Growth October 2, 2019

Product Hunt tanked (post-mortem).

Chris McCormick @chr15m

To launch my latest product, an Excel add-in for generating HTML tables, I used a carefully structured launch plan culminating in a Product Hunt launch. I announced here on IH, submitted a Hacker News post about how I built it, posted on some business Slack channels, LinkedIn, messaged friends, tweeted, and sent it to my dev newsletter.

This failed completely with just 11 upvotes, and the product did not make it to the front page of Product Hunt. 😱 The Hacker News "how to" post got 9 upvotes. So what can we learn from this?

First off I am massively grateful to the 11 people who did upvote it. I am sure at least 10 of you must be friends of mine! 🙏 🙏 🙏

By contrast my previous launch (an open source todo list web app) got 43 upvotes on PH and made it below the fold, but still visible. I did much less lead up marketing.

I would really love to hear your objective feedback on this so please leave a comment if you have a suggestion or advice. Here is what I can think of:

  • Maybe the product sucks. Like a parent looking at their ugly baby, maybe I just can't see how bad it is (I say this tongue in cheek, every baby, including my own two beautiful kids are amazing). 😂

  • Badly communicated. Maybe my marketing materials, copy, and screenshots don't do a great job. Would love feedback!

  • Maybe the product does not fit the PH audience. An Excel plugin is probably the least hip thing ever. It has zero cool factor. Maybe no Excel users use PH.

  • Similarly, the lead up announcements were mostly to non-PH users. Maybe some people I reached actually liked the thing but can't upvote it.

  • Luck. I liked this recent comment from @Primer about his 8 Product Hunt launches:

"The one that got the most upvotes was something I built over a weekend just because I was bored. I launched another thing on there, my main thing, that is out in the world, earning real money... it got zero upvotes. True story... zero."

That's a good reminder that PH upvotes don't necessarily correlate with a product's value for some audience. There's also the famous case of Dropbox getting completely hammered on Hacker News.

One huge validation is that the economist I originally built this for tested it out in her work and said it solves her problem perfectly. So it has product-market fit, but the market size may only be only one person!

So today I am going to spend my day on my main hustle, for which I am deeplyl grateful - writing code for my awesome clients, and I'll reflect on this as I do so.

Any feedback or ideas you have are very much welcome. Here's the PH page if you want to analyze it:

https://www.producthunt.com/posts/excel-to-html-table

Thanks for reading, Indie Hackers, it's so nice to have this community!

  1. 12

    Het thanks for the reference.

    Objective feedback... PH, IH, HN etc are all meaningless things in the real world.

    They're cool, personally I like them, and IF you do well on PH, for example, then it can become a tiny (tiny tiny) piece of your marketing push. But if you don't do well on there then forget about it and move on. It represents absolutely nothing about how your product will or won't do in the real world.

    1. 2

      Well I can't agree they're meaningless ;
      You can get great feedback from specialists and other enthusiasts like you in these communities.
      And if your audience is these people then they give a chance to share your stuff with them;
      It's just that not much products have audiences that use PH, IH, HN.. They are, after all, very industry-specific.

      Chris, you said your colleague is an economist -- why don't you go to places where economists hang out and show them? I'm sure there's a good chance they'll like it

      Also! For postings on these forums stuff like time of the day when posted, seasonality, even number of trending posts on the same day all affect your traction. So maybe do some updates and try again next time. Just make sure it's valuable to these people.

      1. 4

        They are 100% meaningless in the context that how your product performs on these sites is not a reflection of how they will perform in the real world.

  2. 6

    I'd mirror the Primer's reply, that PH/IN/HN cluster is not a good reflection of the wide world. It's easier to reach people there with new things, but there are many viable products that just don't have much of a market (relatively) among hackers, startup people etc.

    I would care more about long-term discoverability than about burst launches. Mainly search engines: will people looking for "converting excel to html tables" (or something similar) find you? I've launched many, mainly hobby things, and in general people don't care, unless you're extremely lucky. But by just existing and persevering you can slowly accumulate something. It's more of a problem if you need or want instant growth and/or profitability.

    1. 1

      slowly accumulate something

      Awesome, great idea. I will try to optimise for this. Thank you!

  3. 3

    I don't think you did anything wrong.
    I'd go back to the economist and ask her what sites she visits and go engage folks on those sites about how this might solve a problem or them.

    1. 1

      That's a great idea! I will do this.

  4. 2

    Having to install something creates a lot of friction. Even creating an account does so.
    The only time i launched something on Product Hunt, it got 500 upvotes and was not even a real product, but you could test it instantly from the landing page.

    1. 1

      Very good point. It makes a lot of sense to design for minimal friction, especially at the start.

  5. 2

    Did you ever define your target audience? I think most of the people who want to try your product are googling "excel table in email" and are not magically on Product Hunt looking for your app, its super niche. You should definitely, do SEO for this to at least appear in the top 3 spots in the google search. You can also answer in all related threads to your product like on these pages:

    Also, remember when answering to not just post a link but explain what your product is doing in a simple way. When you write a full description of the solution with your product, people are more likely to click the link and download your add-in.

    In general a nice product, I have a similar product in mind I wanted to build (a bit different though) but I will follow you here :) Keep us updated

    1. 1

      I am a total SEO n00b but will investigate this, thanks!

      1. 2

        There are free SEO tools online. You could try bing webmaster or neilpatel to get you started.

  6. 2

    Excel tables look ugly :)

    I have seen products that turn excel tables into something good looking.

    I use to convert Excel spreadsheets into web apps and one complaint with Excel was how ugly it looked.

    1. 1

      Good tip! I'll add some content/features on how to make the resulting tables look better. Thanks!

    2. 1

      I'd agree they are ugly, but its possible that since finance and economy professionals live in excel, they will be more comfortable with it

  7. 1

    I don't think anything looks wrong with your posting or explaining what it does. My personal opinion is that even if it copies the HTML table perfect every client I've had wants tables to be extra fancy with filters, quick search, pinned columns, etc. That means pulling in a library to handle it and under the hood a lot of them don't use HTML tables due to the limitations.

    I'm a developer so this isn't the best tool for me, but something that I could see being useful is an interface for creating structured data that could then be fed into your table library of choice. For economics and the enterprise, ag grid seems to be the standard and for my team we're always writing parsers to put it into JSON, save to the DB, and then put it in the grid.

    Keep grinding!

  8. 1

    I know the feel Chris. We're in the middle of ours now and we have not gotten to the first page yet. Our first PH launch of the open source initial version of our tool, which we did not even prepare for, someone we didn't know hunted it, got to #3. Now the one we worked really hard on and prepared for is not performing as well lol. Maybe they've changed their algorithm? What can you do....
    here it is if you're interested https://www.producthunt.com/posts/servicebot-for-stripe-billing

    1. 1

      Really good sign some 3rd party hunted the open source version. That means the core idea is validated. Nice!

      1. 2

        Thanks Chris. After our launch (we did make first page but not top 3 as we hoped), I now think PH just isn't that good for B2B anymore. With it's increased popularity, I also see way more B2C products outperforming B2B. We'll have to change our launch strategies

  9. 1

    Some feedback. Your icon is a bit boring for PH.

    How many people build tables in Excel that they then have to move to HTML?

    Can you add a feature, or a different use case, and launch again?

    1. 1

      Thanks for the feedback!

  10. 1

    I think that your core users' feedback is what you should focus on.
    When I launched https://www.joinsecret.com/ to help entrepreneurs save money for free on the best software, our early users feedback was amazing and we built on that.
    What do people who actually used your product say? This is what is important I think.

  11. 1

    To add to my previous comment...

    1. How would someone who wants to convert their table to a webpage enter the code? I'm assuming they are just users of the webpage, not the one coding it
    2. Can users edit the table after they convert it? Or do they have to create a new table to generate the new code?
    1. 1

      The intended audience is people who work with HTML already. Yep, they can edit the table code after copying it.

  12. 1

    I actually really like this. I'm not sure how this was done by the economist before your product, but I can see being able to run formulas in excel first, then transfer the output to a webpage would be perfect, and more convenient than previous tools. I'm not at all your audience so take it with a grain of salt...but I see how it could solve a problem