May 26, 2021
How to Successfully Launch on Product Hunt… on the Same Day As Your Competitor
Co-founder and COO
The internet is rife with blog posts explaining how to successfully launch on Product Hunt. It’s almost like the obligatory final step for any product release. But Product Hunt is a deceptively complex game that is best figured out through trial and error so there’s a lot to be shared.
We spent a lot of time planning and refining every single detail of our Product Hunt Launch for Mayday. Everything was scheduled to go live at 3:01 am Eastern last Thursday (see How Product Hunt Works below).
After a restless attempt at sleep, I got up at exactly 3:01 am Eastern time to make sure the launch went off without a hitch. I logged in only to realize that by sheer bad luck we launched Mayday on the same day as Calendly 2.0.
For context, we’re a pre-revenue team of 8 from Canada. Calendly, on the other hand, is a market leader in the scheduling space that recently raised $350M. We hunted our product ourselves, Calendly solicited Product Hunt’s top ranked Hunter.
We had planned for everything — except for being pitted against one of the giants in our industry in a David/Goliath-style face-off. But in the end, we closed out our launch as the #6 product of the day, while Calendly landed just outside of the top 10. We blew through every optimistic target we had set for waitlist signups and we saw traffic to our website increase by over 3,000%.
This post covers how we prepared for the launch and everything we learned along the way.
How Product Hunt Works
Product Hunt is essentially a daily popularity contest. Each day, a new slate of products is posted and they compete for upvotes and the day’s top page ranking. After the day’s contest is complete, products can continue to earn upvotes and your Product Hunt page lives on as a source for lead gen and awareness.
What’s at Stake
For all intents and purposes, you get one shot at your Product Hunt launch. There are lots of examples of folks launching significant updates of the same original product, but don’t count on this for a Plan B.
Success is relative to your unique goals but here are a few of the sweet prizes at stake:
- Placing on the Product Hunt front page for the day (within the top #14) — You’ll get a nice organic traffic boost from anyone that scrolls to at least the bottom of the front page.
- Placing within the top #10 — You’ll be “featured” by Product Hunt which means that they will include you in the Product Hunt Daily Digest newsletter. This also means that the official Product Hunt Twitter handle will tweet about what you’re building to their >430K followers.
- Placing within the top #5 — You’ll be above-the-fold on the home page for the day and you’ll get a “Product of the Day” badge that will live on your launch page forever.
- Placing #1 for the day — There’s a good chance that you’ll be featured as the headline story in the Product Hunt Daily Digest newsletter. Plus, bragging rights.
Most importantly, every one of these tiers also represents an order of magnitude increase in optics around your launch. This translates directly to an increase in social dialogue and momentum for what you’re building. Having a successful launch will lead to a significant spike in landing page traffic, a significant spike in user growth, and a significant spike in social following.
The Upvote Algorithm
Upvotes determine ranking and are given out by users in the Product Hunt community. Product Hunt claims that each upvote is weighted equally, but their algorithm is the mother of all black boxes. It’s been said that certain aspects work similarly to Reddit’s upvoting algorithm with logarithmic weighting (i.e. first votes are weighted more than future votes), but which types of accounts place the upvotes are also important as well.
On Product Hunt, attempts to “game” or “hack” the leaderboard are detected and penalized. It’s not uncommon to see a product with lots of upvotes but ranked low in the leaderboard. It’s also not uncommon to hear about upvotes that were cast but didn’t register on the homepage. The last thing you want is for the Product Hunt algorithm to suspect you’re doing something nefarious, so it’s important to understand and play by the rules. There are two important things to remember when optimizing for upvotes:
- Don’t blatantly ask the public for upvotes — Don’t use any existing social channels or mailing lists to try and mobilize a voting ring. Letting your channels know that you’re on Product Hunt is fair game, but the goal here should just be to increase awareness (“check out what we’re building!”). But mobilizing a following on Instagram and walking them through how to register and upvote would be a bad idea.
- Don’t ask your friends/family to parachute in cold and amplify upvotes — Supportive friends and family are wonderful and all, but not that helpful for Product Hunt unless they are active on Product Hunt. Every user on Product Hunt has a point score — a convoluted measurement of how active and engaged they are on the platform. Product Hunt doesn’t disclose how much of an impact being upvoted by high-scoring users has, but err on the side of caution and spend your engagement efforts on existing Product Hunt users with non-zero point scores. So if you want your friends and family to have a positive impact on your posting, you should encourage them to get active on Product Hunt first.
When to Launch
In order to launch on Product Hunt you need to build a lot of stuff. Determining if you’re ready to launch depends on your ability to build three specific things in advance:
- Build a product
- Build a network on Product Hunt
- Build marketing assets
Build a Product
This one should be the most obvious, but before you launch on Product Hunt you need to actually build a cool product. You can launch on Product Hunt before your product is publicly available, but it’s easiest to get endorsements and support from engaged users if you already have engaged users. When we launched Mayday it was still in private beta, but we had active users in our beta tester community that we could rely on to share their experiences and give us credibility.
Build a Network on Product Hunt
I cannot emphasize this enough: Product Hunt is no short-term fling. Success in this community requires being present and active in this community. This can be one of the longer lead time time requirements to timing your launch, but it’s worth the effort. Don’t be scared, this is far less daunting than building a following on Twitter or Reddit. Generally speaking, Product Hunt is a super friendly space full of early adopters that are interested in cool shit.
Build relationships with users who have upvoted products in your space. Develop a following that will be notified when you launch. Get an intimate feel for how others find out about cool products by trying it yourself. If you have a team, make sure your team is doing the same sort of thing and engage as much as possible.
- Your followers will be notified when you Make a product — direct lead gen to users that have upvote power
- Your user score will increase — more weight in the black box
- Exposure to other great products — learnings on what resonates with the community
Build Marketing Assets
Most people that stumble across your Product Hunt launch will make an impulsive decision to spend more time or not based on a few limited data points. Most importantly — your logo, your tagline, your video, and your screenshots. If those things check all of the right boxes to pique interest, then you can drive more organic growth from ranked Product Hunt users. We’re lucky in that we have talented design experience in house. If you don’t, this is a good area to invest in.
There are lots of checklists of things to prepare before launching on Product Hunt. But timing is everything. Here’s how you should think about your priorities leading up to your launch:
More than One Month Before Launch
- Build an individual presence on Product Hunt. Create your account. Make it a habit to log in regularly and engage with other makers and hunters. Encourage your team of makers to do the same thing. Look alive. Be relevant.
- Build relationships with relevant Product Hunt users. Your goal with this type of relationship building is to get to a point where you will feel comfortable letting them know about your launch when it goes live as a prompt for others to “check it out and let you know what they think!”
- Tailor your product’s experience for early adopters. Work closely with your earliest users (ideally, they are also present and active on Product Hunt) to make sure the value prop resonates with them. Keep them engaged and excited about what you’re building.
One Month Before Launch
- Benchmark for success. Study the past Product Launches of your competitors. What worked well with your target audience, what didn’t work well? What does success look like in terms of upvotes and engagement? We built a database for comparison as we began planning our own launch.
- Build a CRM of relevant Product Hunt users. Find the users that are upvoting and commenting on products in your domain. Ensure that their user scores are greater than zero (see the note above on the limited impact of votes from friends and family) and build relationships (follow on Product Hunt, follow on Twitter, engage in discussions etc.).
- Shortlist potential Hunters for your launch. The individual who posts a product is called the Hunter. If your Hunter has a high score and lots of followers then your product gets more momentum out of the gate. Assess your early users and your network and identify a few candidates that would be helpful to maximize impact at your launch.
Two Weeks Before Launch
- Create post visuals and collateral. Product Hunt has a good list of the specific requirements you’ll need. We spent the most time on the video itself. Try to keep it less than 2 mins and don’t forget that the audio is muted by default and anyone watching will need to turn it on in order to hear while it plays.
- Finalize who will be your Hunter. We chose to hunt Mayday ourselves, but if you’re going to get someone outside your team to do it, you’ll need to coordinate with them in advance to make sure they have all the materials ready to go.
- Finalize the date for your launch. There are lots of people out there who have analyzed thousands of Product Hunt launches to determine what days of the week drive the most traffic. In general, Wednesdays and Thursdays have more site traffic than Saturdays and Sundays. But Wednesdays and Thursdays also have more competition for upvotes because so many products launch on those days to take advantage of all the traffic. Don’t overthink it — just pick a day that works with your team.
One Week Before Launch
- Draft your Product Hunt post. Product Hunt lets you schedule your post 7 days in advance. Most products go live at 12:00 am (Pacific time) to maximize time available for the day’s upvotes (the front page resets every day at midnight). So once you are decided on a date, draft the launch and schedule it to go live first thing in the morning.
- Share your scheduled post with select advocates. Once your post is drafted and scheduled, you can share it with some of your early users to get their feedback. At this point, users can leave comments on your page, but can’t upvote yet. Try to get a handful of comments out of the gate to drive momentum from a few key advocates. When we launched, our post was already pre-loaded with 6 user endorsements.
- Draft your day-of social channel messaging. Create a few drafts of the tweets, targeted emails, subreddit posts, etc. that you can use to share your Product Hunt launch with the world. Have these ready to go in advance and make a check list of when to send specific outreach to each of your audience’s ideal channels.
- Engage with commenters. Every comment and reply supposedly factors in to page rank so be sure to engage with anyone who asks questions or leaves a comment on your post. This is also a great way to build more relationships and obtain feedback.
- Share your posting on social. Let the world know about your launch and share the post URL on social channels. But be mindful of the cardinal rules regarding soliciting upvotes. You’re out there to drive awareness not to hawk votes. Engage with the Product Hunt Twitter account and drive momentum around milestones from the day (first 100 upvotes, etc.).
- Follow up with Product Hunt users from your CRM. Now’s the time to leverage the relationships you’ve built with other Product Hunters. Let them know about your launch and ask for their feedback.
There’s a lot of preparation required to increase your chances of success with a Product Hunt launch, but it’s one of those “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” type situations. We put a ton of energy into preparing for Mayday’s Product Hunt launch, but still had to hustle all day to climb to the front page, make it into the top 10, and beat out Calendly.
Once your launch is in motion, it will be tempting to meddle. You’ll want to ask everyone you know to upvote what you’ve built, but it’s important to restrain the urge. The power of Product Hunt comes from its ability to let the market discover cool stuff. So prepare in advance and make your shot count!