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Full insight into a successful Hacker News launch

I have successfully managed to post on Hacker News and stayed on the front page for 14 hours. The post brought in over 12k unique visitors, out of which 54 signed up for weekly newsletter and 25 new registered user accounts. This is how I did it.

26th May 2021 by ParkingPete

Post ranking first 24 hours

Post ranking in the first 24 hours

Earlier that day I launched on Product Hunt and I was planning to launch on Hacker News one week later. I have scheduled my post on Product Hunt shortly after midnight in San Francisco, what was around 9 am in the morning in France where I was based at the time. Two facts contributed to my decision to accelerate the launch on Hacker News on the same day.

  1. The not so great performance on Product Hunt (less than 100 unique visitors)
  2. The discovery of "Featured on Product Hunt" widget that was linked directly to my Product Hunt post

I was constantly refreshing and keeping eye on the analytics anyway, and thought: "Let's do it", hoping that traction from Hacker News could help to get my Product Hunt post rank higher at the end of the day. BTW I eventually ended up earning “Featured” status on Product Hunt but did not make it to the TOP 10 of the day.

Autonews - Hackernews for automotive industry | Product Hunt

Product Hunt widget

I've added the Product Hunt widget to the top of my site and created a post on Hacker News in the Show section - "Show Hacker News: I made Hacker News for automotive industry", linked it to my project autonews.io and clicked "post".

I was following advice from Pieter Levels' book for both Hacker News and Product Hunt launch. The advice was to get few - not too many - clicks within the first hour to make it to the front page and wait. I only had one other account registered on Hacker News and because I was too scared not to trigger some sort of scam detecting algorithm I decided not to create other accounts that I would use to upvote. In the end, I upvoted my post just one time and waited.

I'd like to mention that before the launch, I did not have a huge Twitter following and I still don’t. I have had 35 followers who are basically all my real world friends. I also have a couple hundred friends on Facebook and very similar numbers on LinkedIn. Even though my personal audience is not big, it definitely helped to let them know, especially in the early stage, as some of them are very tech savvy and helped upvoting.

When I posted to Hacker News, it was around 6 pm French time, 11 am San Francisco time. To my surprise, within next hour or so my Hacker News post showed up on the front page. I was so happy that I took a screenshot and posted it everywhere - Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.

So proud 🎉

So proud 🎉

The show has begun. My traffic started spiking up and suddenly I saw a notification that I have a new subscriber. Then someone registered an account. I was mind blown. All the users and subscribers I had before were mainly my family or friends who signed up - let's be honest - for different reasons than potential customers would have.

The debate on Hacker News started to pick up as well and I was there to reply. The comments varied in nature. Many were pointing out things I could improve, others were simply pointing out that my site is far from being "Hacker News for X" because of the heavy JavaScript bundle, layout style, number of articles per page and few other things that were simply different to Hacker News. Some posts were encouraging and simply wished me the best with creating an automotive community like Hacker News is. In general the Hacker News comments were spot on, and even though some of them sounded a bit harsh, they were helpful in their essence. There was even a direct bug report, that I'm very grateful for.

Bug report filled by one of Hacker News members

Bug report filled by one of Hacker News members

I took notes and added all of the feedback into my backlog. By now, a month later, all of it is addressed. Majority were fixes or improvements and bigger tasks, like creating RSS feed, are just in the pipeline planned to be built.

Hacker News feedback TODO list

Hacker News feedback TODO list

Time went by and a few more people subscribed, a couple more users registered and then something really positive happened. I've got a subscriber from one of the oldest car manufacturing companies in the world. Few moments later I got another subscriber, this time from a well known startup that focuses on developing autonomous vehicles. I was in awe. Someone actually working in the industry subscribed to my newsletter. I literally jumped off the sofa and screamed.

I was so stoked that I wanted to immediately start coding new features. And I really needed that motivation kick as I was slowly starting to feel that autonews.io does not have much meaning and I should probably move on to another project. My confidence in autonews.io was back, it is actually attracting the real industry people.

But as with everything, there are highs and lows and the low did not wait too long to show up. The trolls arrived. Because prior to launch it was just me and my friends who would comment on articles, I did not have any verification in place and basically anyone with a freshly registered account could have submitted a comment. The comments were horrible and I'm not going to share any screenshots here. The cat-mouse game has started as I was deleting the comments from my DB, disabling accounts, but they were faster than me. I’ve disabled one account, another one has popped up. There was even a kind person who registered an account just to comment that "this site clearly needs to improve on their content moderation". Thanks for that and apologies to anyone who has been offended by any of the comments. I had to do a quick judgement call and disabled commenting entirely. It was necessary, but hurt the reputation a fair bit.

Hacker News comment

This comment came up in the Hacker News debate and is completely legit. I explained the issue and solution in a comment below. But the reputation has suffered already.

Hacker News reply

Now, 5 weeks after the launch, the traffic is low but quite steady. On average there are 45-50 people visiting the site daily, the majority comes on Monday when the newsletter is being sent out and then the weekends are very low. I am still positive about this, because only the people that actually care for automotive news keep coming back and that’s good, as I believe that for the community to have a real value, it should grow gradually.

Last week's site traffic

Last week's site traffic

I keep on promoting the project. I’ve created a dedicated twitter account, where I retweet the most popular posts of the day. I am planning on posting on Reddit, which if done right can be big - r/Cars community has more than 20 million car loving members, but they also don’t like promotional content, so I still have not figured out the best way to post there.

Conclusion

To sum it all up, posting to Hacker News and Product Hunt is definitely a must if you are building an online product. It will generate a lot of traffic from all around the world with audience with many different interests. Out of that only a small percentage will stick but that’s fine. If your post is successful enough you might end up being featured in multiple newsletters that will generate even more distributed traffic over time. Also some audiences will work better than others, for me Product Hunt did not go amazingly well, but on the other hand my post resonated great with the Hacker News folks. One more thing I’d like to mention is that your servers should be ready for the traffic - my project is done in React and NextJS, hosted on Vercel. I'm using only their free tier and it went smooth as butter. Although I have the skills to set up my own servers, the amount of effort in that compared to a free, really easy solution which works really well is a no brainer.

Hope this article can help you a bit with launching on Hacker News. If you have any questions feel free to reach out on Twitter or send me an email. If you love cars, go give autonews.io a try or follow @autonewsio on Twitter. If you are an Indie Hackers fan, you can also follow my project milestones here. Thanks for reading.

ParkingPete

Worldwide audience

Worldwide audience

Full traffic insight

Full traffic insight

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