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Finding Open Source Success on Product Hunt

Tal AterTal Ater

Back in my day (as I feel more and more compelled to start stories lately) we had Digg. Back then, the Digg effect was one of the best ways to get your site noticed, and your server to crash and burn.

Then came reddit, Hacker News, and a whole new crop of sites for discovering the latest hotness.

These days there is a new king on the throne – Product Hunt. And boy, can it rock your world.

Analytics - UpUp on Product Hunt

This August, I received a tweet letting me know that my latest Open Source project, an Offline First library called UpUp, had just been hunted and upvoted over 100 times. I immediately set to work making sure UpUp got the most votes. By the end of that day, UpUp finished as the #1 product on Product Hunt.

As open source developers, we don’t usually have the luxury of having a marketing or a product team supporting our project, polishing it to shine, writing catchy slogans or generating media buzz.

Luckily, this can actually work in your favor.

Here are a few tips and lessons learned from my experience on Product Hunt.

Tell a Great Story

What I have found most incredible about Product Hunt, is the sense of community and positivity among users. While reading comments on Digg or TechCrunch was always a great way to get heartburn, the Product Hunt community is supportive, welcoming, and more than anything – love a good story.

Having a great story behind your product is a great way to generate a lot of support from the Product Hunt community.

Find your story, and tell it when sharing your open source project. Product Hunt isn’t the place for your shiniest PR face. It is a place to be human.

When I found my own open source library had been submitted to Product Hunt, I was in the middle of my last day at work. I had just left a great job, to embark on a new career as a full time open source developer… yes, it was as scary as it sounds.

When I shared my story with the Product Hunt community, the response was incredible. Both Product Hunt’s official Twitter account, and PH founder Ryan Hoover tweeted my story to their 150,000 followers. People came to the Product Hunt page, asked questions about my future plans, wished me well, and voted and voted.

If you’ve ever read the comments on Digg, Hacker News or reddit, you know how refreshing this can be.

Find your story.

Did you develop your project to scratch your own itch? Did you get the idea while biking to work one day? Did you plan the whole thing on a napkin in a bar one night? Was there alcohol involved? Find a way to tell that story in a way that makes sense for your project, and gives it an interesting backdrop.

Have a Great Product

Having a great story is great, but you’ll also need a great product.

As developers we often build amazing things, things that have the potential to impact people’s lives and enable other developers to create amazing things. But in order for people to fall in love with your project, and want to put in the time and effort to learn how to use them, you must first capture their attention. They must immediately “get it” or be hooked enough into wanting to “get it”.

In other words, you must think of your project as a product.

We’ll dive deeper into how to bring this “product thinking” to open source projects in future posts on The Open Sourcer, so please subscribe.

For my UpUp project, I’ve made sure the target audience (developers) were immediately hooked and surprised (using a video that doesn’t look like a video but like a live coding window), and then proceeded to show exactly what it does and how easy it is to use.

UpUp Offline First JavaScript Library

Within half a minute of visiting the page, the user should be able to understand what the product is, and how easy it is to use.

Bring It Together

Creating an Open Source project is a deeply personal experience. You create something as a way to express your passion, usually without any monetary compensation. You spend sleepless nights perfecting it, while every painful change and tweak is visible to the public. Finally, you open yourself up to the cold public eye for scrutiny (or worse – total silence).

After spending so much time poring over every detail and getting intimate with your project, you must let go and try to gain an outsider’s perspective on your project.

You must look at your project as a stranger would look at it for the first time with fresh, uncaring eyes. You must look at your project as a product that needs to earn the user’s attention.

Creating a successful Product Hunt campaign is about understanding the tension between these two opposing forces: working on a deeply personal project, often in isolation, while creating something that a large number of people can still feel connected to.

If you are able to leverage your personal story into becoming a part of the product, and inspire and interest your users – you have a recipe for Product Hunt success.

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