REFRESH – “Shit”

REFRESH – “Shit..”


I’m stressing out since it took me weeks to get here. It feels like the coffee I am drinking to fight the lack of sleep I had last night is slowly replacing the blood in my veins.

All this time invested to build this website, and I’m stuck on the ‘new’ section on ProductHunt.

Time to just take a walk and cool down, thinking about how the hell I even got here.


The Birth of The ProductHunt Idea

It has to be something about startups”, I think as I lower the dumbbells.

I’m at the gym, trying to get my Eureka moment. The Eureka moment I’ve spent weeks looking for.

As part of the promotion for an email course on early user growth for startups, I am looking for a great side project marketing idea.

“All the biggest products on ProductHunt were about startups. They’re the core of the ProductHunt audience. I need to tap into that.”

I put the dumbbells on the floor and sit up, grab my phone and go to and press enter in the search bar.

Going through the list of the most upvoted products, several jump out. The first product, Startup Stash, is about startups. Number 4, Startup Pitch Decks, is about startups as well. The rest of the list are products and I don’t have the time or skills to build something like Slack.

The thoughts run through my head: “How can I connect my product, Early User Growth, to something about startups that people are actually interested in?”

Many ideas run through my head. Not every idea is great. And it needs to be great. Then it hits me, I think I have it. “Eureka”.

This was my plan: create a list of how companies that are huge today got their very first users when they were still a startup. Companies like Amazon, Apple, AirBNB, Groupon, Facebook – companies everybody knows.

It took me weeks to think of this idea. All this time, I had to think of something that was appealing to the ProductHunt and tech audience. It means that anything I would do had to meet the following criteria:

  1. It has to be about startups
  2. It has to be something that people recognize
  3. It obviously has to be interesting enough so people check it out
  4. And it has to be long, so people upvote it as a way to ‘bookmark’ it to read it later.

More importantly: it needs to add value and my target audience needs to be interested in it. I launched Early User Growth to help startups tackle one of their biggest problems: to get their initial 10, 100 and up to 10,000 users.

I’ve helped startups reach that stage before, and I enjoy doing it. And now I wanted to do it on a larger scale by creating a free course.

Plus, a collection of stories like this will already help people figure out what they can do, which is already inspiring by itself.

I think about the books I’ve been reading over the last few years: Founders at Work, The Everything Store, and that one movie with Justin Timberlake telling Jesse Eisenberg to drop the “The”.

I grab my phone out of my pocket and open my Notes app. I start writing down all the tech companies I know, the ones everybody knows. Amazon. AirBNB. Uber. Microsoft. GitHub. Twitch.

The list gets bigger and bigger. I’m excited. This was the golden idea I was looking for.

I finish my set, take a shower and head to the office. Next, I spend 5 hours researching every  company on my list.

Then, as soon as I am done writing, I head home. I need to find all the books I have on startups. And I need to go through all of them again.

I head to my book cabinet and look at all the books. I grab all the books that can help me.

The next few hours are spent on going through each book, finding the chapter on how they started, and typing everything into the Word document I created earlier that day.

After a full day of researching, I now have a list of over 30 companies and their early user growth stories.

It’s time to turn this into an actual thing.


Creating the Product

“Yeah, the main problem is that I pretty much suck at making things look good on websites”, I tell someone at the office while he’s looking over my shoulder as I try out different lines in CSS.

Instead of just writing a long blog post about how startups got their first users, I want to turn this into a decent looking page that people will actually enjoy looking at.

“Anyway, I’m launching it tomorrow, so I’ll be here tomorrow at 7am”, I say. “Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow” is the last thing I hear before the door closes behind the last person leaving the office. It’s now 8PM, time to crush this all by myself.

As I’m finishing the first design, I send it around to some of my friends on Whatsapp. As long as people don’t directly hate how it looks, I’m alright with it. It’s about the information, after all, but making it look good is pretty useful to get people to like the product.

What I believed was going to take me around 2 hours to build, ends up taking around 8 hours of messing around with CSS and HTML due to stuff breaking in the WordPress theme.

The quote “Move fast and break stuff” by Mark Zuckerberg pops up in my head. “That’s great, Mark”, I think as I’m scrolling down a file, “but that doesn’t help me fix the issue of me forgetting to close off that CSS element somewhere in these hundreds of lines of code”.

It’s now 10 pm and I get a Whatsapp message from Julia, my proofreader. “I just read through everything, it’s in your Google Drive”.

I reply to her message and hop over to the document and start copy pasting the proofread content into the page. It’s starting to look much better now.

After finishing the page, I start writing the content for ProductHunt, and use Preview Hunt to make sure it all looks good. It does – sort of.

It’s just another item on my to do list that I can scrape off. As I fill the box next to it with a checkmark, I look at the other tasks: just 12 to go.

At 2:30 am, I finally finish everything on my to do list for today. Messages for ProductHunt are ready, the launch strategy is done, the only problem is that I still haven’t found anyone to hunt it for me on ProductHunt.

I order an Uber and head home. It’s 3 am and I set my alarm for 6 am. I close my eyes and think I bet when Ryan Hoover started ProductHunt he never thought some random dude across the ocean would ever do this”.


It’s time for Launch Day on ProductHunt

The dreadful sound of the iPhone alarm enters my ears. It’s 6 am. I jump out of bed, grab my clothes, take a shower and head out to the office. On the way there, I grab some coffee, and feel excited. This is going to be my day.

As I walk into the office, there’s nobody there yet. That gives me enough time to get the last few things ready. I open my laptop and start working.

ProductHunt refreshes at midnight San Francisco time. That’s 9 am my time. I still need to create a good GIF but I am all set to submit it to ProductHunt.

I hear someone is unlocking the door. Because a ProductHunt launch is pretty exciting, others at my office show up early that morning. They’re there to hopefully see it happen.

“So, who’s going to hunt it?”, Leon asks. “I’m doing that myself”.

“Dude, you can’t hunt it yourself. You have like 100 followers”, he replies. I’m aware. But at this point I’m living on 3 hours of sleep and several cups of coffee, and I’m just trying to get everything done.

“You know what, I can hunt it for you. I have around 1,000 followers”. That’s better than my 100. “Let’s do it”, I reply.

I grab my laptop and slide my desk chair to his desk. It’s 9:05 am and the first submissions are already on the front page of ProductHunt.

People in the office have gathered behind Leon and I to see how things are going. We’re making sure everything on the page looks right.

We launch at 9:30 am. This is where it all starts. Startup First Users is live.

I ping my fellow marketer Harry Dry as he offered to help spread the word of the launch. We talk about what he’s going to do. (Short sidenote: Harry is a legend, you should subscribe to his marketing blog right now).

Harry is out to post it on the Y Combinator Summer School page, shares it on Twitter and shares it in some Telegram communities.

In the meantime, I need to start promoting it as well. I tell the people at the office that I just launched and see people grabbing their phones to check it out.

Right after that, I open Whatsapp and send a message to 20-25 people saying I launched. I just want as many people as possible to check it out.

Things are looking great. I’m even already getting some traffic on the page through ProductHunt.

But there’s one thing missing: I am stuck in the ‘new’ section.


The Fall Before The Rise

“It’s still not there”, I say while Leon and I are walking to the coffee machine to grab some more caffeine. “I’m getting pretty stressed at this point. What if it was all for nothing?”. It’s now 11:30 am and things aren’t looking good.

Getting more discouraged by the minute, I decide to just take a walk. I’ve been refreshing the homepage for 2 hours now. Something is wrong, there must be.

I walk to the local shops to grab a sandwich. As I’m ordering my sandwich I start to laugh. Even if I don’t make it to the frontpage, the work was worth it. I pushed myself hard for the last few days to get all of this done and I’m happy with the result.

Having all of that work lead up to a moment that doesn’t work out makes me laugh. It feels better to laugh than to crawl into the arms of the woman making my sandwich, or drop on the floor to get into the fetal position and tell her how I’m not featured on the front page of a website that she has definitely never heard of.

I grab my sandwich and decide to check my analytics again. There are 25 visitors on my site right now. “Wait, did it just happen?”

I refresh the ProductHunt frontpage again and see Startup First Users right there. On the homepage. At #3.

The image of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park saying “You did it, you crazy son of a bitch, you did it” pops up in my head as I try to get back to the office as quickly as I can.

On the way back I send everybody I know a screenshot of the frontpage. “It’s there! We did it!”, I send to every single person that helped me.

We did it indeed. But we’re not there yet. It’s now 12:30, which means I have 20.5 hours left to get to #1.


Climbing to the #1 spot on ProductHunt

Getting to the front page was great. But it wasn’t the ultimate goal. Getting to #1 was. So I needed to start promoting the launch as much as I could.

As soon as I get back, I get high fives from the people at the office. It motivates me to keep going.

Right now my biggest bet was to get as much traffic to the product as I possibly could. I open my laptop and open the document with my launch plan.

First up is IndieHackers. I post a milestone on the website saying I launched on ProductHunt. The post is short but mostly focused on getting people to the ProductHunt listing.

Now it’s time to tackle Facebook. I had been joining over 15 groups for startups and people in tech the last few weeks. The spreadsheet in Google Chrome I already opened contained all the links. I open the links one by one, paste the message I had prewritten the night before, add the link to the ProductHunt page and post my link to all the groups.

Instead of directly linking to my own website, I link to the ProductHunt page. This will increase the odds of people leaving an upvote. You can’t ask people to upvote your product, so the best thing you can do is get as much traffic as possible so the odds of people upvoting will increase.

Next up is Twitter. I quickly write two tweets, one sharing my ProductHunt launch and one sharing my milestone on IndieHackers.

Now it’s time to use all the Slack groups I joined over the years. I go back to the file with my prewritten messages and copy the Slack message to paste it in 5 different communities. I add the ProductHunt page link to the messages and post them to the Slack groups.

I also email all the people that signed up for Early User Growth so far. I had written the email the night before, so I just have to edit the link and send it to all the subscribers. Sure, I only had around a hundred people on that list but every single upvote counts right now.

In total, it takes me less than 30 minutes to do all of this. All the time I invested in the weeks before this paid off here. Instead of having to improvise, I knew where I had to be and what I had to post there.


Open the ProductHunt Traffic Gates!

“So, how’s the traffic?”, Leon asks. After all this promotion I forgot to check the traffic again.

60 Visitors were on the website right now. After another hour, 80 people were on the website at any given time. And it fluctuated anywhere between 80-120 people during the rest of the day.

As the day continued, the product was also slowly going up on the leaderboard. It went through a rank rollercoaster for a while. After hitting #3 right away, it dropped down to #6. Then it got to #2 before dropping to #4.

After 7 hours, it finally had enough engagement to hit the #1 spot. It never left that spot after that.

Though I had done everything I needed to do to promote the launch, I decided to head back to Twitter, Facebook, Slack and all the other places I posted about it to engage with the audience.

Some posts on Facebook even went semi-viral in the groups, getting 80+ likes. This definitely helped spread the word. If more people engage with your posts in Facebook groups, Facebook will show it to more people within that group. This helps to get more engagement, meaning that the cycle will repeat itself constantly.

Thousands of people saw my posts on the communities I posted it to. And I was just in time to hit the #1 spot. It was now 7 am in San Francisco and most of the United States was now awake.

A perfect time to be right there, on the front page. Something I made was on the top of one of the biggest websites for startups and people in tech. And it was beautiful.

The traffic was looking great as well. In total, it hit over 6,000 visitors on the first day.

The next day, the traffic increased. ProductHunt sends a daily email with the top 5 products of the day before. This is another huge traffic boost. When you’re launching on ProductHunt, you need to at least try to get to the top 5.

But the traffic from ProductHunt wasn’t all of it. The page got featured on news websites, people blogged about it, they shared it on Twitter, Facebook groups, newsletters and more. People even made videos about it! All around the world, people were heavily engaged with the product.

It went viral. Like crazy. People from Saudi Arabia tweeted about it, leading to over a thousand likes on that tweet, which resulted in thousands of visitors. The same thing happened in Japan.

While hanging out with friends that Saturday, enjoying our last day of sun before the dreadful Dutch rain season started, hundreds of people from Asia and the Middle East were visiting the website.

It spread like wildfire. In the upcoming days, thousands of people visited the website each day. And for every 100 people that visited the website, around 4 people would sign up through the opt-in forms on the page.

A month later, more than 30,000 people visited the page. And over 1,200 people signed up for the Early User Growth email course.

Today, many months later, over 40,000 people visited Startup First Users, and over 1,600 people signed up.

In September, Startup First Users was the #3 product of the month. It earned 3 ProductHunt badges in total.

All the hard work paid off. Reading all the blogs and books, watching all those videos, getting 3 hours of sleep, it was all worth it.

People I had never heard of from countries I’ve never visited signed up for the email course. IP addresses from over 120 countries visited the website.

And I couldn’t have done it without the support of the people around me. Who helped me spread the word, pushed me forward, and ultimately were part of this journey.

Here’s to everyone that made it happen. I really appreciate all your help.

Categories: Case Studies


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