Lessons from posting on Hacker News

I posted a link to my app on Hacker News, and spent the following 3 hours dealing with the outcome :) Sharing my lessons here for reference.

A quick recap of previous events — I built a web app that monitors SSL certificates for expiration. This turned into a great playground for Product experimentation, and I wrote about it in the past.

How did I decide when to post?

I’ve never posted anything on Hacker News before. People told me that it would be a great place to get some traction, and I planned to do it ‘sometime in the future’.

The app has been running for 10 months now, and I recently completed a nice design face-lift (with the help of a very talented designer, Dan Rowden). The app feels more solid on first impression, which gave me the push to go to a wider audience.

A Slack community I’m part of has a #i-built-something channel, where I posted a note about the design face-lift. Someone suggested that I go to Hacker News with this, and demonstrated experience:

super cool! have you posted it to hacker news yet? if not, i bet a Show HN post submitted on tuesday or thursday will get you some decent traction

I was swayed by the ‘inside information’ of the preferred days of week, and decided this was the hand-holding I needed to go forward. Waited till the next Tuesday, signed up with Hacker News, and went ahead with a quick post:

Show HN: Never have an SSL certificate expire again (haveibeenexpired.com)

And then went out with the dog for a walk. As they say, low expectations are a great way to be surprised for the better!

What just happened?

I’m using Crisp as a free chat widget with my web app, and it has a nice feature that shows the count of concurrent users browsing my website. The counter that never goes above 10 since I started was suddenly over 100! Shortening the dog walk, I hurried back to see what was going on. I discovered some ~30 comments on my Hacker News post, and a fast rate of new sign-ups for my web app. Woohoo, the adrenaline is here! :)

It took several hours for my post to go down from #3 on ‘Show HN’, and for my adrenaline to go back to normal levels. Going through comments, engaging with people who took the time to comment on my web app, checking some metrics and making sure there are no errors — what a fun evening!

I will now recap the types of feedback I received, and wrap up with a short list of recommendations (hint — go ahead and post on Hacker News!)

What feedback did I get?

The comments were generally about the market fit of my offering, my marketing tactics, product feedback, some lack of legal clarity, and an occasional high-five. Breaking this down further now.

Market fit comments

People immediately post ‘this reminds me of X’, ‘why is this better than Y’, ‘here’s the homegrown solution I’m using instead’ and ‘this is over-priced’.

It was nice to learn about what others see as alternatives to my web app, and sharpen my competitive edge pitch. It was easy for me to refrain from being defensive here — this is not a competition over the superiority of my web app. It’s a great way to see how potential users categorize what I’ve built, and how I can send a clearer message about my work.

I’m quoting someone for sure when I say that the best marketing trick is to tell people how to solve the problem without your service. Seeing how people jump in with alternatives (other services, or do-it-yourself) is a great way to get your work done for you!

AITSM, or Am I the Sleazy Marketer?

A good landing page needs to have a ‘logo party’. That’s basically a list of well-known logos that give credibility to your offering, and anchor the visitor to the domain you operate in. You see this all the time, right?

As a new web app with 0 users, far out from commercial success, how do you create your ‘logo party’? In my specific case (remember, the web app is monitoring SSL certificates towards expiration), I decided to list 4 strong brands that people who care about SSL certificates would surely recognize.

An excerpt from my homepage; title — companies we monitor; 4 logos — hashicorp, datadog, auth0 and github
The logo party on the homepage

So yes, the web app indeed monitors the public SSL certificates belonging to these brands. Did people working for these companies sign up to do so? Absolutely not. Not yet, at least :)

I shouldn’t have been surprised to get some backlash on this. People pointed out that I’m really hurting my credibility, as it is very unlikely that these companies are knowingly using my web app, and that I’m trying to make them assume otherwise. Some raised concerns whether using strong brands without any consent is legal or not.

I don’t feel like I was caught red-handed, this is not a moral issue for me. But yes, one thing I can do here is to A/B test the ‘logo party’ and see how its presence vs absence affects the sign-up conversion rate. Maybe a different copy can reduce the adversity?

Edit: I took this feedback onboard, and updated the logo party to only include companies who are using the service, and have agreed to have their logo on my landing page. This is what it looks like now:

The title is ‘Trusted by’, with the logos of Lightricks, Gitpod and monday.com
Trusted by strong brands!

But why no email?

A slightly controversial decision that I made early on was to implement notifications via webhooks (Slack and such), and not email. This came in strong in the comments, and gave me another opportunity to present my intent and get some feedback. I’m not looking to convince everyone that my decision is great. I’m looking to learn more about the implications of the decision that I made. I have to admit that having something that people are not indifferent towards has its own value! But it is hard to compare the cost of ‘alienation’ of email-focused users vs the value that webhook-focused users get from my decision.

What helps me keep my ground here is checking how new users act on this webhook thing. My main activation metric is whether a new user has set up a webhook or not. Up until yesterday, 223 users signed up, and 12.5% (28 users) have set a webhook with their account. Following the Hacker News post, 60 users signed up since the post, and 30% (18 users) have added a webhook. I read this as a positive signal, so email notifications are not coming soon :)

People actually read the privacy policy!

One comment caught me off guard. Apparently, the templated privacy policy left some concerns with one user. I need to step up my legal game a bit, and sort this out. Who knew, people actually read what they agree to!

Pats on the back are nice

I’ll just leave this here:

A user comments with ‘I’ve been wanting a service like this forever’, and I reply with ‘heart eyes’

What did I learn?

  • The only real thing keeping you back is your own mind. I needed some external pressure to spread the word and invest in marketing, and I found it! I’ll now figure out my next marketing initiative, and make sure I don’t wait for someone to push me to act on it.
  • You don’t have to orchestrate your efforts too much. Sign up and post something, see where it takes you. The Internet judges you, but only based on the last thing you do :)
  • Practice positivity when engaging with strangers on the Internet. You decide if their comments drain you, or if you use their time and effort to learn and shorten your journey to success.

Thanks for reading, follow me on Twitter for more of this stuff!

Edit: summing up the impact of this post on my metrics, 48 hours after the event

Registered users grew from 223 to 300! 77 new users in 48 hours, compared to ~15 per week over the past several weeks.

Total registered users per week since April 2021

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Tech Executive Mentor. Previously VP Engineering and GM Israel at Snyk.

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Anton Drukh

Anton Drukh

Tech Executive Mentor. Previously VP Engineering and GM Israel at Snyk.

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