Creating a Massive Community and Making It Profitable with Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt

Episode #067

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.

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    Thanks for having me, @csallen! 🙏🏼

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      Awesome interview @rrhoover and @csallen 😊 Nice work!

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      I needed this interview!
      @rrhoover thank you for creating Product Hunt ! :)

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    Really enjoyed hearing two community builders (from different backgrounds) dig into the process of building community around technology! One comment: you guys joked about how funny it is that self-described introverts @rrhoover and @csallen are building online communities. But it's perfectly logical that introverts prefer online communities to offline because of the async communication pattern of most online communities. In this respect, both PH and IH are in part a reflection of the founders. And that's awesome!

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      True! People assume social people on the internet are extroverts where (anecdotally) it seems to be the opposite.

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    Awesome interview and lots of good advice from @rrhoover ( and @csallen as per usual ).

    I especially liked the discussion around Product Hunt's habit of building out lots of smaller products / features and the pros and cons of doing so.

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    Listening to this one now!

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    My Main Takeaways:

    • Product Hunt was started to help people find cool new products.

    • ProductHunt inspired NomadList inspired IndieHackers

    • Honour your early adopters: Ryan would personally email all new joiners to Product Hunt in the early days.

    • Ryan found himself working on Product Hunt during working hours while working part time for another company he was transitioning out of.

    • Build an audience organically by following your interests: The Product Hunt community came before Product Hunt, because Ryan started blogging about products and technology 2 years before Product Hunt was released (He didn’t start the blog with the goal to make Product Hunt, that came naturally, he was just following his interests).

    • Product Hunt started as an email list. Ryan is not an Engineer so email was the simplest way to start.

    • Avoid the Ghost-town community effect: By starting with an email list and building an audience, you ensure that you don’t build an entire website with no audience where nobody even uses it.

    • In the early months of IndieHackers, it was mainly just Courtland posting, and Courtland would have to ask people to post.

    • When Ryan wanted to build Product Hunt as a website, he reached out to a friend who knew how to Code, Design, and do Product. It was initially just a side-project.

    • Important things to ensure before you raise money: (1) Ensure that your idea has potential, and (2) Ensure that you’d be willing to commit to it for a decade.

    • Ryan didn’t want to go to Y Combinator at first, but he was persuaded, then eventually applied and got accepted, raising about $7.5 million.

    • Funding is usually a way to hire people or build things.

    • When starting your business only innovate in one area (at most), but keep everything industry standard. When starting a company, reduce risk variables (innovative but risky ideas that could potentially go wrong).

    • Ryan and Courtland are introverts who run online communities with meetups and podcasts.

    • A lot of the time, communities don’t like change.

    • You can’t grow exponentially through one channel, you always have to change the channel once you’ve hit its peak potential.

    • Leverage the Flywheel effect: When new users release a product on product hunt, they bring with them their own audience, who may also join Product Hunt and then release their own product and bring their own audience too… and so on.

    • Be open minded to try channels that you may hate, because you never know whether that may be your winning channel!

    • Look for newer, less utilised growth channels (Like Google Ads or Facebook ads in their early days).

    • After Product Hunt was acquired, Ryan began focusing more on revenue. One way he did this was by making a SaaS product called “Ship”, that’s built into Product Hunt. “Ship” helps people quickly validate and get feedback on their ideas, with quick-setup landing page, surveys, and user messaging functionality.

    • Keep it simple, don’t build an advanced feature-set right off the bat.

    • Ryan likes to wake up at 5:30am and get straight to work from a coffee shop.

    • Ryan has gone through moments in Product Hunt where he thought the end was near. But he stuck through those tough moments and persevered.

    • Ryan says that his strongest skills are: community building, marketing and product management.

    • To start a community, make sure you’re genuinely passionate about it. You can even look at Sub-Reddits, you may be able to build a community around those.

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    Thrilled. I really enjoyed listening to two great guys who have own massive community in tech industry talk about the future of products and maker communities. Awesome.

    You mention wrong Ryan's twitter account on transcriptions.

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    @rrhoover I love the idea to think about building a product as a way to express yourself!

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    I wish someone'd ask what was the biggest facepalm moment building IH/PH :D (i.e. biggest troll/biggest bug etc)

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      Funny because it's hard to even think of one… not because there haven't been any, but probably because my brain tries to forget about them and move on. A few candidates:

      • Taking 6 weeks after launch to realize HN would be a good distribution channel going into the future, even though that's where I initially launched and it went well. Should've been obvious. 🙈
      • Burning myself out in November 2016 looking for additional distribution channels and coming up with nothing.
      • Countless email newsletter typos and broken links. You'd think I'd learn eventually to always double check…
      • Letting the top navigation bar stay in such a miserable state for such a long time.
      • Lots of missed opportunities… things I should've built, meetings I should've had, and strategies I should've followed much, much earlier.
      • In general, not being sufficiently ambitious for the site until after joining Stripe.
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        Thanks, those are some pretty good "war-stories"

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    Very inspiring to listen to, thank you!

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    i am making a community based platform, so I found the different approaches to monetising and partnering very interesting!

    @rrhoover what made you build the SAAS into PH, and not something separate, but launched via PH?

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    ProductHunt is a great product. I think that it shows the amount of work and love that Ryan and the guys at ProductHunt have put into their product.

    The interview is great also! Thanks for it

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    Great interview! The really interesting part was the idea of turning IH into another Twitter. I'm intrigued and hope @csallen has an idea of how to keep it from becoming a hate machine like the actual twitter...

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      Certain topics are toxic. Politics is the big one. It's divisive, ideological, and has no minimum barrier to entry. Everyone participates, not just experts, thereby dragging down the level of conversation while simultaneously amplifying the number of conversations. It will always be a part of Twitter, because Twitter is for general discussion. Not so for IH, which is centered around a very limited set of topics. You rarely see politics on niche sites.

      Additionally, Twitter's requirement that everything be a tweet (and that tweets be short) prevents substantive, thoughtful discussion. I'll always prefer threaded comments for topics like business.

      Happy to talk more about this elsewhere. 👍

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        Just commented on this above, but glad to see your comment here. Based on what you write here, it sounds a lot like you're not really planning on changing it to something like Twitter...

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        Agreed. I've been thinking that the ability to retweet and add commentary to a tweet was a major factor in Twitter becoming as nasty as it has.

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          Yeah, that plus politics. I see bootstrappers on Twitter using that feature all the time in a way that's positive and helpful.

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    Great interview! I was excited to listen when I saw this in the Indie Hackers newsletter.

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    Thanks @rrhoover and @csallen.

    Are monthly active users and registered user numbers for PH and IH public?

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      IH has about 12,000 signed-in members visiting each month, and a lot more anonymous lurkers visitors.

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    Greatly enjoyed the interview, thanks for the insight!

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    @csallen - PLEASE don't change Indie Hackers into something like Twitter!

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