The Disqus Demo Day Story
I’ve told bits and pieces of this story here on AVC over the years but I don’t think I’ve ever told the whole story. Y Combinator (YC) Demo Day has been going on over the past few days up in Silicon Valley and it prompted me to remember a demo day in Boston (where YC started) ten years ago:
@L1AD the first YC demo day I attended in Boston summer 2007 was ~20 companies. @danielha launched @disqus on the AVC blog.
— Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) March 22, 2017
It was the summer of 2007 and back then YC would do a summer session in Boston and a winter session in the Bay Area. Paul Graham eventually moved himself and YC to the Bay Area and the summers in Boston ended. I agree with my partner Andy that those early demo days in Boston were something special.
So a few days before demo day, Paul Graham emailed me and told me that a YC team wanted to launch its new product on AVC at demo day. He explained it was a new modern comment system that was better than the ones that came with WordPress and Typepad (which was where AVC was hosted back then). I was intrigued as I really hated the Typepad comment system. But I did not want to do any work to add a new comment system to AVC. Paul suggested I give him the login credentials to my blog CMS and he would give them to the founders. I agreed and over a few days, Daniel Ha and Jason Yan, the two founders of Disqus, put their comment system onto AVC. They left all of the old comments in Typepad and set up Disqus to power the comments on the new blog posts.
I showed up at Demo Day excited to see all of the companies (19 that day) present. When it came time for Disqus to present Daniel got up on stage, explained that the current comment systems were terrible, and that they had built a better one. Then he pointed the browser on the presentation computer to AVC, scrolled down to leave a comment, and there was Disqus running at the bottom of the post. He showed how easy it was to login, post a comment, and how it rendered nicely in line with the post. It was slick and I was impressed.
After the presentations, the investors would mingle with the founders. Paul and Jessica put out a super nice cheese and cured meat spread. I went up to Daniel and told him that I really liked his presentation. He thanked me and asked me if I would keep Disqus on AVC. I can’t remember if it was even called Disqus back then. But anyway, I told him that if he and Jason could build me one feature quickly, I would keep Disqus on AVC.
Here’s that feature request. The Typepad comment system would email me every time someone posted a comment on AVC. But I would have to go to AVC to reply. It was clunky and I hated it. So my feature request was “send me the comment notification emails with the ability to reply right in my email” (on my Blackberry at the time). Daniel said they would look into it.
I think Demo Day was on a Thursday. The following Monday, I got an email from Daniel saying that they had launched my requested feature over the weekend. So I tested the feature and it worked exactly as I had imagined it.
I had been making this feature request of Typepad for some time and they had not been able to get to it. I totally understand that a big company with a long roadmap is different than two founders with a brand new product. But the fact that Daniel and Jason had built it and shipped it over the weekend impressed me.
Disqus has been running on AVC ever since and I still love the product and the founders.
But I did not think about investing in Disqus at the time. I thought it was a utility that could be replaced by an even better comment system that would come along some day. In January of 2008, I caught up with Daniel in San Francisco and he explained that Disqus was running on tens of thousands of blogs and everyone who commented on the AVC blog with a Disqus profile could also comment on those blogs with the same profile. Then it dawned on me that Disqus was a network, not a utility. USV invested something like $300k in a seed round a month or so later and we have been investors in Disqus ever since.
To me, this is the quintessential YC story. Two “hackers” built something that the market needed over the course of a month or two during a summer in Boston (they were based in SF), demoed it to a bunch of investors, hooked one of them with the slick presentation, and eventually got the VC to invest in their company. But the part I love the most about this story is the feature request that they implemented over the weekend. That feature turned out to be highly viral because anyone who left a comment on any Disqus powered blog would get an email when anyone replied to their comment (and still do). That brought people back and the conversations flowed much better on Disqus powered blogs than on the incumbents’ comment systems. That is the power of listening to your customers. And the power of turning a customer into an investor.
Great story. Disqus is great!
Textbook story.But that’s only the beginning of the lifecycle of a startup. Things can still get screwed up later, even with a good start like that.
For sure. And it hasn’t been all up and to the right for Disqus but they are still around, making money, and powering discussions like this one
I would prefer to always imagine life with Disqus as part of it.
That feature turned out to be highly viral because anyone who left a comment on any Disqus powered blog would get an email when anyone replied to their comment (and still do).The replies are good but I’ve noticed that some people (not naming names) use them to private message. They post a reply and then they delete the comment. Personally I have never replied to an email comment as I like to have the discussion context. I’ve made a number of disqus suggestions over the years and will repeat this one because it would be good for their business.Disqus should add to the summary emails that it already sends out that someone has upvoted your comment. There is no way to know that w/o going back over blog posts for several days. Or going to the disqus control panel and having to mouse over (which sometimes doesn’t even work you; have to upvote yourself to see who has upvoted a comment).
Even just a an option to get a weekly digest/summary of ‘votes’ could be interesting…mostly vanity stuff, but still pretty interesting (and another way to help denote/define your “tribe”).
mostly vanity stuffSure but at the core isn’t ‘vanity’ a large part of how FB and Twitter make money?  And snapchat, instagram and… Combined with intermittent reinforcement and scorekeeping makes it very powerful and addictive. Also the ease at which you can throw things at the fan. Much harder to do when writing a comment.
Brain scan studies have shown that the area of the brain that registers physical pain and the pain of social exclusion……are one and the same.Getting shunned hurts as much as getting stunned.
This is why iterative collaboration is so important. I agree with both LE’s comment and then your’s even more.This is a perfect example of why I cannot and should not say this is what we need to do.Somebody puts up and idea and somebody else says “Yeah but how about this”
This is a perfect example of why I cannot and should not say this is what we need to do.On an episode of “The Partner” with Marcus Lemonis that I briefly watched last night (it’s literally a ripoff of the original “Apprentice”) he gave the contestants (who are vying to be his partner) the task of giving their opinion on two ideas that he said he was thinking of investing in. The ideas were totally made up (with actors) and actually sucked. It was so obvious. On first go nobody wanted to tell him both ideas sucked and the truth. Somewhat like a psych experiment (where the subjects are duped) that was the entire exercise.To see who was willing to tell him not to invest in either idea. And give their honest opinion.I will deliver the payload by saying I think there are many cases where we’ve moved away from that concept on this blog.
Sadly I agree.
Yep. The discussion always has to be in pursuit of truth without regard for who is saying what. Tribes do not do that. And we are all becoming more tribal, at least on the political side of things.
Love this story and love Disqus. This story seems like it’s from another era, not just 10 years ago.
Great story, thanks for sharing the longer version (which was still a breeze and enjoyable to read)
Good one.I loved Disqus long and true in the beginning.This post from 2009 is nostalgic for me:http://arnoldwaldstein.com/…After it I met with Daniel in SF though we couldn’t figure out how to work together.Also, because of it I met David Semeria in Milan and we’ve become great friends and he is still a client.Community matters way more than the infrastructure it is built on.
Yes. But good community infrastructure can help build better communities. But the people matter more
Community happens in spite of bad infrastructure as we know but it sure helps when it is good, like Disqus.To this day I recommend them.
In Q4 2010, I went through an NY incubator. Instead of my idea, one mentor directed me to pivot and do a version of “Disqus on steroids” whilst another mentor told me to “pivot right back.”I thought Disqus was fine just as it is and still do. Plus, the worst thing any founder can do is some “copycat me-too derivative” when they don’t have the same passion for the problem and there are already talented people better suited to solving that particular problem.So, despite being nominated as graduating class President by the lead mentor, I chose to drop out.Today, well … my system has hit key milestones and my dogged perseverance is being vindicated.This week, 250+ brands pulled $advertising from Google and this — alongside the Trump “fake news” problem — highlights how vital it is to make tools that enable the machines to understand our language, our culture and our values.It’s not a trivial problem to solve. It’s not a case of “Oh, well, let’s code a little browser widget that cross-references reliable news sources or NetPromoter/SEO scores for brands.” For that, I could have collab’d with 18 year-olds at hackathons to do.[And my teams have placed Top 3 in some of the biggest hackathons in SF and London, with me being the sole common factor.]Sometimes, big brands don’t know what they need as customers. They use the tools that are available because it’s convenient and fast and because they don’t themselves invest in tech innovation the way Google does.Then, suddenly, they realize their ads are being placed next to terrorists and other bad folks and they pull their $ads from Google.None of the AI understands us, so the whole “How do we filter out “fake news” and stop brand ads being placed next to undesirables?” is not going to be an easy fix for Google, FB, any of Silicon Valley’s techco’s.
You’ve got a couple of investments that I really like. Soundcloud is one since I play bass (sort of 😉 ) The other is Disqus. An interesting thing has happened to me wrt to Disqus. Over the last 4-5 months, I’ve gradually dropped off Facebook. It started last Fall prior to the election when I just couldn’t listen to anybody on FB comments anymore. I started to pare away my friends on FB based on whether they spewed politics (either side btw) or not. About 3 weeks ago now, I just dropped off FB entirely, I deleted rather than deactived my account (haven’t missed it at all btw).So, I had my Disqus identity linked to my FB login. I was so happy because when I came over to Disqus to change that, it let me drop Facebook and start an original Disqus login AND keep all my comments from my FB id!! This was an amazing feature to find at the time and I compliment the team there for including it!!So I’ve now started using Disqus as my primary social network! I don’t like Twitter, never been on it and I don’t do the mobile only thing that Instagram or Snap do. Because of the relatively civil nature of the comments on the blogs I frequent, it has won as my primary social interaction with the web.
Heh. My grandmother always said, “never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” The web is hardly polite company but Disqus is allowing me to make it more that way I guess although I may be a in a very small minority with that desire these days.I remember thinking prior to going over to Disqus to drop FB that this wasn’t going to work. I was actually spinning up to come comment on your blog about it. But I didn’t get the chance, and thats a good thing. 😉
Very interesting, and I totally know what you mean. I largely dropped off Facebook between the election and the inauguration, too, and except for pictures of the cousins’ kids, it’s not much missed.
Very cool story, Fred! Really resonated. Thanks for sharing as always.
Maybe it’s time for privately held tech companies to open up a little more to the public, with quarterly, annual reports and earnings calls. We could be learning a lot more from tech companies and they could be learning something as well.
Where is Disqus at now, investment wise?Have they been able to monetize the network or the utility?
Looks like ads: https://about.disqus.com/ad…
I love disqus’s product, but wish they could figure out another model other than ads. I think I’d pay a few dollars a month if they gave me more analytics on those that read my blog(s)…
Hey Drew – we just launched our saas product last week which lets you pay a few dollars a month with the option to turn off ads. Next month, we will be launching another higher tier plan which will include advanced analytics and new moderation tools. We will be updating our blog with the latest and greatest 🙂
Cool. I think it needs to be more than no ads. It needs to be better tools to understand who is reading/discussing.Bring back mybloglog’s product :)http://www.horizonapp.co/bl…
Our next plan, which should be coming to market sometime next month, will include much more than just ads feature. I’d love to talk more if you have other needs that aren’t being addressed in the product.
drew at horizonapp co
Thanks good post many will empathise with. Everything is “soon” to change D-wave computers are commercial genies out of the bottle they are part of our species most fascinating & dangerous evolutionary process to date.
Nice story. By the way you should definitely check out Emotify (https://www.goemotify.com/). That’s where the publishing world is going when it comes to comments and on-page engagement.
Nice walk down memory lane.The email integration is awesome. You didn’t mention the ability to moderate comments by email which is a super superpower.In other news, I’m working on a bitcoin app. Just send over your Coinbase credentials and I’ll give you a demo. Working name: ZeroBalance
actually love that name 🙂
Interacting with content is of fundamental importance and ideally comments should reside with the content and thereby provide context.From this perspective apps are a tragedy. They represent a return to isolated stovepipes with app developers jealously guarding their data and making the development of participatory community around content much harder.
I’ve noticed that “good” blogs use Disqus. It certainly makes it much easier for me to track my comments and any conversations that flow from them.My Disqus notifications page is bookmarked right underneath Twitter, LinkedIn and Quora. That’s pretty good company to be in…Cheers.Dave P.
“And the power of turning a customer into an investor.”Very organic.
AVC posts containing stray references to ‘cured meat’ make it difficult for this long-time, loyal reader to focus in between sips of Soylent — had to work to get back in focus.
great story! that is the power of two hackers coming together to solve a specific problem. No bullshitting, just building tangible stuff that can make a difference.
oh my! i can’t believe it’s been 8 years already! (that and the avatar story)Disqus has played a big part of what has made the avc community over the years and I think it’s testament to what they have been able to ship.I still remember the days where each post would get 150+ comments and things would almost get hectic, but disqus made it manageable.truly one of the best service for blogs out there!