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How Product Hunt Turned My Side Project Into A Startup

How Product Hunt Turned My Side Project Into A Startup

aaron startuplisterAaron Hanson
Aaron is a developer, entrepreneur, and internet marketing nerd. He is the Founder & CEO of Startuplister, a marketing company focused on helping startups grow successful products and acquire more customers. He has worked with Segment, Marvel, Docsend, & Yesware.

It’s been 7 months since my side project, Startuplister was featured on Product Hunt.

Now it’s my full-time gig.

Getting featured on Product Hunt was a mini startup victory for me.

Here is my story, and a few things i’ve learned along the way.

A spreadsheet MVP

The idea for Startuplister happened randomly when I was working on marketing another startup at the time. I was searching for new and creative startup marketing tactics, and continued to see dozens of blog posts and resources listing great places to submit startups to for early users, feedback, and traffic.

I decided to combine all the lists into one MASSIVE list, and see if there was any merit to submitting to these sites.

I spent about a week parsing the list, and ended up with a meager 30 out of 450+ directories, blogs, and review sites that were still active, had a following, and were relevant to startups.

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The original list of 450+ potential startup directories

I felt pretty confident about the final list of 30 sites, and figured it was worth my time to spend a day submitting to each. So, I started submitting! It was painful.

At some point, I stumbled on a single comment that sparked an idea:

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It was true. It was a huge pain in the ass for me to submit to each directory, and if a service existed at the time, I certainly would have used that instead.

Towards the end of my submissions, I had streamlined the process and was moving through each form on each directory pretty quickly. I decided that if I could further streamline the process and semi-automate some parts of it, there might be a business opportunity here!

Over the course of the next few days I built a landing page on WordPress using and some styles from Flat UI. I used Gravity Forms and a few add-ons to allow new users to register, create a startup profile, and submit payment.

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The very first, basic version of Startuplister

It was as MVP as it gets. Very simple. But, fortunately, I had enough of a built product to be able to accept payments, get registered users, and demonstrate the use case of my product.

The late night “launch”

That night, before going to bed, I posted a Show HN on Hacker News. What the hell. Why not?

The next morning was what every aspiring, wantrapreneur hopes for. My inbox was flooded with registrations, payments, comments, and feedback. It was the first time I had ever built something that users were willing to pull their credit cards out for — it was exhilarating.

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I had revenue from day one of Startuplister

That morning, I reached the top of Hacker News.

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Shortly thereafter, Blendah Tom hunted Startuplister on Product Hunt (thanks Tom!).

That’s when the real frenzy happened.

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It’s worth noting that Startuplister was definitely not the top hunted product on Product Hunt.

With a meager 59 upvotes, I wasn’t even close to being #1 for the day. I didn’t make the Product Hunt email that goes out the day after, and toward the end of the day, my Hunt had dropped lower on the page.

Nonetheless, I had significant traffic from Product Hunt. The best part was, it was high converting traffic.

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When all was said and done that week, I had roughly 80 paid signups from Product Hunt and Hacker News (Product Hunt traffic was also using the HN2014 coupon).

The inevitable traffic lull

Product Hunt and Hacker News played an extremely important role in my product validation. I had paying customers from day one. I had momentum. I felt great!

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Then, my fame on a small corner of the internet quickly spewed and sputtered to a painful google analytic halt. The thousands of uniques shriveled to a few hundred. So did my confidence.

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The inevitable, dreaded post Product Hunt lull

The next few weeks were filled with more failure than success, more coffee than sleep, and more tears than laughter (just kidding, it wasn’t that dark. Or was it?). I soon realized that I needed to start rolling up my sleeves and find new user acquisition strategies, FAST.

Moving on quickly

One part of my marketing/acquisition strategy was to drink my own Kool-Aid, and continuously submit Startuplister to new and interesting marketing channels that I find regularly. Many of those I find on Product Hunt (The Next Web Index, Startup Tracker).

But, I also focused on building an ecosystem of experimental marketing channels, including social media, content marketing, email outreach, and community building. One great book that has helped me in finding some signal in the noise with regards to finding viable marketing channels was Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. They talk about testing many channels, and then focusing exclusively on a few that work really well, exhaust those channels, and then repeat.

After the giant spike from PH and HN, and relentlessly hustling on finding and testing new and creative ways to market Startuplister, I’m finally starting to see some sustainable growth in traffic.

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Re-building traffic, finally!

The important thing I realized post Product Hunt & Hacker News success is that, while it’s ever important to leverage the feedback and validation I received from these communities, it’s just as critical to quickly move my focus back to continuing to make great shit. It may sound obvious, but I think it’s easy to bask too long in the limelight, think you’ve made it, and expect the same magnitude of traffic to continue to roll in — it won’t.

Side Project → Full time, thanks to Product Hunt

When I launched Startuplister in August, I didn’t expect it to turn into my full-time gig. That wouldn’t have happened as fast as it did (dare I say, even at all!), were it not for Product Hunt.

Getting hunted was great for feedback, and while I think it indicates potential behind Startuplister, it doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly bestowed with a Midas touch.

My next idea or product feature might be a complete failure. I’m right as much as i’m wrong. The important thing is that I continue to try new things, take risks, and stay curious.

And, thanks to Product Hunt, I was able to validate an “idea” overnight, and quickly transition a side project into a full-time gig.

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.


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