4 Insights from a Hacker News Launch

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the MVP

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“You know what, screw it, let’s launch.” It was Tuesday: we just had a basic demo of filestack.com and some friends poke at it and a long “pre-launch” to-do list, but we decided to throw caution to the wind and share our fledgling product with the world. We chose Thursday, because if you’re feeling ballsy enough to launch, why not do it in two days? After all, we thought, maybe a few people will try it, give us some feedback, and we’ll try again in a week.
So we spend the next 48 hours cranking away, building a landing page, registration, demos, authentication, and at 3pm Thursday we flipped the switch.

Launch Stats

Here’s the data:

  • #1 for just 2 hours, 56 minutes, holding our own above a TC article about Evernote’s fundraising at $1bn valuation
  • 10,000+ visits in 4 hours
  • At one point we had 460 concurrent users
  • 12,000+ people used the demo over the course of the day
  • 500+ developer sign-ups
  • 5000+ files picked
  • $0 in donations

For me, someone who has never built a site with 10k visits total, this was one of the biggest rushes I’ve been on. With the four of us glued to Google Analytics, MixPanel, and Heroku logs while pushing out bugfixes, it was a two hour roller coaster ride. So a big thank you to the Hacker News community for making our launch so much fun.

What we learned
If you have a product you’re thinking of launching on Hacker News, here’s what we learned:
  1. If your thinking of doing it, launch. If you’re not quite there yet, launch. Seriously. We launched a plug-in for developers that didn’t support Internet Explorer. But it was great, because we got fantastic feedback, lead users, and the HN community is very understanding about MVPs.
  2. Be ready to scale quickly – Thank God for Heroku. We still got bit when we hit our free SendGrid cap and couldn’t send out developer keys for 20 minutes while I was grabbing dinner, but we didn’t go down, which was awesome. A corollary to this is keep your phone on you at all times.
  3. You want to hit #1. If you hit #1 there’s all sorts of snowball effects, as HN is popular enough to have a slew of twitterbots and aggregators to pick up the announcements. There’s no magic bullet to this, but engaging with people who comment in a meaningful way tends to help.
  4. Remember to put in your analytics. We had forgotten to hook in MixPanel events until about 5 minutes into the launch and lost out on some of the data. Never again.
New Features

In the spirit of Thursday launches, we’re launching new features that were HN requested, including:

  • Support for iOS and Android – being able to upload content to a website from an iPad was a really cool feeling. It’s far from perfect so we’re looking at doing a mobile optimized site, but it works well enough.
  • Support for Internet Explorer (back to IE8). Better late than never.
  • Added a whole new capability: Save As. Have an application where users need to save something? Why not allow them to save it to Dropbox or Facebook? Check out the demo on our demos page.
  • New pages for Documentation and Demos to make it easier to work with the API
  • You can now ask for multiple files in the file open dialog. See the “ZipIt” demo for an example.
  • We now pass all user content over SSL for added security

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