With New VC Bucks, Product Hunt Taps the Wisdom of the In-Crowd
What if you could eavesdrop as a select group of venture capitalists, early adopters, and startup founders hashed over the merits of hot new tech products every day?
That’s the experience San Francisco-based Product Hunt aims to offer, and the young enterprise, part of the Y Combinator summer 2014 class, just raised $6.1 million in a Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
Anyone can drop in on Product Hunt to listen to the dialog, but the right to comment and post new products is reserved for an inner circle that grows slowly. Steven Sinofsky, a board partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said in a blog post that Product Hunt’s close community generates curated listings that help consumers deal with the current firehose of new product information, while giving industry observers insight into product trends. The site has also become a stage for product launches, says Sinofsky, a former Microsoft executive who is joining Product Hunt’s board of directors.
“Every month, millions of visits to product trial, app stores, and download sites are generated” by Product Hunt, Sinofsky says. Innovators also get a platform where they can interact with consumers and industry experts, he says. “Nearly half of all product discussions include the product maker, from independent hackers to high-profile veteran founders.”
With its new infusion of funding, Product Hunt plans to expand its scope beyond mobile apps, websites, and other tech products to include fashion and entertainment—TV, movies, and music. The site just debuted Fashion Hunt—“A collection of products and services to make you look good.”
Product Hunt founder and CEO Ryan Hoover says he started the enterprise as a side project in late 2013, when he was between jobs after three years at another San Francisco startup, Playhaven, a management platform for game developers. Hoover was looking for a way to discover and discuss new gadgets, apps, and other tech offerings with his friends and other knowledgeable industry contacts. Product Hunt began as an e-mail feed to members of Hoover’s social network who had good “product sense.”
“In the first week, we had a hundred subscribers,” Hoover says. To allow them to talk back and forth to each other, he set up a Web platform In November 2013. The company raised $1 million from investors including Google Ventures and Greylock Discovery Fund before beginning its Y Combinator session in the summer of 2014.
About 75,000 people now subscribe to the daily e-mail feed, and thousands more visit the website every month, Hoover says. Most remain observers of the ongoing dialog among members of Product Hunt’s core community of several thousand people, which includes investors, entrepreneurs, marketers, and designers.
These insiders are free to post new products they find or develop, with links to the product company’s website. Core members can also post comments, such as suggestions about the product company’s website design, alerts on potential competitors or collaborators, cautions on price points, or plain old attaboys. The company founders behind the products (dubbed “Makers” on Product Hunt) can reap the free advice, answer questions, share access codes with developers, and maybe pick up customers or investors.
Those who are part of the inner circle can also propose new members. While outsiders can’t add comments, they can press a button to “upvote” ideas they like, and the vote totals can move a product higher on the website’s front page.
In this era of crowdsourcing and democratic Web participation, Hoover is sensitive to concerns that Product Hunt will be seen as “exclusionary” or elitist. The few thousand core community members make up about 2 percent of the site’s monthly visitors. Hoover says he’s pacing the growth of the inner community to maintain the quality of contributions to the conversations, and to make sure his staff of moderators can manage the flow of new products posted.
Product developers can submit their offerings even if they’re not Product Hunt insiders, but there’s no guarantee they’ll get a spot on the website’s daily list. From about 100 product candidates submitted on an average weekday, the moderators choose about 30 to 55 entries, Hoover says. The company’s staff count stands at nine, and Hoover expects it to grow to no more than 20 by the end of 2015.
Just as reporters mine crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter for story ideas, journalists are also scanning Product Hunt for interesting new companies and trends, Hoover says.
Hoover has been encouraging innovators to launch their products exclusively on Product Hunt, perhaps with a little discount or other perk for potential customers. In the future, Product Hunt might develop an e-commerce function that would allow consumers to make credit card purchases through the website. But for now, Hoover says his focus is on scaling up the user base, not on monetizing the site.
Product Hunt’s social activity is closely intertwined with Twitter’s. Users sign up with their Twitter handles, and comment strings about products slip back and forth between Product Hunt and Twitter feeds. With its new funding, Product Hunt plans to build out its social networking features. Participants can already follow commentators on Product Hunt, and receive e-mails when their favorites post a product.
Product Hunt has only been operating for about a year, but third-party developers had already started drafting off its content by February of 2013, Hoover says. For example, outsiders have created a leaderboard ranking the most up-voted commentators and products presented on Product Hunt. Another site, Huntlytics, offers analysis of data abstracted from Product Hunt.
Hoover says he was a little nervous at first when third parties started repackaging its content. “I got over it,” he says. None of the outsiders seem to be charging for their services, and Product Hunt now grants them access codes under certain guidelines. “They’re building cool, interesting things we can learn from.”
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