Most business owners know Discord only as a platform where gamers connect and communicate. But to brothers Eddie, Brian, and Eric Nam, co-founders of the Los Angeles-based podcast startup Dive Studios, it’s a platform for meaningful interactions with their customers.
The trio have a symbiotic relationship with their audience, says Eric Nam, who serves as creative director of the company. “From a business perspective, building a community of really interested, passionate people is the most valuable thing that we have.”
Discord’s format is similar to Slack’s: After creating a free server, you can open subject-specific channels, or chat rooms, to guide the conversation. Users also have the ability to engage in individual or group voice and video calls. To get started, you just download the Discord app, create an account, and name your server. You can then invite people to join directly or share an invite link with a larger audience.
Companies including StockX, AllSaints, and Chipotle have either opened a server or done marketing campaigns using the platform. The Nam brothers created their server immediately upon founding DiveE Studios in 2019. Two years later they developed Mindset, a subscription-based app that allows popular musicians in American and Korean media to share personal stories in short, podcast-style episodes, and added Discord channels for user discussions. Mindset raised an $8.7 million seed round last year, and the server has grown to nearly 44,000 members.
Here’s how Eric, 33, Eddie, 31, and Brian Nam, 25, have taken advantage of Discord’s features and growing popularity to build their company and engage their audience, and what they say it takes to run a successful Discord server.
Starting and maintaining a Discord server takes time.
A Discord server won’t moderate itself: It needs constant attention, particularly if you want to foster meaningful discussions and build a powerful community. Mindset has a team of moderators that manage offensive comments as well as a channel that specifies rules such as not sharing any personal information and only using channels as intended. Brian Nam, the CEO, says he spends at least an hour a day on the server himself, hosting live brainstorming sessions and responding to customer comments. He’ll often ask users a question that prompts them to respond with a personal story, or to discuss new features of the app they’d like to see or ones they think need improvement.
Managing the server also means engaging in behaviors that may not yield tangible benefits right away, such as getting to know a few individual consumers well. “At the end of the day, these are the people who are supporting [the business], so give them the proper care and attention,” Brian says. “It’s infectious and they start to invite their friends into the Discord.”
Discord provides customers with a platform and builds community.
“Discord puts the social back in social media,” says Carlos Gil, the author of The End of Marketing: Humanizing Your Brand in the Age of Social Media and AI. “There are people to talk to, and it just feels communal, something that’s been lost in social media over the last decade.”
Discord’s origin as a gaming platform has resulted in a design that’s more fun and playful than a platform like Slack. The app has a neon color scheme and is populated by whimsical and colorful characters, which, according to Brian, appeals to the younger customers whom Mindset wants to reach. It also offers more profile personalization options than Slack, lets users build a social media-like identity on the app, and allows them to have specific roles within a server. These roles can resemble conventional positions such as moderator and ambassador, but they can also be more creative: Mindset, for example, has a role labeled daebak, or “awesome” in Korean, which is given to users who have shown particular enthusiasm for Mindset on Discord.
According to Brian, creating appealing and useful channels is essential to keeping the server relevant to customers. Among others, Mindset has a storytelling chat and a live episode listening channel. “It’s highly communicative,” he says. “Discord’s enabled us to really understand how people are perceiving and talking about content, but also talking about the app and the experience overall.”
Discord can be a source of new ideas from customers.
Establishing a dedicated feedback channel in Discord is essential, says Brian, so that constructive comments and new ideas don’t get lost. Listening to other real-time discussions on specific topics also enables founders to easily find out what customers are looking for and to collaborate with them on new ideas. “You can use it as a forum or as a soundboard,” says Gil. “All of the methodology of getting feedback from your customers can be replaced by using Discord.”
The Nams, for example, discovered through Discord that customers were discussing ways to donate subscriptions to the Mindset app to users who couldn’t afford the $34.99 annual fee. They joined the initiative and established a “scholarship program” that matches people looking to donate to people who need a donation; in just three weeks, it received over 1,500 donations. The founders go further by putting the donor and beneficiary in contact with each other, facilitating relationships and deeper involvement with the brand.
“You see people really diving in, like paragraphs of feedback,” says Eddie Nam, VP of Talent of Mindset. “They just really want this to succeed and do better.”