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Ask HN: Please review my web app to help startups get free PR (prmanna.com)
33 points by ryanwaggoner on Feb 10, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

A bit of backstory: I signed up for http://www.helpareporter.com/ back when it was a huge mailing list sending out tons of PR requests every day. I liked the service, but got tired of digging through 200 requests every day, so I built 95% of this awhile back. A couple days ago, I decided to finish it up and launch it.

Unfortunately, I took a look at HARO today and they've apparently launched something very similar, rather than just the old mailing list that I was competing against. So what do you think of this? Should I just drop it or should I add features to make it more valuable? Alternatively, is there something else I could use it for?

I have been thinking about this same problem. I get the HARO newsletters, but 3 times a day is just too much to sift through when 9/10 there is nothing remotely relevant.

I want something half way between google alerts and HARO. I monitor a few keywords and whenever there is a reporter asking for something that includes that keyword, I get an email.

Agreed, and keyword alerts is one of the next features I'll be adding. I skipped for launch for simplicity.

I had the exact same idea a while back as well. Jotted down some rough notes, came up with a name for it, ran it past a couple of journalist friends. It has merit but it's the usual chicken and egg problem.

Perhaps come up with something niche or location specific (or white labelled so it could be run out as niche/location oriented by someone else) and try a focused launch.

Another option, and this would be easier if you started min-viable-product-style with a few niches, is if you listed some "experts" then ran it past them (explain the idea and that you've added them, but can remove them if they like - make it very personal rather than spammy) and then pitch it to journalists and bloggers once there are some experts listed.

I would say if you had launched this 3 weeks ago, I'd deem you kind of the hill. But in light of HARO's relaunch, I think I'd drop/halt development until you decide what features make you different & better than the new incarnation of HARO.

As far as "something else I could use it for", what if you opened it up a bit and let people create their own lists? Then communities (both physical and virtual) could spawn their own lists and people of all walks of life could assume the role of journalist and/or source.

This is pretty cool. If you're afraid you can't compete with HOAR, maybe you could aim for a specific niche?

I'd work on scanability on the home page. I'd make the unordered lists larger, with a bolder font to draw my attention to them. I'm having trouble coming up with good copy for those areas, but you should see if you can reduce the text. There's that rule from "Don't Make me Think" that goes "Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what's left."

I think it would be nice to have some more categories and/or subcategories. I see that I can subscribe to requests for "Technology", but I know nothing about hardware, or phones. It would be nice to only get requests for "Web Design" or "Web Sites".

The UI is pretty plain at the moment. Nothing really wrong with that, but it looks a certain professional polish.

Thanks so much for the feedback! I really appreciate it. I do plan on adding keyword alerts at some point, so that you can just follow super targeted stuff, as well as search. I may add some more granularity in the categories, but I don't want it to get too overwhelming to post or subscribe.

In terms of a niche, I haven't spent much time thinking about it, but when it comes down to it, this is essentially a general anonymous message board like Craigslist, so I'm sure there are tons of niche applications. I'd love to hear more ideas from folks.

I don't know about your "social" position on the web, or better in the real world. But if you can link some known great engineers, angels, VCs, entrepreneurs, and independent journalists with non-backed (not funded only) startups, that will be great. Perhaps linking a startup with a strict small group of top people.

How are you going to get journalists to discover and pay attention to this?

That's a fantastic question that I don't have the full answer to. I figured I'd use it myself, ping bloggers and journalists I know, post in here, leverage Twitter, maybe do some Facebook ads. I'm open to suggestions.

I went to checkout prmanna, and was turned off by the lack of design and the slowness. You mentioned in another comment you enabled caching, however, I don't see enough on the front page to require caching at all...Toss this comment aside if you are just testing the waters on a personal machine or something.

On a kinda of related note, I looked around and saw your other site, mightybrand, which caught my interest. However, it takes alot of trust to giveup a credit card before you ever see the product you might end up purchasing. I'd recommend you allow free trials without a credit card, and then once someone is hooked or reliant on the product, cripple the account and ask for money. At least this lets people try it! I walked away from the signup form the moment a credit card was requested. Don't follow this example with your prmanna site, if you do decide to go paid with it.

Possibly OT but I knew I recognized your username around here and a glance at your profile reminds me you run http://mightybrand.com

I'm genuinely curious what makes you (and others) start new projects when I would think you have (or should have) your hands full with seeing how far one can go? In other words why and how do you feel your time is better spent starting a new project as opposed to improving/optimizing your current one? Is it a matter of burnout and just needing something different to think about? I guess I've always thought that running a business entailed hundreds of hats as it is, and optimizing different areas of your business would always leave you with something different to do.

Genuinely interested on your motivations if you don't mind.

That's a fair question. It's partly some burnout and needing a new challenge. It's partly that this took me a weekend or two to build (and most of it was built before we started MightyBrand, to be honest), and I hated the thought of throwing it away without seeing what kind of response it would get. And if I'm honest with myself, part of it might be a mistake on my part. I'll have to think about it some more.

I am prone to doing this. It's about being a serial entrepreneur but also being easily distracted by the next idea. End result is being spread too thin, but it's very hard to avoid given that the drive to find and build ideas is so strong.

Well to be quite honest it's a bit slow and the design is basically nonexistent right now. Stuff like this shouldn't occur: http://prmanna.com/requests/list/1

I dig the idea though, but getting people to respect it will be a challenge.

Guilty as charged on both accounts. I just turned on caching on the homepage, so hopefully that'll be a little snappier. Caching for the rest will need to wait until tomorrow. I'm not a designer, and I didn't want to wait until the design was perfect before launching. Hence, it looks like does :) I have some plans for the design, but it didn't seem likely to be a show-stopper at this point.

Agreed on the "empty pages" problem. I want the browse categories page to be a lot more informative, and show number of open requests in each category + 1-2 recent requests for that category.

Isn't getting people to respect any new web app a challenge? :) Thanks for the feedback!

Holy Yikes! Are you saying that this little web app, seeing maybe 2k visitors from a Wednesday-evening hackernewsing, with nothing but a few test entries in the database is actually slowing down to the point that you need to implement CACHING for the homepage?

What technology in combination with what $5/month hosting company could you possibly have used to achieve such terrible results?

I do have this on a pretty crappy host at the moment, as I didn't expect to get much traffic (it also got picked up ReadWriteWeb today). I'm using CakePHP, which is great for rapid development but does unfortunately have some overhead, so I turned on caching, which entails changing one setting, and the homepage is then served almost as a static html file (there's still a few lines of PHP in there). It helps a little, and I didn't see any reason not to do it. Really appreciate your supportive attitude, though :)

Most of the CakePHP are slow complaints are more issues of not knowing how to use it. Suggest if you really think CakePHP is being slow set $recursive = -1; in all of your models and use Containable to only fetch related model data when needed. You should be able to hit tens of thousands of unique visitors per day without caching no problem.

Remember that you will need to add indexes to the database manually. Cake won't screw with your database by adding them itself.

I've done xdebug profiling and cake does add some non-negligiable overhead. However, 90% of the issue here is that the host is really crappy, and the latency on the db is bad, so view caching is helping. It'll be moved to a new host in 48-72 hours.

Ah, that explains things a bit more. A RRW'ing is actually a little rougher than a TechCrunching in my experience, and loftier webapps than yours have crumbled under the load.

Still, I'd be worried if a single-query homepage like yours was showing even a hint of a load spike under that sort of traffic. It's amazing that even cheapo hosting can really be that bad.

The "send me feedback" area took all my first attention. Maybe it would be beneficial to reduce its attraction a bit ?

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