low hierarchy) users
  • upvoting coming from a direct link

Make sure to keep this in mind, because these simple rules really are important. You’ll shortly see why.

When to post on Product Hunt?

PH is a daily race. A big factor in the success of your launch will be the timing of it. Timing does matter, there is a difference between a Saturday and a Tuesday launch, or a 00:00 and a 9 am start. Kartik Mandeville analyzed 2014 PH data and found noteworthy correlations. Product Hunt also came out with a tl;dr analysis, where they looked at data to date and found significant, but fewer correlations. Read the analysis here.

Daily of activity of past Product Hunt launches by Kartik Mandeville

Based on the data from 2014, we can say most of the upvotes are coming in the middle of the week. This also means that the biggest competition is on those days as well. Also there is no newsletter on the weekends. When you decide on timing in terms of days, you should consider the level of competition and the number of upvotes. And make a decision based on your goals. But not only picking the day is important, but the launch time as well.

As a rule of thumb, we can say, that the earlier you launch on a given day, the biggest upvote total you’ll reach. Just look at the distribution of votes and comments.

Every hour counts: upvote and comment distribution throughout the day on Product Hunt by Kartik Mandeville

Every hour counts: for every hour earlier you post, you can expect 8,7% more in total upvotes. Start early, which means right before you go to sleep if you are in the US. Also, note that early votes could count more in the rankings. You’ll later see why.

But as I mentioned for users: they are not created equal. Neither are the days when you are posting. Especially if there are outside circumstances.

Things you can calculate with

There are Live chats which can generate a lot of viewers (e.g. Snoop Dogg, Brian Chesky (Airbnb), Mark Pincus (Zynga) in the near future). You can see the full list here.

These could bring a lot traffic to the site that you can also benefit from.

Things you can’t calculate with

Sometimes other and big companies do major product releases. This is what happened 2 days prior to our launch.

Amazon Go launched and it quickly became an all-time hit. I suspect that a lot of the page views were stolen by that single page that day. If we would have launched that day, we would have probably gotten smaller traction. So if a big player comes along, they could steal the eyeballs that would have been focusing on you.

But even with all this uncertainty and guessing, there’s a clear blueprint how you can maximize the success of your product launch.

How to launch your product? — short version

Very briefly, this is what you should do for a launch. In a nutshell.

  1. Find a Hunter, preferably an Influencer or Top Hunter
  2. Prepare materials for the launch
  3. Launch
  4. Write the first, welcome comment
  5. Make sure everyone knows you are on Product Hunt
  6. Answer comments, start a discussion
  7. Wait

Let’s see this in action and more detail.

Shapr3D’s Product Hunt story [case study]

First, we started the entire process with a full research on the topic. We read every case study, free and paid material on every how to, failure and success story we could find. We wanted to be sure we don’t miss any tips & tricks. Since PH appreciates if you write a case study (shares it across it platforms, giving products a second chance to shine), there is a good load of these on the web.

But the quality of these studies fluctuate. Some are good, some are just terrible. We got most of our tips from the success stories of the all-time best StartupStash and the well-researched case study of Nugget.

After reading all of these, we filtered the valuable info and created a game plan, which had all the to-dos and their timing as well.

Our Product Hunt Game Plan had 3 big parts:

I. The preparation phase

II. The things to do on the day of the launch

III. Post-Launch todos

I. The preparation phase

This is the most time-consuming part of the whole launch process. The goal is to have everything ready within an arms reach on the day of the launch. You have to know whom, when and how you contact. It is gruesome, but a necessary step. It can require a lot of manual work, I must admit.

If you need some motivation for your work:
Ryan Hoover, the CEO of Product Hunt, right before he started the company managed a startup advice newsletter. He had a moderate followership on Twitter (1200 followers), and he started to use a very small, but rather personal way of interaction. He tweeted everyone a thank you tweet, who shared his articles, thoughts. After the compulsory welcome, he grabbed the chance and directed these people to signup to his email list. This happened in the year before Product Hunt launched. He tweeted these thank you notes more than a thousand times. Party thanks to this, his followership grew to 10,000+, and he already had a nice and active follower base he could leverage when actually launching Product Hunt.

The preparation tasks can be divided into 3 main groups

  1. Hunter’s Kit.
  2. Contact lists
  3. Creating the copy

1. Hunter’s Kit

The Hunter’s Kit has all the necessary copies, settings and visuals, which your hunter needs for a submission. We sent this Kit to a friend, Patrick Vlaskovits (little later about him), so he could “hunt us”. All the instructions were inside. It took him 2 minutes to submit the product. Take a look at our Kit.

2. Creating the contact lists

You need to find the proper people as the ranking depends on the quality of the upvotes. Finding the right people takes time. We compiled the following lists, keeping in mind that we needed people, who have a Twitter and/or Product Hunt account. The more they used PH, the better. We compiled a list groups and pages that could be a good source of potential upvoters:

  • local and national Startup and Marketing Facebook groups
  • Coworking spaces
  • product pages on Product Hunt and their founders from the same nationality (Hungarian)
  • Twitter account of upvoters of the Shapr3D 1.0 launch
  • Shapr3D competitors or companies connected to CAD industry on Product Hunt and the people who upvoted them
  • Shapr3D historical Twitter Mentions and the connected Twitter accounts
  • People who have Twitter account from our email list
  • Hungarian Product Hunters
  • Top Hunters (constantly refreshing lists here: 500hunters.com and here: whohunt.io)
  • Team+Investors+Advisors

3. Creating content

On the day of the launch, you will have to contact a lot of people in a relatively short time and you have to publish your PH specific content to multiple platforms.

It is easier and more efficient to create all these content beforehand, and just push the start button when the time comes.

These are the items that you could prepare for your campaign in advance. We used this list and customized each item to our taste and needs:

  • Tweet and Facebook Post
  • GIF, video, picture
  • easily shareable content (create a viral loop if you can)
  • Product Hunt Twitter and Facebook temporary description change
  • Welcome comment in the name of the CEO
  • Facilitate (aka write and organize) the first few comments for the Discussion part on Product Hunt
  • Newsletter email: about the 2.0 and the Product Hunt feature
  • Facebook Group + Coworking space posts (We offered to write a detailed blog post on the launch experience, all we asked in exchange was that they should check out our product page on Product Hunt.)

+1: Product Hunt exclusive launch

Product Hunt appreciates if you exclusively build your launch on them and/or each discovery comes with a discount.

With a simple overlay or bonus code you can solve this, and the “?ref=Product Hunt” tag makes the Product Hunt crowd easily distinguishable in any analytics tool.

If you want to tie yourself more to Product Hunt, the exclusive launch is the way to go. This is the link where you can register: https://rrhoover.typeform.com/to/ysDOD2

For all the preparation (research, building lists, creating content) we sacrificed a total of 4 days within our team of 2.

You can argue if this is too much or not enough. We felt that it was necessary to put this effort in it (4 days), but was hard to justify more time to be spent on this.

II. The things to do on the day of the launch

You just have to go through your gameplan. That’s it.

Make a timetable and stick to it.
Note: You should have a backup plan as well. There will be things that will be successful and there will be ones which wont be.

Just to give you an example. We made small lists of people, who engaged with us on Twitter or voted for us on Porduct Hunt during the previous campaign. We had around 60 tweets. By textbook definition these should have been sure bets: they engaged with our brand previously and they already had some brand recognition as well. We asked them to check out the new version of the app on Product Hunt. The results weren’t astonishing. Only about 10% of these people voted us up eventually. Sometimes even sure bets can fail or underperform, so you need to think about many ways how to drive attention to your product.

You also have to prepare yourself for an early morning/late night as the comments, inquiries will be coming in throughout the day. And it is important to handle them on day of the launch, as the Product Hunt craze will only last a couple of hours / days. So you have to grab your chances while you can.

Upvotes and comments come in during the day. But life doesn’t stop here.

III. Post-PH launch to-dos

As you know who upvoted your product, you can use this as a chance to engage with them once again. If you ended up in the Top10, you can post it anywhere you want, as you can still gather upvotes. This will raise the chances that people will find you if they are looking through a category, where they will see the all-time highs.

There will also be post-launch activity. We got several emails and additional traffic as well. Product Hunt also tweeted about us after the day of the launch. These tweets always result in a little boost (upvote and traffic). You can also get into a tweet/retweet cycle if you post about your experience with Product Hunt. They usually share it. Good for you and good for them.

Now let’s drive into the actual campaign and see the numbers!

Our experience with launching Shapr3D 2.0

We timed our Product Hunt launch for our 2.0 version release. The launch of the 2.0 version was only sure at 4 pm (Central European Time), thanks to a slow app review process on the App Store. We were in about a 6–7 hour delay compared to 0:00 PST when the hunt started for that day. But we decided to launch anyway as we calculted Thursday to be the best day for us on Product Hunt. We went ahead with our gameplan, even though we lost precious votes, while we waited for the App Store to review our product.

Our goal was to have 300–400 upvotes, which would have probably put us in the Top5 for that day, and we also would have become one of the most successful Hungarian startups on Product Hunt. We also wanted to create a good Product Hunt how to guide, so getting some experience was among the goals as well.

1. Finding a Hunter

Before the launch we searched for someone, who has a lot of followers on Product Hunt and Twitter, so when (s)he posts something to the followers, both platforms can be used for notification. This latter characteristic can give you a lot of early, and strong upvotes. Our choice was Patrick Vlaskovits. He is an entrepreneur with Hungarian origins, living in the US. I used to work with him on a project called Superpowered, so there’s the connection. Note: I also reached out to many top Hunters beforehand but none of them replied. None.

Besides this I also tried to find someone on the “inside”. One of my contacts used to be a developer for Product Hunt. I have met him at a conference 2–3 years ago in Budapest. He helped us become featured under some circumstances: we had to follow the rules and guidelines of Product Hunt.

Getting featured was an essential part in our semi-success. It would have been far less likely for us to get to the featured page without him. Thus we would have gotten far less organic upvotes, as the products on the Product Hunt homepage have a “double advantage”.

The upvotes and the effect

After submitting the product we waited for the upvotes and comments to roll in. This is how it looked (Central European Timezone; from 4 pm to 9 am). Other than a few upticks, our upvote count increased quite steadily, but only linearly.

In the first 10 hours we received 160 upvotes. Today we stand at 281 upvotes. It means that we had about 100+ upvotes after the launch day, and we still get 1–2 every week. The growth after the launch day can be traced back to the Product Hunt GIF Twitter account @ProductHuntGIF, which posted a GIF of our product.

This post launch upvote increase resulted in us being in the all-time top products of our chosen categories.

If we look at our website traffic, we had 600+ visitors from Product Hunt, which is okay. Looking at only this metric could signal that the launch itself was nothing more than an uptick. Just by looking at these 600 visitors, I wouldn’t call a launch like this a great success.

We also looked at how our Twitter traffic changed since the launch. We had125% growth in our Profile views in December, and had grown our follower base with 10%. With real people who are interested in our product.

There are quite a few things we learned from the campaign. Here are the most important ones.

Learnings

1. The quality of the upvote matters a lot

As our upvote count went higher we couldn’t beat some apps (like Project by Code School), which had a significantly less votes (111 vs 189).

What could be the reason? The algorithm benefits those, who have more organic votes. It could be that we opened our outreach too wide and channeled people to Product Hunt and to our Product Page who had very little PH activity before upvoting us. These votes not only didn’t help us move up in the rankings, they probably pushed us down a little.

According to the legend, you need around 5 followers on PH if you want your vote to be positive.

My friend from PH constantly reminded me that we shouldn’t share the direct link to our Product Page (https://www.producthunt.com/posts/shapr3d-2-0), as it will hurt our rankings, so we used two workarounds for this.

  • You only share, that you’re up on Product Hunt, but you don’t use a direct link. Just mention the fact and ask peopel to check you out. This is a very legitimate technique, most companies do this.
  • There’s something else you can do, from the dark side. In some stories we read that you can in fact share a direct link to Product Hunt, where the action steps are clear, but it should not be your Product Page. A solution for this can be a search link (https://www.producthunt.com/search/posts?q=Shapr3D), a category page or a tag where you don’t directly link to yourself but it is evident where users should click. In some case studies it was stated that this doesn’t work anymore. Hard to tell if this is really the case.

2. Starting early, it’s really worth it

Our upvote count rose steadily, but slowly. When we started, some products already had 100–150 upvotes. This was advantage for them and they kept it up throughout the day.

So the sooner you launch in the day, the more visibility you can get. That increases your chance of success.

3. It matters on which day you launch

We wanted to be out on a Thursday, no matter the bigger competition. With this upvote total (200+), we would have been a sure Top10 on a Friday. But we wanted to get in front of more people. This is a choice you can make: you can go for a short term vanity win or try to aim for a potentially bigger prize.

4. You need friends

We all do. But this is also true when you want to launch on Product Hunt. While PH advertises itself as a meritocratic system, you need those networking soft skills for a successful launch. It changed everything for us that we knew someone connected to the organisation, and it also helped we knew people in the hungarian startup ecosystem. Without the contacts and many friends, we never would have gotten anywhere.

5. There are typical PH product, we aren’t one of them

Shapr3D is not a classical PH product like Slack, Wix, or Unsplash. 3D modeling is a niche and only a small percent of our target market is probably on the site. Even though we can call Shapr3D a productivity app, it doesn’t help the users in an industry neutral way, as other successes, like StartupStash, Pixabay or Slack do.

In the productivity category, getting 200+ upvotes is not much. It’s average-ish.

But if we only compare Shapr3D to products with either in the “iPad” or “3DPrinting” topic, the results are more promising.

We are ranked #19 all-time among all products with the “iPad tag”, and #2 if you look at only “iPad apps”. We are #1 in the 3D printing category.

These rankings can be beneficial for us in the long run, but hard to measure the benefit right after the campaign is over. If someone from the target audience looks for iPad Pro apps or 3D printing startups, they will see us at the top. That could channel relevant traffic to us in the future.

The industry you are in also defines whether you are a good fit for PH or not. If you only look at the CAD/3D modeling industry’s performance, you can see that Product Hunt is not for these applications.

  1. Shapr3D 2.0: 281 upvotes
  2. Onshape: 114 upvotes
  3. GrabCAD: 63 upvotes
  4. Murphy: 15 upvotes

6. If you build your product on an existing product you will have more exposure

If your product is tied to another successful product (gmail, chrome, slack, trello etc), the entry barrier will be much lower for a lot of Product Hunt users. They will immediately understand your product and they will be intrigued by the proposition, as they are already using the base product.

7. If they can’t try your product, you’re doomed

Shapr3D can only be used on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. So not a lot of people who saw it on Product Hunt had the chance to actually try it out. Mobile apps and desktop applications will have more success, as users can use these applications right away on their devices. If they can’t try it, they will just not upvote or comment. It’s that simple.

So the question comes: who should launch on Product Hunt and who shouldn’t? What works and what doesn’t?

Why and to whom is Product Hunt good for?

When the launch was over, we had two questions for ourselves.

  • Was it worth for us to spend time on this?
  • Who should give it a try?

1. Was it worth for us?

So-so. Yes and no.

If we only look at the traffic, we can say: definitely not.

If we would have spent those 4 days on writing guest posts for CAD industry sites, it would have generated more traffic.

But on the other side we know more now. We understand which channels work and which don’t. We also managed to execute our game plan properly. Though the results were below some of our expectations, we are still in the all-time Top 20 in our main categories (iPad apps, 3D printing and CAD). And we also outperformed similar players from the industry, by a wide margin.

2. Who should give it a try?

Someone, who

  • has a Product Hunt compatible product
  • has its target market on PH
  • has time to prepare
  • has a Plan B

Some products can benefit hugely from a PH launch, but only with a big amount of work.

If you think you submit your product and magic will happen, you should think twice.

Spend at least a week in total man hours on the launch. The 2 of us spent 2 days on this each, which is 4 days in total. Compared to the results, that sounds about a fair time investment.

Always remember. You’ll have one shot, you might as well do it right. Focus on finding a good hunter, early voters, commenters. Use your network, Slack, Twitter and Facebook groups wisely.

To help you with the preparation we put together the resources, case studies we used: http://www.scoop.it/t/product-hunt-1

Save it, use it, share it.

Bonus

If you got this far, you deserve some fun as well. In this game, you can the guess which Product Hunt product got more votes.

http://www.highervslower.com/game/producthunt_votes

If you use it long enough, you will come across Shapr3D as well. :)

This article was written by Gabor Papp, Marketer at The Pitch.

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