Product Hunt: The Hottest Tech Site That Started Off As a Hobby
The Internet is full of low-quality content, and discovering the pearls is only possible through curation.
Social media apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have implemented their own algorithms in an attempt to select the 'best' content for each user, but not one of them can top the master of curation - Product Hunt.
Founded by Ryan Hoover in 2013, Product Hunt is the taste-maker of technology and everything new in the tech world. It enables users to share and discover new products organized into four categories: video games, technology products, books, and podcasts.
The Verge was the first to say it: 'Product Hunt has become a must-read site in Silicon Valley' - and they weren't wrong!
It all started when a San Francisco geek started sending out emails to peers containing a list of cool new products for them to try out.
Read more about Product Hunt's story here:
Ryan's Entrepreneurial Parents Had A Great Influence
Ryan was born in 1987 in Eugene, Oregon, in a family of entrepreneurs. His parents owned several businesses, and one of them was a video game store. Ryan's passion for technology started at a young age, as he got to play all the video games for free. Being entrepreneurs themselves, his parents knew the importance of giving unconditional support to their son, and that support encouraged Ryan to pursue his goals and test his skills in various business projects, even as a child!
To earn some pocket money, Ryan would make video game handbooks and sell them in his parent's video game store or list them on eBay. He would then record the revenues and expenses in a spreadsheet using his grandpa's old Apple computer - learning the basics of business!
His dad would often advise him that in order to start a successful business, he had to 'find a hole and fill it'. Inspired by his dad's advice, Ryan experimented with ideas that solved his own problems, or the problems of people around him.
Despite his entrepreneurial teenage years, after graduation, he took a more traditional route and enrolled at the University of Oregon in Portland to study business.
Portland was the place that made Ryan a serious entrepreneur, but there's a story there too!
Small-Town Kid Makes His Break In The Big City
After earning his bachelor's degree, Ryan joined the workforce and started working at InstantAction in the mid-2000s, a video game company in his hometown. However, things weren't looking great, and he started looking for other career opportunities. Like most tech guys, he wanted to move to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the birthplace of many tech geniuses and businessmen.
Andy Yang, now CEO of Upsight, was a former employee at InstantAction who had moved from Eugene to San Francisco to work at a company named Playhaven, and he hinted to Ryan that their company was looking for a product manager.
In 2010, Ryan decided that his time in Eugene was over, so he followed Andy's steps, packed his bags, got on a plane to San Francisco, and went on a job interview at Playhaven.
Just like that, the small-town 'kid' from Eugene got the job and made his break in the big city.
Learning Product Management The Hard Way
Playhaven was a startup with only 10 employees, and Ryan was hired as the first product manager at the company. Although it was scary at first, his role was to go through all of the hassles of product management by himself and learn about it the hard way.
Playhaven offered an engine for mobile game developers, and Ryan was the office's jack-of-all-trades, being assigned to everything from product creation and quality, to its distribution to the customers. He worked for Playhaven from 2010 to 2013, and the company grew from 10 to more than 100 employees within that time.
Although he was aware of Playhaven's bright future, Ryan started losing his passion for the job. He just wasn't as excited as he had been three years ago, so he decided to move into another startup, where he could grow and expand his skills.
Within a week of the decision, Ryan gave his boss the two-month notice. However, the two-months stretched to six months, which turned out great for Ryan as he had the time to work on his side project - an email list for him and his friends to find cool new products and share with each other.
But how did he come up with that idea?
The Inspiration Behind Product Hunt: Ryan's Writing Passion
As a kid, Ryan hated to write. In multiple interviews over the years, he claimed that writing was his least favorite thing to do as a child. But then faith intervened, alongside with his teenagehood and in his 20's, he began writing about stuff he liked.
And he enjoyed every moment of it!
In 2012, he started writing blog-post articles, essays, and reviews on latest tech news, and he loved it so much that in 2013, he wrote 150 blog posts! The tech fans might recognize the name 'Ryan Hoover' as the author of a number of articles published in well-known publishers such as Forbes, TechCrunch, and others.
All this writing helped Ryan develop a new habit: as soon as he'd reviewed a cool up-and-coming app or website, he would SMS or email his friends to tell them all about it and invite them to check it out.
Ryan's generosity helped him realize something - people like to talk about products the same way they like to talk about other forms of entertainment, such as music or movies! He started to think of ways to reach a bigger audience, but couldn't find one: social networks served a wider purpose, and there was no other place on the Internet where people could discover new tech products.
On his search for 'Internet space' where geeks could talk about technology, he discovered that there weren't any websites that offered information on all the new products on the market. While tech publications wrote a lot of news about products, they were too broad and didn't have a community aspect.
Then it hit him: tech-enthusiasts could use an email list surfacing the newest and most interesting applications, websites, or books of the day!
Thus, the idea for Product Hunt was born.
The Beginnings Of Product Hunt - An Email List!
It was 2013 and the number of email users was on the rise. Rayn saw an opportunity there, one that will help him build today's Product Hunt.
He wrote the first Product Hunt email in November 2013, sent it out to his followers within the tech community, and shared the links on Twitter and Quibb. As an introvert, he hadn't built relationships with too many people, but his following of around 300 people was still helpful to kickstart the tech-community and put Product Hunt on display.
Ryan was aware that it was better for him to create a whole website instead of an email list, but he wasn't willing to invest time and money in building an entire site from scratch. So, he created a simple email list and invited a few dozen founders, investors, and other friends he thought might like it.
Plus, Ryan added a special feature: list members could submit new products to the list, that could be useful and valuable for its other members. Also, a service called LinkyDink would send out daily updated lists to every member, automatically.
For an email list, it was organized to perfection!
Turning His Hobby into Profit
The email list got a few hundred subscribers in the first two weeks, and many people emailed Ryan and encouraged him to keep working on the list. Ryan was ecstatic: Product Hunt was something fun, useful, and he liked doing it, so why not turn it into something more meaningful?
But, as the number of subscribers grew, Ryan realized that a simple email wouldn't do the trick for the goals he had in mind. It lacked a lot of functionality, so he reached out to a few people and decided to make Product Hunt a community. He took Reddit's Hacker News as an example, and went with an existing model rather than reinventing the wheel.
Over a five day period, Ryan and his childhood friend Nathan Bashaw, a web-developer, worked together and created a really basic version of Product Hunt. By November 2013, the site was up, and it reached 2,000 subscribers in its first 20 days after launching!
Ryan's collaboration with the tech press paid off for him when numerous publications wrote articles and praised Product Hunt.
Soon, the founder had made a few dozen exclusive interviews with Silicon Valley big names, and to say that the company grew fast from here would be an understatement!
Product Hunt Now
Following the initial success, Ryan proudly announced that Product Hunt would receive $6.1 million in funding, led by venture capital company Andreessen Horowitz. When the funding was secured, there was nothing standing on Product Hunt's way to the top!
Product Hunt was selected as the 'Best New Startup of 2014' at the Crunchie awards, on February 5, 2015. The expansion was imminent, and Product Hunt launched its iOS and Android applications in 2015 - which proved to be a massive hit!
In 2016, Ryan was unsure whether he should look for funding again or pursue an acquisition, so he went both ways. Eventually, an acquisition was the more natural fit, so he chose AngelList as the acquisition partner - a company he knew and trusted.
Four years after the acquisition, Product Hunt has grown to become the standard in the tech world, serving as an inspiration for future-makers.
Today, Product Hunt is much more than a retreat for Silicon Valley developers - it's also a great place to have a slightly different afternoon or after work get-together, even if you're not so much into tech!
That relaxed office vibe and their skyrocketing success proved that Product Hunt had it right from the start: a good idea, an experienced founder, and a solid product is all you need to take it easy!