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With live video chats, Product Hunt helps its community members get a bit closer to their idols

Product Hunt screenshot August 21 2014Product Hunt screenshot August 21 2014
A conversation thread on Product Hunt.

Product Hunt, a hot Silicon Valley startup that’s built an online place for tech enthusiasts to share and discuss new and favorite products, is continuing to add to the gamut of discussion formats it offers. After adding live question-and-answer sessions with celebrities and experts in August, Product Hunt is bolstering them with live video by partnering with a nascent service named Blab.

“Product Hunt has always been about authentic conversations between makers and the community. LIVE video chats extend this concept even further, giving participants an opportunity to ‘sit in the room’ with guests to ask questions and hear their unfiltered answers,” Product Hunt founder and CEO told Fortune via email.

Hoover started Product Hunt in late 2013 after experimenting with a email list for he and and his friends to send around cool tech products and apps they liked. He and web developer Nathan Bashaw built the first version of Product Hunt during that Thanksgiving, which originally was a simple leaderboard, a la Reddit, that let community members submit, upvote or downvote, and comment on products. It quickly rose to fame after Silicon Valley insiders began to actively participate or at least keep an eye on it, in the case of investors, and Hoover took the company through the prestigious startup accelerator program Y Combinator before closing a $6.1 million round led by Andreessen Horowitz on top of $1 million previously raised.

Product Hunt has since expanded into new verticals—games, books, podcasts—and new tools for its audience of enthusiasts to engage with products, content, and creators they like. Last year, it gave them the ability to create and customize collections of products, such as “video apps,” or “my productivity tools.”

Then, in August it introduced its own version of one of online forum Reddit’s arguably most popular and successful features: the “Ask Me Anything” live question-and-answer format. At a pre-determined date and time, each guest answers community members’ questions, usually focused on their profession or expertise. So far, Product Hunt has included big names like Ashton Kutcher, Aileen Lee, Ben Horowitz, Naval Ravikant, and Tony Robbins.

Naturally, Product Hunt’s community of fans has immediately latched onto the LIVE Chats, as they’re called. These sessions, like their closely related cousin, often include an appearance by the product maker himself, and are an opportunity for fans to connect with people, like Kutcher and Horowitz, they would otherwise never get to speak with.

“I subscribe to most of the [Product Hunt LIVE Chats] or, at least, read them later. I think there’s great value in these. Mainly because you reach the point of understanding that everyone is just a human. So you get hope,” one anonymous community member told Product Hunt in a user feedback inquiry.

And unlike video broadcasting services such as Meerkat and Twitter-owned Periscope (TWTR), Blab (which was co-founded by Michael Birch, of Bebo fame) lets multiple people participate in the video stream from their own camera. Viewers can interact with those on video either by writing in comments, or by joining via video themselves. The streams can be embedded online and archived, both of which are key to how Product Hunt wants to use this video feature.

Product Hunt has yet to start to meaningfully bring in revenue (it has a job board that charges employers a fee but the revenue is small), opting instead to focus on its building out its product and growing its community. Whatever the company chooses to do in the future to turn on that revenue switch—be it ads or sponsored content, or its own take on an affiliate fees—having a large, and more importantly, engaged, community will be key.

But given the cult-like following Product Hunt has managed to build in its short life—its office is filled with gifts from fans and makers—that likely won’t be a problem. Hoover himself is sort of a celebrity in startup circles. As long as Product Hunt can provide a sense of connection between its community members and the big shots they admire, they’ll likely keep coming back. Still, as we’ve seen from online communities that have come before it, like Digg and Reddit (whose co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, is an advisor to Hoover and Product Hunt), turning eyeballs and discussions into meaningful dollars can be tricky.

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