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Product Hunt cements tech darling status with Series A led by a16z. Now for the real challenge

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Fame in the startup world is a funny thing. Your fans are engineers and entrepreneurs and investors instead of screaming teenage girls. You might get spotted on the regular at The Creamery or Rosewood, but if you strolled the streets of any other city no one would know your name. It’s like being a secret star.

The feeling is a new one for Ryan Hoover, founder of Silicon Valley’s new favorite company Product Hunt. The site is a place people go to post the newest apps, hardware, and tech products. Users can upvote or downvote others’ tips, resulting in a reddit-like community for early adopters. Hoover built the rarest of applications — one that investors use daily, other founders hope to launch careers on, and reporters envy for breaking news traditionally owned by tech media.

It’s the perfect trifecta of hype, and Hoover has ridden it into a robust $6.1 million Series A for Product Hunt, inking the deal weeks before graduating from prestigious accelerator Y Combinator (although just announcing Wednesday). Fittingly for the latest Valley favorite, Hoover didn’t actually have to fundraise. Marc Andreessen personally emailed him and invited him to present in front of the partners. “Frankly, I didn’t shop around,” Hoover told me. “I just went with Andreessen.”

Most of his seed investors, like betaworks, CrunchFund, Greylock Discovery, and Naval Ravikant, reupped, and reddit’s founder Alexis Ohanian — Hoover’s personal mentor at YC — joined the investor rankings.

Hoover may have leapt easily over the hurdles of money and product awareness, but with his fresh influx of cash he faces the real challenge: Winning the hearts and minds of people not plugged into the tech scene. He persuaded Andreessen Horowitz to invest with his vision of taking Product Hunt to the masses, expanding into verticals like gaming, health food, electronic music, sports, and fashion.

It’s not an obvious slam dunk. In the tech scene, there’s a storied history of early adopters, the sort of fanboys and fangirls who fill Product Hunt with posts and comments. It’s a fanatic community, which is part of the reason people love the application so much – it gives them a place to geek out together. But I’m not so sure Hoover will find that in every industry. Do sports fans spend their time combing the internet for the latest wakeboard release or Nike shoes? Do music lovers do the same for singles from obscure artists or concert swag?

Hoover, of course, thinks they do. “There’s a lot of crazy people with different interests, crazy people that love cameras and gadgets, and scrapbooking, and people who live and breathe hip hop,” Hoover said. “I know people like different things, so for that alone I believe [this] will work.”

It never ceases to amaze me how something can be built from nothing in Silicon Valley and skyrocket to socio-cultural relevance in less time than it takes a baby to learn to walk. Since I penned the first story on Product Hunt when it was little more than a website and a dream, it was an out of body experience six months later to squeeze through hordes – we’re talking hundreds – of techies at Product Hunt happy hour, all clamoring to talk to Hoover.

It’s a sensation that I’m sure is more strange for Hoover than for me. If you’ve met him, you know he’s naturally a mellow, humble guy with a touch of introversion to him. He stole away from said Happy Hour hours early, while the masses continued to celebrate his application’s success without him. In daily life, he has been recognized by strangers everywhere from the gym to DNA Lounge. “I’m a little more aware of what I do publicly,” Hoover told me. “It’s definitely changed my life a little bit.”

With the latest funding round, the pressure is on for Hoover. He’s grateful to have avoided the monumental obstacles most first time founders face – awareness and fundraising. But being the Silicon Valley darling comes with its own special kind of stress. It’s a high perch to fall from. “I’m very cognizant that things can always go south,” Hoover said. “I’m like a hamster running on a wheel.”