How Product Hunt’s Ryan Hoover Built A $20M Community From Scratch

Thoughts about this conversation..

Ryan Hoover’s engaging conversation is humble and down-to-earth, inviting listeners to take the first steps by turning to their own communities and using word of mouth as a tool to spread your value.

Hoover advises giving and receiving constructive feedback and using it to learn, making smart guesses, and experimenting to find what works and what doesn’t. Using a flipbook of examples from his own business, Hoover illustrates the tools needed to stand out, spread your idea, and keeping it ticking over.


Full Episode
How Product Hunt’s Ryan Hoover Built A $20M Community From Scratch – My First Million

Ryan Hoover and Shaan Puri discuss how entrepreneurs can stand out, define their own schedule, and do what they love. This conversation unfolds with an array of personal examples from Hoover’s own life, demonstrating hurdles he’s faced and the actionable tools he used to overcome them. Touching on the power of word of mouth, giving feedback, and dealing with investors, this lively discussion is only improved by the personal background Puri and Hoover share.

Maybe I would have been a good fit. But the way they were structured, there wasn’t a clear, like, job rack. There actually was no job rack for what I was trying to play for.

Ryan Hoover

A Little Bit of Background…

Ryan Hoover is the founder of ProductHunt.com, a globally popular Y-Combinator-backed website for sharing news and updates on new products, particularly tech-based gadgets. Having graduated from the University of Oregon, Hoover made is way over to San Francisco where he is today.

He’s worked on a range of projects from TradeCraft to PlayHaven and created Startup Edition. He’s also penned over 150 essays, published in Pando, Forbes, TechCrunch and more.

Key Lessons from Ryan Hoover:

#1 Give Authentic Feedback

Ryan Hoover and Shaan Puri reminisce on the time that Puri didn’t hire Ryan for a job – but provided him with constructive feedback on how to improve and why he’d not been picked. Hoover discusses the value in this and in accepting the feedback graciously.

Authentic feedback forms a bond of trust. This stops the rejected person in the deal feeling as though they waste their time, and invites them to keep you in the loop in the future. Constructive feedback is also valuable to our ecosystem as a route to learning – enhancing the system as a whole.

#2 How to Stand Out

Hoover and Puri chat about ways that people stand out when they’re applying for jobs or contracts. Puri discusses how Hoover brought forward new ideas in his interview to improve a project Puri had been working on. Not only that, he’d already talked to some of the project users and had feedback on the product. This showed initiative and drive, as well as unique thinking from other candidates.

Hoover emphasizes the importance of illustrating your value with actions. Sometimes this can mean doing the work before getting the job. That way you’re pitching yourself to solve problems they may not know they have.

#3 Entrepreneurs Are Not Fit for the Job

Hoover captures all entrepreneurs’ hearts when he discusses the feeling of not being the right fit for any jobs he came across. Understanding that you can solve many problems, but are hindered by the structures of companies as they currently stand can be an asset. Leveraging this, you can provide value by creating a position for yourself. 

Most entrepreneurs eventually do this by creating their own company, but Hoover is a self-confessed ‘scratch-your-own-itch’ kind of guy – create your own job by solving your own problems. Nostalgically recalling his father, he explains that his Dad was always excited by processes and solving problems – as he is now – and therefore employs that thinking in all walks of his life.

Understanding that working for yourself provides more than just money for more than just his time, Hoover explains that entrepreneurship brings autonomy and rewards in far more ways than financially.

#4 Easier to Know the Wrong Product

Knowing the right product is difficult because the right product is specific to a person’s proclivities and tastes. However, as both men explain, there are only a few common reasons things go wrong, which are usually obvious. By testing, you can work out what doesn’t work and organically move toward what does.

#5 Strategies Need to Change to Avoid Diminishing Returns

Hoover explains his route to gaining more followers and customers, confessing that the strategies that they employed changed over time. This is due to the wisdom gained by experience. He notes that strategies start to produce diminishing returns and that, rather than flogging a dead horse, you recognize the time to change and find a new strategy.

In the beginning, this involved a lot of word of mouth and close friends. The work required a great deal of manual inviting and asking people to share. The next hundreds came from social media, but Hoover made sure to send personalized ‘thank yous’, and ‘welcomes’. Later he incorporated guest blogs. Hoover brings home the importance of recognizing when to switch it up to move to the next phase.

#6 The Power of Word of Mouth

Using his own journey as an example, Hoover talks through how he used word of mouth as a tool to promote himself at different levels. Originally speaking with close friends and family, he was selling the idea of what value he could create, inviting people to pass it on if it helped. The more it helped, the more people passed it on.

Later, as celebrities began joining, Hoover still uses word of mouth as a vehicle, but now has the leverage of celebrity status to ramp up his reputation.

#7 When is Press Good?

Hoover voices the opinion that media doesn’t create that much sustainable value in the long-term, in terms of increasing your customer base. It can be a lot of work to get a story and not a great customer increase.

However, if your target is different, media can be effective – especially for recruitment and fundraising.

#8 Make Smart Guesses, Figure It Out Quickly

Hoover explains that a lot of entrepreneurship is making smart guesses based on the data you have. You need to calculate if it is working quickly before it has a terrible impact on the company. The best way to do this, Hoover suggests, is by building an MVP and testing it, however small.

#9 Dating Your Investor

Hoover humorously recalls meeting his angel investor for the first time. Very nervous, he admits that he’d always admired angels. He jokes that it was similar to a date, where everyone is nervous to make the first move or bring up the idea of investment.

Once talking, Hoover explained that conversations quickly moved to what the project could viably look like – having a clear idea of this in your head is invaluable to iron this interaction out.

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