investor stories

The founder of Product Hunt is an investor now

Ryan Hoover is the founder of Product Hunt, a product discovery platform with around 4 million monthly visitors.

He’s also an early-stage investor at Weekend Fund.

Now, Product Hunt has helped over 100 million products get discovered. So Ryan has seen a LOT of early-stage products.

When he moved into early-stage investing, Ryan had a unique way of thinking about early-stage product development… and what a product can tell us about the company.

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Yin interviewed Ryan about his journey from product expert to investor. The interview is packed with nuggets of wisdom (you can watch it here if you’re keen).

But my biggest takeaway was something Ryan mentioned almost in passing. It has to do with how he runs pitch meetings.

Who they’re seeing

Weekend Fund looks at super early-stage companies. Some of these founders have only been working on their products for a couple of weeks.

When companies are this early in their journey, it’s unrealistic to expect the product to function perfectly or look great.

In fact, the product is probably terrible.

But investors can still leverage the product to get insights about the company and/or the founder.

Ryan’s strategy? Ask the founder about her decision-making process to get the product to where it is today, and how she’s thinking about evolving the product moving forward.

Some questions he asks in this process:

  • why did you build the onboarding flow this way?
  • why did you prioritize this feature?
  • how do you envision your earliest users will use this product?

Why this matters #1

One of the things Ryan looks for in early-stage companies is evidence that the founder has a unique insight.

He wants to walk away from a pitch meeting feeling like he learned something about the industry, market, or problem that proves the founder has done her research.

And beyond that, that the founder is thinking about solving the problem in a new way.

We’ve talked a bit about differentiation (and we will again, don’t you worry). One way to look for differentiation is to understand the process by which the founder has created v1 of her solution.

So imagine you ask “why did you prioritize this feature?” in a pitch meeting.

If the founder’s response is “because this is what all our target customers said they needed”, you know they’re approaching the solution with a user-centric mindset.

If the founder’s response is “because we have a pilot customer who will only pay us if we build this feature”, you know that at least one customer will pay for this. But you may need to dig deeper to understand if it’s a widespread problem.

You also know that the founder is prioritizing revenue in the early days, which is something many investors look for.

If the founder’s response is “because I think it’s really cool”… well, that gives you a different insight entirely.

Why this matters #2

Look, when it comes to building an early-stage company, a lot can change.

The founder might pivot into solving a different problem, or serving a different segment of the market. She might change her revenue model, or shift focus from growth to profitability.

What probably won’t change is how she makes decisions.

And since building a product from 0-1 requires an almost uncountable number of decisions, understanding this process will give you insights into how she thinks.

Does she lead with logic? Is she decisive? Is she open to feedback? Does she do research?

One way of making decisions isn’t inherently better or worse than another, but it sure does say a lot about us as humans and – I would argue – as leaders.

If you want more insights from Ryan Hoover, you can watch his AMA with Elizabeth Yin here.