Let me begin by saying I love Product Hunt.
There's nothing else like it. Hacker News is too harsh. Reddit discourages self-promotion in 90% of its subreddits. Indie Hackers has too much self-promotion.
In all this noise, Product Hunt is an oasis of pure, early-startup excitement about, well, products — and the people who build them.
As an entrepreneur and solo founder, nothing appeals to me more than a community site designed around building new ideas, showing them off to the world, and putting them in people's hands.
It's a wonderful corner of the internet that I enjoy visiting daily.
Launching my first product by accident
If you want to skip to the end, where I summarize Product Hunt's UX bugs and tell you how to avoid them, click here.
My first serious attempt at building a product for other people was Artisfy, a marketplace for hiring freelance illustrators for 1 hour at a time.
After spending 3 months designing every page in Sketch, 5 months building out the front-end code, and 6 months implementing a backend with Meteor, someone named Nate posted Artisfy to Product Hunt without telling me.
It was one of the best surprises I've ever received.
At 10am, on November 29, 2016 — 3 days after my birthday — I realized I was getting sign ups from real, actual freelance artists and users. By 10:15am, I realized where the traffic was coming from. Imagine my surprise when I realized Artisfy was featured in the #2 spot on the front page of my favorite website.
I was ecstatic.
Launching my second product on purpose (and the #1 UX bug)
After the success of Artisfy's surprise launch, I started talking with my new users. I emailed them, did lots of phone calls and video calls, went to meet them at coffee shops all around Boston and Cambridge, trying to learn what they wanted from Artisfy.
It didn't take long to realize most of them didn't need a new marketplace website. There were thousands of those already and many of the freelancers I talked to were looking to move off of them as soon as possible and recruit their own clients. Gradually, it sunk in for me: freelance illustrators needed a home for their professional services.
So, I set off to work on a brand new product, in the early days of 2017: RequestCreative.
This was a really, really exciting time for me. I was working out of a warm and lively co-working space and I got to focus on building RequestCreative every single day. I felt very lucky.
And, I had a plan for getting some early traction: Product Hunt Ship.
Product Hunt Ship has 2 big features.
- The ability to schedule your product post
- Promotion of your product on the Product Hunt home page!!!
If you can't tell, the second feature is, by far, the more exciting one 😆
You see, Product Hunt gets about 5 million visits per month (according to SimilarWeb). So, even if you're only featured 1% of the time (and I think it's more than that), that's a total of 5,000 people per month seeing your product.
That's an incredible value, especially since you know this audience is 1) interested in early-stage products and 2) might subscribe with just the click of the button to hear more about your startup in the future.
So, of course, I signed up right away and
- Set up a Ship page
- Uploaded my logo and media
- Double checked to make sure everything looked right
Then I waited...
And over the course of the next three weeks, 2 subscribers trickled in.
They were both people I knew. 😫
It turns out, I had missed a toggle button that was buried deep in the Product Hunt Ship interface: "Promote on Product Hunt", which was off by default.
- This very important toggle wasn't mentioned on the Product Hunt home page after I logged in, nor on my personal profile page — nor on my product's Edit Post page.
- It also wasn't mentioned on the Product Hunt Ship Dashboard page.
- It was buried, at the bottom of the sidebar, on the product's Upcoming page about 2/3 of the way down
That's quite a lot of burying for a feature that most users aren't even aware they should be looking for. I personally assumed that — since it was, by far, the most valuable feature of Product Hunt Ship — it would be turned on by default.
This is currently the #1 UX bug on Product Hunt Ship and it ruined my second product launch.
During the launch day, when I didn't know about this little, secret toggle that unlocks 90% of the value of Product Hunt Ship, I was still blaming myself for not being able to get more subscribers.
Maybe my copywriting is off
Maybe people just aren't interested in RequestCreative's promise
Maybe there was some secret algorithm that Product Hunt used to determine who was featured in the Upcoming box and I just wasn't chosen...
To be fair, Product Hunt Ship did send me one email with a mention of the "Promote on Product Hunt" toggle.
However, their mention of it was in the second (not the first) onboarding email, hidden way below the fold on mobile devices. To find it, you had to read through a bunch of other (mostly useless) copy and scroll past a big, centered image.
No one has time for that.
And this was the only time in the onboarding they called it out.
I ended up spending $79 on Ship (and a month prepping for the launch) for almost no value — all because I missed this single sentence.
How to fix this UX bug
I think the solution to this UX bug is simple:
- The first email Ship subscribers receive should have the subject line: "Your Product is Not Being Promoted Yet". That would pretty much do it. If you really want to be nice about it, maybe send them a followup 7 days later with the same subject line.
- Then, on the user's list of upcoming products, in bold, red letters, it should probably say: this product is "Not being promoted yet"
- Finally, on your Ship dashboard, at the top of the page, above the completely useless graph that was stuck at 2 users during my entire pre-launch, and highlighted in a bright red background, maybe say something like: "Do you want to enable promotion on Product Hunt? Yes or No"
Or, of course, they could just turn on promoting products by default, since it's literally the #1 reason anyone signs up for Ship and it's absolutely zany to charge for value you're not providing.
My first product's (failed) launch
If you're curious about how RequestCreative did on launch day... I won't lie and tell you I wasn't disappointed.
It hung out, just off of the front page, all day, right under the "Show More" button.
It was a little heart breaking.
My second product's tumultuous & amazing non-launch (and UX bugs #2 and #3)
After RequestCreative didn't land with a splash, I was a bit disheartened. I truly thought I had created something useful and amazing — something the Product Hunt community would love.
When it didn't do well, it was hard to keep working on it, even thought it's something I had invested a year of my life into.
For anyone struggling with this right now — the anticipation or reality of a "failed" launch — I'd strongly recommend watching this excellent video by YC Startup School:
"Please don't fall in love with your MVP. It's just step 1 in a journey."
So, anyways, as a way of recovering, I focused on something fun. I started tinkering around with the code behind RequestCreative and slowly extracting it into a web framework.
At first, I told myself it was just for fun. But then I was making notes and taping them to my wall — and drawing diagrams — and seeing if what I had on my hands was truly as groundbreaking as it seemed.
This, eventually, after a year of hard work, became Remake.
Which, kind of, sort of, launched a few weeks ago.
You see, despite visiting Product Hunt nearly every day, I'm still not an expert at it. And, it turns out, I unintentionally sabotaged my launch day with the stupidest mistake possible.
Delaying the launch
On November 11th, I made the decision to delay Remake's launch by 2 days, from 11/20 to 11/22.
My promo video wasn't finished yet, I had on a couple pages of documentation done, and I the website was only 50% done.
Then on November 18th, with the pressure of a quickly approaching launch day mounting again, and still no website ready yet...
I rescheduled again.
To the past... oops 🤪
Like any truly visionary founder, I moved up my MVP launch date to be as early as possible: November 5th — 2 weeks in the past.
And the thing that surprised me the most: Product Hunt Support simply responded with, "Sure thing that's changed for you now!"
The next morning, I checked on it and realized my unbelievable mistake and the Product Hunt staff quickly rectified the situation.
Remake was now back to being scheduled for the future — December 5th — and I was going to be ready!
(However, this simple rescheduling-to-the-past mistake would soon come back to haunt me...)
UX Mistake #2
Before we get to the true comedy of errors of this story, this is where Product Hunt's UX mistake #2 comes in.
The only reason I needed to talk to a human to reschedule my post (instead of doing it myself) was because their scheduler only allows you to select a date a few weeks out.
And, although it gives the mistaken impression that you can keep pushing it further out every couple of weeks, indefinitely — eventually you reach a hard limit.
So, the simple solution here would be to allow people to schedule their product whenever they want to.
Ideally, only in the future. 😆
You might wonder: why even schedule your product at all if it turns out to be this complicated — having to reach out to customer support every couple weeks?
Well, it turns out, if you choose not schedule your product's launch, then anyone else can launch your product for you — before you're ready 😳 — even if you have an upcoming product and are paying for Product Hunt Ship.
Launching early, this time around, would've been a disaster — unlike with Artisfy.
You see, at this time, I still thought of Product Hunt as a great source of interested early users and developers and I was really looking forward to knocking it out of the park with a beautiful startup website.
If someone launched my product early, the website would've been the early, very rough, barely coherent documentation site — which provided only a single demo, no email sign up forms, and no substantial information about how to use Remake.
It probably wouldn't have done well — and I wouldn't have been able to launch it again on my own, since it was launched already.
When I spent 3 months of time and energy gearing up for a big Product Hunt release, it simply wasn't worth it to launch early.
The day before launch day
Remember when I mistakenly scheduled my post for November 5th — two weeks in the past?
Well, apparently that caused some major issues with Product Hunt's backend and really came back to bite me the day before launch.
I was in the middle of updating the launch website, when I remembered to check in on my Product Hunt post to make sure everything looked good.
That's when I noticed something really bad:
Remake had suddenly reverted to being posted a month ago. 😣
I reached out to support right away.
As usual, they responded in under an hour and rescheduled the post for December 5th — the following day.
Then, while continuing to prepare my post for launch day — adding some images, refining the copy and headlines — I noticed it happened... again. 😳
At this point, it was the evening before the launch — just a few hours out.
I started panicking:
- What if I was doing something wrong? What if it wasn't a database error on Product Hunt's part, but I was responsible for launching it by mistake?
- Was there a secret toggle (like Ship) somewhere that I wasn't seeing?
- Was the support staff going to think I was trying to cheat the system somehow — and prevent me from launching altogether!?
I quickly looked around on the Edit Post page, looking for anything that might have caused the scheduled date to be canceled and cause my product to launch right away.
And that's when I saw it: a simple little magic toggle that I had never truly understood, but had occasionally toggled when I didn't know what else to do.
I know, I know...you really wouldn't think I design web apps for a living... 🤪 The #1 rule for users of software should be, "don't toggle a magic setting you don't understand."
The two options:
With no further explanation.
I assumed, in my moment of (slight) panic, that these options referred to the status of my product post, not the status of my startup.
You see, a "pre-launch startup" is a technical term in Silicon Valley. It means:
- Your product isn't ready yet.
- It's not available.
- It's pre-launch.
As a Boston native, I don't hear it as much, except when I'm watching YC videos.
So, (somewhat my fault here...) it simply didn't register as having anything to do with the status of my product/startup.
I especially didn't think it would be something that would completely decimate my launch.
So, I set the Status to Pre-launch, contacted customer support to reschedule the post, and promptly forgot about the magic little toggle.
"Please don't make any further changes"
This is about the time someone on the Product Hunt staff told me to stop editing my post, because: "when you update the post, it stops it from being scheduled."
Well, um.... okay, I guess. 😐
That made no sense to me, but I figured it was probably because of the scheduling-to-the-past thing from earlier (which must have really caused some hard-to-undo database flag to be set).
I told the marketing freelancer I was working with to not touch the post either — it was completely hands-off until launch time.
We both gently stepped away from the keyboard, hoping and expecting a perfectly normal, relatively successful Product Hunt launch.
I sent out the launch emails and went to bed.
The day of the launch
I woke up on the morning of the launch and checked on the Product Hunt post. It had gotten 7 upvotes already — more than a lot of the other posts, but fewer than some.
It hadn't made it to the home page yet...
But I was still hopeful.
I went for a walk, recorded a quick launch day video for people interested in the project, and went back inside to start my 9 hour launch live stream 😁
I answered questions and emails, got some serious help from @levelsio on a Twitter post that went viral, posted a couple launch posts to Reddit and Designer News — and checked on Product Hunt about 3 times an hour.
For the whole day, I couldn't shake the feeling that Remake should've reached the front page with the amount of votes it was getting.
Then I got a couple of messages from Product Hunt users that Remake wasn't showing up anywhere on Product Hunt — not even when they searched for it. They said they had to go to the "New" tab and scroll forever just to find it.
I started worrying that maybe something had gone really wrong.
Maybe I really had messed up Product Hunt's database with my rescheduling... Or annoyed the staff enough with my requests for them to shadow ban me from the home page...
To be honest, I had no idea what was happening.
I reached out to customer support, once again, towards the end of the day — after not making it onto the home page despite getting more upvotes than 7 of the other products featured there.
I don't understand why my page failed to reach the front page — even under the Show More button. It launched around the same time as a lot of the products at the bottom and received more upvotes than some, but it never made it to the front page.
Did something malfunction with my post again?
Then I got a little cynical: was it an editorial decision? Did the staff prevent my post from hitting the front page because they thought it wasn't good enough?
I scoured Product Hunt's FAQ for answers.
At the very bottom of the FAQ articles in the "Posting" category, I came across a certain article title — that, when I read it, instantly made me realize my big mistake. 🤦♂️
I suddenly remembered back to that toggle on the Edit Post page.
I opened the FAQ article to read it.
Here's what it said:
We encourage people to submit launched products that are available to play with immediately; however, the occasional crowdfunded or pre-launch submission is acceptable if it provides thorough information about the product (e.g. clear video with a product feature walkthrough) and proof that it's not vaporware. That said, we may remove pre-launch submissions and recommend founders to wait until their product has launched before submitting.
I didn't want to admit it to myself, but I had single-handedly sabotaged my own product launch and been responsible for shadow-banning myself from the Product Hunt home page.
I reached out to customer support one more time.
Indeed, that was it.
They reached out to me shortly after, with a link to the article I had just read.
UX mistake #3 and how to fix it
I'm sure a lot of people who launch on Product Hunt know what Pre-launch means and they, also, might understand that it impacts their eligibility to reach the home page.
But, also, maybe they don't.
It would be very, very polite of Product Hunt to just tell you, on the Edit Post page, exactly what Pre-launch means — so more people like me don't sabotage months of work over a misunderstanding.
Why I'm writing this post
So, you might be wondering: what happened to Remake?
Well, actually, thanks to a launch tweet that @levelsio helped me write and share, the launch was actually a big success!
All this, despite not receiving any traffic from Product Hunt. Since my product wasn't featured at all or even available in search, Remake ended up sending hundreds of visitors to Product Hunt, but didn't really receive any back.
I'm hoping Product Hunt might consider giving me a redo, but for now I'm happy to just share this, so someone else with a big idea might avoid my mistakes.
For now, Remake is still marked as pre-launch, even though the product, on launch day, was (and has been for months) functional and ready to use!
I only learned what this little dot of invisibility meant on December 6th, after it was too late. If I only I had hovered over it... 👻
So, without further ado:
A Quick TLDR Summary of Product Hunt's UX Mistakes and How to Avoid Them For Your Own Launch
- If you sign up for Product Hunt Ship, no matter what, find the magic "Promote on Product Hunt" toggle and turn it on:
It will help your launch out so, so much and get you a lot of early email subscribers! It's totally worth (even double) the current cost of Ship.
Hint: It's on your upcoming page, in the sidebar, about halfway down, under a few other options you probably don't care about.
2. If you decide to reschedule your launch at any point, check with a friend or coworker first to make sure the launch date you chose is in the future 😜, because otherwise, Product Hunt might schedule it in the past for you — mark it is as already launched — and that could cause a lot of unexpected, totally weird issues for you down the line.
Seriously, though: I'd recommend claiming your product's URL by scheduling a post and then ask customer support to schedule your launch way in the future.
This way, you'll have plenty of breathing room, and you won't have to deal with the hassle of reaching out to Customer Support every week or two to push push back your launch into the future.
And you can just launch when you want, with no worries or mishaps.
3. Don't touch the Status dropdown on your Edit Post page. Don't ask what it does or what it means. Just don't touch it.
Thanks for reading :)
Reach out if you want any more tips on Product Hunt launches — I'm (very slowly) becoming competent at using it. 😆