“I had thought of Product Hunt as a lifestyle business,” CEO and founder Ryan Hoover tells me when we spoke Tuesday afternoon on the eve of today’s announcement that he has raised a $6.1 million series A led by Andreessen Horowitz. That was six months ago, before he had incorporated Product Hunt, before he joined Y Combinator’s summer 2014 class of startups, before Product Hunt had become the darling of folks devoted to learning about and building new products. “I thought I could grow it from $4,000 a month to $20,000 a month and run Product Hunt and have a nice life off that. Then I saw it could be bigger.”
With this new investment, Product Hunt will begin expanding beyond its core audience of makers, UX designers, and people like me trawling for the next big app. In both the official announcement and the now de rigueur blog post from the Andreessen Horowitz partner who made the investment, Hoover signals where Product Hunt is headed.
The first step? To improve the site. Hoover has long referred to Product Hunt as “Reddit for new products” or “Hacker News for new products” as a useful shorthand for newbies, but personally I find both Reddit and Hacker News terrifying, and Product Hunt, by contrast, is a friendly community. As you can see from the pictured mockups of a redesigned profile page (featuring Reddit cofounder and Product Hunt investor Alexis Ohanian), Hoover wants to add the ability to follow members of the community as well as make it easier to see their contributions to it–which products they’ve submitted, upvoted, and talked about, as well as which ones they’ve made. He and his team also plan to continue to make it easier for members to invite other members to join Product Hunt. “Right now,” Hoover admits, “Most people who can invite friends don’t know that feature exists.” Count me among that group.
The Product Hunt community has organically led Hoover and his team to many of the site’s defining features, from product discussions to special offers for Product Hunt members, and Hoover wants to further facilitate his audience’s ability to create the platform. Right now, Hoover and his team curate a “collection” of products each day, exploring a trend such as “Tinder for X” or helpfully flagging all the iOS 8 keyboards that launched alongside the new mobile operating system. From our conversation it sounds like he would eventually love to have users create and share their own collections of products. “The features we’re building are emerging from user’s behavior,” Hoover says. “How do we enable the community to build some of them for us?”
Product Hunt’s announcement states that it will expand into “games, TV, movies, music, and fashion.” This growth is where Hoover sees having Andreessen Horowitz as his backer can add the most value to his startup. “They have prestige in the media space,” he says. “They can help us have credibility and build relationships with people in those industries.”
Hoover says that when he first met Marc Andreessen a few months ago, Andreessen asked him whether Product Hunt could move into other product categories. “It was a leading question,” Hoover says. This reminds me of Andreessen Horowitz’s investment in Rap Genius, which probably should have remained a lifestyle business but expanded its purview from hip-hop lyrics to being “the Internet Talmud,” covering news, poetry, and more. It’s an insight into how Andreessen views the media business, having now invested in Imgur, BuzzFeed, and Reddit as well. The key difference, though, is that Hoover had this vision himself and didn’t have to be dragged kicking and screaming into covering more than new iOS apps.
Expect Product Hunt to grow starting early next year, but this expansion will take two forms. First, the company will move more into niches that have organically emerged on the platform. Hoover cites design-related products as being a prime example. There are a lot of resources and tools for designers on Product Hunt, which is of great value to design professionals but of limited interest to everyone else. That may end up living in its own autonomous subculture. If I had to guess, developer tools will similarly branch off into its own conversation.
The next mass category Hoover is likely to launch is video games. He’s spent his whole life in games–his dad ran a video-game store when he was a kid–and his work experience before starting Product Hunt was mostly at gaming startups.
The lingering question for Hoover is “what do we need to change?”–how can Product Hunt make its platform entice a passionate, engaged community beyond new tech products. Ideally, Hoover wants to develop what he calls a “playbook for expansion” similar to the way Uber and Lyft have figured out how to roll out their ride services into new markets.
Of course, the reason Product Hunt is not a lifestyle business, or merely a potential TechCrunch disrupter, is because this idea–build a community that helps people find new stuff and interact directly with the people who made it–is one perfectly suited for our times. There are more worthy apps than Apple can spotlight. There are too many networks, creating too many “quality” TV series to discover. We’re living in a golden age of film documentaries. Whatever you’re into, there’s more of it today than ever before. Starting today, Product Hunt has stated its mission to be the place you’ll find it.