August 21, 2014

Planting Seeds

When you look back at yourself six months from today and don’t feel embarrassed by your naiveté, there’s a problem. That means you’re not learning, growing.

So said my buddy, Nathan Bashaw, over drinks at a wine bar in SOMA. I was three years into PlayHaven, the startup that brought me to San Francisco. Things were going well. I liked the team and believed in the company vision, but after growing from 10 to over 100 people, I began to feel stagnant. I knew it was time to leave.

Moving on

I teared up when I told them I was leaving. PlayHaven was my life, and my coworkers were my friends. I didn’t really have a plan, but I knew I wanted to:

  1. Build something for myself. I know it sounds cliché, but I was sick of building things for other people. It’s far more rewarding and easier to create something when you are the consumer.
  2. Work with a small team. I had the most fun and impact in the early days at PlayHaven, working with less than a few dozen people. I need autonomy and freedom.
  3. Learn more, faster. I craved a bigger challenge and lacked a healthy fear that’s usually correlated with personal growth.

I transitioned to a part-time role, meanwhile exploring new opportunities. During this time, I created a little email list. I named it Product Hunt.

An experiment

Product Hunt began as a simple email list, inspired by my interest in new products and conversations with friends. “What do you think of the new Snapchat update? Have you seen Vessyl, the cup that quantifies what you drink? What’s on your home screen?”

After some early traction, the list graduated into a real site and community with the help of my friend Nathan and a lot of hustle. Since January 1st of this year, unique users have grown 70% month-over-month, driving over 1.8 million visits to products featured on the site each month. Founders are receiving more traffic than well-established tech press, VC’s are investing in companies found on the site, and people are finding new careers through Product Hunt.

With each success story, we’re further encouraged that we’re heading in the right direction.

Built with purpose

The past nine months have been surreal and delightfully unexpected, but our early traction isn’t an accident. Product Hunt was designed to:

Democratize attention

It’s never been easier to build a product, but, as more are created, it becomes increasingly difficult to get noticed without a massive ad budget, pre-existing user base, or relationship with reporters. On Product Hunt, products are submitted and upvoted by the community, democratizing attention, and empowering creators of all types, to find an audience. We see VC-backed startups and relatively unknown product builders, receive equivalent attention for building something that people want.

Encourage unfiltered conversations

Consumers have direct access to the creators. We’ve seen a variety of founders, from a Netherlands-based 17-year-old to Mark Cuban, jump into the discussion to share their story, answer questions, and get feedback. This provides an element of “humanness” not found in traditional PR-filtered product launches.

Break news

Product Hunt is a more efficient platform for launching, often surfacing new products before traditional press. Contributors, self-described as “product hunters,” have an advantage. They aren’t beholden to press embargoes and lengthy write-ups. All it takes is a name, tagline, and link to the product to distill product launches into their simplest form. We’re then able to provide consumers with a curated feed of what’s new and interesting.

Just for early adopters, right?

People share and talk about new tech products the same way people discuss music, film, and sports. Increasingly, technology products have become a part of our culture; a topic of conversation. And it’s not just the early adopters that geek out about products. “Normals” do too.

As tech products become more accessible (millions of apps are only a few taps away) and rapidly disseminated (millions of people are only a few tweets away), the gap between early adopters and the mass market decreases. Mainstream consumers regularly hunt for new tech products on the App Store, Google Play, Kickstarter, and media publications, and we’re already beginning to see Product Hunt spread outside the startup bubble.

Product Hunt has captured the attention of startup land, but we believe there is a bigger opportunity.

And a few investors think so, too…

Naturally, we have skeptics and that’s a good thing. Thankfully, we have some incredible backers who believe in what we’re building.

That’s why, today, I’m proud to announce our $1M seed investment from A-Grade Investments, Abdur Chowdhury, Andrew Chen, betaworks, Brenden Mulligan, Cowboy Ventures, CrunchFund, Google Ventures, Greylock Discovery Fund, Jack Altman, Ludlow Ventures, Naval Ravikant, Nir Eyal, Slow Ventures, SV Angel, Tradecraft, Vayner/RSE, and Y Combinator.

All of this wouldn’t be achievable without the help of my awesome teammates, Andreas Klinger, David McKinney, Erik Torenberg, Lukas Fittl, Jonno Reikwel, Riccardo Arvizzigno, and Zack Shapiro.

The team at Product Hunt couldn’t be more excited with the friends, mentors, and partners we have onboard.

Of course, we are nothing without the community. What makes Product Hunt valuable is the people that visit the site and contribute. We’re delighted by the feedback they provide, blog posts they write, and enthusiasm they share. We have a long way to go and much to learn, but we’re off to a good start.

Happy hunting. :)

P.S. This morning we launched Product Hunt for iOS, designed and developed by the amazing David McKinney. Download now.

More Writing by Ryan