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Product Hunt: The Internet's Destiny Machine
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Product Hunt: The Internet's Destiny Machine

by Greg IsenbergApr 11, 2021

This post is in collaboration with The Generalist. Mario from The Generalist is awesome. Subscribe to his Newsletter here. It’s worth it.


Every hero begins in the ordinary world. 

Harry Potter languishes in the closet under the stairs. 

Luke Skywalker toils as a farmboy on Tatooine. 

Lucy Pevensie searches for entertainment in a country house. 

Odysseus rules as unremarkable king of Ithaca. 

To fulfill their destiny, the hero has to leave this prosaic realm, crossing the threshold to the supernatural world. Mythologist Joseph Campbell best expressed this narrative archetype. In his work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell drew from religion and mythology to suggest that humanity's greatest stories conformed to a set structure he described as "The Hero's Journey." 

As noted, the journey begins with the hero living in the ordinary world. A call to adventure incents the hero to begin their pilgrimage. With the assistance of supernatural aid, the hero crosses a threshold into the supernatural world. In this new realm, the hero faces a series of travails that culminate in an ordeal. Once the hero triumphs over this ordeal, they return to the ordinary world, bringing hard-earned reward and wisdom. 

There's an undeniable familiarity in Campbell's framework, and each stage is worthy of study. But it's that first threshold that is arguably most compelling. The dividing line between ordinary and supernatural, mundane and magical, nothing so clearly signifies a change has occurred than this act of passage. 

Harry crashes through the conditional wall of Platform 9¾, Luke vaults into the vast planetary universe, Lucy creeps through a wardrobe's portal, and Odysseus survives the demarcating storms of furious Poseidon. 

Unlike any other company, Product Hunt represents the first threshold of the founding journey. Since its creation in 2013, the platform has become the de-facto launchpad for new products. In doing so, it established itself as the dividing line between the ordinary and supernatural worlds. You begin as a consumer; by launching on Product Hunt, you become a maker. 

In owning (and opening) that narrative terrain, Product Hunt has created immense value for the startup ecosystem. But while the company has helped countless tech titans achieve their destiny, it hasn't quite fulfilled its own. 

That might be changing. With new ownership and fresh funding, the internet's favorite kitty may be getting a new lease on life. But to take the next step in its own journey, Product Hunt will need to streamline its product, double down on core user flows, and change its business model. 

In today's briefing, we'll explore: 

  1. Product Hunt's history

  2. Being acquired by AngelList

  3. The current platform

  4. The changes that can bring it to the next level

History 

Linkydink

Ryan Hoover had an idea. 

Everyone he knew loved talking about new products, trading recommendations, and surfing the web for the coolest launches. Hoover found himself browsing different countries' App Stores in his spare time, looking for apps to try. 

Despite that everyone in his San Francisco set was obsessed with this ever-changing frontier of entrepreneurship, there was no good place to find new products. On a chilly November morning, Hoover sat down at Philz's Coffee and tried to come up with a solution. 

His to-do list that day had just one item on it: 

Create Product Hunt

(Aside: Hoover reportedly spent "maybe five minutes" coming up with the name for his newest project. Pretty good work.) 

The idea had been percolating for the previous few weeks. What if you create a dedicated platform for new products? And not just a spiritless website but a community, a place for users to connect over their mutual obsessions. Sure, Hacker News solved some of this, but it was general-purpose and more liable to spark into life over a coding disagreement than a product launch.  

The internet needed something new. 

Looking to validate his idea without development work, Hoover turned to the now-defunct Linkydinky. A link-sharing tool, Linkydink turned out to be a perfect proving ground for the concept: Hoover created a group on the platform, invited some startup friends, and asked them to contribute by sharing links to their favorite products. Once a day, those links would be compiled and shared via email. In that respect, Product Hunt was an early example ofstarting with a community and then building the product, rather than the other way around. 

In a blog post announcing the project, Hoover set two rules for contributors: 

1) Don't state the obvious. E.g. everyone knows about Snapchat.

2) Don't repeat past product entries (if you can help it).

With that, Product Hunt was off to the races. With Nathan Baschez, Hoover shipped the first version of the platform just eight days later. The following month, Pando wrote about the startup, and Hoover matriculated to Y Combinator.

Valley darling

By the time Product Hunt graduated from the accelerator, it had attracted tens of thousands of visitors, growing 75% month-over-month. More impressively, Hoover and Company had tapped into the tech world's zeitgeist, capturing the attention of Silicon Valley's power brokers while democratizing access to the latest entrepreneurial endeavors. 

That traction convinced a slew of impressive investors to back the business with GV, Slow Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Betaworks, Cowboy Ventures, Tuesday Capital, and SV Angel participating in the seed round. Angels like Kevin Colleran, Abdur Chowdhury, and Nir Eyal contributed, too. (Interestingly, Hoover had helped Eyal on his book, Hooked, before founding Product Hunt.)

Then, of course, there was Naval Ravikant. Hoover had met the AngelList founder six months after launching with a degree of trepidation. Already in its short life, Product Hunt had seen venture capitalists flock to use the platform as a sourcing mechanism. An early note from USV partner Andy Weissman articulated Product Hunt's opportunity: 

Love how you have all kinds of VCs subscribed! Build an angel list syndicate off this list and disrupt them (us) ;-)

If Product Hunt had chosen to move in that direction, it would have represented a threat to AngelList's position as the default syndication platform. 

Tensions dissipated as the pair strolled through San Francisco's Yerba Buena neighborhood. Rather than a cut-throat competitor, Hoover found a kindred spirit in Ravikant, someone who had devoted his life to helping new ventures get their start. That resonated with Hoover's mission. Shortly after that meeting, Ravikant asked to invest. It represented the beginning of a partnership that would have a significant impact on Product Hunt's future.  

Just a few months after its seed, Product Hunt announced a Series A. Andreessen Horowitz led the $6.1 million round, marking the company as a preeminent player. 

With money in the bank, Product Hunt continued to scale. Aided by Erik Torenberg, the company ran one of the most impressive grassroots community-led acquisition strategies in tech, catalyzing the creation of Product Hunt chapters in cities worldwide from Brazil to Hong Kong. More than winning new users, Product Hunt won affection, building a genuine, warm community very different than the snark and sarcasm of Hacker News or Reddit. Much of that was down to Hoover himself, by all accounts a genuinely kind, charismatic leader. In a previous interview, Torenberg captured Hoover's genius memorably: 

Ryan is the best community and product person I've ever met. No one could have built Product Hunt as he did. He's a master of community, partially because he's so genuinely likable. And he's likable at scale.

That proved useful as Product Hunt continued its hyper-growth over the next two years. The company entered 2016 as one of the most recognizable tech companies on the planet, beloved by the vibrant community it had empowered.

Crunch

There was only one problem: Product Hunt wasn't making money. That had been a strategic choice, with Hoover prioritizing the platform's growth, a playbook pioneered by other consumer hits. Today, Hoover remarks that "in hindsight, I would have dedicated 10% of our resources toward [generating revenue]."

A year earlier, that might not have mattered (and in the years that followed, it certainly wouldn't have), but 2016 was the year the "Series A Crunch" entered popular parlance. In the years prior, seed funds had proliferated without an equivalent flourishing at the later stage. The result was increasing competition for subsequent rounds. Though Product Hunt had raised a Series A, clearing that financing hurdle, picking up a Series B wasn't much easier. Hoover was especially unlucky to face the crunch when Facebook's dominance had frightened investors away from social. 

(It's worth noting how strange this feels given the current venture environment. Clubhouse has not earned a nickel in revenue but raised more than $100 million at a multi-billion valuation. Other hot startups are raising Series B rounds pre-launch. How fiercely contested would a Product Hunt Series B would be in 2021? Few companies achieve such scalding product/market fit; fewer still attain Product Hunt's level of influence.)

In pursuit of revenue, Product Hunt launched a "Shop" in partnership with General Electric. The company also explored other verticals, integrating podcasts and book reviews. It didn't move the needle. 

As funding talks dragged, Hoover began opening up acquisition discussions, running the processes in tandem. Among the company's admirers was Ravikant, who saw a natural fit between his and Hoover's platforms. By late 2016, Hoover had two choices: a Series B on unfavorable terms or a new alliance with AngelList. As he tells it, a big part of Ravikant's sell was the chance to remain relatively autonomous under the parent company: 

Naval was a seed investor, and I've had a ton of respect for AL since their beginning. I felt very aligned with their mission and culture, and the opportunity to remain very independent (we maintained our own Slack, codebase, brand, etc.). 

On December 1, Hoover announced the news in a community post. The deal had reportedly closed at a $20 million valuation.

AngelList

Ravikant appears to have been true to his word. Over the next four years, Product Hunt's brand continued to rise independent of its owners with little obvious overlap between the platforms, barring a period in which job postings funneled through to AngelList's site. 

With the immediate pressure of finding a viable revenue model lifted, Product Hunt entered an experimental new phase marked by frequent feature launches.

  • Ask Product Hunt, 2017. This brought non-launch discussions to the platform, giving users the chance to ask for product recommendations and receive community suggestions. It has since been shuttered. 

  • Ship, 2017. Product Hunt traditionally only helped makers when it was time to launch; Ship changed that by offering pre-launch audience-building tools. This represented Product Hunt's first attempt at generating subscription revenue and remains part of the platform today. 

  • Sip, 2018. Looking for new ways to strengthen its impressive distribution, Product Hunt launched "Sip," an interactive tech news round-up. Failing to gain sufficient traction, Sip was sunsetted in 2019.

  • Live Chat, 2018. Essentially, Product Hunt DMs. Hoover notes that Live Chat was "This was VERY effective in building the brand in the early days" but didn't make a meaningful difference at scale. 

  • Makers, 2018. Just a couple of weeks after launching Live Chat, Product Hunt took the wraps off of Makers, a place for builders to share their daily goals and solicit help and support from others. This has since been deprecated. 

  • YourStack, 2020. Arguably the Product Hunt team's most adventurous launch, YourStack is a platform to share product recommendations. In that respect, it builds on the premise of "Ask Product Hunt," though it does so on a separate, dedicated site. The project appears to be dormant. 

  • Early, 2020. Capitalizing on the mayhem over Clubhouse invites, Product Hunt launched Early, a service that shared new TestFlight apps every Friday. It remains active but does not seem to have become a meaningful part of the platform. 

  • Product Reviews, ??. Distinct from recommendations is Product Hunt's "Review" feature. Consumers can review products out of 5.0, providing commentary. It is still live. 

Of the company's launches, few elements have stood the test of time or meaningfully altered the platform's complexion. Only Ship can be considered an enduring success, though even that is of the minor variety. Most initiatives have shuttered or deprecated. (Given the need for nimbleness and experimentation in building social platforms, that's to be expected, to a certain extent.) 

If there was an upside to this turbulent period, it was in proving the abiding appeal of the core product. Hoover's insight that people want to share and discuss new products was shown to be remarkably correct, many times over.

Spinning out

The persistent attraction of the platform didn't escape Josh Buckley. 

After founding Mino Games as a teenager, Buckley had spent the past few years as an investor and startup advisor. In addition to serving as Chairman of data enrichment unicorn Clearbit, Buckley invested in coveted companies like Rippling, Retool, Lattice, Mercury, Truework, and others. In the process, Buckley developed a reputation as a particularly audacious "solocapitalist," succeeding in snagging lead positions in financings for NexHealth and PlayCo. 

His next move was arguably his most imaginative. 

As Hoover tells it, he and Buckley had known each other for many years before reconnecting in 2020. What began as a "quick catch up" morphed into a long conversation about Product Hunt's future. 

Hoover had been thinking of leaving for a while. After seven years spent building one of the internet's liveliest communities, he felt it was time to turn the page. Just as with Ravikant, Hoover found a kindred, community-minded spirit in Buckley. Over several conversations, a plan formed: Buckley would not only invest in Product Hunt, he would take over as CEO. 

On October 22, they announced the news. A few months later, Buckley announced the hiring of Ashley Higgins, formerly of Reddit, as GM. 

Product Hunt was entering a new era.

State of play

Before imagining what Product Hunt might become, it's worth looking at the company Buckley and Higgins have inherited. In particular, we'll look at three elements: 

  1. Brand

  2. Model 

  3. Product

Brand 

As alluded to above, Product Hunt's fundamental appeal remains undimmed. That's true for both of the company's key stakeholders: makers and consumers. 

According to SimilarWeb, Product Hunt routinely attracts 4-5 million monthly visitors to the platform, a figure that's remained unchanged over the past six months. Though roughly a quarter of that traffic comes from the US, the platform has supporters in hundreds of other countries, speaking to its range. 

Notably, more than 40% of traffic is direct, suggesting strong organic allure and familiarity within its consumer base. Surprisingly, email contributes less than 2% of traffic. 

Makers — from solo operators to titanic companies — also seem besotted with Product Hunt. It is now almost unthinkable for a new product to launch without posting on the platform. It represents an opportunity to win new users and attention at no added cost, often resulting in meaningful valuation changes. We have seen early-stage startups raise rounds mainly on the back of a strong Product Hunt showing, while an unnamed unicorn noted the platform is the primary source of new users for one of its core features. 

That so many marketing sites embed a Product Hunt widget (especially after a successful launch) further indicates the respect and affection the brand has earned.

Model

Product Hunt makes the majority of its revenue through advertisements. The company sells five sponsorship products: promoted listings, email collection, topic-based ads, newsletter sponsorship, and job postings.

According to Hoover, Product Hunt forecasts $3.3 million in revenue this year, with $2.9 million coming from advertising. The remaining $400K in revenue comes from Ship and Founder Club subscriptions (more below). Hoover notes that the company was nearly profitable in 2020. 

Given the previous uncertainty around Product Hunt's business model, the current figures represent no small feat. The company is close to being self-sustaining, albeit at a modest level, and revenue is growing year-over-year. 

If they wanted to, new management could likely double ad revenue simply by adding inventory. As it stands, Product Hunt has taken an admirably minimalist approach to sponsorships, prioritizing the smoothness of the user experience. 

We doubt this will be the direction Buckley and Higgins choose to take, given that there's a much larger prize to be won.

Product

The period of experimentation between 2016-2020 had left Product Hunt with a slightly disjointed platform. While the core feed remains mostly unchanged, it's surrounded by satellite features that only somewhat speak to the core user journeys of discovering new companies or launching a new product. Many of these elements seem to receive little usage. 

The successor to Live Chat and Ask Product Hunt, Discussions gives users a place to talk in topic-oriented threads. There's no direct connection between these conversations and the companies listed, perhaps explaining why it is a sparse message board. It feels most similar to HackerNews, with a UI ill-suited to true community building. 

Somewhat confusingly, Deals leads to a product referred to earlier: Founder Club. For $720 a year, subscribers can unlock discounts from partners. That includes $5,000 in AWS credits, waived fees on Stripe up to $50,000, and $1,000 worth of Airtable credit. 

Though the available discounts look genuinely valuable, there's little messaging that explains this to potential users, nor is there an explanation of how Founder Club fits into a Maker's journey. With dark mode visuals, Founder Club feels almost like a separate platform. 

Jobs is an orphan. Again, there's no connection between the companies on the platform and the openings listed. Though there was some sense in Product Hunt serving as the funnel for AngelList's more active recruiting forum, without that connection, Jobs lacks the context to separate it from other venues. 

Ship is the most natural of Product Hunt's extensions. Serving makers not quite ready to launch (and consumers that want to get in on the ground floor), Ship provides tools to attract an audience, including a landing page builder, a survey tool, and email functionality. While these are valuable additions, Ship's messaging is convoluted, with Product Hunt pointing to four separate pages. The first leads to a dedicated feature page, the second leads to a general marketing page, the third only highlights AWS credits, and the fourth takes you to the same general marketing page as link two.

 

The result of this circuitous path is a diluted value proposition. The inclusion of credits is particularly confusing given the presence of Founder's Club, undercutting both. Once a user has onboarded to Ship, they get access to a clean, functional dashboard of real utility. 

Beyond the primary navigation, it's a mixed bag. Collections allow users to organize products by theme, which others can subsequently "Follow." The feature appears mostly inactive with top Collections accumulating followers in the low thousands, and no clear explanation of what value following grants. Topics do something similar, though creating a new category is not open to users. Neither seems to alter the consumer or maker's experience meaningfully. 

The Newsletter is Product Hunt's daily briefing, read by 500K. This is hugely impressive and deserves more real estate on core feed. This newsletter overlaps with some of the longer-form content in Stories; a more elegant combination seems possible. 

Time Travel is a nifty way to travel back to previous listings but shouldn't have greater prominence than Upcoming, which allows the user to receive updates on pre-launch products (from makers using Ship). 

Strangely, clicking one's profile photo also unveils a Founder Club prompt, which takes you to a different marketing page. 

Despite this chaos of overlapping products and pages, it's hard not to come away from looking at Product Hunt and see untapped potential, above all else. Squint, and you can imagine the platform taking all manner of seductive forms: 

  • Ship could become the default starting point for new founders, eventually competing with tools like Stripe Atlas. 

  • Jobs could serve as an intra-community Upwork, with makers hiring consumers and openings hosted on company pages (more below). 

  • Profile pages could become de-facto maker's resume, taking over from LinkedIn. 

  • Product pages could become company pages, hosting information about key people, previous launches, funding announcements, relevant discussions, and open roles. In the process, this would disrupt platforms like Crunchbase and Medium. 

Streamline 

To add, sometimes you have to subtract. 

Product Hunt should clear room for new growth by shuttering or transforming the site's least used corners. 

We would start by closing Reviews until there's a better placement for them. The current incarnation struggles to differentiate itself from launch day comments, making it easy to conflate the two. There's little indication of how Reviews help the maker by boosting ranking or aiding discoverability. 

With hesitation, we'd take a similar approach with Discussions. It's clear that Product Hunt has an engaged, enthusiastic community, but the current version doesn't do that justice. Without context, the forum feels random and untethered from other activities on the platform. We think there's an excellent opportunity to bring this feature back in a new form (more below). 

Both Collections and Topics should be deprecated. Though an interesting idea, Collections doesn't seem to have worked, though it remains a CTA across the platform. Given there's likely some useful product graph information in existing Collections, we wouldn't scrub this outright. Topics are useful as a search function but don't need to take meaningful space on site. While de-emphasizing this would mean losing some ad revenue from sponsors that use this modal, we imagine this is a relatively underused slot. 

The functionality of Jobs, Ship, Deals, and Early should remain, but not in their current form. Product Hunt should free up space by folding these features into a revamped core build around coherent user flows.

Double down

Product Hunt has two key stakeholders, as mentioned: consumers and makers. Though journeys vary, each user follows a basic flow. 

The consumer journey looks something like this: 

  1. Get the Product Hunt daily newsletter

  2. See an interesting startup

  3. Click over to the site

  4. Check out the launch

  5. Upvote and leave a comment

  6. Click over the company website

Meanwhile, the standard maker flow might look like this:

  1. Have an idea

  2. Start building it

  3. Get help (freelancers and hires)

  4. Decide to launch

  5. Realize you need to generate some excitement

  6. Ask your friends for help

  7. Launch on Product Hunt 

  8. Try and convert visitors into users and generate investor interest

Both journeys share the same fundamental issue: wasted energy. 

Because of the platform's focus on individual launches, the relationship that forms between consumer and maker is time-bound. Product Hunt is extremely effective at channeling effervescence to a company's launch page; then allows the connection to run cold. Like a drafty house, the heat the company creates constantly escapes, making it necessary to re-stoke the flames every day. 

We think there's an opportunity to deepen the connection between consumers and makers while improving other elements. 

First, we'd more aggressively push Product Hunt's newsletter, giving it the spot at the top of the page that Discussions once occupied. This should increase the ad revenue opportunity while growing readership. As the company pursues alternative business models (more to come), having a reliable, dedicated channel to communicate with users could prove invaluable. It also ensures that Product Hunt remains top of makers’ minds, rather than surfacing only when it’s time to plan a launch. 

Second, we would introduce Company Pages, a home for information about a given business. At the moment, there's no connection between a company's product launches: Stripe Atlas, Stripe Billing, and Stripe itself all sit on separate pages. By establishing a hierarchy with Company Pages hosting launches, Product Hunt would improve upon this issue while opening up the potential for richer information.

In addition to hosting a list of launches, Company Pages could serve as the informal, community-driven wiki for businesses, hosting job openings, targeted discussions, and specific deals. All three are siloed products now but make more sense in this context. If applicable, external information (think funding details or headcount) could be integrated. Just as many domain names that end with /blog redirect to Medium, Company Pages could become the default destination for /community. 

Critically, by making this change, Product Hunt would reduce the heat leakage discussed above. Whenever consumers found a launch they liked, they could have the opportunity to establish a relationship with the business behind it. 

The natural corollary to richer Company Pages is better User Profiles. Though clean, current Profiles default to highlighting "Activity." By refocusing on "Made," Product Hunt has the opportunity to turn profiles into portfolio pages for the world's best shippers.

 

A reinvention of this page might make space for project descriptions, outside work history, current projects, technical skills, and availability. Once developed, it's easy to imagine how this might dovetail with job openings, with interested makers receiving targeted notifications and companies perusing relevant applicants on-platform.

While an incarnation like this might, at first blush, seem suited only to makers and freelancers, the reality is that careers are becoming increasingly multi-modal. As employment fragments, everyone is becoming a “polyworker,” running side hustles in addition to a full-time job, and helping others on their own projects. Revamped profiles could capture this diversity, graphing roles between collaborators. 

Finally, to improve upon the basic maker flow, we would make Ship free. As illustrated above, most builders don't come to Product Hunt until it's time to launch. That doesn't need to be the case. The company should forfeit subscription revenue to establish itself as the de-facto starting point for every new builder. Succeeding here would positively benefit both stakeholders: consumers would get to interact with exciting projects earlier, while makers would have the chance to establish an audience, improve their chances of a successful launch, and build relationships with users for the long term. 

(Down the line, there might be an opportunity to launch a Ship Pro feature set. While selling to early makers is notoriously difficult, we think that bundling private community discussions — think LinkedIn Groups, but good — could be sufficiently compelling to entice subscribers.) 

Leveraging early traction data (number of email sign-ups, for example), Product Hunt could bring Early into this flow, giving an extra distribution bump to promising projects.

Ultimately, by doubling down on its core stakeholder flows, Product Hunt has the chance to deepen the relationships on the platform and better serve consumers and makers. Just as importantly, it allows the company to execute on a new business model.

Ownership

For seven years, Product Hunt had delivered absurd value to makers but captured almost none of it. 

It's time to change that. To best monetize its audience of early-stage companies, Product Hunt should prioritize ownership, not subscriptions. (Ads are still solid for monetizing consumers.) Not only is this a better fit with its audience, many of whom may not have disposable income as they begin their founding journey, it represents the most effective way to build enterprise value. 

While Buckley's expertise certainly adds to Product Hunt's capabilities, the truth is the platform has always had a unique advantage when it comes to attracting and identifying talent. From its earliest days, Product Hunt drew impressive founders to the site, and with the help of the community, effectively tested product-market fit. 

What would Product Hunt's value be if it had invested in some of its biggest hits? 

The potential of this model can be seen from the start. With the Time Travel feature's help, we rewound the clock to the earliest available entry: January 1, 2014. A fantasy portfolio constructed from companies that launched that first month would look rather remarkable: 

In the years since, Product Hunt has hosted launches from other monster hits, including Ro, Triller, Notion, Airtable, Drift, Zoom, Stripe, Figma, Chime, and dozens of others. Even if the company only hit a handful, returns would have likely been remarkable. 

There are signs that new management recognizes this opportunity. Earlier this year, Product Hunt announced a "Maker Grant" program, which distributes $5,000 to community members. While this may represent a simple act of goodwill, with Buckely onboard, it feels more significant. 

That raises the question, of course: how should Product Hunt best implement an ownership-focused model? 

We hope the company pursues three strategies, in the order listed: 

  1. Incubator

  2. Opportunistic fund

  3. Crowdfunding 

Founders often need help before they have an idea, let alone a product to work on. To front-run the existing maker flow, Product Hunt should establish an incubator. While the early-stage environment is highly competitive, Product Hunt has a leg up on many VCs thanks to its beloved brand and the impressive distribution at its fingertips. Though its arguably never been easier to launch a startup, it’s never been harder to gain attention. Like few others, Product Hunt can fulfill the promise of bringing companies new users, with plenty of opportunities to highlight their work. In particular, Product Hunt could use the Newsletter, Early, and its core feed to boost its portfolio. 

Companies that go through the incubator could run their building process with Ship, guiding further development. Founder Club could easily (and perhaps more logically) rebrand as a portfolio perks page.

To capture companies it misses at the incubation stage, Product Hunt should raise and deploy a traditional venture fund. Buckley has already shown he can deploy large amounts of capital into competitive rounds; with the benefit of Product Hunt's distribution engine, he could prove unstoppable. While Product Hunt certainly has the reach, bolstering the company's reputation as a thought-leader would help here. A16z has executed the best playbook in the space, producing a consistent stream of high-quality podcasts and articles. While Product Hunt shouldn't be expected to reach that level in the short term, it should use its re-prioritized Newsletter as a testing ground for deeply-researched briefings. 

The company recognizes the importance of this play in expanding its differentiation, bringing on a new Content Lead, and promoting an opening for a "Head of Content and Community" role. 

Though executing these first two ideas would alter Product Hunt's complexion, we think the purest instantiation of an ownership strategy would be crowdfunding. Not only would it fit the company's community-first ethos, but it simplifies and augments so many other exciting elements of the platform. 

What better way is there to build an enduring connection between consumer and company than through investing? 

How better can makers create and convert effervescence around a launch than by opening up allocation? 

That this hasn't happened is perhaps an indication that AngelList might not have looked kindly on such a move, though synergies are apparent. 

To start, Product Hunt could collaborate with Republic, another AngelList partner. In the long-term, it would be in the company's best interest to own the process. 

In doing so, Product Hunt would run the gamut on community engagement and change how launches are done. In the past, companies launched products to gain attention, to win customers, to attract investment. With a crowdfunding model, all three of those needs (attention, customers, and investment) could happen at once.

Rogue ideas

The last thing Product Hunt needs is to make an off-the-wall bet; now is the time to focus. 

But, we couldn't help ourselves. In particular, there were two comparatively wacky ideas that we found promising: 

  1. PH Pro

  2. Community Coin

If Product Hunt wanted to take another shot at earning subscription revenue, there might be a play to be made monetizing investors. VCs are constantly scanning the platform for a potential deal — the company could lean into that by offering a premium service targeting this audience, effectively a PH Pro

The product would offer detailed insights on rising trends and breakout products. PH Pro could package early data from makers using Ship, along with more detailed analytics on products post-launch, breaking down traffic sources and conversion rates. Social signaling information could also be shared, highlighting when notable users upvoted or commented on a new product. 

VCs are constantly trying to build scrapers like this for LinkedIn, looking for information on who Bill Gurley just added to his network or which hiring post Mary Meeker just hearted. PH Pro would have the chance to provide proxy information. 

Crypto Spring makes it impossible to ignore the potential for a Community Coin. The company explored a play a few years ago before deciding against it. It might be time to revisit that decision in the not too distant future. Consumer interest in crypto is at an all-time high, and platforms like Rally and Roll have gained traction offering creator coins (though not without issues).

Though it would require community buy-in, it's easy to imagine how creating an on-platform economy might coincide with existing and desired behaviors. Consumers could be rewarded for their support, companies could hire community members, and makers could sell unused or unwanted projects. It feels like a fit with Product Hunt’s playful community, too. In its Glasshole Kitty the company has the perfect mascot to rival memetic crypto hits like Dogecoin. (We’re only halfway kidding.) Opportunities abound. 

***

In ten years, we may look upon 2020 as Product Hunt's threshold moment, the beginning of another Hero's Journey. Over the past seven years, the company Hoover founded has fundamentally changed the tech landscape, successfully empowering the industry's most prominent companies to achieve their destiny. 

With new leadership at the helm suited to a fresh endeavor, it is time, once more, to enter the supernatural world. 

Thanks for reading,

Greg and Mario

And if you like the way we think, believe in community-based products like Product Hunt, consider invest alongside myself on our new AngelList Rolling Fund here


This post is in collaboration with The Generalist. Mario from The Generalist is awesome. Subscribe to his Newsletter here. It’s worth it.

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