How my startup book rose to the Top of Product Hunt and Amazon

Normally, I write about the nuances of startup life outside of Silicon Valley.  This post will be a little different.  Last week, I launched the ebook edition of Startup Seed Funding For the Rest of Us, accomplishing a life-long goal of writing a book.  Aside from simply accomplishing a personal goal, my hope was that the book could help people that were in my position just a few years ago — people that had an idea for a high growth startup that may need seed capital, but lived outside of some of the traditional startup hubs like Silicon Valley.  Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of Us was meant to help navigate them through some of the processes that I found particularly complicated.

As somebody who enjoys the process of launching products (launching several for the startups I’ve worked for as well as my own products and businesses), I was excited to treat the book release just like I would a product launch.  My belief was that investing the time into the actual build-up of the launch would benefit the book not just in the actual launch, but it would also set the book up for the long-term as well.  The challenge, however, was being able to adequately launch the book with the limited time and resources I had, as I dedicated $0 to marketing the book and spend most of my days managing Product @ Movable.

On Tuesday, March 10th, I officially launched Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of Us into the world.  While I can’t say that I instantly began experiencing fame and fortune as a result, I can absolutely say that the launch was successful, resulting in:

  • Achieving the top spot on Product Hunt on Day #1 (and currently ranked in the top few books ever to be on Product Hunt).
  • Seeing over 5,000 downloads of the book within the first week (not paid downloads — more on this later).
  • By week 2, the book is now listed in the Top few Startup books on all of Amazon.

Many people could say that “I got lucky.”  They’re probably right, in a way.  After all, I attribute a lot of the success I’ve had in life to catching a lot of breaks.  But my wife and friends can attest that these past few months, I’ve been working really hard on the book — and especially these last few weeks, I was very deliberate with the way that I launched the book.  I’m confident that the early success I’ve had is because of the attention that I devoted to the book’s launch.  With that said, I wanted to share some of the things that I did that worked particularly well so that anybody else who feels like they have a book in them can re-create it on their own.

1.  I learned from the best.

I believed strongly that this was a book that needed to be written, but the reality is that I had never written a book before.  I didn’t know what process I should go through, or what worked for other successful self-published authors.  I started listening to podcasts from people that have had a lot of success in the area, including specific episodes about publishing from Nick Loper, Pat Flynn, Steve Scott, and others.  I also joined Pat Flynn’s private facebook group of other self-published authors.

I’m definitely somebody who believes in having a bias towards action (i.e. spend more time doing, less time reading about doing), yet found these resources to be incredibly useful as I was taking my morning commute or cooking dinner.  Anybody who’s writing (and self-publishing) a book for the first time should familiarize themselves with these people and resources.

2.  I allowed others to become familiar with my writing early on.

At first, I told myself that I wasn’t going to start a blog.  After all, I was worried about how I was going to build an audience for the book.  I had none when I was just getting started.  And now, I had to build an audience for my blog, too?  It seemed like twice the amount of work.  What I didn’t realize is that it’s sort of one in the same.  The blog that I created (the one you’re reading right now) is really meant for the exact same group of people that the book would be suited for as well.  By starting a blog and writing regularly, it allowed the audience I was writing for to become familiar with who I am and my writing style.  It also allowed me to get feedback on what topics were resonating — and which ones didn’t seem to strike a cord.  That type of feedback was really helpful for me as I was continuing to write the book.

3.  I let people know what I was doing, and invited them to be a part of the process.

Once the blog was up, I knew that it was the right thing to start.  But I still felt too far away from the people that I was writing for.  Yes, it was cool to have people write to me via email or Twitter to give me feedback on the blog.  But I wanted the same, specific feedback for the book I was writing.  So I created what I called an “Insider Group.”  I shared with the world that I was writing a book on the topic of raising seed capital outside of Silicon Valley, and gave anybody that wanted to the opportunity to be a part of the process.  People that signed up could get an inside glimpse into my writing process (having direct access to the active Word document!) and could give me feedback throughout.  My hope is that this group would not only give great feedback and direction, but would also feel personally invested enough to help spread the word by the time that the book actually came out.  I used a simple WordPress plugin to allow people to sign up directly on my blog, and then communicated with the group regularly.  It was so cool to see the type of people that actually signed up to be a part of this group, ranging from entrepreneurs to academics and even venture investors — most of whom I had no personal relationship with ahead of time.

4.  I actually invested in the book.

When I began writing the book, I didn’t think that it would actually cost me any money at all.  After all, I decided to self-publish the book through Amazon — what costs would there be?  There was one problem, though.  First, while I think I’m an “OK at best” writer, I really needed serious help editing the book.  Also, the book needed a cover, and my design skills are nonexistent.  So I actually spent real money — $900 total — for two things:  First, I paid $300 for a 99 Designs campaign to find a cover designer for my book.  I spent another $600 to hire a professional editor.  (Later, 2 others reached out to me to volunteer their editing services, and I took them up on it — which actually gave me a team of editors that I worked with).  I cared a lot about the quality of my book, so those two things were very important to me, and well worth spending money on.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I’d really recoup the investment.  But I figured that the worst case scenario was that I’d be spending $900 to accomplish a life-long personal goal.

5.  I reached out to people who regularly spoke with my audience.

Once I was about three months away from the point that I expected to launch the book, I started spending time understanding who was actually speaking to my audience — startup entrepreneurs outside of Silicon Valley.  One thing that made it easier for me was that I was my audience.  So I tried thinking about the resources I read online, the podcasts I listened to, and the websites I frequently visited.  I started interacting with people from those various places online (via Twitter), and ultimately, reached out to them directly to share more about me, my book, and why I was writing it.  Groups like Mattermark, Founder Weekly, and Startup Digest began sharing my blog posts, and I received invitations to appear on podcasts like Rocketship, The Full Ratchet, The Pitch Deck, and others. also offered to help spread the word about the book release in their email newsletter that goes out to all sorts of entrepreneurs.

I also reached out to other “influencers” at this stage — people that my audience regularly turns to for information.  This included famous investors and entrepreneurs that have big followings online.  Some of these people I had very loose connections to, but for the most part — I didn’t really have a direct connection.  Regardless, I still reached out to them and shared the current version of the book and asked them for feedback.  Some actually replied, and others simply ignored the email.

6.  I favored getting the word out over making money right from the get-go.

As time got closer to launching the book, I had to make a decision as to how I would launch it.  I chose to launch through Amazon at first mostly because of the 80/20 rule.  Knowing that Amazon controls most of the book sales market, I figured I could launch through Amazon and later focus on getting up and running on other platforms.  I’d start with an eBook, but would focus later on the print and audio editions.  I learned that Amazon has a program called KDP Select allowing certain promotional rights in exchange for 6-month exclusivity on Amazon.  One of the promotions allows you to run a 5-day free promotion.  On one hand, it seemed weird to me to simply give the book away for free considering how much time (and money!) I invested into the book.  On the other hand, I know that my audience (entrepreneurs) always like getting things on the cheap.  I figured if I actually gave them the entire book for free, I might be able to encourage them to help spread the word about the book.  I would then introduce the book at a very low price after the free promotion ran out in order to continue the momentum.  My hope was that I could quickly land within the top few slots for startup books on Amazon.

7.  I asked people to do very specific things at very specific stages.

I learned that each of the podcasts that were recorded were all expecting to have the episode complete by early March.  I therefore picked a “launch week” that coincided with the release of each of these podcasts, in an effort to build up some momentum.

About a week before my launch, I had a list of 200 or so people who had either signed up to be in my “Insider Group” or simply let me know that they were interested in more details about the book when it was ready.  I sent them each a personal email (thanks to Michael Sacca for the lesson on personally sending emails instead of using a tool like Mailchimp!) including an electronic review copy of the book.  I asked if they would read it — and let them know that I’d be following up in a few days.

A few days later, I released the book live on Amazon (but didn’t start promoting it yet) and I asked this group to do 1 more thing:  Review the book on Amazon.  I told them not to buy the book — as it would be free in just a couple of days (some of them did anyway).  But for now, reviewing the book would be helpful so that as soon as I started promoting it, people could see that there were actual, real reviews for the book.

Over the next couple of days, I started queuing up personal emails to each one of these individuals (via Boomerang — a plugin that allows you to send emails at a specific later time/day) asking them to do two specific things:  1.) Download the book for free on Amazon, and 2.) Help spread the word about the book.  I let them know how Amazon really cares about early downloads and how much it would help me as a first-time author trying to compete against some big names.  I also used Click to Tweet to make it really easy for them to spread the word on Twitter.

I also queued up emails to those influencers I previously reached out to.  I asked them to do the same two things:  Download the book, and help spread the word.  All of these people are so busy that I didn’t expect that they would have actually read the book by this point, but I knew that maybe a handful of them might be willing to share it within their networks.  After all, the content was relevant — and hey, it was free!

What happened next?

As I alluded to in the heading of my post, the actual day of the launch was amazing.  The book was shared frequently on Twitter and in other networks, and it ended up making it to the top of Product Hunt.  Funny enough, I didn’t even ask anybody to post to Product Hunt for me.  I was planning to, but by the time that I was going to ask — the book was already there!  I reached out to the person who posted it on Product Hunt (who I didn’t know personally), and she let me know that she found out about the book from Brad Feld’s twitter feed.  It turned out that Brad (one of the influencers on my list — and somebody who I’ve turned to from time to time for feedback) thought that my book was worth sharing with his audience on Twitter.  Mark Suster, Micah Baldwin, David Cohen, Steve Case, and others also shared or retweeted about the book as well.

The result was amazing.  That first day saw nearly 2,500 free downloads for the book alone.  The book shot up to the Top 100 Free Books on all of Amazon (#1 for Startups).  After the promotion ended, I set the price as low as Amazon would allow me ($.99) in order to continue the momentum.  Even now, Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of Us is just below books like Zero to One and Lean Startup as one of the top startup books on Amazon.

Where do things go from here?

Am I going to become rich as a self-published author?  Probably not.  But based on the activity I’m seeing already because of the book, I’m confident that it won’t be longer than a couple more weeks before I recoup the direct investment I made.  More than anything else, I’m just grateful that the reaction for the book has been overwhelmingly positive.  My goal was to create a book that would actually help people, and I think I’m succeeding at that.  It’s been fun to see my book at the top of Amazon charts and Product Hunt, too.  I just hope that I can continue the momentum!

Why am I sharing all of this?  I think that most people feel like they “have a book in them” and I wanted others to see the process that I went through to go from never having written a book to launching one with some success.  If that’s you… then quit stalling, and get that book out there!




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