Product Hunt Founder Explains Why The Hell He Joined Y Combinator

Industry obsessives talk about Product Hunt—a leaderboard that lets members vote on new apps, devices, and other assorted technologies—with a sense of gratefulness. Venture capitalists use its hand-picked daily list to find a diamond in the deluge. Founders use Product Hunt as an alternative launching pad: TechCrunch without the noise; Hacker News without the hate.

If you wanna get thunkfluenced, Product Hunt is your jam.

So yesterday's news that Product Hunt was joining the new class of Y Combinator, the incubator behind Hacker News, didn't make any sense. Why surrender to your competitor without a fight? Why give up equity when hype is on your side? Ryan Hoover, Product Hunt's 27-year-old founder, gamely answered our questions over gChat.

I was pretty surprised to see you join Y Combinator considering that Product Hunt seems to be siphoning traffic from Hacker News.

Show [a Hacker News segment that lets founders showcase their products] was one of the signals that encouraged me to start Product Hunt, tbh. Along with general tech press, Twitter, water-cooler conversations w/ friends.

Yeah, but I keep hearing about ProductHunt and didn't hear about Show HN until today's announcement. I imagine I'm not alone. So even if they had the idea first . . .

They didn't make a big splash about Show HN other than the blog post and thread on Hacker News about it. From a product perspective, it isn't much different than what they've had before—they simply segmented all the Show HN posts onto their own page. Several people asked me about it though—particularly those that knew PH was in YC. There's no doubt overlap between the communities and the type of content but I don't see it as competitive, tbh

It just seems like YC is in a transitional phase, so if you wanted to strike, now's a good time. Why don't you see it as competitive?

The communities and type of products on HN and PH are significantly different. HN is very engineering-focused and you see that shine through in the comments and the type of products that surface (e.g. open source projects, dev tools, etc.)

And political worldview!

PH is also focused on the startup audience right now, but it's more diverse with founders, designers, VC's, marketers, [product managers], etc.

Do you think the time is right for PH because there is just so much noise, so many things launching with no way to differentiate themselves, less attention to go around.

It's never been easier to build tech products and we're seeing more and more being created as a result. More are fighting for attention and there's a stronger need for curation. Furthermore, I believe tech products are increasingly "mainstream" becoming a part of the water-cooler conversation similar to sports, movies, music, etc.

They are. Every magazine should have an app reviewer.

—and that's largely because access to tech products (e.g. mobile apps) is becoming ubiquitous in countries like the U.S.

Who reads PH right now? By default aren't your users more early adopters and therefore like-minded beta testers?

Yeah, most of the people are startup folks who are inherently early adopters, but it is geographically diverse—~60% of visitors in the past month are in the U.S. The next most popular locations are the UK, Canada, India, France, and Germany.

I see founders ask for feedback on their products, but that means they're getting feedback from a specialized subset.

Often conversations between the community and founder/product creator turn into an awesome back-and-forth of product brainstorming and input. One of my favorite convo's is with Alex from Instanerd: in the thread people made suggestions on how to improve in the morning and later that night he made those updates on the site.

Right, my point was more about the perception that Silicon Valley builds products for a certain swath of people (20-something white guys as George Packer put it). So if you get your feedback from them, the focus is still on a small segment. For example, Secret might benefit from going to college campuses rather than SXSW (which I hear they're doing)

Yes! And the wise entrepreneurs understand this. I have some friends working on mobile apps and they explicitly ignore the "SV echo chamber," speaking with teenagers in person or in online communities to get feedback.

Only teens and young guys in Silicon Valley. Those are the only two kinds of people that exist :) Anyways, since you guys had some attention heading into YC were you able to negotiate for less equity?

I completely agree, the feedback given from people on PH who are seeing the product for the first time, may not be the right feedback for that entrepreneur. Side note: I visited NY last week. It was refreshing to get outside of SV (as much as I love this place).

I didn't try to negotiate for less equity.

RYAN!

Haha

Always negotiate. Do you need me to send you a copy of Lean In?

They rarely stray from the standard terms and granted, PH was significantly smaller at that time. lol

Okay. So what's your plan for getting more users outside the echo chamber?

For now we're continuing to focus on the startup scene (not just SV but worldwide) there's a lot of room to grow there. But as we grow, PH will naturally expand into different pockets of people. Anecdotally, my mom and friends back at home who don't care about tech/startups, use Product Hunt and as I mentioned before, tech products have mass appeal.

Where are you from?

Eugene, OR

Why did you come out here?

Before I moved to SF, I lived in Portland, OR working at a video game startup. I left 2 weeks before it shut down to join PlayHaven (now called Upsight after an acquisition) as #10. I've always been in to tech/startups and figured I would end up in this city eventually

What do you think of Y Combinator under Sam Altman? He seems to be trying to make it a friendlier place for people who don't fit the pattern, but from an outsider's perspective it feels half-hearted.

Having been an outsider until now, I don't really know how it's changed from [Paul Graham] to Sam, to be honest when I met with [Y Combinator partner Kat Manalac] before applying to YC (at the time she was the Director of Outreach—or a similar title).she told me they were looking outside of SV and the US for startups I didn't know they reached out to startups, considering they have so much inbound interest and there are several non-U.S. startups in this batch and the types of things people are working on seems more diverse than previous batches

It will be interesting to see how it plays out! Okay last question: which new apps should I download? You can only pick two.

haha, ONLY TWO! on iOS I assume?

Whatever feels right to you.

Well, the obvious answer is TapTalk [a messaging app promoted by Ashton Kutcher] but I've been talking too much about that.

What's good about it?

Speed is my favorite aspect of it. everything about it from the # of interactions it takes to send a photo or video to the speed of delivery (not sure what they're doing behind the scenes) and the one-to-one nature of it is very refreshing there are several anti-patterns in the app that make the experience more personal.

Anti-patterns?

Design patterns that go against popular opinion or "best practices" e.g. you can't connect your address book on TapTalk. You have to enter your friend's username manually—

—That does not sound fun.

lol. EXACTLY! while that might lead to fewer connections, it builds a smaller, more intimate graph of people you actually want to communicate with. The beauty of TapTalk is that it's best when you have fewer people on it (e.g. no more than 10)

That makes sense. Although I have more messaging apps than I can use. And not enough friends who want to use them. What's the other app?

This one isn't new or as "sexy" but it's very practical. I use it weekly: Instacart [a grocery delivery app].

You actually use that! Why?

It only costs me ~$20 more to have groceries delivered to me and saves me an hour+ shopping. I don't have a grocery store nearby or a car.

Do you live in the woods?

Carrying 6 bags of groceries is unmanageable. Haha, I'm in the tenderloin but there aren't any big box grocery stories like Safeway nearby.

Do you think Instacart will be around in 5 years?

It's a tough space w/competitors like Google, Amazon, eBay, and maybe Uber. Thankfully I don't have to make that bet, but worst case scenario, they'll get acquired.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed. To contact the author of this post, please email nitasha@gawker.com.

[Photo courtesy of Ryan Hoover]