Creating Product Hype: Product Hunt

Having a great idea for a startup or product won’t get you very far if nobody knows about it. Indeed, one of the crucial steps for any budding developer wanting to get noticed is to build hype. These days, if you ask any would-be or scrappy developer what they hope will happen when they release a new product, it’s likely they will mention the website Product Hunt.

What is Product Hunt?

Founded in 2013, and gaining prominence the following year, Product Hunt was first seen as a kind of “Reddit for the best new apps and services” where “users can up-vote products they like and submit their own for consideration by the community.” Catering to the mega-geeks and early adopters, it is the place to be noticed by your peers and would-be competitors, rather than your users. In many cases, ranking on Product Hunt serves as a precursor to the more mainstream media and tech press coverage that will eventually attract users, and hopefully more investors.
As one how-to guide recently elucidated, “Getting featured on Product Hunt often comes with a lot of perks.” Marta Bogacz recently wrote about how launching on Product Hunt may result in:

  • More on-site visitors (some have reported 100+ unique visitors per hour);
  • Increased revenue;
  • New business opportunities such as partnerships and product development ideas;
  • More features on sites like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Product Hunt Risks

While all this is true, there is also a potential downside. Product Hunt has become such a reliable metric of success for tech developers that placement on its coveted charts can actually mask some fundamental issues that new apps have. In a recent post charting the rise and fall of the app Lisn—which allowed users to “stream and share songs on SoundCloud and Spotify, which would sync real-time when your friend tunes in”—the four co-founders and friends recounted how an early high placement on Product Hunt’s charts gave them a sense of false confidence that perhaps they shouldn’t have had.
Just weeks after Lisn founding in 2016, “it was number 2 on Product Hunt and stole media limelight. Lisn was free to download on iOS and charged no subscription fee. It was also ad-free, focusing on great user experience. The plan was to think about making money after it built sufficient traction.”
Basking in the limelight after appearing on the site, the founders did not address some more fundamental and structural issues that would have been plain to see if not for the distraction. They went on to say in an interview: “We were married to the solution rather than the problem. And unfortunately, the solution solved a problem but it wasn’t big enough,” co-founder and designer Chhikara said. “This is a common failing among entrepreneurs, and to some extent it’s unavoidable. You begin with a hypothesis about a problem, and learn from traction how big a pain point it is that you’re solving. What’s important is to identify your target users fast and talk to them.”
In other words, because the founders of Lisn had the early validation of the developer community thanks to Product Hunt, they were less honest with themselves about the problem they were solving, the business model they could use to fund it, and the long term viability. In this case, hype weighed out evidence that this was a sustainable idea.
There is a lesson in here for developers who are keen on the spotlight that comes with the Product Hunt placement. While appearing on the site early on in your journey can undoubtedly help you get a boost, relying on that hype and recognition to fuel the successful realization of not just your product but your whole reason for existing is not good enough on its own.