Discord Explained _ What is Discord and how did it grow beyond gaming

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realized that these apps were outdated,  leading to a less-than-ideal gaming experience.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of noticing that the tools we were using to play  these games were pretty outdated.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  

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