TL;DR: A successful launch on PH can be done, but requires careful planning and execution.
Yesterday my first MVP become #2 Product of the Day on Product Hunt. How the fuck did that happen? If you’re thinking to yourself that it’s an impossibly gargantuan task, attainable only by the elites of Silicon Valley’s startup world — you would be outrageously mistaken. I’m living proof. Let me share my story.
What it took
All in all, I’d say this was a month’s worth of work. From absolute zero, nothing, nada, zilch, to being on the front page of Product Hunt all day, being up-voted over 300 times to the 2nd place position for the day, and getting around 3k hits to my product Levelsmap plus a few hundred more to this blog.
Oh, and did I mention over
250 300 new Twitter followers?
If you’re well on your way as a tech solopreneur, those numbers might make you shrug with indifference. But for me — literally an internet nobody — that kind of success seemed so impossibly far away that even two days ago I was thinking “absolutely no way”.
As I expected (hoped?), Pieter didn’t have a problem with me using his name in the product. But think about it for a second — why would he? Lets try to dissect what it would look like from his perspective, as someone higher up on the food chain:
- Levels is a big proponent of digital nomadism and web solopreneurship, writing about it for years.
- After giving away so much knowledge, here I come along and create an MVP, faithfully implementing his methods.
- I name it after Levels as an act of genuine appreciation.
- Levels hears about it, immediately checks it out to see if it’s not a scam / fraud / fake (he was one of the first users).
What does he do? Does he scream bloody murder, threaten litigation and try to shut me down? Does he support me? From a business perspective, what’s in his personal best interests?
If he disapproves…
Nothing happens. He doesn’t even lose me as a fan. I have to readjust my launch strategy. I’m out the $1 I spent on the domain during Namecheap’s Black Friday sale and I’m out of touch with what could be a really great contact. Cost to him: nothing.
If he approves…
His ego is stroked. His authority as an expert grows in the eyes of his own followers (social proof). Think about it, if strangers are building products because of your work, you must be big. Plus, any interest I generate in my MVP could have a residual effect, funneling visitors through to his website / brand. His name is plastered on the front page of Product Hunt for another day. Plus, the joy of helping out someone a little lower down the food chain.
So all in all, that was a calculated risk for us both and it worked nicely. He retweeted the first message I directed at him, creating my first good bit of live traffic from his loyal Twitter audience.
Aside from a few public tweets, we hardly interacted at all. So it was business-like and professional. I got what I wanted by 1) being on his radar 2) getting hits by piggybacking on his name.
Being followed by @levelsio on Twitter feels like some kind of startup boy-scout’s badge and I’m going to wear it with honor!
And to dispel any notion that he is not a completely hardened internet hustler through-and-through, I’ll show you the entirety of our private DMs on Twitter. You’ll be amused.
All he wants is an extra backlink. And the rest is non-negotiated and completely organic. For what it’s worth, he didn’t help me at all with strategizing the launch of Levelsmap. It was completely up to me to figure out how to get some attention.
Launch strategy (or a lack thereof)
Since getting the retweet from Pieter, I decided the cat was out of the bag. I’d gone public! Now what? Hmmm… Maybe Pieter could help after all; I scoured his blog after vaguely recalling something about how he launches. Eventually I came across this post on launching Hoodmaps. In it, he describes hitting Product Hunt, Hacker News and Reddit. Exactly what @ParasharAnmol had said during the Levelsmap leak. Probably not a coincidence.
Hacker News + Reddit
I heard that you should submit to Product Hunt at midnight PST. But I didn’t know anything about HN or Reddit strategies. Since I was anxious to launch, I just submitted to HN on a whim.
Absolutely nothing happened. No up-votes, my submission just slid off the page like a sleigh down a snowy hill. It was gone.
Ok, perhaps it was bad luck. A couple hours later, I decided to submit to Reddit. Maybe I’ll have better luck. Unfortunately, no!
In hindsight, there’s definitely a strategy to submitting your work to HN and Reddit. I don’t know exactly what it takes, but if you have a following that you can send in the direction of HN or Reddit, that definitely helps. Luckily, the more you ship, the larger your sphere of influence: a sustained effort will yield results.
My knowledge of PH wasn’t a lot better, I just knew I had to launch at 9:01am CET, 0:01am PST. So that’s what I did. I made a cute animated gif and launched on PH. Magically, I appeared at 3rd place within seconds, with a quick up-vote from @levelsio. I’m not sure how he sees it so quickly, but he did. And once on the homepage, I stayed there. The hard work was done: the rest of the day was just inertia because I was on the homepage.
Levelsmap climbed to the #2 spot after a few hours and stayed there until the end. I spent the day reacting to people on PH, the feedback form and Twitter. For the most part, there was an overwhelming voice of positivity and encouragement.
Surprisingly few people took exception to the fact that by logging into my app, you auto-follow my Twitter account. In the end, I racked up over 300 Twitter follows. But the few that didn’t like it were quite vocal: writing their criticism on PH and on Twitter. Because Product Hunt turned out to be so important to me, they won. They shamed me into adding an opt-out.
As soon as I implemented the change my conversion rate plummeted. Yet funnily enough, a lot of users who auto-followed me on Twitter are are either ok with it, or have yet to remove me: my retention rate once followed is actually quite good thus far.
In defense of my auto-twitter tactic, I cited Pieter’s use of it on Nomad List and asking, in all earnestness, why what he does is ok. In the end I believe it comes down to brand strength and added value. If you know without a doubt that I’m a reputable actor and going to add huge value, why would you care?
The social proof Nomad List has is enormous, and those who join it do so with the intention of paying money for a subscription. So an add on Twitter is a very small ask at that point.
Ultimately it’s a balancing act. I’m glad I erred on the side of boldness. I crossed a line, noticed it was a problem, confessed my sins and corrected my ways. Twitter responded well, praising my transparency and quick reaction.
People are keen to forgive you if you make an honest mistake.
But also: better to do and apologize than not to do!
You’ll have to draw your own conclusions.
What I learned
Regarding the product itself. People, over the whole, liked it. And I received a couple of cool feedback ideas which I added swiftly:
- searching for users on the map by Twitter handle.
- a bot that tweets you when new users join the map near you.
But once the initial surge of traffic dissipated, I was left with not much at all. For a short time, I basked in admiration of having built a map of all my new Twitter friends. It’s kinda cool.
The afterglow effect wore off, and got me thinking about the nature of what I’d created. Why would someone return?
Return visits are key. And that’s something I’m going to address in my next MVP: creating a site that can provide value on a continual, automatic basis that keeps a user coming back.
When to stop and when to continue
The most challenging entrepreneurial question this project raised in me was trying to decide at what point do you quit what you’re doing and move on, and when do you persist?
I’m not here to make art or pursue something according to it’s own internal merits. I’m here to find market fit, find a niche and own it and milk it. I don’t have time for art. I wish I did. I don’t.
By the criteria set forth in my previous post, this launch was a great success. So do I persist? Or let it go?
Persisting would involve rebranding the name and building it out into a community of makers. The map has some technical challenges and monetization strategies are still fairly unclear.
Starting something new allows me improve my launching skills, play with a new idea and explore a different user space.
There’s no right answer
It’s a personal choice. This is the moment when you get to infuse your entrepreneurship with your own personality. Who are you? What do you care about? What are your interests? What do you choose to invest your time in?
The idea is if you build products with this in mind, it will motivate you through the guaranteed tough times. For Pieter that’s digital nomadism, which has informed a lot of his work. My interest are:
- photography, cinema, filmmaking and filmmakers.
- actionable dating advice and the pickup community.
- conservative politics in the age of Trump.
- self-improvement for men, style, fitness, soft skills.
My interests are not:
- impressing other digital product makers or tech people.
- programming, or tools + APIs to help other programmers.
- internet marketing, funnels, analytics, email campaigns, SEO.
- anything overly technical; bitcoin, blockchain, dark web.
And so with this in mind, I’m going to leave Levelsmap as it is and try something new. The feeling of releasing a product was exhilarating and I want to see if I can launch bigger, feeling more passionate about an app that isn’t purely of use to other makers.
It requires a lot of courage and audacity to build what you’d actually love to build, because your sense of identity is tied up in it’s success. For now, I’m going to continue to throw spaghetti against the wall to see if anything will stick.
Twitter shyness and closing remarks
Since launching, I’ve been extremely quiet on my main Twitter feed. I’m literally shy — frightened — of my new followers.
When nobody knew of my existence, I had the feeling that I was completely free and could say or do anything. Nobody cared.
Now, my tweets take up space on other people’s feeds. They still don’t care, but I feel an obligation to add value. And there’s a quantifiable metric to see how I’m doing: watching my number of followers increase or decrease.
The great luxury I’ve lost is that when you have no followers, you don’t need to worry about losing them.
Nevertheless, I love engaging with new people and I’ve been very privileged to meet some cool cats through my app launch. If you’ve got to the end of this post and you’re still reading, you owe it to yourself to be in touch and send me your thoughts.
Have a great Christmas.
December 10, 2017, @mcknco