Ryan Hoover (@rrhoover) has always been a product person. In a few short years, Ryan built an audience of tech enthusiasts from scratch and grew it into the massive and impactful community known as Product Hunt. Today, he's working to bring Product Hunt to profitability after selling the company to AngelList. We also talk a bit about the maker and entrepreneur communities in general, and the similarities and differences between Product Hunt and Indie Hackers.
What's up, everyone? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com and you're listening to the Indie Hackers podcast. On this show I talk to the founders of profitable Internet businesses and I try to get a sense of what it's like to be in their shoes. How did they get to where they are today?
How did they make decisions both at their companies and in their personal lives and what makes their businesses tick? Today I am talking to the one and only Ryan Hoover. The founder of Product Hunt and apparently also known in some circles as the Hoovster. Ryan welcome to the Indie Hackers podcast.
For everyone else that's wondering where that reference came from, I think it was somebody in Indie Hackers, I'm forgetting his name at the moment, called me the Hoovster.
No I hear it all the time. I hear it all around San Francisco.
Do you? All right. I don't know. I don't know how I feel about it but glad to be here. I've been listening to the podcast. It's on my feed and in the Breaker podcast app and so it's cool to be on it.
It's really cool to have you on here, finally. We both live in San Francisco. We both run online communities. We both recently got acquired by a bigger companies. So I think we've got a lot to talk about but perhaps the easiest place to start is, what is Product Hunt exactly?
Yeah so Product Hunt is similar to Indie Hackers. It's a community of people building and excited about technology really.
So you'll see a lot of people building apps or Chrome extensions or products or startups and launching on Product Hunt. But it's also kind of evolved into a network in a community of people who also connect with one another
That's why we launched things more recently like chat, so you can chat one-on-one with other individuals. And other projects that we're working on to kind of extend the opportunities for people to help each other, learn from each other, connect and so on.
What would you say is the difference between Indie Hackers and Product Hunt?
I would say Product Hunt started off, the very first version as a place to discover new cool products. It was inspired largely by, if I go back to 2011, I actually used to browse AngelList ironically enough looking at companies because I'm such a nerd and I was just curious to see what people were building. And so the beginnings of Product Hunt were simply I want to list of really cool apps, products and things and I want a place to share and talk about them with friends.
That was sort of the focus and it's now becoming in many ways, like a launch pad for companies to introduce the new products and things to the world. From there it's kind of expanded into other community features, but I would say Indie Hackers for me at least from my perception is very much a similar type of audience, but I would say more towards people who are building businesses.
This is my perception, you have a lot of people who are not necessarily just launching side projects for fun and they are to some extent but many of them are actually looking to build a company and to make money and I've also noticed a skew towards a lot of bootstrappers and maybe like Nomad kind of technologists. So that's kind of my perception of some of the differences I would say.
I agree. I would say the exact same thing. Indie Hackers is more focused on people trying to generate revenue, build online businesses.
Definitely skews towards bootstrappers, Product Hunt skews a little bit more towards products that either have no intention of making revenue or don't necessarily need to generate revenue up front. There's a lot of high growth startups on Product Hunt as well. So we've sort of got it covered, the two of us.
Yeah, I mean in both places, one similar commonality I would say though is that they're both places for inspiration for people who are wanting to break into technology or are in technology today. And so you go to Product Hunt and you open up the site and every day I open it up and I wonder what about making today and I'm surprised and sometimes shocked by the products and things that people are creating.
On the Indie Hackers side you go there and you're inspired by the stories of people who bootstrapped and learned to code in six months and now they're making $5,000 a month. Those are inspiring stories that can hopefully inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and creators.
Striking to me how many people will start working on a business or an app or a product because of the existence of something like Product Hunt or Indie Hackers.
Like on Product Hunt, it's so fun and it's so cool and just encouraging to try to get what you've built to the top of the homepage. People are probably building all sorts of stuff that they never would have built otherwise because of the existence of Product Hunt.
With Indie Hackers, I'll look at my metrics. I look at the number of downloads to the podcast, the number of visitors to the website. Yeah it feels kind of good to see those numbers go up, when they do but in a lot of ways that's intangible.
It is just numbers on a screen but if I get an email from somebody or I meet somebody at an Indie Hackers meetup who says if they started their business because of a story they read on Indie Hackers. Or a podcast guest that I had on, then that's only one person but it feels a lot more real and impactful.
Yeah. There's certainly anecdotes where every now and then someone will email me and give us, I feel, undeserved credit to some extent where they said hey, I launched something six months ago and that gave me the confidence and the feedback to pursue this further and now I've quit my job and I'm working full-time.
Or I raised money and now I'm building a team and pursuing this dream. A lot of that happens, a lot of it's not really measurable, but it's super encouraging to see. It's something that I forward to the team and I want to remind people in the team like hey guys look at this impact that we're making to this one individual.
This is something that happens every single day or every month to some extent for people across the world. I'm sure you get similar emails like that too. It's encouraging when you start to see like the touchy-feely kind of aspects of the impact of something like this.
I mean I can tell you that Indie Hackers itself was largely inspired by a website called NomadList and the creator of that website Pieter Levels was himself inspired by Product Hunt and so it's pretty safe to say without Product Hunt there would be no Indie Hackers.
Oh really? So do I get all the credit?
Of course you do Ryan.
Well, the reality is we're all riffing off each other. We're all being inspired by each other. I mean even if you look at the individual products themselves, like it's actually not a good idea to invent an entirely new, very foreign, hard to use kind of interface and start something from scratch.
Everyone starts using the same or similar design patterns and technology is this evolving thing where people are not only being inspired by each other to build things, but they're also taking design inspiration or marketing inspiration from how others have done it in the past.
You mentioned that back in the day, in 2011, you were inspired by AngelList. And today Product Hunt is obviously one of the biggest online communities in the tech industry. Did you know it had that potential when you were first starting out?
Not in the beginning. It was in part because I wasn't giving myself the pressure in the very beginning to say this is going to be a company or a startup and at the time I didn't know what it would become. Ultimately what I wanted was just a cool place to discover the newest products and apps of the day and have a place to talk about it with friends.
It wasn't until some months later after working on it, on the side and being really excited. Every single signup that happened, every single launch that happened, every person that commented and participated was really encouraging. It wasn't until several months after that, that I realized this is something I want to do for a decade or a long time. And going back to my days browsing AngelList, I didn't have the thought to oh maybe I should productize what I'm doing.
I think that's actually an interesting exercise for those that do want to start a side project or company. It's almost like, what do you do every day or what products do you use every day that aren't designed for your use case. For example, like I was using AngelList to browse and discover companies and products. AngelList isn't built for that. It's not designed for that. That's not the intention. But as I reflect and internalize that was maybe the first moment where I should have realized wow, maybe there's an opportunity to build something like Product Hunt at that time.
I think that's a great point because now I look back at the origin of Indie Hackers, I was spending a lot of time browsing Hacker News looking for stories that could serve as inspiration and education for how I could build my own online business and that's not really the use case that Hacker News was designed for. Even though it was extremely useful and so of course I could build something that served that use case intentionally just like you did with Product Hunt.
It's easy when you look at all this stuff with the benefit of hindsight and analyze it and see exactly why it worked. Of course things are never really that clear in the moment. When I think about the beginning of Product Hunt, getting an online community off the ground from scratch is extremely difficult and yet it seems like you did it all perfectly in the first few months or years after you launched. Like you were very strategic and analytical about everything. Is that just how it seems looking back four years later or is that how things actually were at the time?
I'm trying to remember honestly what I was thinking at the time and part of it was certainly methodical and very thoughtful in terms of the specific things that I was doing. A lot of that was originally inspired by what I felt was right and what I enjoyed doing. So one example of that is I would monitor the people that were signing up on Product Hunt. I could do it back then because we maybe had a few dozen people sign up a day.
So it was pretty quick to see who that was and look them up and see where they worked and other things like that. I would email a lot of those people individually. Not through an automated email from the founder via Intercom but like an actual email from my Gmail. I would email those people and welcome them and say something that was very clear it wasn't automated. That was one strategy and a tactic to strengthen the early community but it was also a thing that I just enjoyed doing.
I ended up finding myself, this was actually back when I was part-time at another company that I was transitioning out of myself admittedly, working on it every now and then in the office at the other company that I was at because I was so drawn to it. It was so fun and exciting to talk to these people that we're using a thing that we built. So to answer your question it was a combination of just passion and interest in what I felt was right, but also some thoughtful ways on how I think we could build a community and in the beginning and in the early days.
Ironically I emailed you today and I got your autoresponder which said I'm spending less time in my inbox in order to focus on Product Hunt. What happened? What happened to loving emails?
I know, the irony. I turn my autoresponder on and off every now and then. Email does give me anxiety and I feel the reality is I can't answer every email or I just wouldn't be able to get my stuff done or really follow through with the commitments I already have. So when I put my autoresponder on I feel like my anxiety levels drop a tiny bit.
I also find it effective because what will happen often times is people will email me about support questions and as much as I'd love to help and do support, the reality is I can't spend my time doing that all the time. So in that email response, I'll make sure that I direct them to the right people on the team or the right channels.
Even though it's annoying to get an auto responder, I get it from other people all the time. It's for your own good, for the people that are cold emailing me, the support inquiries and tickets.
I love getting autoresponders. I always have a lot of respect for people who can turn on their autoresponder. I'm always jealous because I can't do it so what I do is I just feel bad all day. That's my email strategy.
Yeah. I thought about doing experiment which would be turning off my email for a week entirely. And the problem is I don't think that's realistic. I don't think I can do that but I know that I would accomplish a lot more, in terms of like the higher level stuff that I want to focus on.
What do you think is your favorite thing about running an online community? And also what's your least favorite thing?
I would say my favorite thing, there's a lot of things that I like about my role and what we're building at Product Hunt. The favorite thing about community is that I think some of it comes down to the touchy-feely stuff and I mentioned earlier. In the sense that you get to interact with humans and people and you get to connect around something that we're all passionate about.
You don't go and enjoy Product Hunt and participate and contribute if you're not into technology or if you're not excited about products. Otherwise, I don't know why you're there. That's part of what I think is fun, is to talk to these people who are either excited about technology or building the products for the future. A lot of the the dynamics of Product Hunt are talking to the makers and talking to the people that built the app that you just downloaded. So I think it's really compelling, interesting dynamic and it's something I enjoy within the community.
The least favorite thing is probably just all the difficulties of just managing issues or problems that come up because inevitably things happen. Whether it's a mistake we made or a troll that comes up on the site that causes issues. Those things happen and they're incredibly important to address but those are probably the most difficult challenges I think of community building. Going to the troll component I haven't seen trolls so much on any Indie Hackers, but have you how do you manage those kind of instances where there's issues or complaints or how do you manage that?
Oh, we get trolls. I think our bigger problem is spammers. So Indie Hackers being a little bit more focused on generating revenue, starting a business it turns into a channel for people to market their products. They say, okay well, we're all here doing the same thing why don't I try marketing my products to all these developers or all these founders who I think would be great customers.
So what happens is, I wouldn't count these people is trolls, I would just say that they're a little bit more focused on their own goals and not necessarily contributing to the community. We get a lot of self promotional posts that don't add very much of the community and I send a lot of one-on-one emails to people and say hey, here's what the point of the community is. Here's how you might be able to rephrase your posts in a way that get a good discussion going and also get people to visit your website. Then every now and then we get just outright trolls who want to come in and down vote everybody else's comments so they get to the top. Or they want to create spammy threads.
I deal with that through a combination of some algorithms and some actual code that I've written to automatically detect that stuff and then just manual effort. And in a lot of ways crowdsourcing it. Having community tools so anybody can report a thread on Indie Hackers. People who have enough points can downvote other comments to hide inappropriate comments.
So far, so good. I've been pretty surprised at how positive everybody is. How much everybody wants the community to succeed. How helpful everybody is and I think in a lot of ways, you said the hard part of a community is just dealing with the little issues that crop up. It gets harder at scale when there's so many people and in a lot of ways it's just like you're running a HR department for all users and it's not easy.
On one hand though, if you build it in the right direction and you have in some ways, like a self policing community and a base that also is incredibly defensible and helps you scale.
I think the problem with some communities early on, they don't address some of those issues in the beginning or they don't design the product in a way that can scale and have some sort of levels of self-policing, Then they become just a cesspool or deteriorate or actually become a very nasty place.
So I think for those that are building communities, it is so important to nip those things in the bud as my mom would say. She uses that phrase. I don't know why.
It's a good phrase. Where are you from?
From Oregon. Eugene, Oregon.
Oh cool. I just read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight the founder of Nike, spends a lot of time talking about Oregon in that book.
Yeah. I've heard good things about the book. I grew up in Eugene, went to the University of Oregon where he has a lot of history. Then moved here to San Francisco in 2010. So it's been a little while.
The Nike book is my only reference point but as far as I can tell after reading it Oregonians take a lot of pride in being from Oregon.
Yeah. There's this weird thing also about Oregonians in that for some reason using an umbrella is lame. So I used to live in Eugene most of my life and then moved to Portland.
I would walk to work about half of a mile. In Oregon it rains a lot and I would walk with an umbrella because I didn't want to get wet. I'd show up at the office and some of my teammates, co-workers, would be like why are you use an umbrella?
Everyone else, they take a lot of pride in just not using an umbrella but having just rain coats and walking in the rain and getting their feet soaking wet. I just don't get it, born and raised in Oregon. I just don't get that at all.
I don't either I wasn't raised in Oregon but I think if I was I'd be on your side about that.
Yeah, I don't like squishy feet, all day.
Yeah man, wet socks are the worst.
So we talked a little bit about starting a community. Do you want to dive into the specifics behind how you actually got Product Hunt off the ground because I know a lot of people listening are trying to start communities.
I think it makes sense to want to run a community as a business because it's just fun, you get to run a business where you spend most of your time talking to people about the thing that you like the most in the world but it's tricky to get it off the ground. How did you get the first people in the door for Product Hunt and how did you keep them there and grow the community from that point?
In some ways Product Hunt the community started before Product Hunt the website. In the sense that in 2012, 2013 I was actually writing quite a bit and the irony is that I hated writing in high school. I think it's because my teachers made me write about books and other stupid things I didn't care about.
Then I got into a habit and started really enjoying blogging about technology and products and I would often write about new products. Like at the time Tinder, when it was early and Snapchat. I would try to use writing as a vehicle to learn and to understand like why does Snapchat for example at the time, open up to the camera immediately. Or why does it have this particular design element. I did a lot of reading and so over time I was able to build a tiny audience, not very many people but like a small enough audience of people who are excited about technology, who are following me.
I had an email list and a few other little projects I was working on. So that all allowed me to then have an audience of people who are excited about technology to then build something for, ultimately. To clarify, I wasn't writing necessarily with the the idea of okay, I'm going to start Product Hunt in two years. Or that I'm even going to start a company in two years and it's going to be for tech people. It just sort of organically happened. So then fast forward to the early days, ProductHunt started off initially as an email list and it was just an idea. I loved products.
I used to browse the App Store, AngelList and other places just to find them. Me and my friends were also sharing these products often times. So I thought okay well, there's a bunch of social networks like Twitter and Facebook to find these things. There are online publications like TechCrunch but really what I want is a list. Just a simple list of cool stuff, every day and I want also a place to talk about these things.
So email was the easiest sort of MVP, I'm also not an engineer like yourself and others that start companies. My background is in business, marketing. Product management is more my professional career. So I had to get creative and so email was sort of the simplest way to get started. So I launched the email and going back to what I said before, I had a small enough audience of people who are following me so they they would subscribe. I quickly got a couple of hundred subscribers.
So that helped a ton in just getting things started and almost in some ways it was also just validating. It was encouraging because people were actually reading this email. If I try to reflect back and if they were only a dozen people in this email list for the first few weeks I don't know if I would have had the motivation. Or maybe I would have lost the interest, thinking that no one else wanted this thing.
So having the first few hundred people subscribing and then also emailing me and saying how much they enjoyed this email list every day, was really inspirational to keep going. When I think back on Product Hunt and in some aspects like any Indie Hackers too, those feedback loops when you're in the early days of some validation or camaraderie or whatnot can be super helpful.
Oh yeah, the early days of Indie Hackers I had my Weekly Newsletter and so I would add new interviews to the website and then I would send out on Thursday sort of an update of everything that I changed on the website and improved in addition to the new interviews. It was like.
I think if you have a normal job, you have a boss if somebody checking in on you who can congratulate you if you do a good job or you feel some sort of external pressure to actually do things. I think having that email list for me created the feedback loop that you're mentioning where it was super encouraging to hear people who actually enjoyed what I was doing, who would respond to the emails.
I felt even before getting the responses, just during the week that I needed to work harder and that I was motivated to get things done because I wanted to be able to send out a good email every week.
When you're doing that too you're kind of putting yourself out there too. People have an expectation, it's Thursday. I'm going to get the email from Courtland. So it kind of keeps yourself honest I imagine.
Exactly and I think what's cool about how you got your start when Product Hunt was entirely an email list, is one of the things that you mentioned yourself. That you're not an engineer and so you had to get creative. I think an engineer might have, probably bitten off a lot more than that for the most basic version of Product Hunt. Then maybe built something that was overly complex.
That wouldn't have had the sort of staying power that an email is could have, even with only a dozen subscribers. I think another cool thing about it is that an email list as a community doesn't necessarily need a lot of interaction. In fact, people don't have to interact with each other at all, for that to be a useful bedrock of a community. You just send out the email as long as it's worth reading then it works. I think it's very difficult to get a community off the ground if you have an empty forum or an empty chat room and only a few people in there and no one ever talks but with email no one really had to talk.
That's actually a really astute point. It's kind of a good way of bootstrapping a community in the beginning because you don't want that ghost town effect. Especially if you're building something that's entirely reliant on UGC or user interactions.
If we started Product Hunt maybe without kind of a base of a few thousand email subscribers it would have been harder for us to get enough curation and posts and comments to make it feel lively.
There's a tipping point with communities where you have enough people. I don't know if you remember the moment when you could not post something yourself and the community would still be vibrant.
Otherwise the beginning you're like, okay, let me post this. Let me go ask this person to post. Let me activate this person here. It takes a lot of manual efforts to get started.
Trying to roll this ball down the hill and get the momentum going and it was a long slog for me with the Indie Hackers community. It was months of me posting and asking people to post. Who was working with you in the beginning days? Was it just you by yourself sending these emails?
So initially it was it was just me and I was using a product actually called Linkydink which is no longer around anymore. It was kind of a cool project out of a small studio that was in England and that system basically allowed me to, from the very beginning create an email that was collaborative.
So it wasn't actually me curating the email entirely. It was actually me whitelisting, I think it was maybe 10 to 15 people who had access to share these products. Then everyone that subscribed got access to the list that was sent every day. So that piece was already automated and then when we got to the point where I realized, okay, well people seem to be liking this. People are subscribing, obviously email is great, but you can't interact. You can't really do much.
There's not much social, well, there's really no social engagement. That was when I decided let's turn this into a site, a place where you can interact, comment, upvote. Actually I modelled it a lot after Hacker News and Reddit. Going back to what I said before we didn't want to reinvent the wheel. Indie Hackers too has an upvote mechanism and comments and it's very familiar and that's not a bad thing. I think a lot of people maybe try to get too cute or unique and some of their product design decisions.
At the time I was like, all right, email is great but we need a site and not being an engineer I had a couple different paths. One, I was going to learn like React or Ruby or whatever and just try and teach myself some basics so I can get something off the ground. That was one option. The other was was using like Telescope, I don't know the current status of Telescope but it's an open source platform to create something kind of like a combination of a Hacker News type site or an email list.
That was another option. I ended up emailing a buddy of mine Nathan Bashaw about this and just got his feedback. His response was oh, I love the email. I have some time off over Thanksgiving, I'll be my parents place. Do you want to work on it together? Nathan is a super talented, very well-rounded individual, super product minded designer and engineer. So in the beginning it was him and me working on this as a side project for a while.
At what point did you decide that this was going to be more than a side project? That it would be an actual start up.
It was maybe within the first five months roughly, four or five months and it was a combination. We launched launched the email, got some traction. Then launched the site continued to work on it, continued to grow the platform. I ended up paying a guy named Ricardo in Italy, a developer part-time. I didn't have much money and Italy is a lot cheaper and so Ricardo was available through a friend of mine and an awesome guy. Actually a very humble guy.
So he was working on the side to make sure the site was like up and running because Nathan was working full-time too. We started building more things and over time as it just started growing more and more I just realized one, I could see where this could go. I could see this becoming much bigger than this tiny little email list that I started in the beginning and two, I love working on this and I could see myself doing this for a decade as I mentioned earlier.
I think it's a good question to ask yourself before you raise money, especially because you can't really give money back. And so then there was a point where Product Hunt started to become more well-known and growing and it was actually some folks at YC. The current batch actually at Y Combinator they were actually using it a lot and it was becoming fairly well-known within that community. It was Nicolas the CEO of Algolia, he actually DM'ed me on Twitter and he's like, hey Ryan, have you thought about joining Y Combinator for Product Hunt?
It wasn't even incorporated. We didn't raise money. I wasn't really sure if I wanted to turn it into a company and then take that commitment yet. I started one, exploring the option and met with Gary Tan and Alexis and Kevin Hale and Cat. Met all four of them actually. Just to get feedback on Product Hunt and better understand what Y Combinator would be for us. Long story short I ended up applying and then getting in and raising a round around that time as well.
I think in total you ended up raising about $7.5 million dollars from investors in the course of running Product Hunt but let's pretend for a second that all those investors turned you down. You never got into YC, you never got any subsequent money. What do you think your game plan would have been for growing and sustaining Product Hunt?
So there's an alternate, someone should write an alternate startup tech diary or fan fiction or something. Alternative scenarios of what would happen if x or y didn't happen. I thought a lot about this, in fact the realization was, one thing I'll say is that funding oftentimes it's a mechanism to hire people and to build things. The goal wasn't to raise money.
The goal was to build a team and raising money was a way to do that. However, it was actually another scenario that I was thinking and I didn't actually pursue this and I'm curious what would happen in an alternate reality if I pursued this direction, but it was actually to open source it. There's a thought that, what if Product Hunt was actually built directly by the community and everyone could contribute and it was built that way.
I found that really compelling because one, we are a community of people in technology. So it's a natural fit like where our audience in our target demographic is the same people that would be excited to participate in build on it. I didn't pursue that direction and the large reason for that was I haven't seen it done really elsewhere. It's pretty infrequently you see a very successful company that's entirely open source and distributed be successful.
Furthermore how do you manage consistency with design and implementation and all of these other things that are really difficult to manage. That said I find that direction of company building is really fascinating and not to go down a rabbit hole, but the world of blockchain and crypto and the future of work and remote working. I think we'll see more platforms emerge that support that type of way of building companies and products.
It's interesting. You mentioned that one of the things that turned you off to that approach was the fact that you hadn't really seen it done successfully before and I think this is kind of a recurring theme too because we've also talked, you mentioned a couple times earlier about how some of the early Product Hunt design and Indie Hackers design as well, sort of crib these features and these details that we've seen working on other sites.
We've seen upvotes work on Hacker News and Reddit. We've seen commenting lead to interesting discussions and so we didn't really try as hard as we could to elevate in those areas when we could just do what other sites did that was working. Then we could focus our efforts on other areas. Where do you draw the line here? How do you know when you should innovate as the founder of a business and when it's okay to just sort of go with the status quo?
I don't know if there's, there's no math equation I think you can put that question through but one thing that I would evaluate or consider is, try to reduce variables, try to reduce risk. Starting a company and going a more traditional route and whether that's VC or bootstrapping whatever it may be that's already really hard. Like it's probably not going to work anyway, so if you try to do that and then you add in this giant X factor of now you're going to be one of the few, very very few companies to be built distributed and open source, it's another huge X-factor.
So I think that same logic and same thinking can be applied to a lot of different things. If you're building, let's say from a product design perspective maybe you have a really creative idea and innovation around some user behavior or design pattern or whatnot. Maybe it's wiser to innovate in one area but keep other things more consistent and familiar.
Maybe Snapchat might be a decent example of that. Snapchat was quite Innovative in the fact that it deleted your pictures and it opened up to the camera immediately, those were core or fundamental principles that made Snapchat unique and different and useful for people. But it also had similar things like friends and friend mechanics and a lot of other aspects that are exhibited in other social products. So I think sometimes it's like this balance of innovating in some areas but not being too cute or too creative because that can sometimes introduce additional risk and potential failure.
You only have so many hours in the day as a founder. You can't really afford to give your full attention to 10 different Innovations and if you do they're just all going to be crappy anyway. From a practical standpoint it's just not feasible to really spread yourself that thin.
I'm curious. Actually there must be some crazy ideas that you've had at indie Hackers at maybe you have tried or maybe you decided not to. Whether it's marketing or product features or things like that. Can you share any of those?
Oh, yeah. I mean I have one that I'm working on right now, which is should Indie Hackers be less of a forum and more like Twitter. That's a question that's been going through my mind for a very long time because when I think about what are the best communities of entrepreneurs online there's a few forums that I can name but none of them are really stand out products.
And if I think where do I see people sharing sort of the best and most interesting updates that are transparent about what they're working on it's Twitter. So I spent a lot of time in recent weeks thinking about exactly why that is. So I've been analyzing the differences between the mechanics of a traditional online forum and a social feed like you might find on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And it turns out that the latter, a social feed is actually very promising for running an online community centered around discussing being an entrepreneur.
So this is one of the more risky and I think experimental changes that I'm actually planning on implementing. Meetups are another thing that we were doing that I don't think was really on my radar to begin with but Patrick at Stripe has been really big on any Indie Hackers meetups so we kind of just put the word out a couple weeks ago, hey, would you like to be in any Community Ambassador and host one meet up per month in your city. Now we've got 120 people and 90 cities across the world who are hosting meetups every month, which is super cool.
it's not something that directly impacts the traffic to the website, but it's really cool because it's an avenue for people who live in cities where they might not have ever met anybody who wants to start an online business. Now they can go get coffee with the person down the street who they never knew existed.
Yeah. I mean, we've had meetups early on and to your point about measuring the impact, it's really hard. It's impossible actually to truly measure the impact and if we never had a single meet up, I don't know how that would have affected where we're at today with Product Hunt but there's a lot of value that comes from having a community meet in person and bond around a similar passion.
I think it was last year we had 150 product meetups across the world and we're actually maybe by the time this podcast is out were we're introducing more of a like a tech events board to not only house product meetups but also other interesting tech events across the world. As much as I personally avoid meetups and events because I'm an introvert and tend to avoid those things they do create a lot of value I think for the community and in generally the ecosystem at large.
it's funny that we're both introverts who don't really like going to events and yet we are working on online communities and running podcasts.
I know, right.
How have we got ourselves into this situation Ryan?
I know. We created our own prison. Can't leave now.
It's too late. So Product Hunt since those early days of just being an email list. You guys have launched, it seem like dozens of products. You've got the basics, you got your email lists, you've got job board.
You've got your podcast, blogs. You've got mobile apps and desktop apps and Chrome extensions. You've got the core functionality of Product Hunt which is where people submit and vote on each other's products, but you've got all sorts of other cool features that you built on top of that. You've got Product Hunt collections, Product Hunt Sip News, Product Hunt Ship, Product Hunt Chat, Product Hunt Makers and the list goes on.
What's the strategy here? Why release so many new things and what are some of the lessons that you've learned by doing so?
So the theme this year, the past six months more specifically has been around, I would categorize in two different areas. One is getting to profitability. So we historically have not focused on revenue until towards the end of last year and based on our current projections, things are going well.
We will be profitable this year so really happy about that. It'll be a great sort of milestone to check off our list. Then the other focus has been actually around a lot of experimentation. So it's intentional that we're launching a lot of things and I guess I'm fortunate to say that we have such a strong engineering team and team in general. Particularly in engineering where we have often times each individual product is led by one person and so we're able to parallelize a lot of things versus at previous companies I've been at, it required three or four engineers to do anything.
I think that's a whole other story but a lot of what we're doing is experimenting with different ways for us to create value for our community and for the tech ecosystem. A lot of these things are based on observations of the behavior in Product Hunt. So one simple example is chat. We launched chat where you can chat one-on-one with people or you can even create a group chat but most people use it to communicate privately with one another.
That was a very obvious feature and granted it's not necessarily going to grow our community. Chat is not something that people come to Product Hunt for but it's a feature and a way for people to build connections with one another. We noticed that a lot of people within the comments were giving their Twitter username and saying hey DM me on Twitter or sharing their email and saying hey, let's take this offline.
That behavior was very clear that people were trying to communicate individually, privately with one another and so it's things like that we're expanding on in combination with things like makers to build Product Hunt into a place where people can truly connect with one another and create more social interaction. So products and discovering products and geeking out about products will always be a big part of Product Hunt but we want to use that also almost as like social lubrication or a way to bring people together to then connect another ways.
Fast forward, some examples of that are people helping each other, some are people connecting and co-founding companies together or starting start projects together. We want to create more opportunities for people to experience those serendipitous connections on the network.
So much that I want to talk about. How do you decide what to build? The difference between being a company that's not focused on generating revenue and being a company that suddenly decides that you need to turn on that revenue faucet.
First I want to go back to some of the early decisions you made and especially the transition from being an email list to becoming a website because I'm sure you had a lot of options. That must have been nerve-wracking to make that decision. What went into that decision and how did you envision the future of Product Hunt back when you were just an email list?
Yeah. So the vision has always been the same but the direction has changed slightly, I'll try to describe what I mean. Product Hunt in the beginning was very organic in that it was a combination of a lot of apps and tech products and still today that's what you find on Product Hunt.
Over time the community grew more and more. Started to evolve into not just a place where people shared products they loved and found but it became very much a place where makers and people come to launch their products. And then actually wasn't something I foresaw. Maybe I should have in the beginning but it wasn't a dynamic that I expected to happen in the beginning until it just organically started to occur. That's when we introduced things like maker badges and being able to highlight the maker of this product in the conversation.
So people knew who they were talking to. We also instrumented and productized a lot of ways for us to notify the makers when their products were on Product Hunt to ensure that they one, were aware it was on there and two could jump on the conversation. So in many ways Product Hunt became not just a place to share cool stuff you found but a launch pad for for this community of technologists.
Then there's a lot of aspects of Product Hunt that changed, a lot of areas that we made mistakes in and in terms of redesigning the homepage and the feed. Spending too much time in trying to make the feed more compelling when actually people liked how it was. It's also an interesting challenge I think a lot of communities fall into is you have ideas of what you want to build and yet your community has expectations and like familiarity that sometimes they're averse to, a lot of times communities don't like change.
So there's certainly a lot of mistakes in the product design side of things that we made as it evolved. Trying to make it more visual for example with inline videos and images. So there's a lot of mistakes and learnings along the way over the past almost five years.
I was talking to John O'Nolan the other day, the creator of the Ghost blogging system and he gave some interesting advice. He said as a founder, you should listen to some people or you should listen to no people but you should never try to listen to all of the people.
Who do you listen to the most and who do you ignore when you're trying to figure out the right decisions to make running Product Hunt? I know you have several different segments of people who actually use a site for very different reasons.
it's hard. I wouldn't necessarily classify an entire group of people that I ignore necessarily but I will call out investors a little bit in that investors use or some use Product Hunt as a combination of just a place to stay up-to-date and what's new and cool and interesting and then some also use it to find early-stage promising companies. Or maybe just find the people that are building really cool stuff and of course, I've gotten a lot of advice from investors, especially our own investors have their own ideas.
And some of them have their thinking about Product Hunt from their lens and so they'll ask for things like hey, I would love to know who's raising money and why don't you build a fund on top of Product Hunt and fund the most upvoted products. Or they have a lot of different needs and also the investor base is like I don't know what percentage is 0.1% percent of our audience.
So the reality is we don't want to listen too much to investors needs and build for them because that's an entirely different product. If we're building a curated platform for Investments like that I mean, that's what AngelList is to some extent, it's a very different type of company and product.
Let's talk about some of the things, some of these lessons that you've learned in listening to some of your users. Trying things out failing iterating etc. What are some of the things that have worked the best for growing the Product Hunt community?
Yeah. Let's see. A lot of what we try to do is observe, like there's a combination of listening to your community and what their ideas are and hearing them out and then there's a combination of observing their behavior. And so one example that I like to illustrate this is collections is actually just an observation of how people were using Product Hunt.
So collections for those that don't know it's a way to essentially bookmark or create lists of products that you want to save or share. So it could be something as simple as cool apps that I love or it could be free startup tools. Hiten Shah actually has a collection he's been managing for I think two or three years, free startup tools. He just adds ones that he likes to this list every single week or so.
We observe that people were actually saving products to Trello or saving them to Wunderlist or other third-party tools and obviously to do that you need to copy and paste the URL and then put it in your own software and like go through a number of hoops to like save this thing. So we saw this happening repeatedly and we realized well why don't we make it really easy for people to bookmark these things. And why don't we allow them to add things to a collection that's ultimately shareable that we can then use for further curation and also to allow people to like explore products in a different way.
So it's not just about here are the newest products today but here's a bunch of really cool free startup tools or I have a collection of apps that I continue to add to called nostalgic apps which are products or apps that are just like kind of weird and bringing back a nostalgic feeling. So there's one that it's like a radio time machine. So it plays music that was popular on the Billboard top 100 exactly one year ago, for example.
So there's just a lot of things like that, that observation of behavior was helpful in determining okay well, let's build for that behavior and make it easier for them to do and by doing so then you think from a strategic perspective. We have more data about these people more data about these products and more ways to help people discover other products as well.
What were some things you did to start getting more users in the door as opposed to delighting the people who are already Product Hunt users?
I mean I know you're doing a lot of manual effort stuff responding to people on Twitter, responding to people over email when you had your email list. Did you keep doing this manual stuff or did you ever hit on any more scalable ways to get people to know about Product Hunt?
There's two ways that we grew in the beginning that were very effective and now less effective. I guess user growth and growth in general it there's like these things that you do that get you to the next milestone but then oftentimes it's like a well you tap out. You can't necessarily continue to grow exponentially using that same channel or the same technique.
Got to find something new.
Yeah. Which is the hard part about startups is you always have to figure out something new. So there were two things that in the beginning we're incredibly beneficial. One was actually tech press and this is a trap for a lot of companies. A lot of people chase tech press because they want to show off how cool they are and it's oftentimes a vanity metric but for us tech press was helpful because the people that were reading TechCrunch are exactly the type of people who would want to use Product Hunt.
So when we had some early tech press whether it was launch announcements we had. Oftentimes we get and still get mentioned in these publications of these articles saying hey, here's this new product that launched, here's a link to the Product Hunt conversation where the maker is is answering questions. A lot of that was really helpful. And again, it's not helpful for a lot of companies. Actually most companies it's a terrible growth strategy to rely on press but for the first let's say six to nine months it was incredibly helpful.
Then the second lever for us was going back to what I said about makers joining. So what we realize is there was this nice flywheel that happened and still happens today and that when we have a person who is launching a product they end up bringing their own audience to some extent. They launch a product and they share it on Twitter or Facebook, LinkedIn sometimes with their own email list.
They then bring n number of users and those users contribute in upvotes and comments and other things like that and some of those users are also makers. They're also people who are building products. So there's this nice flywheel effect in that every time there's a product that launches they bring in new people and then some of those people stick around and the community continues to grow that way. That's still an important part of Product Hunt but it's not something that necessarily that alone is exponentially going to grow us to another like 10 million people per month for example.
I think what's interesting about growing your startup and hitting these plateaus where what you're doing earlier no longer works, you have to figure something else out that's new. It gets harder over time because by the time you've grown your now even bigger which means that a lot of the older grow tactics that you look at are just not right for the scale that you're at.
So for example if you're trying to grow your company by answering questions on Quora, that might be good for getting a few hundred or maybe even a few thousand people in the door but if you've got 200,000 people coming to your website, getting a few hundred people in the door it doesn't really move the needle. What moves the needle at Product Hunt today? What are the newer grow channels you are are looking at and how do you get Product Hunt to the next level in terms of size and impact?
So there's certainly those things that are helpful in the beginning and then at some scale they're wasting time. Like for me to go to write thought influencer pieces and try to drive traffic to Product Hunt is not a good use of my time or anyone's time, but then there are also some things that you can now do when you get to a certain scale that weren't possible before. And one thing that's been very effective in the past year roughly is SEO.
The combination of things have happened, one we've had this website up for almost five years now and we've created some domain authority on the Internet. We also have a lot of data and a lot of products, over 100,000 products posted and comments and original content around this information. We also have a lot of things that people may not realize, some of it behind the scenes.
We have things that are relations to products, for example alternatives to products where we're actually tagging and creating a network, sort of this product network where we know which products are related to each other and we use that to then generate effective landing pages. Like alternatives to Slack or alternatives to Intercom for example, which are things that people are searching for and so these are things that a lot of the core Product Hunt community don't even see and it's intentional.
It's not that we're trying to surface a lot of this content but we're able to use all the content data that we have to create these pages that then attract search traffic as well. And that's something that we wouldn't have been able to do in the first year, maybe two years effectively.
What happens when somebody goes to one of these alternative to pages? How do you think about capitalizing on that traffic that you're getting from search engine optimization and leveraging it to accomplish your vision at Product Hunt?
Right now we're sort of at the phase where we're continuing to learn what pages and what types of keywords are working and we're not doing anything aggressive in terms of trying to get those people on a retention channel you'll see.
I don't know the current state of Quora and Pinterest but back in the day, they would be very aggressive with any kind of traffic specially from search and force you to login after you saw maybe one article or after you scroll down the page. And so those are some things that we want to avoid, being overly aggressive like that.
But we do want to as a next phase after we continue to grow the actual traffic size, we want to think through, how do we identify the types of people and then which channels people are landing on that are driving return visitors or driving email subscribers or some sort of metric that gets people on a retention hook because the other reality is a lot of these search traffic users are not coming back. They search for alternative to Intercom and they see some other product, they click away and they're done. So that that's something we have yet to figure out right now.
Well, you're several steps ahead of me. Indie Hackers is primarily a content-based site and yet my search engine optimization is still pretty abysmal.
Well it's not something I knew really anything about, still don't know a lot about it. I'm not the one, I'm not the expert on this field at all. It's also not something I gave enough respect to because SEO isn't a sexy thing, really for most people it's not a cool thing.
It's also not necessarily fun for a lot of people and I think this is kind of a theme to entrepreneurship is oftentimes you need to be open-minded and be willing to do the things you don't like to do because actually maybe SEO is the biggest growth lever that you have and it's something that you should prioritize even though It's not the most fun thing to do.
Yeah. I'm glad you mentioned this because I think a lot of people's companies don't do as well as they could because people aren't as open-minded to exploring and learning about the different channels that they could use to get the word out about what they're doing and It's funny to be talking to you about this because on Indie Hackers probably the most common channel that people use to get the word out about what they're doing is Product Hunt.
So the sort of stereotypical thing is I've built my business. I have a website up. Nobody knows about it. So I'm going to put it on the front page of Product Hunt which is great because a lot of people who are looking for new products will find it, if it does well but it's also sad to see people stop there and not consider things like submitting to other communities or trying to get to the top of Google or pitching press or any of the dozens of other channels that might work for their business.
Yeah. There's infinite number of ideas and channels and also these channels change too. So if you look at, there was a time maybe 2014 and 2015 might have been the peak where a lot of these social mobile apps were leveraging your phone contact address book to grow tremendously quick. Some of that's a little bit shady, some of it was a lot of dark patterns to get you to invite your friends, but that was very effective in growing for a lot of different companies. And now today it's a lot more difficult.
One I think it's because a lot of consumers are a lot more hesitant to give access to those things and they're also I think, more sophisticated to not invite their Grandma to some social app by text messaging. So it's one of those things that there's certain things that will always, well for the foreseeable future be a growth channel like SEO, to some extent search traffic. Then there are also these new channels that emerge and sometimes die out over a year or two.
Yeah. I remember talking to David Hauser the CEO of a company called Grasshopper and they were big back in the early 2000's. One of the channels that they used back then that still exists but it's completely different is Google AdWords.
Like the advertising on Google search results but back then and it was like half a cent to get several clicks or something to your website and so it's just a massive growth channel for them. Nowadays it's much more expensive, much more competitive. So I would encourage anyone listening who's trying to figure out how to grow their business and get their first customers in the door to be creative and look for things that are maybe newer, that aren't as over-utilized as some of the more popular channels.
Yeah. It's a fun profession, growth and it's not something I've formally ever been in but there's so many different ways. It's like a combination of science and and psychology, often times when you think about exploiting or leveraging might be a better word different channels.
So I want to talk a little bit about revenue growth. Since you are on the Indie Hackers podcast after all but I think to really understand how you're thinking about revenue at Product Hunt why you're charging for products nowadays and you didn't use to.
We should mention the fact that Product Hunt was acquired by AngelList at some point in your journey Why sell Product Hunt, why not keep going on your own? And how has life changed since joining AngelList?
Let's see, it's been about a year and a half since the acquisition and so kind of going back to what I was saying before, we went through Y Combinator. We raised two rounds, one was a seed round and another one was led by Andreessen Horowitz. One of those investors in our seed round was actually Naval.
I had been following Naval, following AngelList for a long time and it was kind of at that moment where we connected and stayed in touch over the course of Product Hunt. Then fast forward to 2016, sounds like an eternity ago when I say 2016 but we got to the point where we were evaluating the next steps. What do we want to do with Product Hunt and where are we going to take this? And I started talking to Naval about what they're doing and the conversation started to turn into how do we work together. The beauty of this relationship, not to sound too cheesy, is that we were very much building for the same audience and have very similar cultural values in that AngelList is building, their goal and mission is to really help startups succeed and they do that by helping them get capital. So they can hire and also hire through the talent platform.
Those are two fundamental very important things, if you don't have a team and you don't have money oftentimes, you can't really do anything. And the thing that they were missing was how do they get users? How do you get distribution and also an aspect of that that was missing with an AngelList is community engagement and something that you'd come back to every single day. AngelList is awesome but it's not necessarily a place, it's not designed to be a place that you come back to and hang out. it's designed for very important high-value transactions.
So when we got to talking and hearing more about what they're doing AngelList is just like peanut butter and jelly in that a lot of what they're aiming to do aligns with what we're doing but we have very different types of directions and almost complementary values or things that we're trying to achieve.
How's the acquisition affected how you look at generating revenue for Product Hunt? And as sort of a follow-up to that, how do you look at generating revenue for Product Hunt? And what's your game plan there?
So the first I would say revenue was not, first year after the acquisition that is, revenue was not the priority and partly the goal was actually to keep things relatively cohesive and not disrupt the community because the last thing we wanted to do was like we made jokes about like rebranding it to Angel Hunt and putting it under Angel.co and like that wouldn't make any sense, like, why would we do that?
That would be a slap in the face of the community and the brand that we built. So a lot of our focus was let's keep things relatively consistent. Let's make sure that this transition is smooth because you never know how a community will react when there's an acquisition and the fortunate thing is a lot of people In Product Hunt actually admire AngelList and a lot of them tweeted at me and said hey, I love Product Hunt and I love AngelList because I got my job, I got hired through AngelList. So a lot of that was sort of the first year and then going back to the end of last year the shift then went to revenue and getting to a place where we can pay our bills. Basically our strategy for that has been kind of twofold.
It all fundamentally comes back to what I was saying before in terms of identifying a behavior or listening to users. Like every single revenue effort that we've done has been driven by some form of that or in one way or another. And the ways that we're monetizing today is is partly through advertising and one of the biggest drivers of that is actually promoted products. The way we approach that is, one, we could have approached it as anyone could pay to get the number one spot on Product Hunt and give us money and that was that.
We might make more money but we might also piss a lot of people off in turning Product Hunt into pay to play. Instead what we are doing now is we're actually allowing people who have been on Product Hunt before to get re-featured and that's the only people that can pay for promoted spot on Product Hunt and by doing that we're able to surface things that people have already expressed interest in.
These are all products that have many many upvotes, hundreds of upvotes in many cases and so it's not disruptive to the experience. It's actually in some cases additive because it's a cool product that was already like last week or last month on Product Hunt and we've got no complaints from that type of approach and we're able to monetize effectively.
So that's one of a few different kind of advertising based methods of revenue generation. And then the other is Ship which I can talk more about, it's a whole rabbit hole but basically that's subscription-based SaaS business that we're building based on a lot of observations of how people are building products and we have a thesis around how people can can communicate better with their audience along the way.
Let's talk about Ship for a little bit. So Ship is sort of your monthly recurring revenue subscription business that you guys have launched. How's that going? And what are some lessons that you've learned?
So I mentioned there's kind of two channels. We have advertising which is pretty straightforward pretty obvious. And then we have sort of subscription-based revenue. Ship is honestly, it's been an awesome learning opportunity for me because it's essentially a SaaS business. It's very different than Product Hunt but it leverages a lot of the same things and is built off of very much all the observations that we've had over the past almost five years and basically the the ideas we noticed.
A lot of people are one, building their own landing pages for their products. Two, they are collecting emails and signing up for things like MailChimp so that they can email those people and three they're using things like TypeForm to survey their users and get more information about them to help inform their product design and what they're building. So people have three to four different products that they are using for this and as a result what they're often having to do is export a CSV and import it into MailChimp and then take the results of TypeForm and try to smash it together with your MailChimp results to be able to target certain people.
For example, if you have a question that's like, are you an Android user or iPhone user and you want to email all the iPhone users with a link to your test flight. You have to piece together three different tools to do that, It's a lot of work. And so the idea is okay we have people doing this.
Let's make it easier to do all these things and build it in one central platform so that you don't need to export CSV's anymore. So the idea was Ship is to just help people build better products and spend more time building the product and less time building and piecing together all these tools to communicate with users.
Right and I see a lot of Indie Hackers using Ship for the reasons that you listed. I mean, it saves them from having to reinvent the wheel every time they want to launch a new product, gauge interest, put up a landing page etc.
I'm curious what lessons you've learned from launching Ship. If you could go back a year and talk to the Ryan of a year ago and tell him something about Ship, what would you say?
That would be... I wish I could do that. It'd be amazing. I think part of the mistakes we've made with Ship have been and I think this is pretty common is we built a lot of features and the reality is most people use one or two of the features and they're happy with it. And a lot of the other things that we built aren't being used and I think it's it's fairly common.
Especially with tools like this where you're trying to build an all-in-one solution. It's really common to try to build a lot of advanced features like testing and other things like that that other tools have without fully realizing like will people really use this or will enough people really use this to make it worth the time.
So certainly, the mistake has been we built a lot of features a lot of tools but a lot of it is not used and people are happy with just kind of the core basic product. So that would be the thing I would tell myself is to simplify and try not to go too far down the rabbit hole in rebuilding some of the more advanced features set.
What do you think the future holds for generating revenue product?
So this year will be profitable through the two different general channels that I mentioned and then at that point it's not necessarily a focus frankly of then generating more and more money.
And of course we would like to but we're not trying to milk a cow until it's dead. That's a really terrible analogy.
Don't do that.
But we're not trying to make, we're not trying to make a ton of money after this. Like our goal actually is to get the profitability to cover our expenses and then we'll take some of that focus and shift it back towards building things for the community and user growth in general.
So it's very much kind of two phases that we're looking at and that sort of next phase will be probably the end of this year, early next year.
Let's talk about your personal life for a little bit. How do you juggle living a normal life and also being the founder of Product Hunt.
How much time do you spend working and how has the work/life balance changed since getting acquired by AngelList
Yeah. I'm fortunate that I like what I do, so work for me is is often times fun. In fact it's my favorite thing to do is honestly get up early 5:30am and get to Philz as fast as possible and start working.
There's something maybe it's not healthy I don't know but I just enjoy that and even when I was traveling recently and working remotely, first thing I would do in the morning in Paris, Berlin and London is find a coffee shop. Unfortunately, no Philz over there, but I found a coffee shop that had Wi-Fi and would camp out for two or three hours and that was, I don't know something therapeutic about it.
Fortunately, I like what I do. I feel that there are definitely waves of business and I think most founders that I talked to have that feeling where some weeks are busier than others. I certainly have those but I also would mention and acknowledge the fact there's a lot of stresses but they're different stresses than when you're independent as a company. When you have a company that ultimately when you're not making money and you're not profitable you have you have a date where you're going to die.
Those are the most stressful moments, thinking about and worrying about growth or revenue whatever it may be when you're independent, that now we don't have to worry about today. And AngelList we have a lot of ambitious goals and I have a lot of promises to keep and we're working just as hard, but I'm not worried that we're going to die tomorrow.
When was the time when you were worried that you're going to be dead tomorrow?
We went through two rounds of funding and so they were very short, back to back. So it was I think a four or five month difference between these two rounds and so we didn't go through where a lot of companies have multiple rounds over several years, it's a little bit different for us.
A lot of it you end up seeing that there is this point where you need to either raise a round, get acquired or die and then of course, there's other options to like scaling back and all of that. There certainly were moments with stress where you're worrying like things don't always work, things don't always go to plan.
Things always take longer than expected. And so there's certainly some times and months where there's stresses when you go to the board meeting and any unfortunately have to deliver really not great news and then metrics don't look great. We've certainly gone through moments of that. And those are the most stressful times to think of starting and building company.
How would you assess yourself as a founder and a CEO? What would you say are your strongest skills and on the flip side, what do you need to work on the most?
I think from an individual contributor perspective. My skill sets lie in community building, marketing and product management or product in general. And so that's where I sort of hang my hat.
I defer to other people way better than me on design and certainly on the engineering but from the founder or leader perspective I think I'm, I don't know maybe I should have my team speak for me but I think I'm good at managing and working with a lot of people across different functions and listening and being empathetic.
I'm not so great at certainly not good at having hard conversations and keeping people accountable and setting deadlines and holding people up to the metrics that they said in the beginning. A lot of that is just not natural for me and it's something that I've recognized, over the years and it's something I'm trying to improve but it's hard sometimes when you just want, you want everyone to get along and you want to build awesome products. Sometimes you have to be a little bit more strict and maybe Institute and okay our process and things like that to help people do better at their own job.
So tough as a founder where you're just working to try to make your business succeed and that's hard enough but at the same time you have to learn how to hire and manage and delegate effectively. That's really challenging to do, especially if you don't have any management experience.
In most founders many of them have managed very small teams or no teams at all and that was me. Actually my background is in product management and I didn't have any direct reports.
Like I was one who would work across all functions of the group but no one was reporting to me and I wasn't the manager and so when Product Hunt started I became a manager and I had to learn kind of along the way and still learning. On Indie Hackers it's just you and your brother. Is that right? Or do you have anyone else working with you?
It's just the two of us, but we rely a lot on our community to get things done. And so as I mentioned earlier our community sort of moderates and police's itself. They create obviously all the content on the community forum.
They run and host all the meetups that we have going on all over the world. They even contribute to a lot of our written content on the website. So most of the things we write it's not blog post written by me and my brother but it's interviews that we're doing other people, AMA's and round tables. Otherwise, we just couldn't do very much by ourselves.
Yeah. I mean that's impressive because it's really hard to, it's really hard to build a company with just a few people.
Especially when you have a living breathing community that you can't just turn off. It's not like you can, you can't go to Burning Man can you. I mean, how do you fully disconnect? You really can't.
I've been getting better at it recently, but it's tough. I mean, you're right. I've never been to Burning Man.
Yeah. I went last year for the first time and that was, I was offline for a little bit over a week I think and it was really strange. It was the first time I didn't think about work at all and that literally hasn't happened in my life once.
So it was a good disconnect.
Sounds badly needed. Let me ask you, where do you think the maker community is going and where did it come from? How have things changed in terms of the community behind Product Hunt from when you started it to where it is today?
I mean part of the thesis on Product Hunt was an observation that one, technology is part of our culture and it's in many ways a way to express yourself. The same way that music is a way to express yourself and we're seeing kids and people learning to code and learning design and learning all these things within the technology space with ambitions and aspirations to start a company or build something that people want.
That is something that I definitely foresee continuing and is something that I certainly want to support because I think it's good to support these people who are building things and using code and design and marketing or whatever their passion is to express themselves. And that's why you see a lot of people who are maybe self-identified makers who are not building companies and have no intention of necessarily turning this thing into a company or a business, but they're just building stuff because they want it to exist or they're building it for fun.
That's a trend that I think will continue seeing and I hope that the broader mainstream world understands that and acknowledges that it's okay to build a shitty product. People are okay with people creating shitty music because it's it's a person who's learning and I just see far too often people who criticize others for building something that they don't think is of value or interesting or designed well, when we really should be celebrating and encouraging these people to try and explore the world of tech.
There's something about the Internet in general or it's kind of like cars where people get into a car and suddenly they lose all their humanity for everybody else who is in a car around them. And on the Internet it happens as well.
Someone will put their product on Hacker News and then everyone just comes in with these heartless comments that are just needlessly critical without really realizing that somebody's a real person on the other end. So I totally agree with you. We should celebrate the fact that people are trying and that the people are being creative and doing things that 5-10 years ago they probably would have had the courage or the ability to do.
Certainly not the ability, when a decade ago you'd have to buy a server and like it would cost so much more but it would also just take so much more time to build something and get something up and running.
Now there's lots of infrastructure in place to make it easier and one community I'll shout out to is like Glitch as one example as like a really cool interesting take and community really of people building like web apps and silly fun stuff and there's a lot of really cool kind of inspirational ideas on that platform.
When you you mentioned that it's easier to do this stuff nowadays because it's more affordable I think about the same thing with Indie Hackers, there are a lot more people starting companies today because it's way cheaper to do it than ever was in the past and it's easier to learn, it's easier to learn how to code.
It's easier to learn how to start a business because there's so many stories online when people have documented exactly what they did to get started and I think going into the future we're going to see a lot more people doing this stuff because it's just easier and cheaper than it's ever been in the past.
Yeah. I think there's also something really freeing about being an entrepreneur and building your own thing on the Internet whether it's bootstrapped or VC backed but I don't know, the internet's a pretty awesome place to to build and connect with people that have similar passions.
We're seeing, I was just talking with some some people on the team this over lunch around D2C and the rise of a lot of these direct to consumer brands and it's easier and easier now to build that with things like Shopify and some smart marketing on Instagram and Facebook.
There's a lot of infrastructure in place to give people an opportunity to create their own business and in some ways, create their own lifestyle because if you can create your own business and you enjoy working, you can work anywhere.
You can work from anywhere at any time on whatever project you want to you. And it's I think it's just too promising an opportunity for a lot of people to not at least give it a shot.
Let me ask you Ryan, to close out here. Let's say somebody wants to start an online community. Is this something they should do and if so what are the steps they can take to try to do it?
I mean, I think there will always be an opportunity to create a community around something. I think my my advice or guidance would be pick a very specific community an audience and if Product Hunt for example was a product discovery platform for everything, if you went there and there was music and there was some sort of kickstarter campaign, an app, video game, all these different things.
It wouldn't be compelling. It wouldn't be cohesive and the audience, no one would gravitate towards it because they want self-identify with it. Whereas today Product Hunt that's about tech and you do see a variety of things that are not necessarily tech products, but the majority is about tech. So I think it's so important to find a niche and a focus and ideally a hole in the world.
Like maybe there's, one way to actually explore this is first look to yourself and be like, what am I passionate about because at the end of the day like I'm not going to be the one that is going to build an online community for lawyers because I couldn't care less about law. But I am the one to build a community about tech and products. And so I think one piece of advice is to look at what do you passionate about.
Where did those people hang out today? And is there maybe an unserved need to build a community around this particular interest or demographic or what not. I find infinite number of opportunities to create communities. I think you could even look at subreddits and there may be opportunities to create basically your own brand and community around a popular subreddit as one area of inspiration.
Well said, Well, thanks so much for coming on the show Ryan. Can you tell listeners where they can go to learn more about what you're up to at Product Hunt.
Yeah. ProductHunt.com/@rrhoover. I'm also on Twitter @rrhoover. Where else am I? I'm on all the social networks. We'll be launching a couple cool things over the next month or so, and thanks for having me. It's fun to be on a podcast that I listen to, so appreciate the invite.
Appreciate you coming on Ryan. Thanks again.
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