3, 2, 1, launch… right? Not quite. When you’re getting ready to launch on Product Hunt, you’ve probably put months or even years of your life into this product. Failing the launch would be devastating, while doing it right can give you everything you need to turn your product into a business.
This article isn’t focused on getting upvotes, but on maximising the impact of your launch in general. By focusing on impact you’ll get the fundamentals that matter most for your long-term success.
Some background: I always felt annoyed with how hard it was to keep track of the thousands of webpages we come across every month. So around 4 years ago I got the idea to create a filesystem for the web. It’s similar to the finder on a computer, but indexes text on webpages you visit. This way you can use any word on the page to retrieve it—saving you a bunch of time every-time you need a page again.
Prior to our launch I’d spent around 1 year beta-testing. You don’t need Product Hunt to get your first users. On the contrary, you actually need a base of beta users to launch successfully. We had around 3500 beta users, which I got through contacting people in Facebook groups about Product Hunt. I used a simple message:
The main benefit to this approach is that you can literally contact thousands of people who you know are interested in or are working on new products — since they’re in Product (Hunt) groups. You’ll be surprised how many people are interested.
When someone replied, they typically asked for more information, so I made sure to give them a very brief summary of what History Search was.
This was actually the very first version of our value prop and sales pitch. I then continued the conversation with those willing/interested — and used this information to improve the product and “story”. Getting your story right is going to be critical during your launch.
This concludes the section about building an early-beta user audience since this article is really aimed at the next stage: leveraging your Product Hunt launch to turn your work into a business (getting reoccurring users and revenue).
Groups that worked for me
Product Hunt is a community of tech enthusiasts and product makers. Every day new products are hunted and receive upvotes. The top 5 most upvoted products get blasted in a daily newsletter to +500k members the next day.
After spending countless days, nights and dollars on History Search the main thing I needed to know was “do people really need History Search?” and were they willing to pay for it so I can continue working on it — or will my hard work go in vain? Because that’s what your first users are doing in reality: they’re paying so that you can continue to work on your vision.
Your first users aren’t paying for your product — they pay for you to continue working on your vision
Obviously it’s better to finish as the top product of the day, since this will get your product in both the daily and weekly newsletter. However it’s not all about coming in first during the initial launch of your product, it’s about validation and building an engaged users base—who are prepared to pay for your product. So as long as you get in the top 5 you’ll be in the daily newsletter and you’re fine in regards to reach.
What we got from launching
My main piece of advice about deciding when to launch is that it’s not about being done, but about being ready. The reason is simple: Your product is never going to be perfect when you launch it.
There are so many things in History Search that I want to improve. For example, I really dislike the way we onboard new users. I think it’s really tricky and confusing. But instead of iterating on it for another 2 months we launched and got it done in one day.
When you launch the right way (without focusing on upvotes), you’ll get more questions, suggestions and ideas than you can ever imagine. In our case this gave us the input we needed to create an onboarding experience that answered the most common questions.
When you talk to people, you see it fall together. All of these things come up because you actually have one day where you can talk to hundreds of people. In a way you have hundreds of minds working with you — they tell you what’s unclear about your product or message, what they love about it, and even ideas or use-cases you never thought of yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to then develop everything people ask, more on that later.
Before even thinking about launching, make sure you’ve thoroughly thought about how to position your product. Why did we switch from “Your Personal Search engine” to “Your Filesystem for the web”? This was because “search engine” leads many people to believe it was only public pages, and so made it seem like Google. While in reality History Search does technically do the same as Google, but it indexes the web pages you visit through an integration with your browser (via browser extensions) — so this also makes it possible to find pages behind logins.
What is it vs. What does it do?
What it is and What it does are two fundamentally different approaches to positioning, and you need both. In our case we have:
It’s important not to run this past too many people, since it will send you in a different direction every time. The main thing I learned is that your product is whatever you say it is — for example. Is Uber a taxi company or is it the future of transportation?
Telling your story
Your first launch isn’t really about your product, it’s about your story and vision. The story about how you got to where you are today is important to write down, not only for the outside world but also for yourself. You’ll be able to better align your pitch if you know your story well. This is exactly what I did, and even though I spent about two weeks hesitating whether to publish it or not, I eventually did. Guess what?! It was one of the best decisions I could have made — people loved it and it even got published by The Startup. Here’s a link to the article.
Market Fit = Your vision + People who believe in it
Your product is never going to be perfect when you launch it. With History Search, there are so many things that I want to improve. But at first it’s all about finding the people who support you and believe in your vision.
You need a clear message. Our general tagline for History Search is “your way back to a million websites.” However, we deliberately decided not to use this message for Product Hunt, because we knew that it’s a more technical audience.
Your tagline has to be just right. It’s tempting to choose a funny tagline, and this might get you a lot of upvotes but:
You need an existing user base. It is very important that when you launch, you already have an existing user base. It doesn’t have to be huge, but you have to have people who really know the product already. This is critical for two reasons. You need:
You need support. Before you launch, sit down and think: Who can I genuinely ask for support to get the word of my launch out on this day? If that list of people is very small, it’s going to be difficult to launch. Because all of this is not just a way to get upvotes, it’s to get reach. And to get reach, you need some support. So you need a group of people who really believe and support the thing you’re doing.
You need a plan for getting press. This is extremely difficult for people who are launching for the first time. If you read an article about how to reach out to press, most of it is incorrect. Most of it is written by journalists, and they assume that the best way is by writing a custom email — which may work for larger brands, but not startups.
When preparing for the History Search launch, I wrote custom emails to almost 20 people. I spent 2.5 weeks researching.
How many journalists replied? One. And he just replied to say “I don’t write about these types of services anymore.”
So you need to keep some things in mind when you’re contacting journalists.
Send the story in the email with the press information 3–5 days before launching. This is the email I used:
If journalists don’t reply to your email 3–5 days after you pitch, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to cover you. I recommend sending a follow-up email in the evening of your launch — not the same pitch — with the result. You could even do it the next day so that you don’t bombard the journalist with the same press release over and over.
Don’t be worried if you don’t get any responses. Our story just appeared on CNET but they had never replied. I discovered the story because I couldn’t figure out why our traffic was still increasing after the launch (usually it drops) and I used Mention to find the article on CNET.
Keep in mind: If journalists from publications like CNET, Mashable, etc, are willing to write about you. Then they are helping you, you are not helping them. I am extremely grateful that Stephen Shankland, the CNET journalist, decided, based on the story I wrote, to write about History Search. He can write about a billion other things, and he chose us.
If you’re lost about what to write in your emails to journalists, here’s the basic formula for a pitch. I should actually say story and not pitch.
These are simple marketing rules, but I can guarantee that 99 out of 100 statements sent out to press do not have this last step (CTA).
In my case, I was quite sincere, and I was willing to create a story that was interesting to their audience. I would like to get History Search into the world and to reach as many people as possible.
So when it comes to press, be genuine. An event is as good as its best story, so tell yours in a way people want to read about it and you’ve got a big chance getting covered.
It’s super important to make sure the different components of your listing work together — since space to tell your story is limited. Let’s start with the first part of your message that appears in the Product Hunt feed.
What we did was use the thumbnail to show someone how it worked, and made sure the title, tagline (and don’t forget the “tags” ex. Productivity) worked together. You see how we selected productivity to show up as first — this is because it’s a part of the story.
Next are your slides. Remember people might be intrigued by your tagline but probably still don’t understand how to use your product. That’s why we mainly used this to show use cases.
You can then use your opening comment to introduce yourself and give more details, the image is too long to post here so I’d recommend that you check out our listing here: https://www.producthunt.com/posts/history-search this will also give you an impression of what kind of responses and questions you can expect.
Launch day itself is super hectic. You get distracted all the time. You need a plan — not so that you stick to the plan perfectly, but so that you have something to reference in the midst of all the distraction. If you get a bug or an email or a news post that you have to answer on the fly, you know where to continue, because you’ve created this plan.
I’ve actually made the structure I used available in an Airtable (see below), it’s nothing fancy but it’s all you need to plan your launch. It’s structured as followed:
First, don’t look at your ranking. You worked really hard to make something, and you don’t want to see that you are 3rd, 4th, 5th etc. on your launch date — it will only distract you.
With History Search, people in the office looked at it, but I didn’t. I made a plan for how this launch date was going to go.
Of all of these activities, engaging with your audience could be the most important. After years working on your startup, you might be the Albert Einstein of your product, but you can’t beat a million brains thinking together. Or even just a thousand brains. And the bottom line is that if you have a thousand people out there who are willing to talk about your product, talk with them.
First of all, it’s an amazing feeling to get support and hear from people who love your work. And second, you will learn things that you could never have imagined.
Your launch isn’t actually about you giving something to the world. It is actually you getting something: you get an opportunity to talk to people and get feedback. It’s very important that you learn from the people who are interested and also from the people who are not interested.
Especially the people who are not interested — this is super important. Talk to those people, and don’t try to convince them. You really want to get down to the core reason of why they like or don’t like your product. And sometimes, someone will ask you about a use case you hadn’t considered, like the guy who asked if we could use History Search without indexing automatically. Because of his question, I realized that this is actually possible. You can pause the extension and then favorite a web page manually—so there you go, another selling-point without developing anything new.
It takes time to understand what it is you really built
A few groups that I’ve been in and contain many supportive and entrepreneurial people:
So did we get the validation we were looking for?
Once you’ve launched, the things you learn mean you can never go back to your pre-launch perspective. My most important takeaways?
So what’s next for History Search? As I said, feedback was the most valuable thing we received from our launch date. We’re using the feedback around our onboarding process, to improve our onboarding. Stay tuned for a later article that goes deeper into that process.
Author: Martijn Verbove