How to Build a Community of Evangelists for Your Software Product

Guest: Ryan Hoover and Erik Torenberg, Product Hunt

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We all want customers to crave the products we build. Next, we want them to spread the word, because word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is the strongest and most authentic for your product.

WOM is a testimonial delivered from one customer to another. The customer spreading the word cares about helping the other person out and is willing to vouch for the product based on benefits they’ve personally experienced.

These days, most customer-to-customer testimonials live on the internet through social media, forums, forwarded emails, and other online communities.

They also live on Product Hunt, TechCrunch’s Best New Startup of 2014.

Product Hunt is an online community where members submit and vote up the best new tech products. A simple upvote arrow is the site’s distilled version of word of mouth, and highly recommended products float to the top of the site and get an influx of visitors. According to TechCrunch, Product Hunt is “taking the industry by storm as founders, investors, early adopters and other tech enthusiasts now check the site on a daily basis.”

Recommendation-driven user acquisitions aren’t the only benefit for products that succeed on Product Hunt; they might also nab press coverage, investor interest, or high-quality feedback from the tech enthusiasts.

When Product Hunt was just getting started, it faced a classic chicken-and-egg problem that typically burdens community-based products. You need users on your home turf to attract other users, but how do you go from zero initial users to 10 or 100?

Product Hunt did a phenomenal job building up a following. The founder, Ryan Hoover, started with a simple email list that grew into a strong community of evangelists eager to use the product every day.

In today’s episode of FemgineerTV, we’ll cover how he did it. Any new startup—even if it’s not social or community based—can use these strategies to drive word-of-mouth recommendations for their product.

I’ve invited Ryan Hoover and his founding team member Erik Torenberg to candidly share how they used evangelists to accelerate Product Hunt’s growth in the early days. They’ll also explain how they continue to build fervor for the product through an engaged and growing community.

Watch the episode to learn:

  • what they did to create a positive first impression of their company on prospective users and influencers;
  • how they attracted early adopters even before Product Hunt was built;
  • how they mobilized their early adopters to evangelize the product and bring in more users;
  • strategies that did and didn’t work to increase community engagement; and
  • how they keep users hooked and coming back.

If you’re struggling to get traction for your software product, watch the episode. You’ll definitely walk away with some valuable insights to apply to your business right away!

Viewer’s challenge

After you’ve watched the episode, take our challenge. Let us know the following in the comments below:

  • How do you think about your customers’ first-time experience and how do you know whether it’s contributing to customer acquisition and retention?
  • How do you pull your customers back into your product and keep them engaged?
  • If your product has a community, what were some of the key steps you took to build it, and how has it changed over time?

The three best responses will receive a special giveaway from our sponsor Pivotal Tracker and will be showcased in Femgineer’s weekly newsletter!

Submit your responses in the blog comments below by April 22nd at 11:59pm PST.

The next episode of FemgineerTV airs in May. I’ll be hosting Indi Young, the founder of Adapative Path, a user experience consultant, and author of two books: Mental Models and, most recently, Practical Empathy. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to know when it’s out!

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How to Build a Community of Evangelists for Your Software Product Transcript

Poornima Vijayashanker: Welcome to the third episode of FemgineerTV, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. I’m your host, Poornima Vijayashanker, the founder of Femgineer. Femgineer is an education company where we teach innovators how to build software products so they can find more freedom in their careers, enrich other people’s lives, and make the tech community more inclusive and flexible. Over the years, there have been a number of tools and techniques that taut people can bring you customers to your software products. But the number one technique that is timeless is word-of-mouth marketing.

The reason that word-of-mouth marketing is so powerful is that it’s an authentic sales pitch. Basically, one customer gives another customer a testimonial. These days, most customer testimonials live online. They are done either through online communities and blogs, or through social media. Or, even just people forwarding emails to each other. Of course, if you’re wondering how you can accelerate word of mouth for your product, we’re gonna be tackling that topic in today’s episode.

Today’s episode, we’re gonna explore some techniques for how to build an online community, and really get them to evangelize your software product. And to help us out, I’ve invited both Ryan Hoover, and Erik Torenberg, from Product Hunt. Before founding Product Hunt, Ryan Hoover was the director of Product at PlayHaven. He’s also the creator of Startup Edition, a curated gathering of bloggers in the startup community, and an entrepreneur in residence at Tradecraft.

Erik Torenberg was an associate at QueensBridge, a Venture Capital Firm, and founded Rapt.FM, a bidirectional video platform for rap battles, ciphers, and performances. Over the past two years, these guys have built Product Hunt as a platform to help makers build awareness for their products. So, if you’re a product maker today, you can actually go online and submit your product, and the community will vote it up. In order to build a platform, they, of course, had to engage a community of strong product hunters. So, today, we’re gonna talk about how they’ve built this community from scratch.

Thanks, you guys, for joining us today.

Ryan Hoover: Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Erik Torenberg: Thanks for having us.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Awesome. So, Ryan, I know we met when you reached out to me about Startup Edition. And, Erik, we met back when I had given the keynote at AmHack. So, it’s great to see that you guys have built Product Hunt over these past couple years. Before we get into how you did that, let’s just start by talking about what lured you into startup land, and what inspired you to start Product Hunt. So, why don’t we start with you, Ryan?

Ryan Hoover: Sure. So, yeah. I was working at PlayHaven for a while, actually. I was there for three and a half years, before I ended up leaving. And, to make a long story short, I ended up, you know, learning a lot, and having a lot of good relationships, through that three-and-a-half-year experience. But I realized that I wanted to try something different, and work on a consumer product. Build something for myself, ultimately. And, so, I decided that it was best to move on, do something different, but I didn’t know what to do, exactly.

So, during that time period of kind of figuring out what I wanted to do, I was talking to a couple startups. I realized that there was this opportunity to create some sort of online community, but a place to discover new technology products. And, Product Hunt just began, then, as a simple email list to start.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. And, you’ve been doing a lot of projects on the side? Like, you did Startup Edition, you worked on Hooked, with Nir.

Ryan Hoover: Yeah, that’s right. I actually met Nir, 2012, and I’ve been following his blog for so long. He writes about habit formation, and how to take psychology and apply it to a product, a technology product, which I thought was fascinating. We ended up meeting, and I helped him write his book, Hooked, which has done really well. He did 95 percent of the work, but I learned a lot through him, and helping him create that book.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. I really liked that book, Hooked, too, because it talks about how you compel users to come back, and pull them back into your product. We’ll get into more of that, later. Let’s talk about you, Erik. What were you doing? I know you were working on your own startup, Rapt.FM. What got you interested in Product Hunt?

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. So, like Ryan, I also wanna work on things I’m really passionate about, and things that I’m a user of. I started Rapt ‘cause I wanted to learn how to rap, and meet other people. What I’m passionate about, is online communities. Befriended Ryan, kind of, through the startup scene, and his writings. Saw what he was doing, Product Hunt, just as a friend, and thought it was really cool. Was just volunteering, and wanted to help out. I saw that it was really picking up. And, also, I saw that he needed some help. The business scale just became so big, so I joined him. This is an awesome community I want to be a part of.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Great. So, when you’re building a user-generated content site like Product Hunt, there’s that classic problem of getting users to come in, and actually use the product before there’s any content. And, the same problem happens, even for SaaS products, right? The difference is, one’s content, one’s data. You’ve gotta try to compel users to come and visit your product, and try it out.

I know, when I was at Mint, the way that we discovered what would be compelling first-time experience for users, was that we noticed that once people had added one account, whether it was credit account, or their bank account, it didn’t matter. But, as long as they added one, then they understood the value of the product. And they were pretty much hooked at that point. So, we really had to constrain that first-time user experience to make sure that they saw the value. How did you guys think about your first time experience, for people that were using Product Hunt?

Ryan Hoover: Yeah, well. Product Hunt had an interesting startup. It was, again, a side project, an experiment, in the very beginning. The early users were people that I knew, primarily. These were a lot of, either, investors, or reporters, or entrepreneurs, founders. That’s a core focus, especially in the beginning. So, for me, it was actually, Product Hunt, sort of, it’s inception. In its beginning, was actually like, a year, a year and a half before Product Hunt began. What I mean by that is, I built these relationships over time with people in this area, and the startup scene.

Those people, then, would have some level of respect for what I had to say, or what I had to build. I could reach out to them immediately. So by starting with the seed group of relatively influential people, we could then spread the word from there. And it was really just building those authentic relationships, and then taking their feedback over time, as we started forming the products.

Erik Torenberg: A lot of it evolved from, kind of, organic behaviors. Ryan was already sharing products, and talking with other people about products. So, it was kind of logical in the next step, of whatever was happening.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it. Yeah. So, is that a first-time experience now for users? Like, they come in, and they start sharing products that they like? Or, what do they do?

Ryan Hoover: Yeah. I mean, it’s changed over time, as the community’s grown. It’s not just my friends. I don’t know names of everyone, of course. But it’s changing, and there’s different dynamics. There’s different types of people. They come in, you know, with their friends. Their friends launch a product, and they’re seeing it through Twitter, or some other means. And so they’re experiencing their first, like, touch of product. And, it’s, “Oh, their friend’s product is on there.”

Poornima Vijayashanker: Cool. Yeah.

Ryan Hoover: For other people, it’s the makers. Their product is posted, and what a great delight is that to, like, come to a site, and say, “Oh, all these people are talking about my product, and giving me feedback, and I’m getting traffic out of that.” It’s a great first-time user experience for those people.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. Yeah. So, let’s go back. You said, you know, you had these influencers, like investors, press. When you were, initially, talking to them about the concept, and maybe, you didn’t have it fully fleshed out, yet. But, you were just talking to them. Did they understand the value of it, immediately? Or, did you kind of have to nudge them along?

Ryan Hoover: That’s a good question. They immediately were interested, but they were, of course, skeptical. It’s like, “Do you really need a place to discover new products? We already do this on Twitter. We talk in person. We read it in the tech press.” Actually, a lot of people said, “I don’t think there are enough products, every day, created…”

Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh, interesting. Yeah.

Erik Torenberg: A few hundred, every day.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Ryan Hoover: Now, I’m like, “Oh, we have too many.”

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. Way too many.

Ryan Hoover: And, clearly, it’s an opportunity that we validate. And I didn’t go through and do research, by any means. This was just things that I’ve observed through my own experiences. Then, by creating an email list, which took 20, 30 minutes to set up. That was the MVP, ultimately. It wasn’t that we’ve spent all this time building a product to begin with.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Cool, yeah.

Erik Torenberg: You spent the couple years building relationships, and bringing out people who had those.

Ryan Hoover: Exactly, yeah.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. So, people really get excited when they have some users using their products. But, you gotta keep them coming back, right? Engagement is what gets people to know that your product is top of mind for them. That’s what they, actually then, start talking about. Right? That’s how you compel them to start talking about it.

I mean, referencing Nir’s book Hooked, again—you know, I think we should get him on the show. Nir talks about pulling people back in, and using a medium that’s really sticky. For example, he talks a lot about email, because people are really committed to their inboxes, right? They want people to, basically, come back, and people are gonna try to get that inbox zero.

Did you guys…I know, you mentioned email. How did you use email, initially, to pull people back into the product?

Ryan Hoover: Well, I mean, it started off as email. So, it’s kind of been a core part of Product Hunt experience, from the beginning. That’s exactly right. Email is something that everyone uses. Whether you like it or not, you’re gonna use email. It’s also a place that you’re going to return to every time. By using email, we can become a part of that channel, and that feed, and that daily behavior.

So, it started off, you know, as an email list. We continued doing that. It’s a big part of Product Hunt. 7:30 AM Pacific time, we send out the email. It’s intended to be on that time, specifically, for people that have built that habit, over time. Have you noticed anything regarding the email? Any observations?

Erik Torenberg: In the last few months, we’ve also put in email notifications. We talk a lot about what Medium does, and how they provide such a delightful experience, when you’re ready to post, and you keep getting that validation. When you launch a product, it’s your baby. You wanna know that people are really liking it.

When people comment, or when people…you get a certain amount of up vote, you’ll get notifications on Twitter. We now have those GIFs, like Oprah dancing. We really try to delight our users. So, both on Twitter, is huge for us. And then email, as well.

Poornima Vijayashanker: That’s cool. Nice. What are some other channels that you use to pull people back into Product Hunt? I know, you just mentioned Twitter. Are there any other products, or channels, that you’ve found useful for getting people to come back?

Ryan Hoover: I mean, email is, certainly, one them. Twitter is something that we’re experimenting with, actually. And, using that as a secondary channel, in many ways, to bring people back. Also, the Iris app. We don’t yet have push notifications in the Iris app, ‘cause we’re focusing on some other things. But, that’s also another way to re-engage people and bring them back.

I think, one of the challenges, or maybe, missed opportunities, I think, a lot of people face, is that they don’t remind people to come back to your service. They almost worry that they’re being too spammy. There’s definitely a line that you shouldn’t be too spammy, but honestly, if you’re writing good content, or creating compelling content, people wanna be notified of that.

You mentioned Medium. You wrote a post that got, I don’t know how many recommendations, but like, hundreds. You got these notifications, like trophies, that say, “Hey…“—

Erik Torenberg: I still get them. Like, every week. It’s like, “Popular this week.” I’m like, “Yeah, still popular!”

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Ryan Hoover: It’s the ego boost, and you like it. How can you deliver more of that stuff?

Poornima Vijayashanker: That makes sense.

Erik Torenberg: Instead of, like, emails spamming you, it’s emails telling you you’re awesome. Who doesn’t like little reminders that you’re awesome?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. I wrote a post, like, probably last year, that I—

Erik Torenberg: That you still get—

Poornima Vijayashanker: And, today, I got a notification, saying like, “15 people viewed your post.” I was like, “That’s cool.” Yeah. Nice, very nice.

Erik Torenberg: A couple of things to add to that. One is, with the email, we’re constantly reinforcing it, and the way the site is built, that process is a daily habit. Every morning, you get it 7:30 in the morning, and you’re gonna check Product Hunt. You get a few of the tops yesterday, now you’re gonna see what’s happening today. Another thing we do is, we ask every day, the people who do great at Product Hunt, and have great experiences, get a lot of traffic.

We ask them if they’re interested, no pressure, obviously, if they wanna share about their launch experience. We don’t say, “Hey, promote Product Hunt.” But, we say, “Hey, do you wanna give advice to other people that are launching? How do you make the most out of your launch, regardless of channel?” And, we say, “Congratulations.” A lot of them have written posts about it.

We’ve had probably over a hundred “How to Launch” posts that have featured Product Hunt. That is, kind of, when you look at the launch literature out there, it brings people back to Product Hunt.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Very nice. Yeah. Once you get people hooked, which you’ve obviously done a good job of, both in terms of general, and daily use. Then, it’s the time to get them to evangelize the product, right? You want them to actually go out, and talk about it with their friends, and spread the word. That’s great if they’re a maker, but if they’re not, then it might be a little bit more of a challenge. Let’s talk about some techniques that didn’t work, and then we’ll talk about the ones that did. ‘Cause, it’s always nice for people to know, you know, what were the failures that happened, right? What are some things that you guys tried that, you know—

Ryan Hoover: Everything’s worked, Poornima.

Erik Torenberg: I was thinking the same thing.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Oh, awesome. Well, I wanna come work for Product Hunt.

Ryan Hoover: Well, actually, no. There is one specific thing that I was convinced was going to lead to more sharing, and be a valuable tool. So, right now, there are a lot of mobile apps on Product Hunt. Primarily, most of our engagements are on the desktop, on the web. If you see a mobile app that you want on your phone, and you’re on your desktop, it’s kind of awkward to, then, open up your phone, and search for it on the App Store, or get that app on your phone.

So, I was like, “OK. Why don’t we do forward to SMS? Or, forward to email, or something like that.” We have a button on the site, that you can click, and you can enter your phone number, or your email address, and it’ll forward an email with that link. I was convinced that would be useful, and no one uses it.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Really? Wow.

Ryan Hoover: No one uses it. Thankfully, it wasn’t a huge feature. We didn’t lose too much engoineering time, or anything. But, sometimes, you just don’t really know until you try it.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. So, it’s good to experiment.

Erik Torenberg: A couple others, not to innumerate all of our failures.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Sure.

Erik Torenberg: This is a failure. We’ve just implemented…we’ve spent small time doing a message button, between journalists and founders. We haven’t seen a ton of direct messaging between journalists and founders, yet. It’ll be interesting if that changes.

Another thing, last thing, we put some time into creating collections, based on geography. We thought that products in New York, or products in Philadelphia, products in Berlin, or products in China, would do very well. But, it turns out that, the people only in those cities care about those things.

Ryan Hoover: Yeah.

Poornima Vijayashanker: So, there’s no battles across cities, yet?

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. Maybe, we need to phrase it that way.

Ryan Hoover: Maybe we should.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Nice. Let’s talk about what did work, and why.

Ryan Hoover: Mm-hmm. One thing I’ll mention is that, Product Hunt is inherently something that you wanna share. At least, the design of the product is surfacing new things, new technology, new products. This is a behavior that’s existed, you know, at the water cooler, when people are asking each other, “Have you see Magic?” Or, “Have you seen other apps that just launched? What’s on your home screen?” That kind of stuff.

People have already been talking about this. With our audience, who’s very much like a startup, tech-centric community, they often wanna introduce new products to new people. It’s almost like, “Hey, have you heard about this? Do they know about this? Let me introduce it. It’s really fun.” Naturally, people wanna share things from Product Hunt.

With that said, that behavior’s there. It’s really hard to change that behavior if it’s not something that’s sharable. Maybe a weird example is like, porn’s not something you’re probably gonna share, probably. There are other things that you don’t necessarily lend themself to word of mouth. That’s the baseline that we have. Now, there are ways to increase that, and incentivize people to share, or vote, or engage in other ways.

Poornima Vijayashanker: So, it’s great to have the inherent shareability. What about, for folks like makers, right? A lot of times, these folks are really busy, and while they’ll promote their product, they might not promote the platform, like Product Hunt. How did you guys go about getting them to spread the word to their other maker friends?

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. A few things. One is, not only is it inherently…it’s inherently like a competition, every day. The products that go into the top five get the most views. They get significant views. They get as much, or well bigger, than some of the biggest tech publications. We had other people tell that story. We also have people tell the story that, “Hey, journalists and investors are looking at this. They’re looking at the top five. Startups are getting funded directly off here. It’s in your hands. It’s not in some other reporter’s hands. You get to tell your story.” People will have control, they have ownership. Yeah.

Ryan Hoover: Who was it, on his Periscope, and he mentioned how refreshing it was to answer questions. He had, I think 150, 160 questions, or at least comments, within a 12-hour period. He was reading through, thoroughly reading through, and answering them. He found it refreshing, because the community, and the culture, I think, that we’ve fortunately been able to create, is one of positivity. But also one of honesty.

You know, again, going back to the first introduction of Product Hunt, to many people—a lot of times, it’s makers—and their product is on there, and how good is it to experience having your product on there? That’s building this empathy of, “Oh, I’ve been through this. I’ve launched a product.” We launched a Chrome extension I was kind of nervous about, earlier this week. So, they kind of understand what it’s like to launch something. That’s why these comments, and this Q&A that happens between makers and consumers, is so vibrant.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it.

Erik Torenberg: A couple things. To encourage evangelists, one, I think, you wanna have your internal team be evangelists. Most of the people, especially in the beginning, including me, were evangelists of Product Hunt, who were helping Ryan, and then joined, because they were just so valuable. Two, we empower our evangelists through community projects. We have Josh, who runs Daily Hunt, which is just a Podcast of the top products on Product Hunt, every day. We have Eric Willis, who runs Maker Hunt, which is essentially, a Slack group of all the makers.

We really promote, and encourage, empower evangelists to be seen as leaders. Another thing is, we have meetups. Offline meetups have been…we’ve had them in over 50 different cities, all self-organized, because people wanna be leaders in their cities. They want their city to be represented on the map. So, shout out to Dairena from Toronto, and a bunch of others. Phillip, I think, just had 300 people in Berlin. And, so, empower them, make them feel like what they are, as rockstars. You know, encouraging their communities, and, yeah.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. So, you just mentioned using meetup groups. But we’ve also talked about a number of ways that you’ve done product-based approaches. What have you noticed as like, the difference between having a technique that’s purely product based, versus something that’s more like reaching out to people, or you know, offline?

Ryan Hoover: I think, you need a combination of both. In the very beginning, it was very, very manual. I was emailing people, and I was looking and seeing who is signing up, and I was emailing them personally, and welcoming them, and adding something very relevant to them. Like, talking about what their work was, or something. I would get replies to almost every single email. Something that would be very delightful. They would be like, “Whoa, I actually got an email after signing up for a site? It’s not automated, it’s from the person who made the site? That’s really cool.” That was extremely useful in the early days, and kind of building that foundation.

Then, what we’ve done a lot of times is, really, manually done a lot of human interactions to MVP test things that we could productize in the future. Like, the email you mentioned, and where we encourage people to write about their experience on Product Hunt. That used to be, literally, manual emails that we type up every single day. Now, we’ve automated and streamlined that to an extent, so that, it’s still manual, and it’s still personal between us. But, we streamlined it, so it’s not as much work on our end to do, and we could do a bigger scale.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Got it.

Ryan Hoover: Any other streamlines?

Erik Torenberg: I think you mentioned delighting users has just been a core philosophy since the beginning. Around the one-year anniversary, we sent, I don’t know, maybe a thousand stickers.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah! I remember that.

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. We also sent a bunch of handwritten notes. Just trying to find ways to surprise and delight our community. I think Ryan would never say this. He’s too modest. But I think he’s the best product/community combination, certainly I’ve ever seen. And the best in the Valley. And I think you need both. It needs to be inherently built in the product, that the more they’re incentivized to share and bring people in. Then, they need to feel that they are connected to the brand.

Ryan, and then me, and then the rest of the team really just makes an effort. Whether it’s on Twitter, or there’s an email, to really…or Product Hunt and comments, make personal connections. Also, a couple things. We don’t allow any brands to comment on Product Hunt. Everything is people. Anytime a brand tweets me, I’m like, “I don’t negotiate with brands.” There’s a face behind every company, and that makes it more personal. People can build friendships easier. It brings much more community feel.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice.

Ryan Hoover: Ultimately, products are built by people, for people. We really wanna humanize that. Right now, it’s too much, almost like PR and marketing speak from a brand. There needs to be more of that between the actual people, in my mind. That’s why the conversation is so, I believe, useful, and interesting. Where, if you had…let’s take an extreme example. Pepsi, the brand, speaking within comments. It would be weird. Like, “Who am I talking to?”

Poornima Vijayashanker: A can.

Ryan Hoover: “Is this a real person?” I wouldn’t talk to the person who designed the can. Like, that kind of stuff.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. Our brains have been trained to value novelty and new things. How do you guys think about building the future of Product Hunt, and continuing to build the fervor within your community for it?

Ryan Hoover: That’s a really good question. There’s short…well, there’s consistent variability that we’re always aware of. But then there’s also just making progress in the product, and making it fresh, and changing things. So, the one thing I will mention, going back to email is, we have the daily email that goes Monday through Friday. It has some consistent things, but also some variability to it. The consistent things are yesterday’s Top Ten products, always there, so you know that, “Oh, if I just wanna quick digest of what was cool yesterday, I can go to the email.”

Also, in the top header is, typically, a collection or something that’s different every day. So, what was today’s? It was prank products.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. April Fool’s. I saw that.

Ryan Hoover: Yeah, April Fool’s is coming up, so we did a collection of all these silly, ridiculous prank products. Earlier this week, we did some Meerkat apps. We did Instagram apps, and products. These are things that people can, every single morning, 7:30 am, open up that email, and they don’t know what they’re gonna get. Sort of like a little gift. It’s important to have that variability, otherwise, it becomes a little bit stale, and rote. You need to surprise people.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, fair enough.

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. Consistent variability is built into the product. You know what you’re gonna get. You’re gonna come to Product Hunt, you’re gonna see the list of the best products every day. You go into a collection, and it could be…what did we just have? Goat-related things?

Ryan Hoover: Yeah. Yeah. My friend…yeah, she created this goat collection.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice.

Erik Torenberg: That’s in the extreme variability.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah.

Ryan Hoover: You never know.

Erik Torenberg: Lot of different surprises. We have a couple of Easter eggs, that we’ve…

Ryan Hoover: We actually have a new IRS set coming up, probably around the same time as this episode, maybe. There is an Easter egg in there. Easter eggs are, actually, really interesting. Like, Snapchat has a whole bunch of them. I love Easter eggs, because one, they’re delightful. You’re like, “Oh, wow. This just makes me smile.” It’s also something you wanna show people. It inspires word of mouth. It’s almost like a secret lair. Do you want this Easter egg?

Erik Torenberg: And, for those who don’t know, could you explain what Snapchat does, as an Easter egg?

Ryan Hoover: Yeah, there are a couple of them. One of them is the color picker. If you click that color picker, you see all the colors you can use. If you slide your finger all the way down to the bottom of the screen, you can get the black color. If you slide it all the way to the left, you get the white color.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Huh.

Ryan Hoover: What else? There’s one other one that I’m forgetting. Oh, it’s the black and white. This was before they had filters. You would type B and W, I think. Then, it would actually change the screen to black and white. When I get a Snapchat from you, that’s black and white, I’m like, “How did you do that?” I ask you, and it inspires that word of mouth.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. That’s pretty cool. Yeah. Building it in, and having variability, every day. So, often, we do a product launch, and we get a great set of early adopters. But, it can also be a challenge to go past that early adopter segment and grow your community. A lot of times, we need to have some sort of multiplying effect. You guys have, obviously, done a pretty good job so far of getting that multiplying effect. What are you thinking about, next?

Ryan Hoover: We’re really focused on the startup community, and just really, going deep within that existing community, so that, if you are in this world, and it’s hard to escape it, whether it’s through Twitter, world of mouth, or what people are showing or sharing with you. That’s been our core focus. But from expansion, there’s a lot of different, I guess, aspects to that. There’s platform expansion, like, iOS app is something we’re focusing on, and have a big launch coming up.

We just launched our Chrome extension, as well. How do we put Product Hunt in more places so that, again, it’s inescapable, but it’s also easier, and more delightful to use, as you’re out and about, or you’re on your computer. Then, of course, one return is, how do you expand to other categories, or expand to other types of communities? We’re looking, right now, at tangential communities, and how to replicate what we’ve done here, in technology, and maybe games, or others.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Cool.

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. So, it’s an exciting challenge to, in some ways…obviously, we have a head start. But to build communities from scratch, and using the principles that we’ve implied here, to learn the gaming.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. So, as your community grows, it changes. What have you guys noticed change, in terms of early product hunters, versus new product hunters?

Ryan Hoover: What do you think?

Erik Torenberg: I think, in the beginning, everyone thinks, it’s a different community. Everyone loves it ‘cause it’s unique. It’s almost like, you find a band first that you really like, and then everyone starts to like the band. You’re like, “Ah, I don’t know how I feel about…” For some of those early people, especially the ones that contributed a lot, and their thoughts are really valued, we do a lot of efforts to personally keep bringing them back. We’ll host a lot of brunches, or dinners, or events, to keep integrating them into the community.

I think what you’ll find over time is that there are people who love it, and then it kind of wears off a bit. The people you want, you gotta keep reengaging them. And, so, it’s in cycles.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. It’s nice that you mentioned that you have to keep reengaging them. Not, like, “Oh, screw you. If you don’t like our product, then take a hike.” It’s nice that you guys are putting an effort to get people to come back, ‘cause you see the value in having those early evangelists.

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. Especially, the one that are really, you know, great things to say, and following. Absolutely.

Ryan Hoover: Yeah. Been supporters in the beginning. Meetups and brunches that we do here at the office, they’re great. Those are the most fun times of Product Hunt. But they’re not very scalable. I found Twitter, personally and professionally, the most scalable way to reach a lot of people, and connect with a lot of people, because it’s very lightweight. It’s one too many. That’s how we also stay in touch with a lot of people, and follow them, and see what they’re talking about, and really build that relationship that way.

Poornima Vijayashanker: So, as your community grows, it can often take on a mind of its own. What have you guys noticed about the Product Hunt community?

Ryan Hoover: Yeah, you mentioned earlier. There have been, almost, subcommunities forming. There’s Maker Hunt, which is this Slack community of—how many people are in it now?

Erik Torenberg: Over 500.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Wow.

Ryan Hoover: Yeah. Over 500 people. Eric Willis is the creator of this, and he’s also one of our biggest supporters. He’s awesome. He created this community in Slack, and it’s all people that have been on Product Hunt, makers that have built products in the Slack route. That’s kind of its own community. Josh is doing Daily Hunt, which you mentioned, which is a podcast. He actually tweeted at me. He’s like, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this podcast. What should I name it?” We batted ideas back and forth. I was like, in my mind, I was like, “There’s no way he’s gonna do this beyond a week.” Now, it’s on, like, week eight, I think. He’s doing a podcast, I think, Monday through Thursday.

These kind of subcommunities are forming. People are also building apps on top of Product Hunt, which is interesting. Mubs, that’s his nickname. He’s been doing some cool stuff. He built this embeddable widget. You can actually embed the product, and the up votes, and everything on another site. So, it’s kind of interesting to see what’s happening, and what we can learn from them. Actually, we should probably do a Q&A type of brainstorming meeting with him.

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. Mubs, for example, is about…we’re gonna have a book club within Product Hunt.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, I saw that one.

Erik Torenberg: Mubs is building that page. Really, just community starts to develop a mind of its own, and engage with that, like, empower them to build great things. If you’re off, veer them back in a little bit. But, how could we encourage them to further support the mission?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Awesome. All right. Any final parting words for our viewers?

Ryan Hoover: Any final…one thing I’ll mention that I think is important as a realistic community building is…one, it started with friends of mine. I was reaching out to these people that knew me, that would listen to me, and try the product out, more than some random person. So you, in the beginning, have friends, and friends of friends, and they’re, maybe, enthusiastically using the product, which is great. But it’s not necessarily validation that this is—that’ll work, because they’re listening to you. They’re your friends.

Be careful in looking at the data when you’re with those type of people. When you expand, that may change. Engagement may drop. The other thing I’ll mention is, communities almost need to move fast enough. They have to always feel like they’re growing. What we did early on, when Nathan and I were working on a side project, we ended up building…

He built this really basic MVP, and we kept it quiet for a week. But we kept them in the loop. We showed them some mock-ups of what we’re working on, and then we did this press launch. It was super buggy, barely worked, but it was enough. We did a press launch, and the whole purpose of that, was to show momentum, and show that this was a thing. We continually seated the community, and grew it that way. I’ve seen a lot of communities start, and they’re really cool in the beginning, but then they fade, because they don’t either listen to the community, or change, or grow fast enough.

Erik Torenberg: I’ll say a couple things. One, that, in the beginning, a lot of it’s manual. It allows your ability, from scratch. A lot of it’s relationships.

Ryan Hoover: A lot of typing.

Erik Torenberg: Yeah. Slapping at the keyboard.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Email. Tweeting.

Erik Torenberg: A lot of waking up at 5:30, and go to sleep…you’re like, all day. Then, while you’re doing that, you’re trying to operationalize it. You’re trying to make systems around it. But yeah, you need to go at a pace where you can keep growing. I’ll say that, choose the channels that you are best at comminuting with people, and dominate those.

For us, broadly, Twitter. Ryan owns that one. And also, many events. I’ll own that one. If you dominate a channel, you start to get known for that. You start to really focus, as opposed to spreading yourself through all these other channels. Yeah. Be a person. Be nice. Talk to everybody. We’re answering everybody, all the time. If not us, directly, someone from our team. We’re all about it.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Just to recap, we talked about four main themes, today. The first was, how you wanna create a positive first impression. A lot of times, that first impression is just reaching out to people, and convincing them to use your product, and making sure there’s a combination of some folks, who are influential, and will give you feedback on your product. The second thing we talked about is, pulling people back in, and using channels like email, and even some nontechnical channels, to pull folks back in.

Once you’ve created that community of users who are engaged, you wanna think about how they can go out and evangelize, and Erik and Ryan gave us some great tips on how to pull them back in, and have makers be able to spread the word about their products, as well. Finally, we talked about how communities change over time, and to really give them the freedom to do so, right? You don’t want your community to stagnate. You wanna build momentum. You wanna make sure that you’re listening to your community, and changing with it.

Finally, we have a challenge for you. I wanna know how you thought about building a first-time experience for your users, how you thought about pulling them back into your product, how you’ve built a community, and how that community has changed over time. Submit your responses in the comments below, and the three best responses will get a special giveaway from Tracker, and be featured in Femgineer’s weekly newsletter.

Thanks again to our special guests, Erik Torenberg and Ryan Hoover from Product Hunt, for joining us today.

Erik Torenberg: Thanks for having us.

Ryan Hoover: Thanks for having us.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. Thank you. And, to all of you for tuning in. And, finally, a special thanks to our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker, for all their help and support in producing FemgineerTV. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it with your friends, your teammates, and your boss. Tune in next time. We’ll be hosting Indi Young, one of the founders of Adaptive Path, a design consultancy.

Indi is currently a Design Consultant, and has authored two books. Mental Models, as well as, most recently, Practical Empathy. Subscribe to Femgineer’s YouTube channel, to hear when the episode is out. Thanks for tuning in today, and I’m really looking forward to reading your challenge responses.

Registration for Femgineer’s Confident Communicator Course is now open through the end of this week. This course will only be taught once this year, so you won’t want to miss out. To learn more about the course, and register, visit Femgineer dot com, slash confident, dash communicator, dash course. Speak confidently, and catapult your career. This pilot episode of FemgineerTV is brought to you by Pivotal Tracker. Build better software, faster.


FemgineerTV is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.