Co-Creator of Product Hunt. EIR at Tradecraft. Creator of Startup Edition.

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There’s No Right Way to Start Up

Twitter is confusing. Early on, skeptics questioned, “What problem does it solve?” Even its founders couldn’t quite describe it, let alone foresee what it would become.

It wasn’t clear what [Twitter] was. They called it a social network, they called it microblogging, but it was hard to define, because it didn’t replace anything. There was this path of discovery with something like that, where over time you figure out what it is. - Ev Williams (source)

How can stupid sounding startups with untested ideas, become so successful?

“It sounded crazy. So we went with it.”

Last month I met Abdur Chowdhury, ex-Summize/Twitter and now CEO of Pushd. He spent the last year and a half building a team and infrastructure for experimentation. They created three products and killed them all before launching publicly. With each one, they learn and invest in technology for their next idea. The...

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Stop It, Guys

Yesterday I watched the live stream of Y Combinator’s Female Founders Conference. 12 female CEO’s took the stage, sharing their story, learnings, and challenges building a tech company. Watching from afar, I appreciated the positivity and genuine support from the speakers and crowd.

I’m a white male living in Silicon Valley. For better or worse, my physicality doesn’t stand out in the tech industry. Hearing Jamie Wong, founder of Vayable, retell her story of being called “incredibly good looking” when first meeting an investor and being slapped in the ass by a VC, gave me perspective of the context and discomfort women in technology sometimes face. While she admits these were extreme, rare cases of mistreatment, it only takes one instance to cement distrust and skepticism in the heads of female founders.

Situations like this can cause emotional distress for female founders and...

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“Why do you cross-post your essays?”

Readers ask me this question at least once a week so I figured I would write a short post with my answer.

In the past year, I’ve written over 100 essays scattered across the web on publications like The Next Web, FastCo, Pando, Medium, Svbtle, Quora, [LinkedIn](, and of course my own blog hosted by tumblr. Unless I’m writing a guest post for a publication, I typically post my essay on my personal domain ( and promote the piece on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Quibb. The following day, I cross-post the essay on Medium, Svbtle, sometimes Quora, and most recently, LinkedIn’s Influencer program. When I tell people this, they often ask:

But isn’t that disingenuous?

I wholeheartedly disagree. If the content is relevant to the community, why should it matter? Bloggers spend a lot of time writing and it’s in their best interest to...

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Five Hard Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Starting Up

Product Hunt began as an experiment, inspired by my desire to share, discover, and geek out about new and interesting products with smart folks. The “20-minute MVP” was surprisingly well received. Turns out I wasn’t the only one that enjoyed the daily email as more people subscribed and shared it with their friends. The positive feedback and early traction encouraged me to build it into a real product so I reached out to my friend, Nathan Bashaw, and we designed and built the product over the Thanksgiving break. What started as a simple email list of 30 entrepreneurial friends and has expanded to an influential community of 9,000 and growing.

But Product Hunt isn’t a happy accident and certainly not my first startup idea. I’ve experimented with various ideas over the years and refined the qualities I look for before jumping into my next startup idea.

Evaluating Startup Ideas


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Secret and the Need for Anonymity

There’s been a buzz in the undercurrents of Silicon Valley about Secret Inc. Yesterday the appropriately named mobile app, Secret, launched. Using one’s phone contacts, the service creates an anonymous network with friends to share secrets and photos freely.

In a post on Medium, its founders describe their motivation:

We built Secret for people to be themselves and share anything they’re thinking and feeling with their friends without judgment. We did this by eliminating profile photos and names and by putting the emphasis entirely on the words and images being shared. This way, people are free to express themselves without holding back.

Anonymity reduces our hesitation to create and express ourselves. Last night I stayed home alone. I wasn’t in the mood to be social on a Saturday night like all the cool kids. Instead, I watched standup comedy and played with Secret. I posted...

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Nostalgia: A Product Designer’s Secret Weapon

Remember pogs?

Remember Tubthumping?

Remember Nickelodeon GUTS?

Now pause…

How do you feel right now? Did reading those words stimulate any emotional reaction? Did it bring back memories? Excite you? Make you smile?

Nostalgia is powerful. Simply mentioning the names of childhood toys, old TV shows, classic video games, and other pastime activities often instigate an emotional response, reminiscence. But why? Why is nostalgia so compelling and how can product creators use this to build more engaging products?

The Influence of Nostalgia

The term nostalgia was coined by 17th century physician, Johannes Hofer, based off the Greek words nostos (return) and algos (pain). He prescribed nostalgia as a mental illness, attributing it to Swiss soldiers’ symptoms of anxiety, homesickness, insomnia, and anorexia. Hofer believed “continuous vibration of animal spirits through those...

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Why I Never Change My Profile Pic

This is my avatar:

I’ve used this photo on Twitter and other services for the past five years and have no intention of changing it despite my increasing age (I just turned 27).

I often see people change their profile picture on a regular basis. For those trying to build an online identity, this is a mistake. On Twitter, your @username is secondary to your profile pic. People recognize you by your avatar. Once changed, followers need to re-associate the new photo with your person. This is less important for those that have already built a strong brand and following but those just starting out will have a harder time building recognition and should maximize their opportunities.

Fred Wilson, a prominent VC at USV, wrote about profile pics and online identities in 2009. Here is his avatar:

Fred describes, “[This photo has] become my online brand. It’s simple, small, and very...

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How We Got Our First 2,000 Users Doing Things That Don’t Scale

Great products die everyday. It takes more than product to build a successful business, yet founders proceed without addressing the important question: how do we get users? No matter how useful your product might be, it isn’t a business without users.

With Product Hunt, we focused on user acquisition before we had a product. 20 days after its public launch, we had a community of 2,000 users that we acquired by doing things that don’t scale. Here’s how we did it.


Product Hunt, a daily leaderboard of new products, began as an email list using Linkydink, a tool for creating collaborative daily email digests. Contributors submitted links to products and each day subscribers received an email of new and interesting products. I seeded the community by inviting a few dozen founders, investors, and startup folks I knew. To my surprise, people really enjoyed the daily email...

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Mashup Products

I’m obsessed with Mindie, a mobile app that mixes Vine-like 7-second videos with music to create “everyday music videos.” By combining two pieces of media together - video + music - Mindie creates something entirely new. The music frames the video, adds context. Automagically, the music transforms the mundane into the interesting, instilling meaning to message. Its power to turn ordinary people into artists and evoke emotion in just a few seconds is remarkable.

  • Amazement
  • Relaxation
  • Humor
  • Tension
  • Delight

In the music industry, a mashup is when artists blends elements of two or more pre-existing pieces of music to make a new song. Mindie is what I call a mashup product, combining multiple forms of media to create something novel. Driven with a desire to uniquely express oneself, these products appeal to this UGC era in which everyone is a curator (e.g. Pinterest boards)...

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Is The New Snapchat Brilliant Or Totally Boneheaded?

Snapchat quietly released a major update to the popular photo and video messaging app Friday night, with the following additions described in its release notes:

  • Smart Filters - Add data overlays to your Snaps!
  • Visual Filters
  • Replay
  • Special Text
  • Front-Facing Flash
  • Up to 7 Best Friends

As a Snapchat fan and FOMO victim, I quickly downloaded the update and poked around.

I sat on my couch hunting for the filters, special text, and other features promised in the release notes. They were nowhere to be found. “What am I doing wrong?” I thought to myself. I even tried uninstalling and re-downloading the app, thinking I had encountered a caching bug. That didn’t work. It took a friend on Twitter to inform me the new features had to be enabled deep within the settings.

I wasn’t the only one. My Twitter feed was filled with people asking how to enable the new features. My...

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