Growth July 1, 2020

Product Hunt is just a popularity contest - Change my mind

Chris Buttenham @chrisbuttenham

Since joining Product Hunt ~6 years ago I've:

  • Made 11 products
  • Upvoted 675 products
  • Hunted 8 products

Product Hunt is a popularity contest

I'm not sure that it used to be that way, but I think it's become oversaturated and somewhat rigged. I can't tell you how many times I've stayed up until 3am (when I was on the east coast and scheduling wasn't a thing) to ship a product and then have to fight with PH just to get them to put the product on level playing field with the rest. Somehow, at 3:01am the top product already has 16 upvotes 🤔

It's not that all the products I have shipped haven't done well—I've accumulated 1,648 upvotes total. Not amazing, but not bad!

Maybe all of my products are shit! That's a valid possibility lol. Though, a noticeable difference between me and a lot of the makers who constantly ship products that immediately rise to the top are:

  • I haven't raised a shit load of money
  • I'm not silicon valley famous
  • I don't have half a million Twitter followers

Obviously, the title of this post is a bit clickbaity, but the gist of what I'm trying to say is that PH isn't the free market meritocracy is claims to be—it's a popularity contest.

Don't mistake this as a whiney, complaining post—I'm genuinely curious if other folks feel the same way. This just occurred to me after launching Obie for Chrome yesterday.

Change my mind! 👇

  1. 12
    • 25% how big your audience is
    • 25% how many startup friends you've got
    • 30% how much the product fits the PH hive mind
    • 20% how awesome the product is
    1. 6

      Also emojis. Don't forget to sprinkle emojis in your pitch and on your landing page.

      1. 4

        Haha 💯💯💯

        1. 4

          I see what you did there😝

      2. 1

        5% emojis lol

    2. 3

      This feels like an accurate breakdown to me. Probably also affected by the how well the other products (on your launch day) fill these quotas.

  2. 9

    Most upvotes on PH are because of how entertaining the pitch is, rather than whether the product is actually useful. Good if you like social status but often bad if you want to find paying customers.

    1. 1

      Facts 💯

    2. 1

      I feel like I've been waiting for someone to say this! I totally agree

  3. 7

    I got 2000 upvotes on 1 product, had 0 audience, no VC money and like 100 twitter followers.

    A lot of it is luck, but if you build good stuff you usually do well if you can get them initially upvotes.

    1. 1

      BOOM 🔥 that's amazing. I love being proved wrong. Post the product here? I'd love to check it out.

      1. 4

        https://saaspages.xyz/ :)

        PH is 100% easier when you have an audience though. Especially a big one.

  4. 5

    Product Hunt just like other platforms is filled with freeloaders. Most of the upvoted/popular ones are free or have a free tier.

    1. 1

      I don't think I realized this until I made this post. Now that I hear it, feels obvious!

  5. 3

    Everything on the web is a popularity contest to some degree. You have to have a crazy WOW amazing product if you want to just post a link and get tons of signups.

    ProductHunt isn't a launch strategy, it's just something that can help.

    I've read that free stuff also does well on PH (it still has to be useful). Which is a great way to grow a following before/while launching a paid product.

    So, I think you're right, I think it happens to all "merit-based" tools online. But most importantly, it's why we need to be working with audiences as IHers, not talking at them :)

    1. 2

      You'e absolutely right. And I think I missed that punch-line in my post:

      it's why we need to be working with audiences as IHers, not talking at them :)

      I love this ☝️

  6. 2

    I understand your frustrations, but I see it differently.

    PH is marketing and you have to go in there with a strategy.
    Sure, you can go on PH and go purely for organic reach, but it's not the best method if you want to reach the top spots. To do that, I would recommend building an audience first (doesn't have to be big) to get your first votes.

    Now we can discuss all day if that is "right" or if it should be that way, but at the end of the day, it is what it is and you have to play the game to win.

    Also, you mention that you haven't raised a shit load of money and you don't have a lot of Twitter followers. What's stopping you from doing those things? Someone with half a million Twitter followers also had to work for that. They can then leverage that for sites like PH and many others.

    Having a great product that generates organic reach on it's own is amazing, but building an audience first will nearly always make your life a bit easier.

    A shitty product with a large audience will do more revenue than the best product that nobody knows about.

    Hope this was helpful :)

    1. 1

      Thanks for sharing your perspective 😊 my only concern with what you said is that it's almost as if suggesting to generate an audience for the sake or reaching the top of Product Hunt is the end goal. Shouldn't reaching your core audience be the end goal? Perhaps there in lies some of the issue with putting hype around PH.

      1. 1

        Sure is, but I felt your thread was about the frustration that others get good traction and you don't. You mention not having a lot of followers or capital, but nothing is stopping you from building those things as well.

        PH is indeed ment for reaching an audience, but it's not the best platform to start with imo.

        1. 2

          Oh, no no—not frustrated with my outcomes at all! Just simply pointing out an observation I came across having watched PH evolve over the last 6 years

  7. 2

    I agree with you, is a lot of the same makers.

    I launched https://www.colorsandfonts.com twice the first one I was the 11th and second one 8th...

    I don't know what to say, is confusing.

  8. 2

    I just posted my product SKWSH last Thursday and yea I agree it's a popularity contest. 100%

    1. 1

      The product looks cool!

      1. 1

        Thanks :)

  9. 1

    Hey Chris!

    My two experiences with Product Hunt couldn't have been more different from one another. I launched my first product there earlier this year (an eBook for developers) and it ended up The #4 Product of the Day on PH. I had no existing audience on that platform. (Oddly enough, though, on the day it launched people gave it 2 stars...so the rating is "low" even though there was no way they'd read my book within an hour of it launching...🤔).

    I launched a second eBook in May and listed it on PH. By then, I had almost 300 followers on PH (from zero earlier this year). I didn't expect the exact same response as the first—my second eBook is narrower in focus—but it got almost no traction on there!

    It's hard to make a direct comparison between the two, but I'd be curious to hear from others who have had multiple product launches on PH and have seen success.

    1. 1

      Hey! Thanks for sharing! I've had very similar experiences launching almost a dozen different products. I think the factors include:

      • Timing (who else is launching that day)
      • Day of the week (Is it a Sunday or weird holiday you didn't remember)
      • Market Fit (is your audience even on PH for this product)
      • Shit luck
      1. 1

        Indeed!

  10. 1

    STOP USING:

    • I haven't raised a shit load of money
    • I'm not silicon valley famous
    • I don't have half a million Twitter followers

    Saying it's a "beauty / popularity contest" is, imo, only because you didn't get out of it what you expected. Maybe you expected the wrong thing.

    Only reason you should be using Product Hunt for your product launch is because it is A channel. It's not the only channel, it's not the best channel, it's A channel.

    It's also not about the upvotes, it's about getting the RIGHT visitors to your website, capture them, connect with them and see if they can help you grow.

    Also, the reason why you sometimes see posts go live with XX upvotes it's because they got posted late the day before but still gained some traction. Product Hunt is a CURATED site after all, so admins can determine that that product is interesting for its users tomorrow.

    end rant xoxo

    1. 3

      BOOM! I love it. I don't disagree with most of what you said. I'll also admit, if I was the king of PH I likely wouldn't have written this post—you're right. I'm glad it's sparked a conversation, though!

      I think one of the most important things is:

      it's about getting the RIGHT visitors to your website

      ☝️for me, for example, the times I've done the poorest should have been no surprise. These products weren't built for the PH demographic.

      My one point of contention, which is important for either of our arguments is:

      Product Hunt is a CURATED site after all

      Is it? If so, that's cool. I was under the impression it was a platform, though. Which would suggest the content on the site should be relatively unadulterated.

      xoxoxoxoxoxox

      1. 1

        it is mostly unadulterated, but it has to be policed from all the idiots who post Wordpress or webflow themes etc. So there is moderation and slight curation, for example what I mentioned about interesting products that are moved to the next day.

        1. 1

          That I disagree with. Then biased humans pick and choose what the people want to see. Isn't sunlight the best disinfectant?

          1. 1

            No because there are too many people trying to take advantage of Product Hunt as a channel. Trust me. Quality would be reeeeaaaaally low.

            1. 1

              But then they'd never get any upvotes and be discouraged from using it as a channel in the future, no?

              I'm curious.. you and I, let's start a startup.. we'll call it Product Smunt and it'll be a free for all lol

              1. 1

                No because it will damage the genuine community too much.

  11. 1

    I agree for the most part. Imo it's biased so that we have discussions about "Is this the right time to launch at Product Hunt"? That's why I've build https://melbado.com Just post your startup, don't worry about the right timing or something.

    1. 1

      Cool! I just tried signing up and it wasn't obvious to me how to complete the startup submission.. it says I have to complete some fields before the startup is published, but I don't see where those fields are!

      1. 1

        Thanks for letting me know. Yeah, I know it's still super user unfriendly. I wanted to push out something really quickly. I promise it'll be far easier to publish to melbado in the future.

  12. 1

    Beauty pageants are a popularity contests. But winners go on to build successful career out of it. I would like to think of any ranking-based platform the same way. Winning on PH is not everything, but sets you up for success that is up to you to take.

    I had recently published an article (the IH post here) where I studied how various startups became successful. I can remember at least one (Lemonade Insurance) that became successful because of their PH launch day success.

    But having said that, you are right that it is rigged to an extent. Many startups today have a PH Launch Day and everyone in the team is responsible for upvoting and engaging with the community on that day.

    So yeah, if you are funded startup with a couple of dozen employees, you are going to get 15-20 votes right off the gate.

    That's the nature of the game. The rest of us have to beg borrow or steal upvotes from other PHers.

    1. 2

      Yep, good observation! Also, nice post.. I didn't know how Freshdesk or Helpscout found there first users 💡

      1. 1

        Thanks Chris. I'm glad you liked it.

  13. 1

    PH algorithm doesn’t seem to have been rebalanced to deal with upvote armies. Alternatively Hacker News barely even counts the upvotes, mostly about CTR it seems, from the time I’ve made it to the front with 7 upvotes and didn’t with 21. I looked at GA and the traffic was large for the first but not second.

    You probably already know this, but did you cold email a “Hunter”, as they call it, with a large following to post it for you? I hear that’s a great way to get a boost since all of their followers get notified.

    1. 1

      Hmm yeah HN is a whole other beast. Haven't had a lot of success over there.

      And yes! In fact, I had one of the top hunters "hunt" us multiple times and other times I just hunted myself. With my small data set it's not obvious that one is better than the other, believe it or not. PH used to send push notifications to anyone following the hunter when they hunted something new.. they don't do that anymore.

  14. 1

    Yup, I think it's a bit rigged now. I guess, it's not about having the best product but rather having the right strategy, following, friends, etc.

    I'm currently working on a new homepage/feed at SaaSHub that will try to regard the above concerns. I'm a bit worried that it could become a bit complex… but I will release it anyways. Hopefully after an iteration or two, we may have an alternative to ProductHunt that is less susceptible to the current flaws of PH. Hopefully, I will have something to show in about 2 weeks.

    1. 1

      Cool! Keep us posted.. competition for PH is always a good idea as far as I'm concerned. Though, as you're alluding to, it's an issue at scale it seems

  15. 1

    I think in some cases it's a popularity contest, but not 100% of the time.

    My product, Neatly, did well (#5 for the day) and I'm far away from Silicon Valley and have a sorry Twitter presence. The traffic has also lead to over 200 signups from PH and 3 sites covering the app.

    Granted, I didn't post it (don't know the person who did), but when I have posted in the past, the products came and went.

    1. 1

      Interesting.. did you ask them to post it? Or were you organically "hunted"?

      1. 1

        Organically hunted. Ended up happening well before I was ready for it, but I think it's turned out positive in the end.