Back in my first company (12 years ago?), we were obsessed with finding that lucky marketing hit to get in front of millions of customers in one fell swoop.
And eventually, we succeeded! We were featured on one of America's largest talkshows, second only to Oprah. Here are the hosts, demoing our app, live on prime-time TV in front of seven million viewers:
And here they are high-fiving about how awesome it was:
Our numbers went through the roof. And you know what happened next? Fucking nothing. (Apart from a twenty grand bill from AWS.)
Our numbers fell straight back to their baseline. And of course they did! We had been dumbasses, naively hoping that sufficient visibility might paper over the shortcomings in our product.
We knew that our retention wasn't good enough. We knew that although people liked it, they didn't love it. We knew that organic growth was near zero.
And yet we ignored all that knowledge and wasted our time going for the flashy play to stroke our egos. And then we sat around, sheepishly wondering why we had wasted so much time, energy, and emotion trying to make it big before we had made it right:
I later repeated a variant of the same mistake by obsessing over real-time analytics. I would spend all day watching numbers go up instead of doing real work. These one-time marketing wins are crack cocaine for your ego and cyanide for your business. (At least in the early stages -- they're obviously amazing after you've already got solid retention and referral in place.)
Every time I see a post about tactical tricks to "get noticed" on product hunt or hacker news, I cringe a little bit. Not because the authors are giving incorrect tips... But because the whole obsession with these sorts of "wins" is distracting from what really matters: your product and its users.
When retention and organic growth are strong, then yes, by all means, go nuts with the publicity stunts. That's the time to get tactical about hacker news and product hunt. But until then, tune it out. Get one delighted user. Then five. Then ten. Then a few who showed up because your other users couldn't help but recommend your app to them. Stay focused on the bit that matters until the foundation (i.e. retention and referral) is rock solid.
And take it from me -- there's no feeling worse than to finally succeed at the big, impossible PR win, only for your business to lose because you did stuff in the wrong order.