Product Hunt’s Starting Line

It was the lack of a line that caught my attention at Product Hunt’s second helping of free wine and cookies happy hour last night. 

The first happy hour the aggregation platform held had a line down the street and around the corner. This time I breezed right through the doors at 620 Jones, a full hour after the party started.

The party was held to celebrate the launch of Product Hunt’s gaming vertical. Founder Ryan Hoover had pixelated the kitten wearing Google Glass logo and placed old-school arcade games throughout the venue for the event.

A decent amount of people navigated a crowded courtyard inside the bar, some of them dangerously swishing goblets of free alcohol as they milled about the tight space. Someone’s elbow knocked a shorter girl in the head, and I accidentally collided with a guy, spilling a slight amount of wine onto his hand, but luckily nothing else.

Hoover estimated there were just under 1,000 people coming and going in the span of 3 hours. That’s out of the more than 4,200 who signed up on the Facebook invite, but slightly less than the more than 1,000 folks who came out for the first event.

Update: Hoover counted and said the total at last night’s shindig was closer to 1,200.

That’s a testament to the influence Product Hunt yields in the tech community. It’s rare for a tech event to get that many people to sign up, rarer still to get them to show up.

But the lack of a line this time weirdly stood out as some metaphor. Some have accused the startup of elitism for not letting everyone post on the site. There was a Re/code piece on the subject earlier that day. Now there were no lines IRL.

Sort of. Some of those in attendance told me there was a crazy line when the party started. Product Hunt’s Erik Torenberg explained that the team made a decision to let most of those in line come in then. He also shrugged off the elitism suggestion and said people were allowed their opinions.

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There were plenty of people pitching the Product Hunt founding team last night. I found Hoover in a corner of the room, boxed between a Terminator arcade and a crowd of startup founders eagerly asking him question after question.

But there wasn’t much gaming going on. I didn’t see a single person playing with the arcade games. Maybe they were more interested in finding out how to get Hoover to feature their product on the site.

Most of the people I asked seemed to work in tech or something other than gaming. One guy I spoke to did work in marketing for a gaming company, but he was there to hang with friends and drink, not to support Product Hunt’s gaming addition.

There’s a good amount of support for gaming on the platform, and as Hoover has pointed out to me before there’s some natural cross-over from tech to gaming that goes on. It seems like a good next step out of just tech products. But is it enough for now? We’ve heard the next vertical might be books.

A couple of VCs I spoke with at the happy hour (but did not want to be named for this piece) had their own ideas for Product Hunt’s future. One thought the startup should be coming up with ways to monetize. “They’ve done a good job with marketing and getting the word out, but they could be making money in a few ways,” he said. “Ryan is focused a lot on growth right now, but some think he should do a consumer sales model.”

Another from August Capital wondered if there really were other verticals for the platform beyond tech and gaming. “Maybe books? I don’t know. It’s not like people need a new book recommendation every day,” he said.

For the most part, people enjoyed this second round of drinks on Product Hunt’s dime. But more came out for the sense of community that Product Hunt provides in the tech industry. Kevin Rose told me a while back that the Product Hunt happy hour idea reminded him of an earlier time of tech in San Francisco.

And even though it’s not one of the “unicorns” or startups now worth billions of dollars and hasn’t turned a profit, it has massive brand recognition throughout Silicon Valley. It can create a happy hour that brings out close to 1,000 people – twice! There are plenty of tech conferences that can’t do that.

“Product Hunt may not be in the unicorn category. It’s a dark horse, but it has the ear of the tech community right now,” said one VC.

What some believe to be elitist may be the key to keeping people engaged. Only letting in a few products and influencers who can post at a time gives the site a measure of validation. It’s also a way to keep out spam that has been found on other sites like Reddit and Digg (note that both of those sites founders are investors in Product Hunt).

But it could also lose a few fans along the way. Some told me they didn’t come to this event for fear of waiting in a long line. Despite more sign-ups on Facebook for this happy hour, fewer people showed up to the second event, too. Granted, not by much.

Product Hunt decided to have a line at the beginning of the party. People tried to get past that line by using their privilege and I was told those people were checked at the door and told to get back in line. Then Product Hunt just let everyone in after that.

Will it do the same online? There was still room to move about the party and free wine and cookies left. Granted, not by much.