How I got to the HN front page three times in a row

December 28, 2020

In the past month, I managed to get to the Hacker News front page three times in a row:

  1. Show HN: Write-Only Interface for Twitter
  2. Getting our first thousand customers in one day
  3. SaaS we happily pay for.

The first is Typefully's launch post. The day after, I wrote a post on how we got our first thousand customers. And yesterday, a post on the SaaS we pay for.

I think these posts have something in common that I will try to articulate in this post. I have no formula, just a grasp of the raw ingredients needed to get to the front page.

What's the point, though? Those articles took me 1-2 hours to write and resulted in 40k+ visits to this blog, hundreds of signups for Typefully and Mailbrew, and many Twitter followers.

Select a topic

HN is a community of entrepreneurial hackers, naturally curious about company building, startups, programming, technical topics, and understanding the world.

Writing about those topics will help but is not required. In fact, you can write about anything as long as your writing is intellectually honest, in-depth, and does not try to sell something.

Pick the right title

The title should describe exactly what the post is about. No marketing is allowed.

Think of the title more as a commit message than a headline.

Here are the three titles that got us to the front page:

  1. Show HN: Write-Only Interface for Twitter
  2. Getting our first thousand customers in one day
  3. SaaS we happily pay for

Don't try to outsmart HN readers

You can safely assume that the average HN reader is smarter than you. They have a radar for bullshit. You are either telling a story, describing a problem, showing something you built, or not getting to the front page.

This should influence your title and style of writing. Notice in the titles above and in my writing how I am simply describing my experience, not trying to teach anything.

On my first few attempts to get to the front page, which you can see on my profile, I did it backward. I tried to make what I had to tell more appealing by picking a flashy title or making things a bigger deal than they were.

I just needed to stop trying too hard and give in to my own interests.

Be responsive in the comments

Engaging with people in the comments is the funniest part of the front-page experience. I usually write in a void and getting the diverse feedback that HN delivers is a ton of fun.

I believe starting a discussion is also key in getting people to click and upvote your post.

I don't take comments too seriously or personally. While the average HN reader may be smarter than me, there is a lot of variance.

Dance like nobody's watching

I write for myself, and when I get a good feeling about a post, I submit it, trying not to overthink it.

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