Daniel Ha – Disqus 1 of 2

“A strong urge to win drives you to understand many things.“ Disqus is a leading social commenting platform for building and engaging online communities.

Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies.

I’m really excited today to be with Daniel Ha, founder and CEO of Disqus. Disqus is a social commenting platform that provides a community network commenting system that engages and connects millions of global audiences on the web.

With that said, Daniel, we would love you to give our audience a brief bio.

Daniel: I think you covered it, actually. My name is Daniel Ha, founder and CEO of Disqus. Most of my professional life has been in Disqus, but I’ve been a technologist of sorts all my life. Previously, I was studying computer science and engineering with my co-founder at UC Davis. We were actually juniors in school when we dropped out to do Disqus.

Matthew: Excellent. What is Disqus? What makes it unique? Who is it for and why are you so passionate about it?

Daniel: What is it, what makes it unique, audience, and why do I care? Disqus is a commenting platform that helps websites build active communities. I was going to address the unique part, which is that the key part of Disqus is that those communities are all linked together through the Disqus network. Those communities basically mean the discussion, the users, a lot of the communities type interactions on those sites, are powered and then collectively connected to what we run in the Disqus network.

The main audience for Disqus, the initial audience when we built the product was for publishers. Bloggers, media companies, websites who want to build strong engagement on their sites but want to have it so it’s globally relevant, not just in their isolated silos.

The reason I’m passionate about it is I very much grew up on the web and spent a lot of time in online communities. I’m very, very passionate about the problem with online communities and all the things that it means: waste of time, knowledge and resources and just a digital playground of sorts.

Matthew: What are some of the technology and market trends that currently exist in your space and where do you see things developing in the future for your space?

Daniel: One of the trends we’ve been seeing today is the whole notion of contributors to the web and just passive goers, still relatively much more bias on the passive side. As the whole notion of social becomes less of a category of products and more of a necessity for some of the products to be successful, you start seeing all these natural behaviors come out of people who were just using the web.

My mom or dad or my aunts and uncles will be doing things like commenting and liking items, things that you didn’t expect them to do a couple years ago. That’s almost a shift in generational behavior, not just in younger people but in the way people perceive the web. It bodes really good things for how Disqus wants to operate in the future. We want to be able to enable that community interaction, and when people are more accustomed to that sort of behavior it’s great for us.

Matthew: We’ve covered your background and an overview of your market. We’d like to dig into the details of your story with Disqus. How did you come up with the idea for Disqus? Was it an ‘a-ha’ moment, did you do a bunch of marketing research that led to the opportunity? What’s the story behind Disqus?

Daniel: We started Disqus in 2007, almost four years ago. My co-founder and I wanted to build almost a completely new take on how discussion forums worked. Early on we spent a lot of time running communities together; message boards, news groups, ways to basically build a community-esque niche. We knew the problems around it and we knew what the best characteristics were. We were building a service around a new way to do discussion forums.

One of the earliest ideas was to use blogs as a major point in distributing our product. All things fell into place there. We actually didn’t know a lot about how blogs worked. We learned it as we went along, and we just kept evolving from there.

Matthew: Who are your co-founders, how did you meet, and what qualities and skills were you looking for in a co-founder?

Daniel: I never set out to look for a co-founder. Jason, my co-founder, was a childhood friend of mine. We met when we were 13 years old in 7th grade [inaudible 5:05] class. That year we started two websites together. One was something, but the other one was an elicit way of trading music online. It was basically MP3s. This was before the [inaudible 5:23] peer-to-peer, so we basically incurred a bunch of accounts, uploaded a bunch of pretty awful music and tried to drive traffic just for the social clout in the middle school.

Since we were 13 all the way up until now, we actually started a few things together. Just small projects, ways for us to learn programming, ways for us to really waste time on the Internet, as our parents would say. We entered the same college together, studying the same thing, computer science. We ended up spending a lot of time outside of class just building random stuff. Disqus was one of the things that we felt really strongly about and actually was something that went out and was publicly released.

Matthew: From idea to product launch how long did it take and when did you actually launch?

Daniel: The inception was early 2007. We went through something called Y Combinator in the summer of 2007 and we launched at the very end of 2007. The actual product, we went through many different code bases, different iterations of it, each one taking approximately two to three weeks to build the core piece. It has evolved into much more complex versions, but just getting it out the door took a couple weeks of really intense hacking.

Matthew: Are there any unique metrics or social proof about Disqus that you’d like to share with the audience?

Daniel: Earlier I was emphasizing the network nature of Disqus. Our network currently reaches almost 500 million unique visitors every month and that’s across just over 800,000 different websites. Websites include Engadget, EN, Fox News, the IGN Network. A lot of large media companies, but also a lot of personal blogs, really niche communities that talk about Harry Potter or Justin Bieber, these very active communities that may not be the name brand of Fox News but they have very passionate audiences that come and they love talking about the media.


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