Product Hunt Launch - The D-Day preparation!

on October 29, 2019

If you are reading this post, I’m assuming you are in the process of preparing for your Product Hunt launch and going through all the articles available on the first 4 pages of Google 🙂

In this article, I’m going to cover some of the background work we have done and more on the D-Day itself, how things unfolded on the launch day. I haven’t seen any article on this topic. 

In my view, the Product Hunt launch is pretty much like a war zone setup. You need to combat allies throughout the day and march towards the glory. 

In order to help you shorten your reading time, I’m going to skip a lot of the basics. If you are new, then I’ll highly recommend reading this one article How to Launch on Product Hunt directly from the product hunt team. 

Now you know what is Product Hunt, who is a Hunter, Maker, what are all the materials required for the launch day. Most of the Hunters are super sophisticated now, they will send you a survey form requesting all the materials. 

Last week we took our product Document360 (a self-service knowledge base platform) on Product Hunt and we managed to finish on the #4 position with 450 votes, which is an amazing result for us, we set ourselves a target of being on the top 5 and we were super excited about the result. Because if you can’t make the #1 spot, then the next best thing is to end up on top 5 to get all the benefits of the Product Hunt platform.

product-hunt-document360-final-result

PS: Why we didn’t finish in 3rd? I’ll cover it later in this article. 

Some of the side benefits of being on Product Hunt includes being spotted and appreciated by community leads around the world, Here is the comment from Aaron Krall one of the famous growth experts in the SaaS world. 

product-hunt-document360-comment-aaron-krall

You only got one chance

Technically you can launch your product multiple times, and I have seen products doing it either when they have a major new release or when they release a killer feature. But your first product launch should be a killer launch, you should look at it like a “one-shot” “do or die” scenario. 

When you are getting into a war, you are not going to think if we lose today we will come back later with more ammunition. Probably you won’t be alive to come back in the future. You need to treat your first product hunt launch in a similar way, you go with the attitude of “all-in”.

Who is going to lead your army on the D-Day

If you think your Product Hunt launch as a war zone, then you understand the importance of a leader. You don’t go to war without a leader, someone needs to be at the forefront leading the army and taking responsibility. 

The product hunt community is a bit brutal, for the success of the launch you’ll ideally need the founder(s) or someone really influential in the community to be at the forefront of the launch. I’ve witnessed some successful big startups failing miserably just because they were missing someone taking that lead role. 

In our case, as a founder, I took that responsibility. Behind the scene, I had a team of 5 people working along with me helping me with all the ammunition, but I took the lead. 

Here are some of the things I did that day

  •  🥰 Responded to 40+ comment raised on our Product Hunt page (about 2 hours)
  •  👋 Reached out to about 300 people personally on various channels (LinkedIn, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Email, Product Hunt messages) with follow-ups if required — (about 14 hours work)
  •  👍 Updating statuses on all of my social profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook)  and responding to comments there — (about 1 hour)
  • ✉️ Constructing and releasing newsletter emails on relevant times, I sent 3 emails. Even though we had pre-written emails, you need to change the content on the fly based on your current status, so it’s not feasible to ask someone to do it. — (about 1 hour)

The reason you need a leader is to have a single point of entry for communication and you need to avoid miscommunication. When you are messaging on multiple channels at once chances of sending messages to the same people is something you need to avoid.

Also, when you are reaching out to some high profile people (in the likes of Founders, Community leaders) the chances of them responding is very low if you are not directly involved. 

Is Product Hunt right for your product?

You need to be clear, not all the products are suitable for Product Hunt, we are basically a multi-product company, I don’t think any of our other enterprise products other than Document360 would be a suitable product for the Product Hunt community.

Product Hunt community is full of early-stage innovators, a typical tech startup community. If your product is suitable for this community then the chance of your success is high. 

In our case Document360, is a self-service knowledge base platform, which is the correct fit for any startup, early stage companies. They all need a good knowledge base to make sure their customers understand their product and also to reduce their customer support cost by allowing their users to do self-service. Why don’t you give it a try?  

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Prepare your army

First, you need a good strategy for understanding what’s going to be your end goal. As I mentioned, earlier in our case we were clear from the beginning our goal is to finish on the top 5. After carefully watching the Product Hunt for a period we came to the conclusion we roughly need about 400 votes to stay on the top 5 positions.

 Now that we know exactly we need 400+ votes, we need to backtrack a plan from where we are going to get them. 400 may not sound like a big number, but it’s really hard. Just to give a comparison, have you ever got 400+ likes for any of your posts on social media either Facebook or LinkedIn? such posts are considered super-viral right? then imagine getting 400+ people engaging with you within a 24 hour window, it’s going to take some herculean efforts. 

Like everybody else planning for a Product Hunt launch, we started the planning a few months in advance. This is how we mapped out

  •  👍 35 votes from internal employees (only the engineering team). 
  •  👍 50-75 votes from about 10 companies we know extremely well, who can put somewhere between 5–10 votes per company. 
  •  👍 75-100 votes from my personal connection, I was fully prepared to reach out to some 300+ people one-on-one.
  •  👍 25–50 votes from a couple of Facebook groups (SaaS Growth Hacking, SaaS Founders Network) where we were heavily engaged for a long period.
  •  👍 25–50 votes from Social Media organic traffic from my profiles. 
  •  👍 10-15 votes from our current Document360 customers
  •  👍 25–50 votes from our current Document360 users (trial, expired trial, newsletter subscribers etc)
  •  👍 25–50 votes from our other product users (newsletters) – remember we are a multi-product company
  •  👍 20–30 votes from all the vendor SaaS companies we use (we internally use about 30 products)
  •  👍 15–25 votes from our employee’s personal network

The above numbers were a bit conservatory numbers, with the above mapping we were set for guaranteed 400+ upvotes. 

One thing for sure, reaching out to complete strangers will not work, you might get few votes but it’s not scalable and will make you look a bit spammy anyway. 

Aiming for the Organic Traction

The whole point of the above exercise is to get some momentum and make sure you are grabbing the attention of the Product Hunt community to get organic traction. Otherwise, what’s the point of getting into a new channel? 

Once you do all the steps above which are in your control to show the world what you have done, and start positioning on the top 3 then the ball will start rolling and you’ll see the traction from the Product Hunt community, the real deal.

Holding the top 3 position is critical during the 24 hours window, 4th position is taken for the promoted product of the day and I felt once you go below that position your organic traction reduces significantly. 

How long do you need to prepare?

I’ll say you need at least 4–6 months of planning for the launch even if you have a really good personal connection. You need time to understand the platform, build a relationship with the communities I mentioned. 

We asked our entire engineering team to get on the Product Hunt platform 3 months in advance and we actively check and asked them to get engaged at least a few times a week. We didn’t want to create all those accounts on a single day and go and upvote it (clearly this would have signaled spam)

A couple of weeks before the launch I started communicating with people whenever I was interacting about our launch and prepped them.

I prepared the following lists beforehand and maintained a SpreadSheet

Facebook friends: I visited my friend’s page and filtered down people who are relevant for Product Hunt, mainly people from the startup community

LinkedIn friends: I downloaded all the contacts, filtered down people with the title (CEO, CTO, Marketing, Growth, Owner, Founder) 

Twitter followers: I didn’t get time to do this, it was a bit overwhelming. 

I asked the team to do some cleanup, double-check and most importantly mark each contact with the timezone (super important). So I can reach them at the relevant time. 

In addition, I have few pre-written contents for Social Media posts, Newsletter emails, and Facebook Groups posts (I got pre-approval to post it on the relevant groups)

The D-Day

Product Hunt launch day runs 12:01 to 11:59 PST (pacific standard time), if you watch it carefully you’ll see the page getting refreshed, the current products will move to yesterday and a new set of products getting launched exactly at that time. 

Align your timezone with the PST time so your team is aware. In our case, we have a team based out of the UK and India, so for us, the clock runs from 8 am to 8 am London time, so we are very clear. 

First 1 hour: This is super crucial, our aim was to get to 80–100 votes in the first one hour. The main reason, the Product Hunt home page gets a lot of organic traffic and the tendency of those people is to randomly upvote 3–4 products on the top. They may not even look into your product or description, but simply upvote, you need to be on the top to get those free votes. 

In the first hour, I updated the maker comment, published my pre-written posts on all Facebook Groups, updated all my social profiles. Then I started reaching out to people in India, South East Asia, some parts of Europe who were on our close companies list with 5–10 votes potential. We reached somewhere around 80 votes and was top on #2 position.

A bit of luck required: One of the big challenges with PH is you don’t know who else is going to be there on that day, a bit of luck is required. Some times you end competing with some popular companies (ex: Drift and Intercom are prone to keep hitting PH with various campaigns like ebooks, small specific features, new launches, etc or there may be launches like new Airpods from Apple). The other challenge, if you have some productivity apps like Todo lists or some Chrome plugins with the vast individual user base, then you are pretty stuck. In our case, we had both 🙂

Next 3 hours, this was a pretty intense period, based on my pre-preparation, I started reaching out to as many people as possible who were in Europe and India via all private messaging channels (LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and email). The votes started to increase gradually and we were maintaining the #3 position.

Around 10 am UK time I sent the first newsletter out to all of our customers, trial users, and newsletter subscribers. 

Around midday, we noticed suddenly the Chrome extension plugin who was trending at #2 position dropped to #3 and we reached #2 position (even though they had nearly 100 votes more than us). This is when we started noticing the PH phishing algorithm kicking in. 

We published our key milestones on our social channels regularly when we started hitting 100, 200 and 300 upvotes. 

product-hunt-document360-400-upvotes

When the US started to kick in (around 2 pm the UK time), we started to feel the pressure (since we are not that strong in the US compared to Europe/Asia) we lost our second place and pushed to #3.

I decided to take the next arsenal to combat. We are basically a multi-product company, Document360 is our 4th product. So we have huge newsletter subscribers for our other core products. Around midday 2:30 pm UK time, I sent a newsletter email out with a subject “we launched our new product” since that audience is more enterprisey and chances of them being aware of Product Hunt are very slim. So I just made it sound like a general launch.

I just simply continued my outreach in all the available channels, making sure I reached out to people who didn’t respond earlier but their day might close, thanking people who upvoted on social channels. I pretty much worked almost like a typing robot for these 14 hours non-stop. 

Around 10 pm UK time, we noticed suddenly we were pushed to the #4 position, even though we were about 100 votes more than the #3 position.

I have pre-panned to send the second newsletter email at 10 pm the UK time, but after seeing us pushed to #4 spot, I was in a dilemma should I send it or not? will it help or going to backfire? The only thing that’s in my control is chasing people and asking for more votes, but if that’s not going to help, what else can I do?

At the same time Product Hunt tweeted about us (395k subscribers)and shared a Facebook post (200k subscribers)

product-hunt-document360

I took the plunge, I just wrote a fresh newsletter email pointing out Product Hunt tweet and we are trending in #4 position, thanking + asking for support. After sending the email, I simply closed my laptop and went to bed around 11 pm.

I woke up around 3 am in the morning, I was a bit scared to refresh the product hunt page, but luckily we managed to stay on the same #4th position, nothing changed. 

At this point, I’ve used all my weapons and nothing left. I just answered all the comments that came during the time I was sleeping, followed up with few people who are in India, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and just simply watched and prayed we should maintain the position for another 4–5 hours.

Fortunately, nothing changed and we ended up finishing on #4 position. This is a great result for us, for a self-service knowledge base product like Document360 competing against the likes of productivity apps and chrome extensions. 

Why did we lose our 3rd spot?

Even though we don’t know the exact reason, one of the things we suspect is we made a mistake in breaking one of the rules. Later I came to know one of our team members was reaching out to people on Product Hunt using their messaging platform and at one stage the “Message” button was totally disabled 😀. 

Hey! mistakes happen when you are in a war zone it’s difficult to control everything, as long as we won the war we are good. 

Product Hunt Algorithm

There are tons of myths around the product hunt algorithm, some of the common ones I’ve read

  • 😼 You shouldn’t send your visitors directly to your Product Hunt page, they should visit the home page first and then navigate to yours. — this is not true
  • 😼 When users click on your website link on your Product Hunt page, you get more credits
  • 😼 When brand new product hunt users upvote or comment you’ll be penalized
  • 😼 Over promotion on social channels will be penalized
  • 😼 Number of hours your product was featured affects your ranking

In my view, no one really fully cracked the Product Hunt algorithm, it’s similar to Google Search, no one really knows the exact algorithm they are trying to figure out certain things based on some assumptions. These platforms constantly evolve as they grow. 

The product hunt blog got a good summary of things you should and shouldn’t do.

In general, you need to follow the basic rule of “don’t try to crack the system”, being spammy, sending unsolicited messages to people with whom you have never interacted (directly or indirectly) especially within the Product Hunt Platform. They do provide the option to send messages to people, but unsolicited messages can be easily predicted.

Based on the activities on the launch day and seeing products going down quickly even with the higher number of upvotes, my assumption is the system is not fully automated, there must be a team of people from Product Hunt monitoring carefully the activities and manually downgrading your position. 

One thing we noticed for sure, once you go down, it’s hard (or impossible) to come back. You’ll remain in that position and someone can overtake you. 

What are our immediate benefits

For holding the top position during the day we got mentions from Product Hunt Twitter handle (about 395k subscribers) and Facebook post (about 200k subscribers)

Received some amazing comments from our existing customers 

product-hunt-document360-comment-2

product-hunt-document360-comment-4

The website traffic for the two days doubled from 1500/day to 3000, we had quite a bit of signup. 

We were not really hoping to get a lot of signup/conversion via the launch. Our objective was very simple, to get some branding and take the product in-front of as many people as possible. I believe we have managed to achieve that, the whole exposure to Product Hunt community, interactions on the Facebook groups. Now I believe definitely more people are aware of Document360. 

I’ll say it’s definitely worth giving a shot and could be one marketing channel on your list if your product is targetted towards Startup Tech companies. 

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Author: Saravana Kumar

Saravana Kumar is the Founder/CEO of Document360, a SaaS platform that helps your team create, collaborate, and publish a self-service knowledge base for your software product/project with ease.