How do you go from building a chat app for games to revolutionizing the future of internet
communities? Discord co-founders Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy know the answer. Over the
span of the last few years, they saw Discord grow from 0 to 140 million active users per
month while people used their platform to build communities around their interests.
Ranging from street fashion to cryptocurrency. But how did this app become the next big thing
in communication? Join us as we break down Discord’s early growth, their pivot beyond gaming,
and how they are planning to become the go-to place for online communities.
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For those of you who don’t know, Discord is pretty easy to understand. Founded by Jason
Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy – both lifelong gaming enthusiasts, Discord was originally an app for
gamers. Allowing free voice, video, and text chat options, the original idea behind Discord was to
help gamers connect with their friends within communities called ‘servers’ on the platform.
Think of apps like Slack and WhatsApp. Discord falls in the same category of communication,
allowing users to start their own online communities where they could invite their friends
to join. Inside these servers, users can set up dedicated channels based on different topics,
allowing people to find friends based on their interests. With features like these,
It’s pretty easy to understand why the app blew up within the gaming community.
But how did it all start? Back then, people used a variety of apps to talk to their
friends during gaming sessions such as Skype or Teamspeak. However, Citron and VIshnevskiy
realized that these apps were outdated, leading to a less-than-ideal gaming experience.
So, they decided to fix that problem and develop a platform that would allow gamers to move past
all of these disruptions. “The idea for Discord came
from looking at our own experiences playing lots of online games back around 2014 and sort
of noticing that the tools we were using to play these games were pretty outdated. The tools that
we were using didn’t have good mobile apps, you couldn’t send pictures to your friends in them,
and the voice quality we knew could be better. And so what we did was create an all-in-one text,
video, and chat app that replaced this constellation of tools that people used.”
Now, most people don’t know is that Discord emerged from a gaming studio, run by Citron
and Vishnevsky, that developed a tablet-based multiplayer game with an inbuilt voice function
to help people communicate. But, after realizing that the best part of their game was the inbuilt
chat, Vishnevskiy suggested that they focus on building that feature into a product.
Now, while this was an ambitious idea, at the time, Citron and Vishnevskiy didn’t have a lot
of competitors because even the most popular gaming servers such as Teamspeak and Ventrilo
had their fair share of issues. These apps would ask gamers to rent servers and pay monthly fees.
They would also have to share their server’s IP address and their friends would then have
to download the application. So, let’s just say that using these apps wasn’t very easy.
So, with Discord, Citron gave gamers a way to solve all their problems. The platform
featured a clean, easy-to-navigate design. Along with that, it was completely free to
use! With a desktop client and a web app, users could invite their friends with a simple link
that could be opened on any browser – making things ten times easier than they were before.
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Discord launched in 2015, and its first set of users came from Reddit’s gaming communities,
with the company claiming May 13th, 2015 as their official launch day since that’s when
strangers started using the platform. But, how did that happen? Well,
it started when one of the founder’s friends shared a server link in the subreddit for the
game Final Fantasy XIV, hoping that people would use it to discuss a new expansion to the game.
Once people joined the server, Citron and Vishnevskiy were there to welcome users,
let them know what Discord was all about, and listen to their feedback.
As a result, people started going back to Reddit, talking about how cool Discord and its developers
were. This led to a couple of hundred people signing up for the platform and checking it out.
This way, through word of mouth within the gaming community, Discord started growing.
One of the major reasons for the platform’s growth was that this was also the time when esports and
online video gaming streaming via Twitch were on the rise, but games like Fortnight and League
Legends had limited communication tools. Twitch streamers started switching to private
Discord servers because they were so easy to navigate and build a community thus creating
the perfect marketing campaign for the app. If you want to learn more about how
We also covered it in a previous video on our channel.
One of the most iconic moments in Discord’s growth history was when Ninja – a celebrity
streamer – played Fortnight with the rapper Drake and made him download
Discord in front of 600,000 viewers. Around 2019, the rise of content creators,
influencers, YouTubers, Instagram meme accounts, and celebrities also helped the platform grow
as they started making their way to Discord to connect with their audience and build communities.
As a result, Patreon, a monetization tool used by creators that allows their fans to purchase
paid subscriptions to their content, integrated Discord into their service.
In the summer of 2019, Discord once again took over the gaming industry
when the online multiplayer game ‘Among Us’ was launched. With its popularity,
the game was single-handedly responsible for over 1 million people downloading Discord to
play along with their friends, leading the app to reach the number 6th spot on the US App Store.
And like many other social networks and chat platforms, thanks to the peak of
the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Discord experienced massive growth as more and
more people looked for ways to connect online. From February to July 2020, Discord’s user numbers
increased by 47% – and the most unusual part was that not all of these people were gamers.
In fact, all they were looking for was a place to hang out with their friends online,
and with its features, Discord was the perfect place for them to do that.
Some of the non-gaming communities that have been drawn to Discord include retail
trading communities that have emerged from the likes of Reddit’s WallStreetBets subreddit,
as well as cryptocurrency enthusiasts, streetwear fanatics, and music lovers.
In June 2020, having realized that it could tap into a brand new market, Discord rebranded
with a new tagline that read: “Your place to Talk” which was changed to “Imagine A Place,”
a year later. The homepage for the app was also cleaned up,
making it more inclusive to communities outside of gaming. By the end of June 2020,
Discord had around 300 million users – which increased to 350 million by June 2021.
“It was only in the last two years, kinda starting in 2019, that we really started seeing people
use Discord for more than gaming and it’s just accelerated so dramatically over the last year and
a half and now we have over 150 million people per month that come to discord to study homework, or
participate in communities that they love around topics that they’re passionate about or
just hanging out with their friends and just doing things together online.”
One of the biggest reasons behind Discord’s explosive growth was that the platform was
entirely free with no messaging or call limits while also giving users the option
to start their own unlimited servers. So, how did Discord make money then? Well, in 2019,
Discord introduced ‘Nitro’ – their subscription service that costs around $5.
With Nitro, Citron called upon Discord enthusiasts to support the platform while also receiving
some extra perks such as higher-quality streaming and more personalization options.
This way, Citron moved away from the idea of selling ads, disrupting their user experience.
Today, Discord Nitro offers two plans for $4.99 a month, or $49.99 a year, or an upgraded one
for $9.99 a month or $99.99 annually. Now more than 1 million users have subscribed to it,
and while the company hasn’t released any official figures, it is estimated that Discord generated
a revenue of $130 million at the end of 2020. But, that doesn’t mean that Discord hasn’t had
to face any troubles along the way. Like other social platforms, Discord has come under fire
for letting users post problematic content, including hate speech and online bullying.
Now, while all of this happens everywhere on the internet, the consequences on Discord can
be more extreme because of the platform’s private communities and relatively small
spaces – especially with a considerable percentage of the app consisting of teens.
However, once Citron realized that this was a problem,
he established the Trust and Safety team which now makes up more than 15% of Discord’s staff
and made Discord a founding member of the Digital Trust and Safety Partnership – a collaboration
among tech companies to develop mechanisms for handling inappropriate behaviors online.
“We leave it to people to decide what is acceptable in their space
in the context of our community guidelines. If people encounter content that the moderators
in a space aren’t deleting or is violating our guidelines we do have a Trust and Safety team,
full-time employees that people can escalate issue to and because discord is not end to end encrypted
although we don’t proactively read people’s messages, if people forward messages to our trust
and the safety team will investigate and action communities that are violating our guidelines.”
Another challenge that the company has faced is bigger companies copying its features. However,
with the kind of loyal fanbase that Discord has managed to cultivate, it looks like the company
doesn’t have to worry about competition for now. Not just that, but with the kind of success that
the platform has experienced, Discord has managed to raise over $980 Million spread across 14 rounds
of funding, with their latest funding being raised in September. Discord is backed by investors such
as Sony Interactive Entertainment – which says a lot about the company’s future potential.
Currently, Discord has a valuation of about $15 billion thanks to its latest investment round
of $500 million. While there’s been a lot of speculation around Citron selling Discord to a