How we failed with Product Hunt launch and what we have learned from it

After spending 5 years at Base CRM and its acquisition by Zendesk I’ve co-founded Probe – a product in the business analytics space. We defined MVP scope and began a journey to release. At the beginning of the year, we decided to launch on ProductHunt. We had high hopes for this launch and here is a story about how everything went wrong.

The version we have launched

We decided to focus on analytics after our own experience of working in a SaaS company. We went through all the troubles from defining what to measure to building data collection stack in-house.

With Probe, we want to make it much easier to get the analytics you really need. Our MVP (Minimum Valuable Product – put simply, a minimal version of the product you launch that you believe will bring value to your customers) was a simple Slack application. You can connect it to your Stripe account and then ask for any SaaS metrics with one slack command. For example, /probe mrr would give you a chart of your monthly recurring revenue. This is the product we decided to submit to ProductHunt.

What is ProductHunt and our goal for the launch

If you are not aware of ProductHunt – it is a community for discovering new products. Each member can submit a new product, and then other members can upvote your submission if they like it. Products that have the most upvotes are being promoted by the platform.

Top 5 submissions with the most upvotes launched on a given day will be featured in the ProductHunt newsletter. This newsletter has quite a big audience and being there simply increases your chances to get new customers. We aimed to find early adopters via launching on ProductHunt. Probe is a business to business product. It means that our potential customers are early-stage SaaS companies. We thought that ProductHunt may be a good place to find such companies. We also aimed to be in the top 5 of the products launched this day.

Planning the launch

There is quite a lot of information about launching on ProductHunt. We have followed the official blog post.

When launching on ProductHunt you have to take care of 3 things:

  1. Decide on the scope of your product and ship it
  2. Prepare design and marketing materials for ProductHunt submission
  3. Build community and have means of promoting your product submission

While the first two things are pretty straightforward, the last one is not so much so. And here is where we failed big time.

First of all no matter what you launch, if you hope that you simply put your submission out there, and it will end up in the top 5 of the day, most certainly this is not going to happen. If you wanna get there, you have to come up with a plan to promote your listing and get the upvotes.

To be in the top 5 products launched on a given day, you have to have around 500 Upvotes. We found this number by monitoring ProductHunt for a week and documenting the number of Upvotes the most popular products had.

So we had to come up with a plan of building a community, prior to the launch, that will give us a chance of reaching 500 upvotes.

We have a team of three working on Probe. Each of us went through Facebook and LinkedIn and added everyone we felt comfortable asking for feedback and help to one huge spreadsheet. We ended up having around 450 people on this spreadsheet. That gave us a good chance to get to 500 Upvotes and reach our goal.

Two-three weeks prior to the launch we have started to reach out to our community. We ask people to follow my ProductHunt account and give us feedback once our submission goes live.

The day of the launch

Choosing a day to launch on ProductHunt is important. There is a bit of luck involved. If a big company decides to launch on the same day as you, they will collect a huge amount of upvotes and will end up in top products of the day, taking one of the places. But nothing you can do here. You can also choose to launch over the weekend – then the top 5 is formed not from the given day but from the whole weekend.

We have decided to launch it on Monday. Our submission was scheduled to go live at 9 am CET time. Once the listing was up – the first thing we did is to share our listing on social media, and second – we started to reach out to our community. We ask to check out the submission and give us an upvote.

At first, everything was fine. Our submission was visible on the main web page. Somewhere in the middle of the day, we found out that the submission disappeared from the main product hunt page as well as from the search results. It was accessible only via direct link. Something was off.

ProductHunt’s response

After reaching out to ProductHunt support, we found out that their algorithm identified some suspicious activity on our submission and flagged it. That led to its disappearing from the main page and search results. When we tried to clarify why exactly did this happen – we were told that unfortunately the exact reason can not be given because it may expose details of how the product hunt algorithm works. The only thing we were told is that next time we have to be careful with fake comments.

Frankly, it was devastating to put a lot of work into launch preparation and seeing it all go south.

Launch outcome

The bottom line of the launch was that no new trial accounts came via ProductHunt. We have spent about a week putting everything together, from finishing touches on the product scope to reaching out to people and building a community and this outcome really was something we did not expect.

ProductHunt does tell you not to ask for upvotes but to ask for feedback. To be fair, we did ask our community to support us and give an upvote. We felt like these were not random people, but someone who was willing to help, everyone was invited by us, that is why we thought it is OK to do so. Perhaps we were wrong here.

Is ProductHunt worth a try

Thinking about this now, and after speaking to some startups and friends who also launched on ProductHunt I think it was a mistake to have high expectations about the launch event overall.

There is a big difference between launching a product in a business-to-business (b2b) space vs business-to-consumer (b2c). In my opinion, b2c products are a better fit for ProductHunt launch. Due to the fact that potential customer definition in the consumer segment is broader.

I'm not saying that ProductHunt is not worth your time. We broke some rules and it did not work for us. But I still think that it may be a good idea to pursue this path. It can definitely expose your product to potential customers, and you can get valuable feedback.

Do and Dont’s on ProductHunt

If you decide to launch on ProductHunt here is a list of things we would do differently next time:

  1. If you decide to build your community – do it earlier. Also, ask your community not only to register on ProductHunt and follow your account but check other products as well.
  2. ProductHunt tells that there is no difference between submitting a new product yourself or asking a person with a more mature account to do so. In reality, once the maker submits a new listing – each follower of the account receives a notification. So if you have an opportunity to be launched by a more mature account, with a bigger number of followers, it increases your chances to be in the top 5.
  3. Be careful when promoting your posting – to my knowledge everyone I know who performed a successful launch without a huge user base, had a plan for promoting their ProductHunt posting. When building such a plan, try to spread your activities over the course of a full day while your post is active.
  4. Don't stop after launching on ProductHunt, look beyond. There are many other platforms you can use to get visibility for your product.

Keep in mind that launch is just one milestone on your journey. We all wish for it to be big and successful. Whatever it turns out to be for you, successful or not, there is more work ahead. Keep going.

by Alex, co-founder of Probe