How to win at Product Hunt
Product Hunt is an incredible tool — if you know how to use it.
In an increasingly uncertain economic environment where early-stage start-ups like mine are facing unprecedented headwinds, efficiency has quickly supplanted growth-at-any-cost. How can we do more with less? Getting coverage from tech outlets is tough (and, let’s be honest, costly), so how do you generate organic buzz around what you’re building?
One key way is launching on Product Hunt — although launching is the easy part.
It’s the winning part you have to nail.
That part’s a whole lot trickier.
This is how we won.
Why Product Hunt?
First, some backstory
My company, Air, is a Creative Operations platform for marketers and creatives. It's a visual workspace where your team’s content can be easily stored, shared, managed, and finalized. My co-founder and I met in college and started the company in 2017, launching the product in February 2020. A month later the world would stop and we would spend two years fighting tooth and nail to bring this product to life. Today, we have nearly 100k customers and are valued at over $100m.
Then the money went away.
As the macroeconomic impacts of recession took root across tech and SaaS, we knew that paid ads alone weren’t going to paid ads alone weren’t going to supercharge our growth — or show people just how far we’d come.
We needed to get more efficient. One way to do this? Utilizing our biggest evangelists — our customers. We’d launched on Product Hunt 14 times prior, with product features and side projects alike, and never broke 1,000 upvotes. But that was before we’d built a dense network of customers, fans, and operator investors.
On November 10, we launched.
We went on to win Product of the Day, Week, and Month. You might say those are vanity metrics, but: we saw web traffic bump up 5x, single-day account creation 8x, and single-day workspace creation increased by 10x. The launch day was our best day of organic sales-leads ever. Nearly 2,000 new users emailed in to ask about our launch discount.
The five strategies we used to win Product of the Day, Week, and Month
1. Get ready to go to war
Product Hunt is no beauty pageant. The prettiest launch isn’t going to win. It doesn’t matter who hunts you (or in our case if you’re “hunted” at all). This isn’t merit-based, no one cares how many real-life users you have , and if we’re being real, it’s not about your product at all. It’s about two things: the story you’re going to tell and how many levers you’re going to have at your fingertips to pull when the moment is right (or — when you’ve just been overtaken and moved to second place — when that moment turns very, very wrong).
It’s Battleship. It’s Pac Man and you need to eat as many of those dots in 24 hours as you can or you are dead. Strap up, dedicate at least six weeks, and start preparing. You’re going to war.
We set a goal of 1,000 upvotes. Something we learned later on: these aren’t literal upvotes but an algorithmic tabulation of upvote values. New upvoters are worth X % while legacy PH players (like Ryan Hoover, who we connected with over email two weeks prior to let him know about our launch, and who was kind enough to toss us an upvote) are worth much more.
But it’s going to take a village.
2. Assemble everyone (and I mean everyone)
Rule one of Product Hunt: you don’t ask for upvotes. But you can ask for “support.”
You cannot offer rewards in exchange for upvotes. But you can offer freebies on your launch day.
We sponsored a newsletter (Miss Excel’s, figuring productivity + software was a great audience for us + PH), and we started mapping out the globe:
Where were our pre-existing networks?
Who did we know and where?
We also started building out on Product Hunt itself. We studied the winners obsessively. We compared potential taglines and bios against the winning ones. Should it be aspirational or direct? Terse or flowery? We sent out surveys to customers asking them to rank their favorites. One of our interns was high up in her sorority, she went house to house asking for folks to sign up the week prior, and to support our launch the day of. And, of course, we called our biggest support system of all, our parents. They got into. Really into it.
3. If you don’t have an India strategy, what are you even doing?
Your product launch at 3am EST is early afternoon in Mumbai.
Bangalore alone has 1.5 million IT workers. The first two hours of your launch are going to make or break you. Without a strong contingent oversees you’ll struggle to build momentum.
How are you engaging your South Asian customer base? Your South Asian colleagues? And, in my case, my South Asian family. We knew that before standing up anything, we had to really engage our community over there and bring them with us. I joined a Slack community for SaaS founders in India where I did an AMA on building in the US. I reconnected with family friends in Mumbai and Bangalore who in turns helped connect me and my team to their networks on Slack, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn.
Beyond India, there are pockets of Product Hunt users all over the world.
Launchers in North and South America need to build inroads east. We reached out to founders, friends and distant cousins in Ukraine, Israel, Turkey, Bangladesh, UK, Slovakia, Poland and more.
Map out your network and start reaching out. Related: the best way to find out how to win is to talk to people who won. Finding the founders of products of the day proved to be warm and receptive to my cold emails to jump on calls for advice.
The list goes on.
4. Bring the team with you
At Air, we have 44 employees.
Are they on Product Hunt? Are their spouses on Product Hunt? What about their parents?
We set out a goal of having every person engage (read: beg, borrow, and steal from) at least five people who loved them to get on PH weeks ahead of our launch and begin to engage (if there’s one thing a PH algorithm hates it’s an upvote from a person who made an account that morning).
Our All Hands meetings became war rooms. Our comms director delivered impassioned, increasingly unhinged, weekly sermons encouraging that family connection.
The point was simple: if everyone here gets everyone in their close circle to support this launch, that’s 200-300 people locked. If we can’t get our own people behind this then we don’t deserve to win it. By the day of the launch, our slack was game-day in Remember the Titans.
We were all in it together.
5. Come up with an offer that’s too good to pass up
The only way you’re getting to the top is with a customer base that really loves what you’re doing. And loves even more the offer you can redeem on PH, and on launch day, only. Ours was a free terabyte for all new and current Free, Plus, and Pro accounts.
We spent some time debating it: would people really care about 1,000 GB?
A four-email sequence to 32,000 active Air customers was set in motion 4 weeks before the drop. We figured we’d have 100 people redeem it and didn’t even build anything in the backend to support it. The CTA was simply to shoot us an email with the code AIR4TEAMS and we would sort it out. How hard would it be?
That morning, the offer redemption emails began pouring in. Something we didn’t anticipate, but was a massive boost: a bunch of tech deal aggregation websites and Facebook groups found out about our offer and reposted it. This meant thousands of unexpected eyes on our launch — our offer ended up being a game-changer, boosting us towards victory.
Before the launch day ended, we would receive 2,000 urgent TB requests. Shout out to our engineer Marcus, he put in the hours that day.
6. Stand out by any means necessary
We knew we had to something unique.
Product Hunt has limited real estate for launch assets: 1 video, 6 images/gifs and some text. Video seemed the most compelling. The standard animation with the robotic voiceover is well-trodden. What could we do to show up differently?
Enter the Woz.
Cameo’s a heady place and we felt like Steve Wozniak was the perfect person for a community of tech early adopters to show up and pontificate on the wonders of our product. It worked, as Product Hunt’s newsletter featured our launch with Woz in the headline that day, while sharing it on their social channels.
The video made the rounds and was so successful that we ended up using it in paid ads where it ran at a 20% CPL against all controls.
7. It’s a fight until the very end
Our most formidable opponent proved to be erxes XOS v.1. Shout out to their team — we were neck and neck nearly the entire time before a final push right at the end took them over the top. But there was no way we were giving up.
We pushed like crazy in the last hour of the night.
At that point, the team was deliriously emailing ex-girlfriends and replying to languishing LinkedIn requests. Our intern was at her college bar exhorting the engineering students to show their support. At least a dozen of us were online until the bitter end, reaching out for support wherever we thought we could find it.
In the end, erxes XOS v.1 had more upvotes than us. But remember that point in the beginning of this post? Not all upvotes are equal. In the end, while we had slightly less upvotes, we had more high-quality upvotes. And so we won.
It was a true photo finish.
Bonus: A few other guides that helped us
Written by Shane Hegde, Air’s CEO and Co-founder