20 VC FF 026 Ryan Hoover, Founder @ ProductHunt on Relationship Building, Habit Forming and The Vision for ProductHunt



In this episode of the 20 Minutes VC, host Harry Stebings interviews Ryan Hoover, the founder and CEO of Product Hunt. Hoover shares his journey from losing passion in a previous startup to creating Product Hunt, a platform that has experienced phenomenal growth, won TechCrunch's "Best New Startup" award, and attracted investments from top firms like Andreessen Horowitz. Hoover, renowned for his talent in product development and community engagement, emphasizes the importance of manual, personal outreach and understanding user feedback to grow a community. He also discusses Product Hunt's user-driven approach, including openly sourcing feedback for new features and designs. Furthermore, Hoover touches on future plans for Product Hunt, aiming to expand beyond early adopters to the mass market, and the potential for monetization given the platform's user intent to discover and engage with new products.

Summary Notes

Introduction of Ryan Hoover

  • Harry Stebbings introduces Ryan Hoover, founder and CEO of Product Hunt.
  • Product Hunt is praised as a favorite site with significant growth and awards.
  • Ryan Hoover is recognized for his talent in product development and community building.
  • Matamark is thanked for providing data analysis for the episode.
  • LawTrades is recommended for startup founders needing legal assistance.

"Now I'm so excited to welcome today's founder. He is a friend and a massively rising star in the industry. It is, of course, Ryan Hoover, founder and CEO at product Hunt, one of my favorite sites, which I'm without a doubt on every single day."

The quote introduces Ryan Hoover as an influential figure in the tech industry and the founder of Product Hunt, a site highly regarded by the host, Harry Stebbings.

The Genesis of Product Hunt

  • Ryan Hoover shares the backstory of Product Hunt's inception.
  • The idea was born out of a personal passion for new products and the desire for a platform to share them with friends.
  • Product Hunt started as an email list and grew through initial sharing on Quibb and Twitter.

"And so I decided to leave. And during that kind of transition, I just had some ideas. And one of them was this thing that for some reason I called it product Hunt."

This quote explains the moment of inspiration for Product Hunt, highlighting the spontaneous nature of its naming and conceptualization.

Key Drivers of Product Hunt's Success

  • Ryan Hoover emphasizes the importance of community and personal engagement in the early stages of building Product Hunt.
  • The success is attributed to manual efforts in reaching out to connected individuals in the startup space.
  • The approach of personal emails and Twitter engagement helped foster relationships and community growth.

"It all starts from the very beginning, I guess, in that to make a community work, to build something like this, you need to really focus on the people in the beginning and do a lot of, frankly, manual labor, manual things to get it going."

The quote underscores the necessity of hands-on, personal involvement to cultivate a successful community around a new platform like Product Hunt.

Community Building and Open Sourced Feedback

  • Ryan Hoover discusses how Product Hunt's community is central to its function, more so than the technology behind it.
  • The open-sourced feedback approach is preferred to involve the community in the development process.
  • Sharing designs and plans with the community allows for valuable feedback and helps prevent potential backlash from sudden changes.

"So it's not the technology really that makes product kind of work, it's really the people that use it and come back every single day."

This quote highlights the philosophy that the value of Product Hunt lies in its community rather than its technological sophistication, emphasizing the human element as the core of the platform's success.

Feedback on Product Changes

  • Importance of gathering user feedback when making changes to a product.
  • Users can be resistant to change, hence the need to acclimate them to new directions and goals.
  • A private beta was conducted with a couple of thousand people to test a new homepage.
  • The beta included a Slack group for feedback which showed excitement and valuable insights.

"And so a lot of times that's one of the reasons we want to get that feedback from people, also kind of acclimate people to understand, okay, this is the direction we're heading, and here's why we're changing this."

This quote emphasizes the necessity of user feedback in helping users understand and adapt to changes in a product's direction and design.

Advice for Founders on User Testing

  • User testing is both insightful and challenging as it reveals real user reactions to a product.
  • It is essential for creators to be open to feedback and let go of ego.
  • Feedback should be used to identify patterns for improvement, not necessarily to make changes based on individual comments.

"User testing is one of the most insightful things, but also painful things to watch because you see them using this thing that you spent all this time building, and you're like, this is beautiful. I've built a masterpiece. And then they look at it and they're like, what the hell is this? I don't understand."

This quote captures the emotional experience of founders watching users interact with their product during user testing, highlighting the gap between creator intention and user perception.

Transitioning from Early Adopters to Mass Market

  • Product Hunt's challenge in moving from early adopter engagement to mass market appeal.
  • Feedback from engaged users is critical but not fully representative of the broader market.
  • The goal is to balance the needs of the core audience with the interests of potential new users.

"But how do you plan to transition that from early adopters then to the mass market?"

This question addresses the strategic challenge of scaling a product beyond its initial user base to attract a more general audience.

Podcasts on Product Hunt

  • Discussion on the visibility and accessibility of podcasts on Product Hunt.
  • The new homepage design aims to make podcasts more prominent and easier to engage with.
  • Users discover new podcasts through episode categorization, which differs from other platforms.

"There's no reason why podcasts shouldn't be on the home page, a place where you can just click one button to start listening to this podcast."

This quote highlights the importance of making content such as podcasts easily accessible on the main page of a platform to enhance user experience.

Personal Podcast Preferences

  • Ryan Hoover shares his personal podcast listening habits and preferences.
  • His interest lies mainly in startup and technology podcasts, but he is open to exploring other genres.
  • Recommendations include "This Week in Startups," "Startup" by Gimlet, and "Mystery Show."

"So I'm actually excited to explore non startup, non technology podcasts. But a few that I love are this week in startups with Jason Calicanis."

Ryan Hoover expresses his enthusiasm for discovering podcasts outside his usual interest area, while also sharing some of his favorite technology and startup-related podcasts.

Hooked Model in Product Hunt

  • Product Hunt incorporates elements from the book "Hooked" to create a habit-forming user experience.
  • The user flow includes triggers like email digests that encourage users to take action by opening and clicking on content.
  • The reward for users is discovering interesting and inspiring products, with variability and consistency in the email content.

"And the reward for doing so, the whole reason why they do that is to find something interesting or inspiring or something they might want to use or download or purchase."

This quote explains the motivation behind the user flow designed for Product Hunt, where the reward for engaging with triggers (like emails) is the discovery of appealing products.

Email as Part of Daily Habit

  • Email is integral to daily routines for many people.
  • Gaining permission to email users incorporates the product into their daily habits.
  • Email notifications serve as a reward for users who engage with the platform.

"about email is it's part of a lot of people's daily habit. It's something they look at every single day. And if people give us permission to email them, then we become part of that daily routine."

This quote emphasizes the significance of email in daily life and how permission-based email integration can make a product a regular part of users' routines.

User Engagement Through Collections

  • Collections on Product Hunt can be followed, creating engagement loops.
  • Following a collection triggers email updates about new additions, rewarding user interest.
  • Collections feature diverse interests, from games to startups by female founders.

"And then the other kind of component, the last piece of that flow entirely is the reward is, okay, you open up the email and then you navigate to, let's say, a collection. And we've added some different hooks where you can follow collections now."

This quote describes how following collections on Product Hunt creates a loop of engagement, with email updates acting as the reward for following.

  • Ryan Hoover suggests visiting producthunt.com/collections to explore featured collections.
  • Collections cover a wide range of topics, including games, female founders, and products for stoners.

"So if you go to producthunt.com slash collections, you'll see a number of featured collections there."

Ryan Hoover recommends visiting the collections section of Product Hunt to explore the variety of curated lists of products.

Building Social Media Presence

  • Ryan Hoover's social media engagement, especially on Twitter, helped him gain recognition.
  • Tagging authors in shared articles and providing personal context can build authentic connections.
  • Being personable and not too serious on social media can make one more relatable.

"Before product Hunt, I used to read a lot of blogs, actually, and a lot of articles, and I would get into a habit of sharing all the articles that I found useful."

This quote reflects Ryan Hoover's habit of sharing useful content on social media, a practice that helped him build a network before Product Hunt's success.

Jack Dorsey as CEO of Two Companies

  • Ryan Hoover expresses surprise at Jack Dorsey's dual CEO roles.
  • The challenge of running two prominent companies simultaneously is seen as audacious.

"I was very surprised to hear that he's going to maintain CEO role in both companies. I don't know how he can do it."

Ryan Hoover comments on the surprising news of Jack Dorsey holding CEO positions at two major companies, highlighting the difficulty of such a task.

Networking Advice

  • Engaging authentically on Twitter and adding value to conversations can build a network.
  • Organizing small, intimate gatherings, like brunches, can foster personal and industry relationships.

"On Twitter specifically? I think it's a lot of it is just engaging, actively participating, being authentic and real and adding value to the conversation..."

Ryan Hoover advises on how to effectively use Twitter to create a network by being genuine and contributing meaningfully to discussions.

Product Hunt's Monetization Strategy

  • Product Hunt's core function is to discover and sometimes purchase products.
  • The platform's intent to use and purchase products suggests future monetization potential.
  • Current focus is not on monetization but on growing the platform.

"Yeah, at its core, people come to product tent, to download, use, sometimes purchase products. And so at scale, I'm confident that we'll find ways to generate revenue out of that..."

Ryan Hoover explains that while Product Hunt is not currently focusing on monetization, the inherent user intent to download and purchase products indicates future revenue opportunities.

Fundraising Experience

  • Ryan Hoover shares that his fundraising experience was unique, as Product Hunt started as a side project.
  • The fundraising process was new to him and differed from typical startup experiences.

"Yeah, it was my first time, and it was very different than in, I think, most situations for a long time. Product hunt was a side project, and I was working on it."

This quote provides insight into Ryan Hoover's personal experience with fundraising, highlighting that it was his first time and that Product Hunt began as a side project, which influenced the process.

Fundraising and Traction

  • Ryan Hoover discusses the advantages of having a project with traction when fundraising.
  • Having a big vision and market opportunity also contributes to easier fundraising.
  • Ryan was able to focus on his project without financial pressure due to covering his living expenses.
  • He highlights the importance of proving product demand to investors.
  • Investors approached Ryan first because his product was already in use by them, providing an inherent advantage.

We're growing 50% month over month. And when you have traction and you have a big vision and you have a big market opportunity, all of those things combined makes fundraising a lot easier than if you just have an idea on paper.

This quote emphasizes the ease of fundraising when a project shows significant growth, has a clear vision, and targets a large market opportunity.

Just having that opportunity to take that time to build it up, to prove that people actually wanted this thing, that's what made fundraising a lot easier.

Ryan explains that being able to dedicate time to develop the project and demonstrate its demand made fundraising simpler.

The other thing that I would say is we were a little bit lucky in that we built a product that investors use.

He acknowledges the luck involved in creating a product that is directly used by potential investors.

Product Hunt's Impact and Recognition

  • Ryan shares a personal anecdote where he overheard people discussing Product Hunt, signaling its real-world impact.
  • He mentions winning a Crunchies award, which was an unexpected and enjoyable experience.
  • These moments represent significant milestones and recognition for Product Hunt.

One of the biggest moments so far has been I was walking, this was maybe a year and a half ago. So really, really early in product hunt, I walked into a Phil's and I overheard these two guys talking about product hunt and said, oh, our product was on product hunt. It was amazing.

Ryan recounts a memorable moment that validated Product Hunt's influence outside of his direct interactions.

Yeah, that was really fun. It was actually my first crunchies and I arrived with Corley and Mike on the team and we had a great time.

The quote reflects Ryan's positive experience at the Crunchies award ceremony.

Transition from PM to CEO

  • Ryan explains that the skills from being a Product Manager (PM) are transferable to the CEO role.
  • As a CEO, he focuses on hiring people who are more skilled in specific areas than he is.
  • The ultimate goal for a CEO, according to Ryan, is to make oneself redundant by building a strong team.

But with, I guess as a CEO role, your kind of ultimate job is to hire yourself out of a job in many ways.

This quote encapsulates the CEO's responsibility to build a team that can effectively take over their duties.

Influential Figures and Productivity

  • Ryan Hoover admires Heaton Shaw for his willingness to help others and provide insightful guidance.
  • He admits to not using many productivity tools, but mentions past use of the Pomodoro technique and calendar apps.

But someone that comes to mind is Heaton Shaw. Just because he super willing and giving of his time.

Ryan expresses admiration for Heaton Shaw, highlighting his generosity and helpfulness.

Reading Habits and Influential Books

  • Ryan shares that he used to be an active reader of entrepreneurial articles on Quibb.
  • He mentions "The Art of Game Design" by Jesse Schell as an influential book, applicable to tech entrepreneurs.

What I do love is there's this book that I read a long time ago that is something that most entrepreneurs probably haven't heard of is it's Jesse Schell's the art of game design.

Ryan recommends a book that provides valuable insights into user psychology and can be applied beyond game design.

Future Vision for Product Hunt

  • Ryan envisions Product Hunt growing into a diverse community platform in the next five years.
  • He sees it as a place for people to connect over shared passions.

In five years you'll see product hunt turn into a community and a site for all kinds of people and all kinds of things, and it will be a place where you can find all kinds of things, know whatever you're most passionate about, and you can find like-minded people to connect with and geek out about that stuff.

Ryan shares his vision for Product Hunt's expansion and its role as a hub for connecting passionate individuals.

Gratitude and Acknowledgments

  • Ryan expresses gratitude for being featured on the show and compliments the host's work.
  • The host, Harry Stebbings, thanks Ryan for his time and praises the impact of Product Hunt.

Yeah, thanks a lot for having me, harry. And I just love that you're doing this, and I remember seeing it first pop up on product Hunt maybe six months ago.

Ryan shows appreciation for the opportunity to be on the show and acknowledges the host's accomplishments.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Ryan for giving up his time to be on the show today and for those kind words.

Harry Stebbings reciprocates with thanks and acknowledges Ryan's contribution to the podcast.

Show Promotion and Sponsorship

  • Harry Stebbings promotes the show's website and newsletter, encouraging listeners to stay updated.
  • He also endorses Law Trades, a legal service provider for startups and VCs, highlighting their cost-effectiveness.

And if you're loving the show, then please do check out the site at www.thetwentyminutevc.com and sign up to our newsletter so you never have to miss an episode.

Harry invites listeners to visit the podcast's website and subscribe to the newsletter for updates.

So check them out at www.trades.com or say hi on Twitter at lawtrades.

The host promotes Law Trades, suggesting listeners explore their services and connect on Twitter.

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