by Y Combinator10/4/2017
Ryan Hoover is the founder of Product Hunt.
Get a 10% discount on Ship pro plans by using this link.
Ryan also just announced the Weekend Fund, a “$3M venture fund to invest in your next favorite thing.”
Craig Cannon [00:00] – Hey this is Craig Cannon and you’re listening to Y Combinator’s podcast. Today’s guest is Ryan Hoover the founder of Product Hunt. Ryan and the Product Hunt team recently launched a new product called Ship and Ship is a toolkit for makers. If you’d like to give it a shot, you can get a 10% discount on all the pro plans by using the YC Friends link at blog.ycombinator.com. Alright, here we go. Alright, so maybe we could start with this question from Stuart Powell (@stuartpowe11) and his question is, what’s your advice for nontechnical founders? As you are a nontechnical founder and solo founder or a co-founder of Product Hunt.
Ryan Hoover [00:38] – Solo founder but had a founding team so couldn’t do it without them of course.
Craig Cannon [00:42] – Okay, so maybe the best way to go about this is you explain how you made Product Hunt and then share some advice for Stuart.
Ryan Hoover [00:49] – I remember applying to YC and historically I always realized or thought that YC one, didn’t like solo founders and two, always preferred technical founders to begin with, so I was like, I don’t know if YC’s going to like me, so ended up applying anyway after speaking with Gary and Alexis and Kat and some others and Kevin Hale, getting their support and when I went into YC, when we applied to YC, we already had some traction. We already had some proof that people wanted this thing.
Craig Cannon [01:19] – What does that actually mean? Like some meaning roughly what number?
Ryan Hoover [01:22] – I don’t remember the exact numbers. It was, obviously, still very small ’cause it was pretty early days but we are seeing about 50% month-over-month growth in total topline user visits and that was consistent for the first, I don’t know, two, three, four months and so that really demonstrated that, “Oh, wow, this person, he is (a) single founder and he’s non-technical,” but somehow, this thing is growing and people seem to want it and whether you’re non-technical or technical, whatever it may be, if you can demonstrate data like that, it’s hard to argue, it’s hard to say that, oh, actually, no, this isn’t useful. If you’re demonstrating that people are using your product, then that’s the ultimate proof.
Craig Cannon [02:00] – When people who are non-technical founders come to you now, what do you advise them? How do you figure out how to make prototypes and get something out the door?
Ryan Hoover [02:11] – There’s a lot of ways that you can validate ideas or build products without really coding anything. Product Hunt was an email list in the beginning so really, I was forced, not being an engineer, to not spend weeks and weeks building something that may be something that people didn’t want. Instead, I was like, “Okay, well, what can I build and then what experience could I provide that would maybe validate or test whether people wanted this?” I built this email list, sent it out, got a few hundred subscribers initially and it took me 20 minutes to set up, so it was like the ultimate MVP. From a product standpoint, I was like email’s actually a great place to put content, to reengage people because our audience, people in technology, they use email every single day so for technical or non-technical people, things like email or hacking things together with Typeform actually is a really good tool to almost create a product essentially. You can put Typeform and Stripe together and actually collect money, that’s the ultimate test.
Craig Cannon [03:06] – Yeah .
Ryan Hoover [03:06] – When you can get people to pay you money for something, then you’re like, “Wow, they clearly want this.” I think there’s a lot of things you can do without doing any coding. Even if you are technical, it’s actually, in many cases, wise to start testing with those types of non-technical tools so that you can put something out there sooner and earlier.
Craig Cannon [03:24] – Yeah and you find, well, you just launched Ship, this new product or a new feature, I guess.
Ryan Hoover [03:29] – Yeah.
Craig Cannon [03:30] – Are people using that to beta test stuff or are these like fully functioning products?
Ryan Hoover [03:36] – Yeah, it’s a combination of everything really so we built Ship, in many ways, it’s basically a toolkit for makers and startups to one, announce new products that they’re creating, collect emails for those products and then get feedback and communicate with those users. A lot of these things we were actually doing at Product Hunt for several years through various tools like MailChimp, using Typeform, just basically sending out screenshots and using actually InVision is a great tool to get people to annotate screenshots and get feedback. You’re sort of hacking all these tools together and we’re like, okay, well, people on Product Hunt are continually asking us, “How can I use Product Hunt to start getting initial users or feedback for my product before I’m ready to launch?” so we built Ship and we’re seeing people use it for everything we were just talking earlier about, like Casey Neistat, his new app, they used it to start capturing interest for Beme Panels, the new app that’s coming out soon, them and other similar people are using it then seed it with beta users to get actual feedback on the product. Long story short, our goal is to something that people could use to start generating demand and communicating with our audience. And ultimately, what I believe is the more you can communicate with your audience, make them feel involved in the process and get feedback from them, the higher chance you are in building something that people want or a good product ultimately.
Craig Cannon [04:55] – And I think this also relates to another question, which was a little blunt but Diego asked is there a business model in Product Hunt?
Ryan Hoover [05:03] – Yeah.
Craig Cannon [05:03] – It’s like, okay, man. Are you trying to go in that direction with the Ship product or what’s the plan?
Ryan Hoover [05:11] – Yeah, so historically, we’ve never really charged for anything, outside of long, long time ago, once upon a time, we did post for, charge people for job postings but then we stopped that to focus entirely on building the community and the audience. Now we’re shifting some of our focus towards monetization and Ship is actually the first thing that we’ve directly charged for outside of those initial tests and the fun part is yesterday, we launched, we set up, of course, a Slackbot to notify whenever someone gives us money and so those are like the best notifications we’re getting. It’s like, wow, this person just subscribed for like $249 a month, this thing that we built, it’s like, that’s awesome, and woke up this morning to a bunch more notification so I was like, this is amazing, so our strategy going forward here and especially in Q4 is to think more about what are the things that we can build and provide that people like so much that they’re willing to pay for and Ship is showing a lot of promise and helping startups with communicating and marketing and so on. Another piece that we are working on that hasn’t really shown that you’ll start to see soon is also leveraging the community and the platform we’ve built to connect companies with talent. So now that we’re inside of AngelList, there’s this whole A-List talent platform. It’s a great place to recruit great talent and we also in Product Hunt have a lot of talented engineers, designers, marketers and so on that might want to join companies that are launching on Product Hunt, so there’s nice opportunity to make those connections and as a result, generate some revenue out of that without being super heavy-handed and showing pop-ups and all that kind of stuff.
Craig Cannon [06:43] – Yeah, that make sense…
Ryan Hoover [06:43] – You won’t see that from Product Hunt.
Craig Cannon [06:44] – Yet.
Ryan Hoover [06:46] – Yes, yet, maybe audio playing videos with sound and everything, we’ll see.
Craig Cannon [06:51] – Well, you guys do email well but you could push it even further. It was first the email list, have you always believed that email was going to be the most effective way for you to stay in touch with people?
Ryan Hoover [07:04] – Yeah, it’s always been, a lot of people say email is dead, email’s dumb, I don’t like email. People use email all the time though, and it’s a great channel for re-engagement. Back in 2013 or ’12, I can’t remember, I wrote, I used to write a lot, and blog a lot and wrote about, an article called Email for Startups, actually it was one of the early articles that I had on Hacker News that got…
Craig Cannon [07:27] – Oh, cool.
Ryan Hoover [07:27] – On the homepage and I was like, oh, this is cool, people are reading my thing and it was basically just outlining various startups that started off as emails to begin with, AngelList, ironically, was one of those, like AngelList’s MVP essentially was an email digest… But yeah, it was an email list in the beginning and it’s a very simple way to MVP something and see people actually open it and click on it. It’s also very malleable, so every single morning or every day when you send that email, you can change the copy, you can try different things. Whereas, when you put something in code, it’s a lot harder to change in most cases, it’s fairly stagnant. When you’re testing ideas, email’s a great channel for the that.
Craig Cannon [08:02] – That’s awesome, we had a bunch of questions around the YC application, it’s application season right now…
Ryan Hoover [08:08] – Oh, yes, that’s right.
Craig Cannon [08:11] – A few of those, actually David Adamu (@alternateDayve), I might be mispronouncing his last name, tell us about a time you successfully hacked a non-computer system to your advantage. This is a YC application question.
Ryan Hoover [08:23] – I can’t remember if this was my answer in the YC application or not, it may have been. As a kid, I was always interested in working on different projects and trying to turn something into money. I hated working for money for time, like I hated getting paid hourly because if I did a terrible job or an awesome job, I got paid the same, whatever $6 or $7 an hour. I was always trying to find entrepreneurial ways to make money and one of those was actually selling things on eBay when I was a kid.
Craig Cannon [08:53] – Oh, yeah?
Ryan Hoover [08:55] – I would browse FatWallet and Slickdeals, which are these communities and forums where people would post different deals that you could get on usually electronics and it would usually involve things with rebates, price matching and all these hacks that you’d have to work around, some of them slightly gray hat, it’s like a little bit shady, in any case, what I do is browse those websites daily and then find opportunities to buy things that were maybe 30 or 40% off MSRP and then buy them and sell them on eBay. I think I sold, it wasn’t a lot, like it was $150,000, maybe $200,000 in merchandise, but I really wasn’t, it was almost enjoyable for me to find and hunt for these things and then make money on it. It didn’t even matter how much money I made. For me, it was more like, “Oh, I could turn this thing into, like this idea into money.”
Craig Cannon [09:40] – Yeah.
Ryan Hoover [09:42] – And so I did that through, I don’t know, high school and some in college.
Craig Cannon [09:46] – Oh, that’s great.
Ryan Hoover [09:46] – So that was fun.
Craig Cannon [09:48] – There’s a whole Planet Money episode about that…
Ryan Hoover [09:50] – Oh, was there?
Craig Cannon [09:52] – Yeah, people going to, it was a year or two ago, Toys”R”Us and reselling on Amazon.
Ryan Hoover [09:56] – Oh yeah.
Craig Cannon [09:56] – There’s this whole culture of like that little arbitrage but just get enough volume. Here’s another one, what were the main points you were trying to get across in your YC application and interview, this is from Phil (@_PhilThomas).
Ryan Hoover [10:10] – Yeah, I think looking back on it, I believe part of it was I was going there, again as a single founder, non-technical so I had that concern and so my approach really was to communicate and sort of sell them on this vision and idea that we need a place on the internet, a place to discover all these products are being built. The audience, the YC partners, they understood the pain point that makers and startups are seeing when it comes to discovery so I felt that that was a strong thing to capture and to double down on, but really it was just about selling the vision of how do we create a place where in a world where we have all these products, people can discover the best ones ultimately. Other than that, it was also just communicating confidence in some ways. I think you go into that interview, people are nervous, I was nervous, you have these, I think…
Craig Cannon [11:03] – Everyone’s freaking out.
Ryan Hoover [11:05] – Yeah, in my case, it was like three to four people in front of you drilling you with questions. I remember Sam, Sam Altman was one of them and it’s just like he’d cut me off a couple times and I came prepared knowing that, so I was like, okay, if they cut me off, I’m just going to move on and try to be succinct and clear.
Craig Cannon [11:20] – Yeah, I think that’s psychologically very difficult for people and that point is one of my main points of advice when they’re asking pre-interview, like you can’t let that ruin your flow or ruin your energy. A lot of people start to get defensive when they’re interrupted and then it just spirals out of control.
Ryan Hoover [11:36] – Oh yeah.
Craig Cannon [11:38] – It’s like a weird psychological tactic.
Ryan Hoover [11:41] – Yeah, especially if you have more multiple founders too. It’s the dynamic of who speaks when and how do you make sure that you don’t look like you’re fighting. The last thing you want is two founders to look like they already have founder problems in a 10-minute interview, which can be challenging.
Craig Cannon [11:58] – I did have a question about podcast discovery, so where do you see that going right now, like obviously, you guys have a podcast section.
Ryan Hoover [12:06] – Yes and no, we actually quietly killed podcasts.
Craig Cannon [12:09] – Oh, I didn’t realize.
Ryan Hoover [12:09] – Yeah. This is, some of the history on Product Hunt is early on we, of course, had been targeting the tech community and we made some mistakes admittedly on some of the execution of some kind of category expansions. We went into games and to books and podcasts was the sort of fourth category that we introduced. And in hindsight, it was very clear why podcast didn’t belong in our current Product Hunt ecosystem. One, podcast discovery and we consume podcasts is wildly different than you discover an app or a product. It’s also very frequent like there’s a new podcast every week or more than that, so the dynamics didn’t really work with just shoving it into the Product Hunt community. However, the direction and the opportunity that we were tackling with podcasts, specifically, I think is still something I would love to see and there’s a YC company called Breaker, which you probably know of which, in many ways, is executing on the way that we would’ve or wanted to execute on podcasts if we focused on podcasts. Ultimately, we decided podcast is not our business. We’re focused on product discovery primarily and we’re going to stop doing that. Breaker is approaching it in a similar way where they’re leveraging community and enabling people to discover podcasts in a new and different way through other people and friends. I think from a market perspective, I don’t see a world where we don’t have something like that in podcasts, like a place where people can discover and engage and almost geek out about podcasts together. To date, those exist on Reddit to some extent and various places on the internet but there’s no leader in that space right now.
Craig Cannon [13:47] – No. Well, I think about in the context of YouTube and you mostly rely on the algorithm and then the old-school methods of basically a guest post, sort of like you’re on my vlog, I’m on your vlog, like that’s how it works. Podcasting is pretty difficult. But I agree, I really love the search on Breaker.
Ryan Hoover [14:06] – Yeah.
Craig Cannon [14:06] – That’s the one thing that all the other apps haven’t done that, yeah. Download Breaker, alright. Next question, what were your biggest takeaways from YC?
Ryan Hoover [14:20] – I think part of it is one of the great things about being in YC is you are held accountable in your, it’s almost like, to some extent school like school, like your professor’s going to be like, did you do the homework?
Craig Cannon [14:33] – Yeah.
Ryan Hoover [14:36] – Your test results are going to show whether you learned the thing or not, at YC, during that three-month process, I’m losing track even… You know, you have this accountability on a week-over-week basis and you go to these group office hours where you’re sharing your updates and at the time, Kasser and Kevin Hale were our group partners and they would ask questions like, all right, why did you thing we talked about last week? And so it was a forcing function to just get shit done ’cause you don’t have much time and there’s, I think that mentality is very healthy and while it is uncomfortable and stressful in many cases, it’s the best way to especially get off the ground because you just need to do a lot of work and hold yourself accountable.
Craig Cannon [15:30] – I am always curious how the behavior changes after YC. I guess Product Hunt wasn’t around all that long before you did YC, right?
Ryan Hoover [15:41] – Yeah. It was about five, six months before we actually entered.
Craig Cannon [15:46] – Right, so you didn’t have that many defined habits.
Ryan Hoover [15:49] – Yeah.
Craig Cannon [15:49] – But do you find yourself adapting new styles of running the team after YC or is it pretty similar to the way you were going about it before?
Ryan Hoover [15:59] – It’s hard to say, YC was so focused in that initial phase and then once we raised a Series A basically right after YC and then hired and so our process changed and as it does when you hire another five or 10 people. In many ways, we continued to have to change the way that we’re doing things. In fact, we’re still doing that now. Tis next quarter we might make some changes in our process again partly just ’cause you see what didn’t go well last quarter and so you want to change it so I don’t know, in some ways, I think a lot of it is YC instills a data-driven and very deliberate top-tier customers type of culture, which I think is something that I believe we had prior to YC. For us maybe it didn’t dramatically change our culture, the way of operating so much but it certainly changed us in ways that I couldn’t probably realize just ’cause it’s hard to know what we would be without YC.
Craig Cannon [16:59] – Okay, cool. There are a couple questions for you about remote teams. What does your distribution look like? Are you mostly in the Bay, how does it work?
Ryan Hoover [17:09] – Yeah, so we’re about 2/3 outside of SF.
Craig Cannon [17:13] – Okay.
Ryan Hoover [17:15] – We have headquarters in SF, but from the beginning, we’ve been a distributed team. In fact, the first person that ended up paying out of pocket initially was Ricardo in Italy. He was a developer that came on board and awesome guy and so from the very beginning, we had a distributed team. Andreas came on, our CTO, shortly after that and he was at the time in Vienna. Now he’s here in San Francisco, but we now have 17 people across eight or nine time zones from Bulgaria, London, Denver, all over the board.
Craig Cannon [17:50] – And not just community moderation. These people are developers or designers?
Ryan Hoover [17:54] – Yeah, it’s a combination of community and engineering. Actually Julie’s in Paris. She joined a month or two ago so we need to hit Asia, we don’t have anyone in Asia yet. That’s next on the list maybe.
Craig Cannon [18:10] – So, yeah, if you’re looking for a job.
Ryan Hoover [18:12] – Yeah.
Craig Cannon [18:12] – Okay. And so what are the learnings? I mean did you set out to build a distributed team or was it just by happenstance that you knew someone in Italy that could help?
Ryan Hoover [18:24] – It wasn’t intentional in the beginning. It was almost a necessity and frankly, because at the time, one, not being an engineer, I need to find engineers and then Andreas and I naturally came together and we both had this passion for building this community. He then recruited a lot of the early engineers who are based in Europe ’cause that’s where a lot of his network at the time was and so it’s sort of organically formed that way. Then in hindsight, we realized there’s a couple huge advantages to distributed teams, like one, you hire anyone in the world. You don’t need to hire people just in San Francisco or people who want to move here. Two, it’s very expensive to hire in San Francisco, of course, the cost of living here is dramatically higher than it is in Bulgaria and the third piece too is it’s also very competitive when it comes to hiring, especially for an early-stage startup when you’re trying to take someone from Google or Facebook. They’re getting paid, I don’t know, $200,000 with beautiful cafeteria lunches. You as a seed stage or pre-funded company, it’s harder to convince them to come on board. I think there’s a lot of benefits in building remote distributed teams, the other kind of fourth piece is also we get this global perspective to some extent where more than half the Product Hunt community is actually outside the U.S. and I don’t know for certain but I think part of that is because our team itself is distributed across the world and so maybe there’s this level of empathy or understanding of those communities so I think we’ll see, I believe we’ll see more more and more distributed teams, more remote workers, it’s sort of this movement towards that direction and I think more would people be willing to build teams like that because it’s easier to work remotely with Slack and various video chat apps like Zoom, which we use and love. I’m happy that we’re distributed. It does come with challenges but overall, it’s a lot of benefits too.
Craig Cannon [20:15] – Yeah, but nothing like outside of the normal complaints and, yeah, workflow.
Ryan Hoover [20:21] – Yeah, communication and sometimes it’s difficult when you have overlap on maybe four hours working together instead of a full day but those are workable.
Craig Cannon [20:30] – Okay, cool, a few people asked about community. I think they were particularly excited like figuring out how you just got started, one person asked, Hattie Zhou (@oh_that_hat) asked how did you acquire your first 1,000 users? Sebastian Mossad (@semasad) asked how do you create a community so quickly, basically the same question. How did you get started? What was your, so you started this email list but did you have a following before online? How did it go?
Ryan Hoover [21:02] – It started, probably in some way started years before Product Hunt started in some ways. Before Product Hunt, I mentioned earlier I was writing a lot and I would love to play with products and explore products and write about, I was writing about Snapchat and all these other new apps and new behaviors and I was just super curious about why are people engaged with these things. I helped Nir with his book Hooked and did more writing there and so I was building a tiny bit of an audience, not massive, not Casey’s at all. He’s ridiculous, but a big enough audience within this centered tech community to the point where when I did launch Product Hunt, when I announced the email, I had have enough people following me to say, “Oh, I know Ryan, this looks cool. I’m going to try it out.” It was a combination of having this first few hundred people to sign up, which was super important and then also building relationships with other founders and investors and people that had known me for a long time. That made it exciting and allowed them to be comfortable with joining and participating in the community, so the initial first few hundred, let’s say, are just people that I’d build an audience or following with for years prior. And then after that, when it launched, it was, “Okay, how do we grow this community?” There’s a couple of tactics that we did, like one was, press was actually a great growth driver in the beginning and so we worked on getting press or doing guest publishing, I actually wrote, ironically, I wrote in Fast Company something titled like How We Got Our First 2,000 Users.
Craig Cannon [22:34] – We could link to it.
Ryan Hoover [22:36] – Yeah, and this was way back when and it’s ironic that I was writing about that because my entire goal of writing about that was to get another 1,000 users.
Craig Cannon [22:44] – Of course.
Ryan Hoover [22:46] – And that worked in the beginning ’cause Product Hunt was new to the tech industry at that time and so people would sign up and be like what is this thing? We did things like that, we also realized that when makers and founders saw their product on Product Hunt, naturally, they wanted to join the conversation, they wanted to share it and so when we realized that, I would, every morning, go on Twitter and search for their Twitter username and say, “Hey, Jill, your product is is over here. People are talking about it, do you want to join and answer questions?” and 80% of the time, they’d say, “Yes, of course, I’d love to.” We did more of that, I just would spend the first hour or so of my day finding those makers online and getting them involved in that led to more and more growth so it had a natural kind of growth effect in the beginning and those two tactics alone were like what led us to, I don’t know, several thousand people in the very beginning.
Craig Cannon [23:36] – And are the bots effective still? Like and the congratulations, that stuff?
Ryan Hoover [23:40] – Oh, those, yeah.
Craig Cannon [23:40] – Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Ryan Hoover [23:42] – Yeah, so for those, I don’t know, we have these Twitter bots that we’ve set up. Going back to what I said before, first I would look for that the makers and invite them. It was all manual, so we were like, all right, this is not scalable, let’s productize this. Let’s make this scalable, let’s then we allowed the community to tag the makers and be like, here’s a product I found, here’s Jack, the person that made it or whatever and we’d ask what’s Jack’s username and they would add it and then we’d have a bot that would say, “Hey, Jack your product was or you’ve been added as a maker to this product, here’s the link.” That would allow us to scalably sort of recruit makers and that’s been still effective to this day, in fact, makers get upset if they are posted and they don’t realize it ’cause they’re like, “Oh, I couldn’t answer questions or I didn’t have a chance to share it.” We do make an effort to make sure they’re notified, that’s cool.
Craig Cannon [24:34] – Yeah, it feels like a missed opportunity. I love getting into the comments like on HN, Product Hunt, all that stuff, so your growth now, is it coming more from the U.S. or is it going international as you find these other types of people?
Ryan Hoover [24:50] – It’s pretty even, we’re not seeing necessarily growth in a particular pocket, it’s maybe unusual. Most startups, you see that start in the U.S. are very U.S. centric, you’ll see 80% of their traffic or more with be U.S., from pretty early on, we’ve had a fairly international audience and I think it’s largely related to where you see different startup hubs around the world. Of course, San Francisco being a major one and New York and some other cities in the U.S., but there’s also places like Paris and Berlin and other places around the world that have these communities of people who love startups and are building products, and so if you look at our Google Analytics, like a heat map of where people are, a lot of it centers around the startup tech hubs actually and those are everywhere. For us, it’s still quite international and always can has been when it comes to the growth.
Craig Cannon [25:44] – Are there particular types of products that come from particular areas that you can group automatically or just from distributed?
Ryan Hoover [25:52] – It’s pretty distributed, although there’s some trends we’ll see, I think for whatever reason, Paris is very design centric in general. You’ll see a lot of design related or beautiful-looking products coming from Paris or France in general but I would love to do like an analysis or something. We do have an API, if anybody wants to hack like something together, use our API to come up with cool visualizations…
Craig Cannon [26:16] – Okay.
Ryan Hoover [26:16] – That’d be cool.
Craig Cannon [26:18] – Have you have you look back at the products that you’ve loved over the past couple years to figure out if they’re like through lines for you in particular, like this is what you’re attracted to?
Ryan Hoover [26:28] – Like as a, would I…
Craig Cannon [26:31] – Like your favorite kinds of products, it was by far, the most common question.
Ryan Hoover [26:33] – Really?
Craig Cannon [26:35] – What are your favorite things, what apps are you using? It’s like everything of that ilk.
Ryan Hoover [26:40] – Well, it’s interesting if you look at Product Hunt, in some cases is like a representation of the theme of the time or the trends so if you look back a couple years ago, let’s say back when Secret was blowing up, there were a ton of apps building anonymous social experiences, there were every single, almost day or week, there was a multiple different apps that were in that space because it was a time when everyone was like, this is working and maybe there’s an opportunity to build new experiences around this them, now today, fast forward, things are built on block on blockchain and crypto…
Craig Cannon [27:14] – Of course .
Ryan Hoover [27:14] – Are super popular. Every single day, there’s at least two or three things related to that and it’s quite interesting to see these trends happen and AI’s another one, like people using machine learning and AI, in part, because there’s a lot of opportunity there but also like there’s open-source code and things that you can use to introduce that to your product so I don’t know, it’s interesting to see these trends over time. Me, personally, I like all kinds of things in terms of I like to explore new ideas and especially if people are using new platforms and new interactions in different ways. Take voice, for example, I’m pretty interested in voice-based applications. Lyrebird is one that comes to mind, which I think it was the last YC batch, which it’s kind of crazy but you watch the demo and it takes a sample of someone’s voice and then is able to re-create it, to create basically make it sound like Obama is saying something he never said. Some like crazy applications for that and those are the types of products I get really excited about because it’s a lot of about what Product Hunt is about is really seeing what could be made in the future, what might change the world at least maybe a tiny part of your life.
Craig Cannon [28:28] – Yeah, that was on my favorite companies in the batch. It’s amazing, it emulates your voice with like 20 minutes. It can do it with perfect accuracy or…
Ryan Hoover [28:37] – Yeah it’s insane.
Craig Cannon [28:37] – It’s kind of terrifying.
Ryan Hoover [28:40] – They opened up the beta and I was going to record my voice and then I got nervous, I was like uh-oh. I mean we’re recording a podcast so you have my voice already but I was like, are you going to use this against me?
Craig Cannon [28:51] – Fake news is going to be terrifying. Have you seen the video emulation stuff?
Ryan Hoover [28:55] – Yes, yeah, that with video emulation is frightening. When you see that, then you also think, okay, how we prevent against that? How do we create technology or products to help people not fall into this hyper-realistic fake news future?
Craig Cannon [29:12] – Yeah, has anyone launched anything on Product Hunt that addresses like watermarks or security checks, anything like that that?
Ryan Hoover [29:20] – Nothing that I can think of right now. That would be interesting though.
Craig Cannon [29:24] – Yeah.
Ryan Hoover [29:24] – I’m sure there’s somebody out there doing it…
Craig Cannon [29:26] – Well, I mean it’s tricky ’cause people believe what they want to believe so like if you did any amount of research now, I used to do the Photoshop at The Onion so I made fake news professionally.
Ryan Hoover [29:37] – Nice.
Craig Cannon [29:37] – And, yeah, you know, you see the article does gets picked up in China and people just want to believe it and that’s just how it goes. We’re headed toward a world that’s kind of scary.
Ryan Hoover [29:48] – Yeah, it’s going to be weird.
Craig Cannon [29:51] – Have there been any products that launched on Product Hunt that didn’t do well and then proceeded to do very well in the real world?
Ryan Hoover [29:59] – Oh, I mean I’m sure tons, like what I tell people is the number of up votes you get on Product Hunt honestly doesn’t mean whether they’re going to be successful or not, I mean that should be obvious to people but some people, they’re really disappointed, like I get 20 up votes and people don’t like it. Well, the reality is launching is like a one-time thing and whether your launch is success successful or not, it’s really startups is a multiyear journey. Some of the most successful startups really are like until year five, six, seven is when they really are taking off, it takes a long time. You don’t hear about those because you don’t hear the first four years usually.
Craig Cannon [30:37] – Nope.
Ryan Hoover [30:38] – I’m sure there’s tons, tons of them. And the other piece is like Product Hunt doesn’t, today isn’t encompassing everyone in the world either so if you’re building a product for a particular type of audience that doesn’t use Product Hunt today then it’s probably not a surprise that you didn’t get a ton of up votes or attention or whatever, but that’s fine.
Craig Cannon [30:57] – Yeah, totally. It happens in YC all the time. What are your pro tips for launching on Product Hunt?
Ryan Hoover [31:05] – Yeah, so part of it goes, not to sound too promotional but part of it is the reason why we built Ship. What we realized is a lot of people get into a box and they build a product that they think they love, that the world will love and maybe they will, maybe they won’t but they don’t really interact or get feedback from a community nor do they actually build an audience and get people following them in advance, not to, we keep talking about Casey, or I do, but Casey’s a good example, like he has, initially, before they built the product, he built an audience and that audience has grown more, more and more. And now, no matter what he puts out, he’s at least guaranteed to get people to care or try it out and that’s hugely valuable. You don’t need Casey’s level of audience but going back to my story with Product Hunt, if I didn’t have this first few hundred people willing to sign up that I had built that audience for over several years, I don’t think Product Hunt would exist today so I think it’s a combination of my pro tips is one, be okay with building an audience in the sense that an audience of people you’re actually targeting and also engage with those people, get them involved and get feedback from those people early on, and Ship is designed and our hope is it will help people do exactly those two things.
Craig Cannon [32:19] – Yeah, I mean I would say that engaging with the audience is something you guys did super well. It’s like customer service is highly… high up there in your priorities.
Ryan Hoover [32:29] – Yeah. Customer service is seen as like a cost center in many cases, but it’s actually a great opportunity to engage an audience, like what they’re doing is they’re coming to you and saying, I have a problem or I need help and many people are like, “Oh, no, they’re coming to us.” ut reality, it’s a great thing. People care enough to talk to you so we use Twitter heavily to interact with people. I use TweetDeck and I Command-Tab to it way too much. I have a column for every single Product Hunt mention and I see almost every single one so I can see what people are talking about, what they’re sharing, if there’s issues that come up, make sure that I response to them, it’s those small things that make the community feel personable and approachable.
Craig Cannon [33:11] – Is it ever overwhelming with the amount of new stuff? I’m constantly overwhelmed by the amount of cool things that come through YC and that’s just a tiny fraction of the world. Have you built up like an intense stamina for consuming new products? Or are there ever points where you’re just like, “I don’t need a new app today?”
Ryan Hoover [33:33] – I mean I’m a weirdo in that I just love doing this stuff, like exploring every single morning waking up and seeing what people are making, so I’m unusual in that sense. I also don’t try to see everything, obviously. It’s kind of like some people with their email, they’re like, I got to get to inbox zero. The reality is I don’t try to get an inbox zero. It’s just fine if it’s not totally taken care of. For me, I don’t I don’t mind it. Our hope with Product Hunt and some things we’re exploring is how do we, there’s certain people, weirdos like me, who love to consume the firehose and then there’s people who just tell me the cool one or two things this week that I should know. And so we’re exploring how do we appeal to both user types, making sure they don’t feel overwhelmed but making sure this audience gets all the information they need.
Craig Cannon [34:18] – Okay and is there an offering for the one or two a week yet?
Ryan Hoover [34:23] – The closest thing, and we’ve offered this for a while, is our weekly digest, so we have a newsletter that goes out, either just on Mondays if you want or Monday through Friday so the people who are maybe less actively engaged but still want to know what happened this week get the weekly digest and that’ll include the most up-voted products that week, so pretty easy, it takes 10 seconds to consume and a lot more consumable than our feed of firehose.
Craig Cannon [34:34] – It’s crazy, it’s crazy to see it grow, man. Yeah, it’s amazing, a bunch of random questions so Akshar (@aksharbonu), I’m going to mispronounce this, Akshar Bonu asked what is the most counterintuitive thing you learned building Product Hunt and then watching it grow and be used?
Ryan Hoover [34:53] – I don’t know if I have a great answer for that one, to be honest. There’s things that internally from a process and leadership standpoint that I don’t know if I’d say they’re counterintuitive, but it’s challenging to, one thing I learned early on as a product manager was I thought I was being helpful in doing more of the work. To make it more tangible, there was a time where I made a massive mistake of basically changing one of the UX designer’s work ’cause I was like, “Oh, this isn’t quite exactly right to spec. Let me just spend the weekend and fix it and we’ll save everyone time and I’ll do him a favor.” It did the exact opposite, what it did was cause frustration and ultimately, I’m not a UX designer anyway so I shouldn’t be doing that work and I think that lesson early on is something that a lot of product managers or CEOs or founders need to realize is that you’re used to doing all the work in the beginning but as you grow a team, you ultimately have to give up work and it might feel like you’re being less productive and less effective and maybe you are technically in the short term but long term, you need to one, hire the right people and then give them autonomy to build and do what they’re good at. That’s a challenging, almost counterintuitive thing, I think for a lot of people who are used to just doing all the work.
Craig Cannon [36:12] – Yeah, I think that’s an important learning and it’s one that I’m still kind of grappling with on side projects. It’s just managing people well is insanely high leverage, like way higher leverage that even if I was the best programmer in the world but it’s hard when you get satisfaction for making. There are a couple AngelList questions so as now you’re a part of AngelList and potentially related to the fund, so Amr (@AmShafik) asks as part of AngelList, has Product Hunt considered investing through a syndicate or other form in the top featured products or even just the top makers on Product Hunt?
Ryan Hoover [36:55] – Early on, I think the first months of Product Hunt, some of our investors actually were like, Ryan, you guys should start a Product Hunt syndicate or fund of some sort and at the time, and even to this day, that was not important. What I realize is if we went down that route, what we do is prioritize building a platform for investors and that’s ultimately not what we’re set out to do. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to build features for investors and make those connections but that’s a very different community and a very different product than a product discovery platform for the world. It’s funny, it’s always been kind of a theme or an opportunity, that said, we may do things with the AngelList fundraising team. Right now, we’re not actively doing anything on the product side but what we have been doing is bringing the communities together and hosting dinners and smaller meet-ups with founders and investors, so nothing too crazy really, pretty lightweight but it’s been a cool way to bring these two communities together who have a lot of overlap and similarities.
Craig Cannon [38:00] – And there is talk, though, that you are now investing in startups, is this true?
Ryan Hoover [38:02] – Yeah. The day before I left for Burning Man, Axios spread some news about it, which is fine. I wasn’t meaning to announce anything publicly but news got out there and basically, I raised a small fund using the AngelList Angel Fund platform, which they announced it two or three months ago. It’s sort of in beta, sort of quietly out there but basically people are familiar with AngelList syndicates, for the most part, which are ways for people to raise money for a particular deal or a particular company. They’re great for people who are just getting into investing or they’re great for people who’re doing giant SPVs for very specific investments but they’re not as good for people doing ongoing investments so they realized this, they’ve been working on it for several months and they released Angel Fund, which is essentially, this is a cheesy way of saying it but it’s like a VC in a box in the sense that…
Craig Cannon [38:56] – Okay.
Ryan Hoover [38:56] – They do all the work for you in setting up an actual VC fund.
Craig Cannon [38:59] – Oh, cool.
Ryan Hoover [38:59] – They do the legal paperwork. They set up the banks, they, even … on the team is super helpful in talking to LPs on the telephone like old-school style, it’s like get them comfortable with some side letters and things like that. They do all of this work that would normally cost maybe $100,000 to set up all for like $12,000 and they take a piece of the carry. And as a result, you have a fund just like you normally would and can invest in a startup just as a regular VC. It’s not deal-by-deal basis but you have committed capital from LPs that you can invest so I raised a fund after talking Naval to a bunch of other people, $3 million fund and just investing in, of course, early-stage companies, everything from 50,000 to 200,000 and yeah, it’s been fun, I called it Weekend Fund.
Craig Cannon [39:46] – Okay.
Ryan Hoover [39:46] – Which has a couple different meanings for me, well, one, I had a spreadsheet of tons of different names. I was like, what do I want to call this thing? Took me forever to come up with a name that I liked but I really like Weekend Fund because it has a few different meanings, one, Product Hunt is my full-time thing, I’m super pumped, still loving what I’m doing. In many ways, Weekend Fund is my weekend side project in some ways, Weekend is also something that you see a lot of founders starting products in the, like Product Hunt itself, that was a weekend, nights-and-weekend project. A lot of those things start off is like really humble and small and grow into something something big so those two meanings mean a lot to me and it’s also more friendly than like Hoover Capital or something…
Craig Cannon [40:28] – Yeah .
Ryan Hoover [40:30] – I don’t know if there’s a Hoover Capital out there but…
Craig Cannon [40:32] – Probably is. They’re great, they’re amazing people, the best . And do you have a particular thesis that you’re going for? I imagine there are tons of learnings from Product Hunt. What’s your goal?
Ryan Hoover [40:45] – It’s intentionally fairly open in that I’m not strictly defining or looking at a like e-commerce or biotech space. In fact, I’m excited to invest in areas that could be helpful in first like actually biotech is a place where I’m probably not to be as helpful as I would with maybe a community-based product as an example. A lot of it is trying to invest in companies I think I can helpful with. There are some areas that I’m particularly interested in, like we talked about remote and distributed teams. I’m very interested in people building products and tools and things for this new future where we’re seeing more distributed teams and people working remotely. I also see voice is a really interesting space. It’s hard to know exactly what voice will play in people’s lives but inevitably, voice will change the way people interact with technology and in different ways, like my Google Home right now is my audio player, it’s just easier than opening my iPhone to play Rufus, soul or whatever, so those are two areas I’m particularly interested in, but the investments I’ve done now to date have, ironically, been a little bit community focus, which is something I have experience.
Craig Cannon [41:51] – It’s not ironic.
Ryan Hoover [41:52] – I guess not ironic, yeah. But those are things I get excited about…
Craig Cannon [41:56] – Okay.
Ryan Hoover [41:56] – And want to support.
Craig Cannon [41:56] – So we have another interview coming up actually later today with a Courtland from IndieHackers.
Ryan Hoover [42:02] – Oh, cool, nice.
Craig Cannon [42:02] – And you asked him a question but I’m going to ask it back to you and that is…
Ryan Hoover [42:06] – What did I ask? I forgot.
Craig Cannon [42:08] – Oh, really, alright so what question did you ask?
Ryan Hoover [42:10] – I don’t remember.
Craig Cannon [42:11] – It is what do you believe that most others do not?
Ryan Hoover [42:14] – Oh no.
Craig Cannon [42:14] – And then smiley face.
Ryan Hoover [42:16] – A smiley face, of course I added a smiley face. Oh, man, I asked this question I don’t have a good answer for myself, you know, I think this, I think 50% of the people in technology will agree, maybe 50% won’t, I think that technology makes the world ultimately better and there are certainly some down sides that you see and negative things that happen in startups and technology but ultimately, technology is like this water is here because I can drink this because of technology and I always believe that progressing and more startups and founders and people succeeding is ultimately good for the world, but more specifically, I think the extreme future that you read about in sci-fi books and see in movies I think the world where we live in, VR, is actually a good thing and I know a lot of people get really scared and nervous about a future where we all live in like a Ready Player One or at least like some sort of virtual world like that. I actually think it’s a awesome thing and the reason for that is ultimately if you can re-create and build relationships and live a life that’s in a better world, than your own, like we live in a great place and we’re very fortunate, but a lot of people are not and they live in dirt shacks and if they could escape and go to a different world and live there, that seems like a great thing. I know there’s a lot of negative things and come from a world where people live in virtual reality, but I also almost don’t see a future where at some point that’s where a majority of people spend their lives because we’re already pretty close, like this phone in my pocket and my computer screen, I already live inside of that most of the day and I think most people do or they watch TV. The average American it’s… I forget if it’s four hours or eight hours a day but it’s something crazy. They watch a lot of TV and you can imagine that extending into that screen and that technology extending into their everyday life through VR and AR and other things like that, so I think it’s a good thing. I think we should embrace it and be responsible with it, but also, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that people live inside of technology, definitely.
Craig Cannon [44:25] – Okay, how much time do you spend in VR on an average day?
Ryan Hoover [44:28] – I actually don’t spend any time. I don’t have any VR equipment, maybe I have a Samsung headset somewhere, Gear VR, but I don’t right now. I haven’t found an application that I really enjoy and it’s too cumbersome, too heavy but eventually, it’s going to be, with glasses, it’s going to be comfortable, eventually, it’ll be in my contacts. I feel like anything you can imagine almost will happen at some point, it’s just a matter of time and so I just don’t see a world where we don’t have that. It’s almost like will it happen in my lifetime? I’m not sure.
Craig Cannon [45:00] – I bet it will. I also completely agree with you the fact that like just because your life in San Francisco is great, doesn’t mean that other people wouldn’t want to be Lebron James for four hours a day.
Ryan Hoover [45:10] – Yeah, if you could fly, I mean there’s so many cool things that I wish I could do and I already live a very fortunate and awesome life here and the other piece to too is, of course, VR is not accessible to the people that are in the dirt shacks right now today but technology, it innovates and it becomes accessible to, let’s say the 1% and then it becomes more accessible to more and more people and then the price is lower and lower and lower so it’s, I guess I want to mention that point because I don’t want to say, oh, how is someone like that who makes 20 bucks a month going to afford Oculus, well, just imagine a future where inevitably, it’s becomes almost free and I think that’s an inevitability.
Craig Cannon [45:52] – I mean if you just like look at the graph of smartphone distribution…
Ryan Hoover [45:56] – Yeah.
Craig Cannon [45:56] – Same. And the prices are going up too, you can buy a thousand-dollar iPhone now .
Ryan Hoover [46:02] – I know, that’s for the 64 gigabyte, I think one, if I’m not mistaken.
Craig Cannon [46:05] – The other one’s more.
Ryan Hoover [46:06] – Yeah, like 256, I don’t know what the price is but you can expect 13, 1,400 probably.
Craig Cannon [46:11] – Man. I guess this is probably the last question so Soren (@sorenwrenn) asks, what does Ryan think of the rising crypto assets and their implementation and products?
Ryan Hoover [46:26] – I’ve been following this space, of course, but I’ve not dug in nearly as much as some other people, I actually don’t, well, I own a little bit of Filecoin but I don’t own any other cryptocurrency so I haven’t actually taken the plunge, maybe I should, well, I certainly should have but I think it’s, what I will say is that, one, it’s really interesting when you see these almost like green-field opportunities and new platform shifts, like we’ve talked about voice a little bit and how that has the potential to change behavior and create new experiences, same thing with blockchain and crypto and other things like that, it has an opportunity to open up new pathways, open up new doors for makers and founders and companies to create new experiences that may actually change people’s behavior dramatically. I mean we’re already seeing this to some extent with fundraising, people are launching an ICO instead of going to VCs and the deals that they’re getting, it’s unheard of, like you basically are getting way more money and you don’t have investors to pay back, like you own everything and, I mean there’s just a lot of like crazy things that flips everything on its head. There’s a lot of interesting things happening there. AngelList has been working with CoinList and trying to legitimize and and bring some trust to the platform and the ecosystem, but honestly, I think even the people who are deep into it are still like, “I’m not sure where this is going to go yet.” It’s hard to predict, it’s somebody, I forgot who it was, I wish I could credit them as it’s hard to predict early in the world wide web days like that Facebook would be a thing, like it’s hard to extrapolate and go that far because you just don’t have the mental model or the infrastructure built yet to imagine what’s going to be created with this in two, three, four years.
Craig Cannon [48:14] – I agree. Actually last question, how do you spend your spare time, what you do for fun?
Ryan Hoover [48:20] – I love, maybe in the past two to three years, I’ve enjoyed going to concerts and seeing live music more and and more. I went to Coachella back in 2015 and that was one of those aha moments where it was like, this is so fun. This is great, like go there with some great friends, go dancing, listen to good music and so love doing that. I also just love, I love my alone time and I go to Philz all the time, that’s where Product Hunt started actually was Philz Coffee Shop and I enjoy on the weekends, especially going there and catching up on work. I know it’s a weird thing but I’ll get up at 6:00 a.m. probably tomorrow and just work and hang out and drink coffee so, I don’t know, normal stuff I guess.
Craig Cannon [49:01] – Cool, alright, thanks, man.
Ryan Hoover [49:02] – Yeah, thanks.
Craig Cannon [49:03] – Alright, thanks for listening. If you’d like to get that 10% discount on Ship you can head over blog.ycombinator.com. If you have a few seconds, please leave us a rating and review wherever you listen to podcasts. Okay, see you next time.
ICYMI: Watch 40+ founders pitch at YC's Work at a Startup Expo
December 11, 2020 by Ryan Choi
Y Combinator created a new model for funding early stage startups. Twice a year we invest a small amount of money ($150k) in a large number of startups (recently 200). The startups move to Silicon