• Quick Chat with Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt

    ryan-hoover-product-hunt-4-of-6By Semil Shah

    Though not quite two years old, Product Hunt has become a highly popular platform for an expanding community of users who vote on and discuss tech tools. VCs clearly like it, too. The company has already raised $7.5 million from some notable investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Slow Ventures, and investor-entrepeneur Alexis Ohanian. Recently, we caught up with the company’s founder, Ryan Hoover, to ask how things are going.

    Almost overnight, you became “Internet famous” in tech circles. What’s that like?

    My life has changed a lot in the past 12 months, professionally and personally. Since the beginning, I’ve been a very public and approachable “face” of the company. As a result, my following has grown and inbox has become unmanageable with people asking for feedback on their product, advice on how to market their product, and other requests. The flood of outreach can make me anxious because I genuinely want to help but I simply can’t without deprioritizing what’s most important — my family, friends, team, and health.

    I’ve also become more self-aware in public as it’s not uncommon for someone to recognize me and introduce themselves as I’m walking down Market Street [in San Francisco] or grabbing food with friends at a restaurant. It’s flattering and I sincerely enjoy meeting Product Hunt fans, but we all want to escape work sometimes.

    What’s the most-cited critique of Product Hunt?

    When I invited the first few dozen people to contribute to the Product Hunt “MPV” — an email list highlighting new products — I reached out to startup folks I knew and respected. We quickly expanded beyond these initial curators by referral from others in the community and since then it’s grown far beyond my relatively tiny network to a global audience, with half the community outside the U.S. Still, not everyone can post and comment on Product Hunt — you have to receive an invite from someone else in the community – and understandably, this frustrates some people. Eventually, Product Hunt will be open to all, but right now we’re focusing on slowly building the community.

    Product Hunt recently launched Games.

    Last year, after Product Hunt gained early traction within the startup community, I thought hard about what it could become and what I wanted to build. Our longer-term vision is build a platform and communities around all types of products. Games was toward the top of that list.

    How do you balance your taste and instincts versus pleasing the crowd?

    The truth is, all of the products on Product Hunt are submitted by those in the community, with the exception of those that I and my teammates personally hunt. Once posted, products rise or fall based on the number of legitimate upvotes they receives, discounting voting rings or fraudulent votes from those trying to game the system.

    As the community has grown, we’ve already begun to see bifurcation in the types of products people gravitate toward. For example, people have been posting and upvoting games on Product Hunt since the beginning. While appealing to the general Product Hunt community, an enthusiastic subset was particularly attracted to this category and asked for their own place to share and discuss games. That was part of the inspiration to expand into gaming; as we expand to other categories, we’ll create new, autonomous communities that adopt and grow their own taste and culture. [Editor’s note: the newest of these channels focuses on books. You can learn more here.]

  • Pushbullet, Beloved by Users, Shoots for Fresh Funding

    Ryan OldenburgPushbullet, a San Francisco-based, six-person software startup whose free app makes it easy for users move notifications, links, and files between devices, is announcing $1.5 million in seed funding from General Catalyst Partners, SV Angel, Alexis Ohanian, Garry Tan, Paul Buchheit, and other angel investors.

    It’s in the market again, too. As is often the case with today’s startups, Pushbullet is announcing a round that came together some time ago – 10 months ago in this case – as a way to kind of raise its flag. Says founder Ryan Oldenburg, a former Android developer at Hipmunk who formed Pushbullet with several former Hipmunk colleagues: “We don’t need a giant round to power a sales force – just a standard Series A. Everyone here has two jobs and I’d like to start making that not be the case anymore.”

    VCs could certainly do worse. Since launching in 2013, Pushbullet says it has distributed “tens of millions” of notifications and transferred hundreds of thousands of links, files, and text snippets across users’ various devices, garnering rave reviews from CNet, Wired, and LifeHacker in the process. Just this morning, GigaOm described it as “one of those rare apps where, once you start using it, you’ll likely begin wondering how you lived without it for so long.”

    Now, it’s a matter of raising user awareness, preferably before Apple and Google find other ways to better tie together their operating systems across devices. (With Pushbullet ranked far below the most downloaded productivity apps, according to both App Annie and Android Rank, the race is on.)

    We talked with Oldenburg about the company last week.

    What compelled you to start Pushbullet?

    It started about a year-and-a-half ago. I had a smart phone, but as a programmer, I spent a lot of time working on computers, which traditionally didn’t work with smart phones, nor did anyone think they should. As a result, people were doing odd things, like emailing themselves to get their files on their phone. A world where people have both smart phones and tablets is great, but nobody had been acknowledging the opportunity to make it much better.

    How did you know you’d struck on something?

    It was just a side project, but it had an unexpectedly awesome reception. The first 15,000 [users] signed up within a couple of weeks without any PR. I just submitted it to Reddit and it struck a nerve.

    You then headed to Y Combinator. What did the program do for you?

    Y Combinator has a way of making you feel not good enough and like you have to work 10 times harder – which isn’t a bad thing. If you’re the right person [to lead a startup], it makes you want to do what it takes to grow beyond tens of thousands of users to tens of millions. It got us to think much bigger.

    How much bigger? Will we see an enterprise version of Pushbullet?

    At this point, we’re focused on building it for consumers. But as we get later stage, this [technology] is definitely something that will fit into enterprises and [where we’ll probably get the most financial support]. Dropbox [straddles] both worlds, too, and that model works for us.

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