Don’t Count On A Product Hunt Launch To Make Your Startup $10,000…. Or $100

Don’t Count On A Product Hunt Launch To Make Your Startup $10,000…. Or $100

7 min read Product Hunt is the best way to show off your Startup. If you get to the top of the home page you’ll be sitting pretty, right? Probably not. We explain why.

Written by
James Sowers
Last Updated: February 2022
7 min read

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Ah, Product Hunt. What started as a little newsletter has turned into a behemoth. It’s
way to show off your Startup to the world. If you get to the top of the home page, you’ll be sitting pretty, right? Not a care in the world, because all of a sudden you have BOOM revenue. Sales galore.

Go ahead and let your dream die some.

Did you ever study Buddhism, that the cause of all suffering is actually desire? It might come into play here…

Turn off your desire for instant glory from Product Hunt, and you’ll have a much better day when your startup hits the home page. It can even make the homepage.

Problem #1 with Product Hunt: Nepotism is required

Just like with American Presidential politics, Product Hunt is about who you know. Some people, not many, but some people have credentials to post straight to the front page. This is a bit mysterious, but it seems to be their earliest adopters who have these privileges, and some celebrities within the startup world.

If you know someone with frontpage credentials, awesome! I do, and that’s the only way I’ve ever had “luck” on Product Hunt.

But I say “luck” in quotes because it’s all about making your own luck. Who do you know that posts a lot to Product Hunt? Do they have frontpage credentials? Can you butter them up so that they will post a project for you?

Problem #2: The “Newest” area, or startup purgatory

If you don’t have front page credentials yourself and you don’t get someone with them to post for you, your startup goes to an area called “Newest” (it used to be called “Upcoming”). But it’s now your purgatory, and your startup will be there eternally.

If it gets a ton of upvotes in there, it may get out and make it onto the front page. But how will it get upvotes, when no one really looks there? On the mobile Product Hunt app, you don’t even see the option to check out the “Newest” area. People will not go out of their way to look, so you will be there forever. And it sucks.

You’re not allowed to ask for upvotes, and they’re pretty serious about this, so you can’t just ask everyone you know to help you out. It’s done. Pray for a miracle, but it probably won’t come.

Problem #3: Who else will post something that day?

When we were going to post my first project to Product Hunt, there was a bigger company getting a lot of attention. If I remember correctly, Pocket had just released a new feature or something, and by 9am had a ton of traction. I wanted to get the number one spot that day, so we waited until the next day to post.

But that is the thing, the next day, it could have been something even more popular posted, and I would have been screwed.

When I did my most recent Product Hunt launch, I ended up in third place. I was beat out by a new feature by Spotify, and by Amazon’s new cargo plane. Getting beat by a plane doesn’t really make sense because it’s a goddamned airplane and this is supposed to be techy geeky nerdy startup stuff, not aircraft. But that’s the thing: you will have no control, no idea what else will come up, and an airplane or anything else can keep you out of the top spot.

Problem #4: Time Zones and Timing

Product Hunt is a California startup. And since it’s the posting is based on the day, you want to post your product super early in the day. I mean I live in Nashville, which is two hours ahead of California, so when I get something on Product Hunt, I want it up at 12:01am PST ideally, so I set my alarm for 2 or 3am, and go to bed pretty early. Last time, I went to bed at 10pm and set my alarm for 3am, but I woke up randomly at 1:45am and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I just started my day then.

But you know what? 2am my time is 8am in London, so all those chaps are starting to check out Product Hunt and upvote stuff and they’ll come to your live chat on your site that got hunted and start asking questions and you need to be online to talk to them and try to get them to order or do customer discovery or extract whatever value you can out of them.

And after you say cheerio to all the British blokes then you have people in Eastern Europe waking up and then Japan and Australians because it’s evening time already over there because the world is a globe and it’s nuts and they’ll start talking to you.

Then be the time Americans get on Product Hunt, you’ve been on live chat talking to people and promoting your Product Hunt launch (without directly asking for upvotes of course!) for six fucking hours already and you’re two espressos deep at least and you wonder when the sun rose because you sure didn’t notice it and the cats have been meowing for breakfast for three hours already because they’re so confused because you’ve been at your laptop for hours even though it’s not even late enough in the day for all the local shops to be open, and then at 5pm after a weird 15 hour day after 4 hours of sleep, you just want to go to bed…

Every good day I’ve had on Product Hunt has been a really long day.

You need to post as early as possible in the day or else you’re probably screwed.

Problem #5: Getting the ball rolling

So the point of the front page versus “Newest” is to keep the lower quality crap off of the front page and let it wither and die in “Newest.”

But there’s a twist! There’s a twist you guys and it’s the fact that there is a “v Show More” button on the Front page, where it bifurcates the higher voted versus lower voted stuff. And you need to be above that split! Because people are lazy and may not expand it and you need as many eyeballs on your project as possible.

You need upvotes as soon as your project gets posted. Figure out a game plan. Get up early to post and start trying to get people you know to upvote it. I usually get up at 2:30 am (!) to start my work day when I do a Product Hunt launch, because I want to start shortly after midnight in California, because that’s when the new day starts for Product Hunt rankings.

Getting the ball rolling early will help you be at the top of the list, which will hopefully keep you at the top of the list, as your project will organically get more and more upvotes. Unless it just doesn’t resonate with the Product Hunt crowd, in which case you can’t force success there.

Problem #6: Saboteurs and cheerleaders

Anyone can post your startup to Product Hunt. Not just you. There’s no way to prevent it. There are ways to monitor it, but not prevent it.

I have heard of people posting their competitors’ sites to Product Hunt just so that those sites vanquish in “Newest”, and it’ll be hard to get a proper Product Hunt launch later.

Or maybe there’s no ill will, but you have a user who thinks your project is awesome, and he wants to help you out by posting it to Product Hunt. If you’re not ready, you ruin your one launch.

You’ve got two options if you’re hunted prematurely and you know about it: Go with it and scramble and make it work, or ask Product Hunt staff to take it down.

I was running as a Wizard of Oz MVP to validate the idea before I spent money to build it out. Sales were slow but I couldn’t handle much volume so it was fine. Then one day I got a random order, and then another quickly after that. I realized the traffic was coming from Product Hunt, and I freaked out because I wasn’t ready yet. They pulled the project, but I did make $160 in revenue in that hour or so I was up on the site.

If they take it down for you, you’ll have to work with them later to have it allowed back on. Everyone I talked to at Product Hunt when I needed this was super great.

Problem #7: Upvotes means traffic, but traffic doesn’t mean revenue

In my experience you get 10 to 15 visitors from Product Hunt per upvote you receive. I don’t know why they don’t all upvote it, but that’s how it is.

But it’s not really targeted traffic looking to buy, so it won’t convert like you’re used to. But it’s a ton of traffic, so you’ll probably have more conversions than planned.

My goal for my first day on Product Hunt with was $1200. It was sort of an arbitrary number, but I thought I could hit it.

I grossed $117 the day my project got up on Product Hunt. Nothing to write home about. At the time, that was better than an average day, but quite ho-hum.

It’s been a week now, and I’ve gotten a lot more orders from Product Hunt, with a substantial increase in revenue compared to before Product Hunt. I’m hoping it sustains.

But the moral of the story is, don’t get too obsessed with a Product Hunt launch and the dream that you’ll make thousands of dollars the day you get on the front page. Some people do, but most do not.

It’s hard. All this shit is hard. There’s no magic bullet, and you have to explore tons of different growth channels and see what works and what flops. And Product Hunt is just one growth channel, and it can be a flop for sure.

Win, place, or show: What you get if you don’t make it to the top spot but still do pretty well

Let’s look on the bright side. Maybe you can’t get to the top spot, but what if you’re in the top 5 or 10?

You’ll get a flood of traffic if you get in the top few spots on a good day. And you’ll get in the newsletter, which will get you even more traffic, because some people open that daily email but never look at the actual site.

So even if you don’t make it to the top spot, getting in the upper spots can be huge. But remember, go big or go home: Get on the front page or it’s a waste.

Leverage the exposure for all it’s worth. Have your retargeting code set up to create audiences to advertise to later (maybe). Talk to visitors, talk to customers, answer questions both via your live chat on your site and in the Product Hunt comments section. Engage with others. Learn as much as you can. This is a bigger customer discovery opportunity than a revenue opportunity. And capture email addresses with an opt-in on your site if you can.

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