Daniel Ha – Disqus 2 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: We know that founders face unique challenges when they decide to start a company. What was the hardest part about launching Disqus and how did you overcome this obstacle?

Daniel: The hardest part about launching Disqus? I think we were fairly naive going into it so I didn’t know about anything that was hard about it. I just thought, “Hey let’s just do it. We have nothing to lose, and it’s a good story if we fail.” I think as we started to go down that path the most difficult things that I saw was how do we corroborate our passion for what we’re doing with the idea that people would actually care about it.

We didn’t know about any competition for what we were doing. We didn’t know that there were any other solutions that existed. We basically created a market for ourselves as far as powering these communities, these comments on various sites.

Going into it, we didn’t know if people cared. The first couple of sites that used it, we basically had to tell them why they should care. And a lot of people didn’t. And I think that we’ve come a long way as far as how people realize the value of what Disqus does sort of inherently, but also in the social proof of the product itself.

Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize before you launched?

Daniel: One of the things that I had to learn along the way was communicating what I felt strongly about, as far as online communities, and making that connect with the language that large publishers use. They run a business around it, and it’s less around the personal reward of running a popular website. They have a lot of online metrics that are very, very important to the project managers and to their higher-ups, to their advertisers.

A lot of the things that we do, they had to consolidate it with how they thought about their entire strategy. Learning the entire vocabulary that these companies use and the way that they would find us because [inaudible 2:12] of the whole property has been a big learning experience for us.

Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know it can be very difficult. We want to dispel some myths here, so my question is what do you make look easy? What talents or skills come easy to you, what’s been difficult, how have you managed that?

Daniel: I don’t know. I would say that if there’s anything that I can highlight about myself that has helped us plod along, it’s that I have a very strong urge to win. If I don’t know how some things work, I’ll sit down and do my homework and try to understand the areas that I don’t get. I don’t think I’m a particularly strong designer or programmer. I like to dabble in a lot of things, but I like to make sure that I understand all the different aspects before pulling it all together.

Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Disqus?

Daniel: The most important lesson? There are a lot of lessons. About the product itself, I think it’s about listening to the users and knowing when to not listen to the users. I think this is a common thing that a lot of people learn when they build products. There are some things that you have to do by gut and there are some things that you have to do by working off metrics.

A lot of Disqus development is metric-driven, which is we make a goal for ourselves, we see the numbers that result from those goals, or from the development that we do, and we try to shift development so it meets those goals. If we purely concentrate on that, we miss out on the big picture of what we want to drive for and new ideas and innovations that we want to push. There are some times when we just have to go for the gut.

Matthew: What bit of advice or piece of information do you wish you would have known before you started Disqus?

Daniel: Actually, it’s funny because when we started Disqus I felt that there was so much information out there as far as startups go. I love the community of entrepreneurs, especially today. The blogs out there, writing about financings, about building a team, about hiring, all that stuff is there. There are so many resources for you to find that out. I never really felt like I couldn’t find the answer for things. But the funny part is that it doesn’t even matter because it’ll never resonate the same way until you make the same mistakes.

Matthew: What mentor has played a significant impact in your professional development?

Daniel: I’m not so much in touch with him anymore, but early on I met Alexis who co-founded Reddit.com, which is, I feel, one of the best communities online. We were inspired a lot by the dynamics of how Reddit works. A lot of wise words came from Alexis about how to take what you feel to be a strong idea and stay scrappy, stay hungry, make sure that you do what you can to beat out any incumbents, anyone that’s bigger than you, because you have a bit more passion than them. They may be smarter, they may have more money, but what you want to do is get out there and be prolific, I think was the word he used. Some of that advice stayed with me for a really long time.

Matthew: What advice would you like to share with our audience about launching a startup? If you have to distill it, what are they key elements?

Daniel: Basically, move fast. I think the idea and the competition around ideas is overvalued. I don’t want to undervalue it, but I think that some people poised outwardly look around at what other people do and how it could impact their splash in the market. You don’t see a lot of cases like that.

I think most people don’t get a lot of traction purely because of internal things and not because of external factors. There are more worries about large shifts in the market rather than any competitor or anything else it could do for you. You want to make sure to move fast, learn from your mistakes, and keep going as fast as you can.

Matthew: Before we close, I would love for you to share with our audience your vision for Disqus and how you hope it will continue to change the world.

Daniel: The main line vision, what we talk about and discuss internally, is that we want to be the community for the independent web. The way the web is shaping up there’s a lot of these interdependent portals like Twitter and Facebook, really great destinations where these communities form. You have very strong friend networks there and you’re constantly using it for very valuable things.

At the same time, the value of an independent web where everyone has these separate websites, they all have their own categories and topics, run by a different set of personalities, is also very important. There’s a lot of value in connecting those together. Disqus wants to be able to do that. Right now we have a lot of residents with publishers in the platform that we provide, and right now we’re definitely moving forward with trying to get a deeper relationship with the end users, the many mailings of people who are using Disqus on sites all over the world right now.

Matthew: Daniel, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at Disqus.

For those in our audience who’d like to learn more about Disqus, you can visit their website at HYPERLINK “http://www.Disqus.com” www.Disqus.com and register to become a new user and join their community.

This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. Thanks so much Daniel.

Daniel: Thank you.


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