Ryan Hoover is the Founder of Product Hunt, a community of early adopters sharing and geeking out about the best new products, every day. He is also the Creator of Startup Edition, an EIR at Tradecraft, and former Director of Product at PlayHaven
Ryan has created the primary destination to learn about the startup ecosystem. Learn how they came out of nowhere and exploded their growth.
→ The primary destination to learn about the startup ecosystem
→ Learn how they came out of nowhere and exploded their growth
→ The overview of Product Hunt
→ When does he have a startup and does he have an idea
→ What are some ways in which people can think about building an audience
→ What does he learn from expanding from 10 people to 100
→ What are the keys when he builds this product
→ And a whole lot more
Eric: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I am Eric Thornburg today with Ryan Hoover. Ryan is the founder of Product Hunt. And today we’re going to talk about product marketing, delighting users personal growth, career growth, and how you’ve built such a incredible community and product line in just a few months. Now, I met Ryan about a year ago. Yeah. Through partially your writings. Through also, you’re familiar sort of the firm in Detroit. Yeah. We haven’t got you to wrap yet. And we haven’t got.
Ryan: Going to happen, especially not on the camera.
Eric: Yeah, I was not in this interview. Exac. So, yeah, I’ve been following his writings. And a few months ago, I was lucky enough to be able to join Ryan at Product Hunt, so have a unique insights into into what you’ve built. So I’m pretty excited. So for those who don’t know, give us a quick overview. What is product time?
Ryan: So Product ten is a community. It’s a website right now where people submit links to new products, could be mobile apps, websites, hardware projects and many other things. And inside that community, people upvote the best stuff each day, the things they find interesting and new, and people discuss them. And the founders often come in and start answering questions and kind of telling their story. So each day you have a curated feed of new and interesting things, and that’s what we do each day.
Ryan: So a lot of a.
Ryan: Lot of discussion around products and a lot of startup people, founders, investors and so on.
Eric: Now it’s really started to take off and we’ll get to that in a bit. But first, let’s talk about the beginning of product line. It started as a as a email list, correct?
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah, it was just a simple email. This was really that was the easiest way to to get something out there. I’m not an engineer. So, one, I couldn’t build a Ruby on Rails app from from front to back myself. And frankly, I shouldn’t waste my time trying to build something that complex to prove out an idea to see if people wanted it.
Eric: So in the beginning, is that what it was? It was just a test.
Ryan: Yeah. Did you? Yeah, it was. You know, I.
Ryan: Actually my morning routine is I go to Fields, which is a couple of blocks.
Ryan: And at the time I was doing a lot of writing and I was actually in a transition from play here. And so I was working part time and I had a lot more free time on my hand.
Ryan: And so I go.
Ryan: To Fields and one morning I just thought.
Ryan: Okay, how cool.
Ryan: Would it be to kind of have a curated feed of products, new, interesting products that are recommended for my friends. So creating an email list using something called LinkedIn and kind of a weird name, and then people kind of like what LinkedIn, which is just a very simple tool for creating collaborative email lists. So I created this list, invited a few dozen people. These were people in startups like investors and friends of mine and other founders, and told them, Hey, if you find cool, interesting products, submit them here and we’ll get an email every day of those products.
Eric: And working backwards. Did you think this could be a a company or this was an X? Well, if the experiment went well, what would what would happen? How did you this develop?
Ryan: So I’ve done a lot.
Ryan: Of experiment experiments in the past, and when I say experiments, they’re just ideas. I’m always interested in just new, new things and new concepts. And, you know, I’ve played around with like, what if there was like a laundry, like an Uber for laundry type thing a few years back and now there’s Roxio and some others, and I’m just done landing page test and kind of basic stuff.
Ryan: And but none of it. I took.
Ryan: One and.
Ryan: None of those ideas that I experimented really. I had a passion around. And so initially product test was just another one of those things and it was something that was fun and easy to do. It wasn’t like I invested much time into the beginning of.
Ryan: And from that, from the minute I got over the next following, like two or three weeks, that’s what inspired me to take it further.
Eric: I think it’s important to note that you’d already built a network and almost even an audience before you had started the email. How did you do that?
Ryan: Largely that was based on my writing. And so and I say write writing feels like.
Ryan: Such a professional term and.
Ryan: Really I’m not a writer at all. Actually, I hated writing when I was in high school and college. Maybe because I was forced to.
Ryan: Write, I don’t know. And so.
Ryan: Over the past two years or so, I’ve written a bit.
Ryan: About, you know, startups, growth, marketing, other things like that, personal.
Ryan: And over time, I’ve been able to build not a huge audience, but at least a small audience in this community to give me at least some some creditability and at least an audience that I could turn to when I did want to run these experiments and try out things. So I’ve written a bit on my blog, also helped me to write his book hooks How to build habit forming products. And that’s done really well as as well for him and myself.
Ryan: And through that.
Ryan: It’s just given me a platform, essentially. And that’s really important, I think, for anyone that wants to build a startup. The hardest thing for most startups is not really building the product. It’s one figuring out what people want. So building something people want ultimately, but then to breaking through the noise and getting people to actually pay attention. And if you can at least start derisking second part before you figure out what your startup is. And you know, I think that’s wise to start now then, you know, start from scratch. When you do have a startup and you do have an idea.
Eric: What are some ways in which people can think about building an audience? So one is writing about products or something similar to what you did. What are some, some other ways people can can build an audience?
Ryan: Yeah. And so not everyone should blog. Not everyone wants to blog. And that’s just one way of, frankly, getting attention and providing value in some way. So there are many people, many bloggers and founders that do write that I really respect and appreciate and followed them on Twitter. And I follow their writing over time. And they have a lot of credibility because of their blogging.
Ryan: But people could also do that.
Ryan: They can also build an audience many other ways. It could be through podcasting, could.
Ryan: Be even of.
Ryan: An organization. So like conferences and those type of things or even smaller things. I know, Eric, you’ve been doing more brunches lately and we’ve done products and brunches as well over the last six months, and those are just really good ways of building community around yourself and ultimately providing value to some community of people. So those are just a few different ways of kind of getting out there.
Eric: So what I hear you spent backing up completely, you spent a couple of years at a mobile gaming startup as a product manager.
Ryan: Yeah, it was it was back in.
Ryan: 2010 is when I joined and it was ten people at the time as the PM and then we grew to 110 people before I after earlier this year.
Eric: And do you think of that as where you developed your, your, your product chops, your product understanding.
Ryan: Yeah. It’s on.
Ryan: The job is the best way to learn usually, and especially in a product management role, it’s really hard to learn that skill set more so than engineering a design because it’s not is there’s no clear path to product management. And so.
Ryan: Varies between job to job. So for me, I was a product manager at the previous startup before I joined Play Haven and that was, I think back on myself. I had no idea what I was doing. It was a complete mess, but it was like it was a good thing because they threw me in the fire and I learned and the same thing at play even I think back when I joined and I was doing so many wrong things.
Ryan: And I’m still have.
Ryan: So much to learn and play a really great way to learn. Okay. How do you operate as a ten person company to a hundred person company and how do you lead as a non manager? Because PMS usually don’t have direct management experience. They manage through implicitly in many ways.
Eric: What were some of the things you learned from expanding from ten people to 100?
Ryan: One is that the people that this is.
Ryan: Attracting to this is a pretty common quote. The people that got you there in the beginning aren’t necessarily people that should be there later on. And for speaking about myself. You know, I, I believe I provide a value later on, certainly. But I operate better in a smaller company. So I learned not only do you need to change the way you work as a person, but also as a team as you grow. But then you also for me personally, I realize that I don’t want to work at a larger company. I feel like my my skill set and my interest is much better suited to a smaller, smaller team.
Ryan: So, you know.
Ryan: Team is really hard. It’s it’s really hard to make those transitions from, let’s say, 30 people to 60 people to then 100. There’s there’s a whole lot more challenges that go with that and you have to have more process. And those are just growing pains that, you know, with product hunt we’re a long ways from.
Ryan: Thankfully, but.
Ryan: I recognize that when we do get to that point that.
Ryan: You know.
Ryan: There’s there’s a better way of going about it than we probably do to play it.
Ryan: And frankly.
Ryan: But they’re doing a great job now.
Eric: Absolutely. So you leave Play Haven and you don’t really have a master plan. You’re just thinking, I’m going to I’m going to start writing. I’m going to be developing. My network is kind of developing your skills. How did you see your career developing as you leave it?
Ryan: Yeah, so, you know, I was I was going to leave.
Ryan: I gave them notice. This is around June or July of last year and said, I’m not sure where I’m going, but, you know, I think it’s a good time for me to leave and go and do something different. And at that time, I decided then, okay, maybe I’ll just work part time. So that way I can transition a lot of the things that.
Ryan: I have to do.
Ryan: And also things that I know because I’d been there for so long. So I.
Ryan: Thought they.
Ryan: Need to spread to the newer team teammates. And during that time, I also help that trade craft on the side, which is.
Ryan: School for UX sales and growth. So I was doing other things along the way.
Ryan: Frankly, I did interview at a couple places. There weren’t very many startups that appealed to me. And, you know, at the end of the day, I’m glad that those didn’t work out. They just weren’t the perfect fit for me. And along the way, I was just continuing to write more often and exploring just ideas. So, you know, I didn’t have a career path, honestly, and it wasn’t like I didn’t leave Play Haven at the time or say I was leaving for better or for product time.
Ryan: It’s something, frankly, I just stumbled on.
Eric: And were you conscious of, hey, I’m building experiences, skills, you know, developing a network. I know that’s going to be valuable soon. I’ll just keep going and keep experimenting until I find my opportunity.
Ryan: I know when I think about it now, I say yes, but I don’t.
Ryan: I’m not certain at the time that I was actually that thoughtful, frankly. I was writing in part just because I enjoyed it.
Ryan: And then there just frankly, there is the.
Ryan: Egotistical side where you get the retweets and you get your article and the next pen, and it’s kind of nice that people will give you some pats on the back for that. And so that was that was a lot of my motivation really is just, okay, I like doing this. I’m getting some, some recognition. I don’t think I thought as thoroughly at the time that, okay, this would be my launching pad to my startup or whatever I’m going to do, frankly. So yeah, I mean, in hindsight, I think it all makes sense and the dots kind of connect now, but maybe not at the time.
Eric: Right. As for when you started products, did you think, hey, I’m solving this, this there’s a problem. I see. And I’m solving or I’m just pursuing this this passion, or do you think you need to have both or what? What did you think?
Ryan: Yeah, that’s a really good question. Similar I.
Ryan: Have a similar answer in that I.
Ryan: Wasn’t I didn’t see.
Ryan: The clear path for product becoming a startup in the beginning. I definitely saw there is an opportunity here and but I.
Ryan: Bullish enough at the time or maybe egotistical enough to say that, oh, this is a startup and this is a huge opportunity.
Ryan: So at the.
Ryan: Time, again, it was just an experiment. I was figuring out, okay, this is something I like. This is I like media, I like content, I like products, I like talking about products with the founders. So production was a manifestation of a lot of my interest, frankly, in the beginning. And then as it started to take off and as I thought more about the market and also more products and is going is when I realized, okay, maybe there is actually an opportunity here to turn it into an actual startup an actual business.
Eric: That you started product time in November, December.
Ryan: Late November last year.
Eric: And right now product has over 200,000 monthly monthly uniques from the beginning. At what point did product become not just an experiment, but oh my God, we’re seeing something here that look like. Yeah.
Ryan: So the way I kind of describe it is, okay.
Ryan: Step one, experiment check. Later on, it turned into a side project. So when Nathan Nathan Bouchard, my good friend, when he worked on it, the first version he built over Thanksgiving break and and we worked on it for the first, like three or four months or so together. That’s when it started turning into a side project when it was, okay, this is an actual product, an actual website, not just an email list.
Ryan: And it.
Ryan: Required continual maintenance and continual.
Ryan: And so at the time it was like, okay, this is great, I’m enjoying this side project, you know, I didn’t want to commit to turning into a startup the time because, you know, I didn’t need to. I was still a player and I was making a little bit of money there part time. So why not just continue to grow this and see where it goes? And then I started thinking about, okay, what does this look like if as a bootstrapped business, like a self-funded business? And I was pretty confident I still am, that what if I turn this into a $20,000 a month business for myself? Like, I’d be fantastic, you know, having complete ownership.
Ryan: Of it and.
Ryan: Making good money and basically having freedom. And I still think that product line could turn into that relatively easily compared to the other path which now we’ve chosen is, you know, raising some money and going big and creating something more meaningful than bootstrap business. Now.
Ryan: I don’t see that.
Ryan: Demeaning in any way to like people that are self-funding. So funding is actually the right path for many people and most businesses are self-funded and should be.
Ryan: But for product run it.
Ryan: It just makes a lot. More sense and it’s wiser for us to raise money and to get the right people on board and to have a huge impact, I believe, in the market.
Eric: What was the traction you were seeing that caused that transition to? This is a real business. Was it a lot of users? Was it that they weren’t churning? Was it that they were important users?
Ryan: It in the very beginning, it was.
Ryan: Going back to the very beginning email list. It was a couple of hundred email subscribers who signed up. So that wasn’t really what kicked me off and got me excited. But that was good validation. What really excited me at that time was people would go out of their way to email me and they would in person tell me, Hey, that product in email is cool and I enjoy it. I read it every day. And so those like qualitative, that qualitative feedback is really what encouraged me to take it one step further to build the community with Nathan. And so from there, it just continually organic for the most part started growing and the product is just has some built in effects and the model just works. And then over time we started noticing more and more opportunities to expand on that and expand beyond this kind of niche startup community.
Eric: Okay. We got to talk about those network effects and why it just works. This is growth actor TV. You know, they want the good stuff when you’re building this product. How did you think about this? Sticky, easy to share. What are you thinking? What are the the the keys when you build this product?
Ryan: Yeah. So there are a few different things. So one of them is. So let’s go back.
Ryan: To the email. The email is where it started. An email today is still a big, big part of the product.
Ryan: And right now we have almost 50,000. I mean, every day we.
Ryan: Blasted out, we see our site traffic skyrocket, and every product that’s featured on there gets thousands of more visitors.
Ryan: And so the email.
Ryan: Component is important not just for, you know, driving traffic and attention.
Ryan: But it’s it’s here.
Ryan: For habit formation.
Ryan: So what we mean by that is when you visit.
Ryan: A site and you think it’s cool, you do need a reminder to come back. Oftentimes, no matter how cool you think it is and how much you like it, oftentimes you need some sort of external trigger, some way to bring that person back. And for us.
Ryan: Is a great way to do that because it’s in your inbox. People read it all the time.
Ryan: And it also.
Ryan: Provides value. A lot of people enjoy that, you.
Ryan: Know, because it’s a quick digest of the previous day and other content. So I guess to provide something a little bit more actionable, the email or.
Ryan: If your product is like a mobile app, like push notifications are a great way to reengage. The mobile app icon on the phone is also an external trigger.
Ryan: There’s also going.
Ryan: Back to the email side with the product. There’s also social re-engagement. So when people mentioned your name on product time, when they tag you, you get an email to come back. So a lot of different ways that you kind of pull users back into the product.
Ryan: The other key.
Ryan: Difference that with product versus let’s say Hacker News or Reddit or Dig in, many of these other kind of community creative feeds is the day party.
Ryan: You know, the difference is that each day the board resets essentially. So the list of products on the page, it starts anew. And it’s kind of a way to reinforce that daily routine of coming back and finding a digest of the cool stuff for this day and the previous day and the next. And it’s also kind of helps curate that. There’s kind of an overwhelming feeling when I go to a site like Hacker News for myself, and I know for many people it’s like this continually changing Board of Links and it’s almost like it feels overwhelmed when you visit. So if it feels overwhelming.
Ryan: You have a feeling of not going to the site, you’re not going to get to the site. So the day parting is one aspect of that.
Ryan: What else?
Eric: Let me ask you about the developers. So you’re trying to build a habit, a daily habit around products that you send an email every day at the same time, around the same time? Yeah, it’s very simple email. You also integrate with with Twitter. We also integrate with Twitter over over Facebook. Why did you make that that pick early?
Ryan: Yeah. So the so.
Ryan: There are a couple of reasons why we chose Twitter. One, it was easier at the time. We were trying to do something very simple and quick, so we didn’t want to build our own authentication system. So why don’t you use Twitter, but more importantly, Twitter now give us consistent social graph so that today and in the future we know who you follow, we know who follows you. And we can start building out this network that over time we could start using to change the product and make it better rather than starting from scratch where you know nothing about this person essentially just know their email address may be the same. So that’s one important thing. The other thing is that since everyone that registers is on Twitter, we now can communicate with them on Twitter. So we oftentimes pull in founders and we also communicate with our users through Twitter, at least what we both do. And that’s that’s just another channel for us to to engage our Twitter following on the products in the account now is like 20,000 people a little bit over that and that’s continuing to grow because again, we’re we’re really focusing on on Twitter and building that audience. So just like email and the site, right? Twitter is another engagement channel for us.
Eric: And Twitter allows us to have everyone’s full name and their handle, which is typically recognizable. So, you know, we can see, oh, my God, Ashton Kutcher. Brad Feld. Yeah.
Ryan: And we can verify that. Like if it was just email and password, how would we know that that is actually Ashton Kutcher? We wouldn’t really know. Yeah.
Eric: Yeah. And one thing that also emphasizes that we are on Twitter all day, you know, yeah, we are favoring everything people say about products. We are responding to every, you know, everything people say about product. I mean, you’ve been using Twitter as a growth channel for, you know, even before product for yourself for a long time. Right. What are important things people should know about how to grow an audience on Twitter?
Ryan: Yeah. Twitter is the most arguably.
Ryan: The most important product of my life outside of me, like email. You know, it’s it’s amazing how much info to this part of my life and just the world. And Twitter’s just the easiest way to stay in touch with people and engage with a huge audience of people. And when I was writing, of course, that’s just one channel to distribute my writing. It’s one channel to also get feedback from people. You can also see, of course, who’s sharing your stuff.
Ryan: So when I.
Ryan: When I was writing heavily and I didn’t have as many. Like maybe I’d get a couple of dozen people sharing my.
Ryan: My essay or something like that. I would respond to every single person and thank them. And, you know, it’s small things like, Thanks, Kyle, or Thanks Bill or Thanks Jenny. It’s using their first name, things like that. People, you know, it makes it sound.
Ryan: I don’t know cheesy but it’s people.
Ryan: Appreciate that and they also appreciate you took the time to type their name like frankly typing their name versus just write thanks about their names important. So I spent a lot of time doing that and just small little things like that over time on Twitter can can add value. You know, I also used to I’ve been more busy now, so I haven’t been able to, but I used to read a lot of blogs and share that through buffer on Twitter. And that’s a good way just to create a feed and hopefully have content that people like and enjoy and find useful.
Ryan: And when I did.
Ryan: That and when I do that, I always tag the author’s name just to make sure that they they know that I’m sharing, that I’m reading. And when you do that over time with people you respect and trust, like they they start remembering you. And that’s how you build up a relationship with them, whether it’s just a casual Twitter relationship or, you know, you meet them for coffee some day or maybe you join their team or they hire you or something.
Eric: And that’s one of the biggest ways you’ve built relationships with people. Over time, we’ve now become super early users of product, you know, famous investors and celebrities who are now early users, investors, you know, through Twitter and through just kind of being persistently appreciative. How would you describe, you know?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s it’s like it seems each individual.
Ryan: Interaction doesn’t seem like much, but in aggregate, over time, it means a lot.
Ryan: And as long as you’re not.
Ryan: Kissing ass, I guess there’s there’s a balance there. I guess there there’s kissing ass and being annoying and being like kind of obvious that you’re just trying to get attention versus providing value or just like having fun. Like also.
Ryan: Treat things transactional, I guess. Yeah. One piece of advice I’m giving people is just have fun and be like, act like a human. And that’s what I try and do on on Twitter and email and everything.
Eric: Some people, what I find interesting, some people from the sidelines are like, Hey, you know, Ryan, Ryan who how did he go from 0 to 100 so quickly? You know, who was he? And now, you know, he’s writing, but now he’s, you know, on top of the world. And our response is it was you know, it wasn’t just a few months. You’ve been you’ve been working for years to build an audience, to build a platform, you know, to build your skills. What do you say to someone who asks, How can I develop a network of influential, incredibly smart people?
Ryan: Yeah. Figure out what your how can you provide.
Ryan: Value, I guess. And and going back to your previous question, maybe it’s maybe it’s blogging, maybe it’s podcasting, maybe it’s event coordination. How can you provide value to some sort of community or some like minded people?
Ryan: And, you know.
Ryan: I guess that’s the most important thing ultimately then going back to like just being like a normal, nice person.
Ryan: I mean, being in startup culture.
Ryan: People talk first off, and there’s also a culture of giving back and paying it forward. And if you just stick with that over time, it’ll come back to you. I’ve had a lot of really awesome people help me along the way and probably would not be where it is without the help of so many different people.
Ryan: And also, I’m just really encouraged and hopefully I can help them in return.
Ryan: And I will when I am.
Ryan: But you know, I guess that’s kind of general advice.
Eric: But yeah. And the ways you thought about building value as it relates to your strengths and interests, were you you said I spent years as a product manager. I know a lot about products. I can have interesting insights or how did you how did you think about it?
Ryan: How you think about.
Ryan: Which part exactly.
Eric: How you can add? Oh, yeah.
Ryan: I don’t know. I mean, I guess when.
Ryan: I was writing first off, when I started writing, it was like anybody else, you get no attention. And it’s kind of like demoralizing when you post something. No one reads it. But you know what? I just like doing it. And I started getting a little bit better at it and I’m definitely not greater.
Ryan: Amazing writer, but I can write good enough.
Ryan: Then over time you start getting feedback and you get a bigger audience, you know, like, okay, people are actually reading this stuff and they like this stuff. And when you get just a couple of people email you and say, Hey, I changed my product based on something that you inspired or. Wrote about, it’s like really encouraging.
Ryan: So I don’t know. I mean, I think a lot of it is being.
Ryan: Curious and kind of experimental in what you do.
Ryan: And maybe.
Ryan: If writing just didn’t go anywhere and I kept at it for a year, maybe an experiment, something different, like.
Ryan: Podcasting or something, I don’t.
Ryan: Everyone has different types of talents and ways to provide value. And if you’re not and startups like startups are one thing, you know, but there are many different industries that you might be operating in to where you can provide value in a unique way.
Eric: Well, it’s interesting bring a podcast because that’s another mechanism we’ve used to build our credibility, to build relationships. Is that something you saw initially as a strategy, as a kind of user acquisition strategy? What do you think about podcasting and how can other people use podcasts?
Ryan: Yeah, so let’s kind of go back goes back to writing again.
Ryan: I started the podcast primarily because I wanted to do it and I thought it was fun. And I’ve been listening to podcasts for years, like This Week in Startups, this week in Tech.
Ryan: Every single day I still listen to those podcasts and watch this podcast. So it was partly a great excuse. Now that we have product time to say, okay, let’s just talk about products. This is this would be fun. It’s like now we have this platform to do it off of.
Ryan: And then.
Ryan: Also like more strategically.
Ryan: Podcasting is we have access to so many awesome people. You and I were interviewing and chatting with Scoble recently and you know, I met Alexis and did a podcast with him and Cat Rose and so many other cool people who I’ve looked up to over the years. So it was a good way to bring those people and kind of.
Ryan: Put them.
Ryan: On a kind of bring the human side of a podcast. When you talk to these people is a lot different reading their writing, and that’s a great way to build community because I think you and I feel like more like humans and we get to know our personality a lot more through a podcast than through Twitter and email. And those are still great ways, but, but hearing someone’s voice in a lot of different.
Ryan: Right. And.
Eric: You know, go for it.
Ryan: The last thing I was gonna mention is.
Ryan: You know.
Ryan: It’s just another channel for engagement. So when they subscribe to us on iTunes, that’s another opportunity for us to remind them about product, just like Twitter and email and so on.
Ryan: Mm hmm.
Eric: And you talk about one thing we talk about a lot is delighting users. Now, you think about, you know, I’m a big fan of Quora. Yeah, I don’t I don’t know. The founders of corporate. When I think about these, of course I’m using I think about it for a lot of users. Probably think Ryan think think Eric you know, they’re building relationships with us and that’s making them more loyal. And one of the big philosophies you started is build building public to talk about how we delight users and what building a public means.
Ryan: Yeah. So in the very beginning, we.
Ryan: We started sharing mockups and wireframes with the early user. So these were the first couple dozen people. Nathan and I were bouncing ideas around. We were emailing these people individually.
Ryan: Getting their feedback or asking them specific questions about what they thought about the product and what they thought about these wireframes.
Ryan: And that was a good.
Ryan: Way to.
Ryan: Involve them and.
Ryan: Make them a part of the process and then also get feedback on how we should change the product before we built it. So early on. We’ve been doing this and then as we’ve grown, we’ve also shared mockups with the community at large. So what was it? The was the first one we did. Was that the homepage redesign?
Ryan: I think it was either the homepage.
Ryan: Or the comment redesign. Anyway, it was a big site redesign and we put it on an envision, which is a tool to annotate comments on a mockup and blasted out to the community through email. And that morning we got, I don’t know, 100 or 200 replies and comments on this, this, this mockup. And it was great. It was really exciting to have.
Ryan: Sharing their ideas and also being excited enough to take their time to do that. And the feedback that we got was, was good and we actually changed some things before we built it. So it’s been this continual thing where we just add as much transparency as we can and that that helps tremendously in making people feel like part of the product. And when as a community, it’s more important than anything for people to feel like they have a say and they have a voice in the community.
Eric: Right. And, you know, you might have a fear that you’re like burdening your community, that they don’t want to see these things, but they do. Yeah. You know, the ones who love the product, they’re fascinated. It gives them more of a sense of of ownership.
Ryan: Totally. I mean, Buffer has been a really good example of this in different ways, but they’ve been extremely transparent, like probably the most transparent company I have ever, ever seen in sharing their metrics and sharing their investor updates and replying to every single person on Twitter. Like, if I tweet, I’m going to tweet them right now and see if they.
Ryan: Before this podcast is over.
Ryan: How’s it going?
Ryan: Okay. So I’ll keep.
Ryan: This open and see if there is probably a good chance they’re going to say something.
Ryan: And it’s what? It’s 6:00 Saturday. That’s awesome. So they’re they’re always.
Ryan: Trying to.
Ryan: Delight people.
Ryan: And and they do that through personality and being human ultimately.
Ryan: Being extremely transparent, enjoys done a really good job of kind of facilitating that over time.
Eric: Right. And it’s been for us, that’s one thing we’ve tried to do, too. And it’s been a bit difficult since we’ve grown so fast. But answering, you know, as many people as we can just, you know, when they send us an email and try to personalize that and convert every, you know, user that may be confused or unchurched into a friend. Into a fan.
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s tough. It’s tough as.
Ryan: As we grow because the support, you know, is increasing. There’s only so much time. And so it’s definitely a concern of mine is like, how can we maintain.
Ryan: That right, that.
Ryan: Level of high touch and not spend our entire time answering emails or answering tweets because to do other things.
Ryan: So it’s tough.
Eric: Mm hmm. One thing we’ve also tried to do, so there are like a few different channels, right, where people get to know us. That is Twitter. There’s the podcast, there’s the email. We also try to do live events. Yeah. You had talk briefly about that.
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve done, you know, happy.
Ryan: Hours, which are really easy to do. Like, honestly, if you have I mean, you don’t need to, like, schedule like a reservation at a bar. You just email out to your group, set up an event page, say we’re meeting here.
Ryan: And when you have enough people in a community that.
Ryan: Are like minded, they want to meet other people in the community. They want to meet you. So happy hours are super simple, super easy. I’ve always had a good time with them. We we had one near like a month ago, I think, and we had like 500 people RSVP. I don’t know how many people showed up, but there’s a line out. The door is great.
Ryan: And then we’ve.
Ryan: Done brunches, which.
Ryan: Also really fun. I think I enjoy those even more because they’re usually 25 or so people, so it’s more intimate. It’s usually a good crowd and everyone always enjoys it. And then I think we haven’t really announced as publicly or we kind of talked about it, but we’ve talked, chatted about doing hackathon and other things like that. So I don’t know. It’s fun when you take these interactions with people that you’ve been chatting with online and then like meet them in person and chat with them. It’s it’s a great way to build a more authentic relationship with them. Furthermore, they start building relationships with other people.
Ryan: In that company.
Ryan: And the best thing is if you can like make those connections through your your site or your community, it’s fantastic to see.
Eric: Yeah. And we’ve seen those people who we met in real life, you know, become some of our biggest supporters and fans and contributors totally.
Ryan: And then, like, I think in the past two weeks, we had.
Ryan: Two or three.
Ryan: People email us and say, Hey, I want to do a meetup.
Ryan: In Canada.
Eric: In Israel.
Ryan: Israel. Yeah, there’s, there’s.
Ryan: Wants to do it. I forgot where. Somewhere in, in Europe.
Ryan: And the idea of.
Ryan: Doing is like, hey, can you send me some those stickers? I want.
Ryan: To hand them.
Ryan: Out at the happy hour, you know. So we’ll.
Ryan: Have that.
Eric: Awesome back to back to products on the product marketing. So we’ve got that daily habit. Another thing we have, all the incentives are aligned. So when a product is posted, the founder is incentivized to get as many votes on the product as possible. So they’re sharing with their friends, they’re sharing with their users and each founder. What are some of the other metrics designed to get people to share and coming back? Can you hear me?
Ryan: Yeah. So, yeah, I can hear me. Okay? Yeah. All right. You know, we don’t have many.
Ryan: Very explicit sharing calls to action. We have a tweet button. That’s it. We don’t we don’t really force people to share. We don’t have walls where you can’t access content before you share and that kind of thing. And that’s just because the product is inherently social, like people. One, they want to share.
Ryan: New things that they like. Especially early adopters. They want to share and introduce cool products to their friends. And it makes them look cool because it’s like, Hey, here’s what I found before anyone else. And so there’s that aspect of it. Then to your point about factors and makers being in the conversation. Of course, they want to talk about product. They want to get as many people in the conversation. They want to share their product and they want to get it to the top of the leaderboard. So naturally, that that’s something that’s going to happen. As long as we have a big enough user base where we are meaningful enough, then founders will really care about that and they should be. So we’re driving, you know, in some cases like over 10,000 uniques to these products in a one or two day period.
Ryan: So yeah, it’s just.
Ryan: The design of the product is, is for, for not optimized. It’s a bad word, but it’s just to be social.
Eric: And another key principle that one is that we don’t accept any company Twitters. Everything’s got to be a real person so people can feel like they’re either having a conversation with a real person, too. We’ve limited the the ability in the beginning, the amount of people who can post and who can comment. So that incentivized people want to. And it’s been an exclusive club in the beginning. Talk about that, how you thought about the beginning and how you’re changing it as the community grows.
Ryan: Yeah. So the heart of it, there are.
Ryan: A couple of rights limited that everyone can comment or post. And one of them is just, frankly, we can’t open it up to the world. Like, frankly, we can’t.
Ryan: Or the site just wouldn’t work. You know, it’s we we.
Ryan: Do allow anyone to submit. And only a certain number of people actually have waitlist ability to submit to the home page. And we get.
Ryan: 100 over.
Ryan: 100 submissions that never make to the home page each day. And if you.
Ryan: Look at that feed, a lot of them are.
Ryan: Not on topic, they’re duplicates or they’re just frankly, just not really high quality submissions. And so by opening it up to the world, we would, one, have a lot of lower quality product submissions. We have a lot of self-promoters because everyone in the world is going to, of course, submit their own product.
Ryan: And then.
Ryan: Lastly, it’s just too many products, like it’s already too much when you have like 60 in a single.
Ryan: Imagine having 200 or 400 products on that home page.
Ryan: Now there we said to.
Ryan: Scale that and things will be changing a longer term to include more people. But.
Ryan: You know.
Ryan: For for now, the way it’s designed, we can open it up to the world for many reasons. The other thing is like we can’t control trolls and spam and everything. If it was right the world, it’s just like you and me on the community side now, Nicole. So it’s it’s not like we have a whole lot of people to do moderation and that kind of thing right now.
Ryan: The other thing is just to.
Ryan: Lastly, it’s.
Ryan: There’s an important piece in exclusivity or at least limiting to a certain number of people because we can now start.
Ryan: Kind of facilitating.
Ryan: That culture if that makes sense. That culture of where we want to.
Ryan: Go is.
Ryan: Open to the world. And you have a bunch of let’s take an extreme example.
Ryan: And I.
Ryan: Think it’s Justin Bieber, but let’s say Justin Bieber’s fanbase all of a sudden gets on product and they can start commenting and posting. That’s a different audience and products and is not for that audience.
Ryan: So we don’t want to we want to.
Ryan: Kind of build this culture solely so that it can be meaningful long term over time.
Eric: Yeah, I know Justin Bieber is watching this. No offense to Justin Bieber.
Ryan: Sorry, Justin.
Eric: Absolutely. I heard Ronson Taylor is a huge Justin Bieber fan, actually. Yeah. And I’m so on Twitter. Yeah. So we have the we have the product, but product line is growing since January, what, 75% a month, 80% of all active users.
Ryan: Uniques since January 1st, 70, 70% of our month unique user group.
Eric: How is that that growth being sustained? What are the biggest channels? What are we doing? What’s the secret, Ryan?
Ryan: Yeah, you know, it’s it’s going back.
Ryan: To the product itself. So when people care about this, this content, we’ve I think we’ve definitely proven that at least as there’s a certain number of people that love finding out new products. And and there are many different signals before product began that.
Ryan: Led me to believe that’s true. And to going back to the the social aspect, people want to share this, this content. So a lot of it is frankly driven just through word of mouth.
Ryan: So we’re again.
Ryan: We’re focusing on Twitter. Everyone that registers is on Twitter. They’re sharing this stuff on Twitter. And you and I are both like, I can open up TweetDeck right now and I can look at my column right now of products and tweets, and there’s just tons every single day. So word of mouth is is largely Howard driven. That’s that’s driven user acquisition and retention, but also. Press has been good. Press is a good acquisition source for us and this is not true for probably most startups. I mean, it’s good to get attention for hiring or for fundraising in press, but oftentimes you get that shark fin and those people never come back. For us, price is great because people that read TechCrunch or Panda or Digg, VentureBeat and so on, those are the same people that want to find out new about new products. So we’ve been really pushing on on the press and we’re also adding value for a lot of reporters and journalists because they’re using product hunt to find cool products to write about. And so we’ve built fantastic relationships with a lot of people at these press outlets, and that gives us an opportunity to one get cited on their their articles, but then also have them write about us, frankly, from the wiki announcement to our iOS app that’s coming out to remember other things we’ll be doing in the future.
Eric: And another thing we’ve been doing is all the top ten products every day are top ten founders of the products. Every day we ask them to write about their if they’re interested, we ask them to write about their experience and we’ll share it. Yeah, yeah. Which gives them more buzz. Gives us more buzz and puts us in the same conversation as Hacker News. TechCrunch some of these other.
Ryan: That’s a really good point. Yeah, it’s an it’s.
Ryan: A two way street. They’re spending a lot of time in some cases writing a blog post, and I’m super appreciative that they do that. But it’s not just for us. It’s it’s also for them because they get to.
Ryan: Their experience and they also get to promote their product. And we gladly will promote that as well. And people also want it. They like hearing about these stories. They like seeing those Google Analytics graphs and they like hearing about kind of the behind the scenes in these startups. So I believe it’s it’s a win win in that case.
Eric: And a couple of those posts have gone, you know, have done very well even better than their initial post product time. Yeah, that’s that’s our content market strategy or you know, one of our we don’t we don’t have a personal blog yet where we’re writing tons of yeah, tons of reviews. We’re letting our users do it and promoting it for them.
Ryan: Yeah. I mean.
Ryan: We could spend a lot of time writing content and we may do more of.
Ryan: That, but it’s better if.
Ryan: If we can just have the community do it and the community wants to do it anyway.
Ryan: So it’s less work for us.
Ryan: It gives them an opportunity to get some distribution and it also adds more humanness to it, if that makes sense. So putting putting a face behind the community.
Ryan: In a way.
Eric: Yeah. And you know, right now, I mean, right now we’re small and just a couple people, but we’re not doing you know, we’re not doing traditional things that people talk about this product like PBC. We’re not doing Facebook ads yet. You know, we’re not we’re not doing paid advertising. Yeah, we’re we product that was built with the incentives perfectly aligned with the founders incentivized to share. So they go to the top and get more hits, presses incentivized. Check it out because it’s this become the source for the source pretty much. And you’re passing you know, we’re passing products to reporters all the time, investors. That’s also a huge element of it. You know, a few companies have been discovered and we’ve helped that happen where, you know, we’re passing, you know, companies that come out to investors. Investors have funded a few products that makes founders. It’s kind of a whole cycle, a circle where all the incentives are aligned. Yeah, keep using product then.
Ryan: Yeah. There’s one thing.
Ryan: Related to that that I’ll mention too that is super important that none of people do and this is more tactical, I believe.
Ryan: Is, you know.
Ryan: Look and see who’s signing up for your product, whether you’re building just an email list or you do have like some sort of registration like on Twitter.
Ryan: It’s kind of.
Ryan: Frankly stupid if you’re not looking and see who’s signing up. So that’s what I spent a lot of time in the beginning doing, and it was a lot easier because we had a lot less people signing up. But I would look at the emails and I would I would use report of at the time I’d put their emails in report of and I would say, okay, that’s who that is. And oh, that’s their Twitter handle. And I would start seeing more influential people, whether it’s investors, reporters and so on, sign up.
Ryan: And for.
Ryan: Many of those people, I would reach out to them personally and say, Hey, thanks for signing up a while and kind of build that.
Ryan: Channel of communication. Right. And that’s just a missed opportunity if you’re not doing that, because frankly, there are some people let’s use reporters example, you should be reaching out to a reporter and start building that relationship as soon as you can. Right.
Eric: And we can you know, you could build the best product in the world, but if you’re trying to build a huge community, if you’re not doing that, the outreach is not going to one word reaching out to all influencers who use the product, even who don’t, where, you know, we’re encouraging them to to use it to be your friends, to share, but also in a nice and polite way. We’re not overt about sharing the world. So yeah, to you know, just to give you a sense, I know because you just check this out on Inbox App, how much emails are you sending a day just to give some context?
Ryan: Oh, a day. I can’t remember the exact number, but a lot. I don’t know, I don’t remember the number, but it was so.
Ryan: The inbox checkup was was an app that some people put together. It scans your inbox to measure how many emails you send. And at the time, I think 150 people had used the product. So they started ranking everyone that that authenticated. And I was the number one for most emails sent out of this 150 people of like startup people who.
Ryan: You know.
Ryan: Send a lot of emails.
Ryan: So yeah, I mean, I think you two.
Ryan: Were both starting to get carpal.
Eric: Yeah, we’re going go to carpal tunnel. Team therapy.
Eric: Great culture event. So, no, no. But, you know, one way we’re able to do that, I mean, one is just sheer effort and, you know, just making it a priority. But two, we also use streak. Shortcuts is a huge trick I learned from you. You want to give a quick insight into why that is?
Ryan: So you can do streak. There are many other tools for hotkeys and just, you know, a lot of people will email you and ask the same question.
Ryan: There’s no reason why you should type up the same question again. And also, you don’t want to go through that mental energy of, you know, respond thinking through how should I respond to this? You should just have something that’s distinct and clear and respond that way so that that can save you time. But then the other thing I’ll caveat that with is also don’t be a robot to like make sure their responses are still human and you’re still like acting normal.
Ryan: And when you can.
Ryan: Also like add something that’s relevant, like if you saw them, let’s say on Twitter or tweeting about something, you might want to add a little comment about that like, hey, thanks to the mentioned earlier or something like that.
Ryan: So yeah, that.
Ryan: Can save you a lot of time because it’s email is a time suck.
Ryan: In as much as.
Ryan: I can try and reduce the amount of time it takes with with hotkeys and other things like that and shortcuts still unmanageable. I still haven’t been able to respond to everyone, unfortunately.
Ryan: Mm hmm.
Eric: So on a higher level, 75%, 80% a month. Build the right product that has the right incentives, run it online community, you know, become friends with the users. Are you going to look into paid other growth channels as we try to continue this, you know, this growth rate?
Ryan: Yeah, I don’t think we.
Ryan: Need to do anything paid. There’s no reason for us to be paying for acquisition right now, partly because they cost money and.
Ryan: That gets expensive. But to I’m not convinced that paid channel.
Ryan: Is going to lead to the best type of users that make sense. Like the best type of users are going to be, you know, friends of the people in the community right now, which is why we’ve started rolling out a recommendation system where people in the media have access to post and comment. They can start inviting people they think would be good additions to the community. And we’re seeing even just from the early tests, we’re seeing people really like inviting their friends. It’s kind of like giving their friends a gift. And those people.
Ryan: Especially if they’ve heard a product and they’re like, Oh, sweet that. Thanks, I appreciate that.
Ryan: So I think there are a.
Ryan: Lot better ways for us to grow and. Page Probably not, at least in the short to medium term, the right right channel.
Ryan: But we’ve also.
Ryan: The 500 Startups Board that we did what was it two weeks.
Ryan: Ago that was.
Ryan: A great acquisition source. And what we did is on Demo Day, this is Batch nine, we did.
Ryan: Custom board with all the 500 startups companies.
Ryan: On there.
Ryan: And that was kind of a fun, exciting opportunity for everyone outside of Demo Day to see who was in the batch and also.
Ryan: The founder emails and hear them answer questions and then upload their favorite stuff.
Ryan: So that was.
Ryan: A great way to to acquire more users and draw, draw attention. And people also just liked it. At the end of the day, are people enjoying what you’re doing and building? And that’s kind of like the true North Star. And then on top of that, you can layer on, okay, how does this drive growth?
Ryan: Mm hmm.
Eric: I want to give the Watchers of Growth Hacker TV just a preview. What can they expect in the future from product line?
Ryan: Yeah. So right now, actually, let me open up my phone right now and I’ll I’ll show you just a.
Ryan: Quick glimpse of the.
Ryan: IOS app, which is something I’ve.
Ryan: Been I’ve been wearing my.
Ryan: Hat lately, which is something.
Ryan: You do. And it’s when it’s an early startup you are doing with your team, of course.
Ryan: So I don’t know, you know, you’ll see this probably very well. Yeah, a little bit, yeah. Yeah. So it’s the app. So David, David from.
Ryan: Australia, David McKinney has been doing an awesome job with.
Ryan: This great design and.
Ryan: We’re very close to releasing this. So we’re going to start rolling out some betas probably in the next day or two to some people, some beta release. And then I’m not sure when we’ll release this, but let’s just say within the next month.
Ryan: It’ll be live. And that’s that’s a big.
Ryan: Big thing for us. I mean mobile, we’ve had a semi responsive mobile website. It’s usable but not great.
Ryan: People have been asking for a mobile app for a.
Ryan: Long time. That’s the biggest short term.
Ryan: Feature that I think probably willing to share right.
Ryan: But you know, over time we’re still experimenting with these collections, which going back to the forefront of startup sport, that’s kind of one collection.
Ryan: We done like.
Ryan: GIF app collections, we’ve done the Wiki Hacks Hackathon collection, we’ll do more hackathons.
Ryan: What was the last one we did.
Ryan: Oh, the nostalgic one via.
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah.
Ryan: Just like 30 flashback Friday.
Ryan: Yeah. From Nintendo to. Back to the Oregon Trail.
Ryan: I mean, this all these old products that everyone gets nostalgic about.
Ryan: You know.
Ryan: We experience some of that.
Ryan: And see what.
Ryan: People like. And we’ll be changing and improving that over time, just based on the feedback we get.
Eric: And two quick things I wanted to add before we left. One is that in practice, when we get the founders in the conversations, so we’ve been lucky to have people, you know Dennis Crowley from Foursquare the other day did it AMA on products time we had Mark Cuban do an AMA. Jason Calacanis And it was really the incentive for them was people were asking them questions. You know, influential users were asking them questions about their product and they wanted to jump in, give value. That’s been a huge lever of growth. Also, the product hunt. When they think product, they think Ryan, they think Eric, they think the other people involved. And that’s something you want to continue as the team expands. You want to bring on people who are who are all about it, right?
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah, it’s.
Ryan: Right now we definitely.
Ryan: Have a we’re.
Ryan: Putting our face behind product and I think that’s.
Ryan: Important now. And it will.
Ryan: Be important for the short to medium term as well. Of course, that’s not entirely scalable. It’s product time is isn’t we’re not going to be the face of product to longer term for a number of different reasons. One just it’s not a scalable to, you know, we’re not the right faces for certain types of things that we do in certain types of communities or categories of products.
Ryan: So but.
Ryan: For now, it’s.
Ryan: People appreciate.
Ryan: The human side to think of products. And the it’s also a way for us to kind of, you know, create the interaction or like encourage the type of interaction we want to see.
Ryan: And I don’t know how to I I’ve never gone to the the.
Ryan: Practice of kind of articulating what products and is if products that was a person.
Eric: What is.
Ryan: It? But it’s just by.
Ryan: Continually interacting and using products, you and I, we can start culturing that and building that behavior.
Eric: And when it gets bigger, we can then call Justin Bieber. Yeah, bring it full circle.
Ryan: Oh, yeah, it’s going to happen. Yeah.
Eric: The nugget is when when you’re building an online community, especially beginning, you have to own it. You know, you got to assuming you’re a friendly person, people like, you know, you got to you got to run. And then if you’re not, you should be you know, building online community the first one.
Ryan: Yeah well you should the the culture.
Ryan: Is going to be sort of you in many ways unless you.
Ryan: I mean you should.
Ryan: Start building a community around something that you either well one have expertize in and a passion for an extreme example is maybe like for myself I should not be doing a community in like women’s fashion, like I’m not the women fashion guy and no interest in that. And if I tried to do that, even if the product was fantastic.
Ryan: You know what?
Ryan: I wouldn’t be the right person for that type of thing. So I think it’s important to use your product all the time. And when it comes to a community like Alexis at Reddit, E, of course, was super, super involved, the community, and he still is, but he was he was the culture builder. And like.
Ryan: He’s been helping tremendously with product and.
Ryan: We chat and he.
Ryan: His like the way he interacts is like Reddit like him and Reddit are very like it’s like him and a person that makes sense in many.
Ryan: And so he’s he’s always thinking about delighting people. And it goes from like the Reddit like little logo mascot to this and things he’s done over time.
Eric: Awesome is the last question. This is a variation of the question Bronson asks to close every interview. What do you say to someone who is a few years younger and wants to build an online online community similar have a similar success to what you built? What do you where do they even start?
Ryan: Yeah, start by.
Ryan: So going back to building an audience or like figuring out where you can provide value. I would start start there.
Ryan: And also be.
Ryan: Curious if that makes sense. So production would not have started if I just wasn’t always tinkering and thinking about just things and having some sort of desire to to build stuff. So curiosity is one of those traits in people that I respect a lot. And with anyone that I work with, I want them to be similarly curious.
Ryan: And, you know, also.
Ryan: When you do work on something or you want to build something, if it’s something you want to be serious, not just like we can hack a project which whatever, do whatever you want, then do something serious and think truly about like, is this something I want to do, this thing I want to pursue for several years and, you know, don’t jump into something like women’s fashion if you’re like someone like myself.
Ryan: Because, I mean.
Ryan: You might do well at that, but I think you have a higher chance of building something that you are a user of and consumer of.
Eric: Did you find things that you were passionate about but didn’t have you could didn’t have potential to make money as you saw it and then kind of dropped it or.
Ryan: Nothing that I.
Ryan: Really pursued outside of a week or two, you know, I.
Ryan: Mean. Yeah. Nothing is really fit in.
Ryan: It always check boxes like products and has you know when I was leaving play haven and it was one I wanted to build something for myself because I was thinking building products for other people.
Ryan: To want to.
Ryan: Do something in the consumer space and really challenge myself there. And three, I wanted to do something in a.
Ryan: Company, a smaller team.
Ryan: Project was very small and still is.
Eric: Awesome. Any last words.
Ryan: No but this is awesome. Is awesome to have you have.
Ryan: Beyond Growth Actors TV. I’ve been following for a long time. I think it’s been what, two years or so.
Ryan: Is it been that long? Yeah.
Ryan: And Brunson has what, 60. I don’t know how many.
Eric: Hundred plus does he.
Ryan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So yeah I need to dig.
Ryan: Into his archives. Been a while but I get his emails. I’ve been following along so really impressed.
Eric: Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure having you. It’s been a pleasure joining you. It’s been episode of Growth Hacker TV, Ryan Hoover.
Ryan: Thanks, man. Yeah, they said it.
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