Daniel Ha, CEO and co-founder of Disqus: 9 lessons on the path to reaching a billion readers
Total read time: 6-8 minutes
The video of the “Princeton Startup TV” episode # 14 with Daniel Ha is available here.
Daniel Ha is the CEO and co-founder of Disqus, the web’s community of communities, online discussion and commenting service, which reaches one billion unique users a month. Daniel studied Computer Engineering at UC Davis before deciding to drop out from school to pursue his startup full time. He was selected as one of the "Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs 2011" by Businessweek.
Here are some of Daniel’s most memorable thoughts from the interview.
New daily ritual
In the last few months I started to have “a bad time finding time” for writing full-fledged essays. As a result, I decided to resort to a more aphoristic format to record my experiences. I’ve been writing down my aphorisms for 11 years already - since 2003, but it has always been sporadic and inconsistent.
How do you find time to read?
Finding the time to read  is essential on the path of continuous learning. Create a habit of finding one hour for reading at the same time (say, at 9:00pm before night walk and sleep) every day. Here’s what Warren Buffett has to say on his long-time partner Charlie Munger:
"Charlie, as a very young lawyer, was probably getting $20 an hour. He thought to himself, ‘Who’s my most valuable client?’ And he decided it was himself. So he decided to sell himself an hour each day. He did it early in the morning, working on these construction projects and real estate deals. Everybody should do this, be the client, and then work for other people, too, and sell yourself an hour a day”.
 Not passively obviously. Grabbing ideas from the books, reading critically is as essential.
How to give brutally honest feedback without offending anyone
These days more often than not the idea to start a startup precedes the startup idea. That’s unfortunate and often leads to completely artificial creations which look like combinations of random features of the most successful products of our era. It leads to tech- or non-technological solutions which are looking for the problems to be solved.
So here you are in a group of 3-4 friends trying to come up with the next startup idea. Everyone talks about the things s/he is excited about. Often the interests turn out to be different. Someone wants to build an enterprise SaaS, someone is passionate about productivity services or education, someone is into social news. So after failing to converge on a single idea as a team, you decide that each person writes down the list of ideas one is passionate about. The hope is that then you find the intersection set and get the ball rolling.
Bill Gates on one thing that sets him apart from Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs
- You mentioned Mark Zuckerberg. When you look at what he’s done, do you see some of yourself in him?
- Oh, sure. We’re both Harvard dropouts, we both had strong, stubborn views of what software could do. I give him more credit for shaping the user interface of his product. He’s more of a product manager than I was. I’m more of a coder, down in the bowels and the architecture, than he is. But, you know, that’s not that major of a difference. I start with architecture, and Mark starts with products, and Steve Jobs started with aesthetics.
Source: The Rolling Stone
The secret of Flappy Bird’s success: easy to learn and difficult to master
Can you come up with any other mobile games which utilize the Nolan Bushnell’s not forgotten mantra of game design?
Nguyen had already made and released a mobile game, Shuriken Block, earlier that month. The object was to stop a cascade of ninja stars from impaling five little men on the screen. This seemed simple enough – the one-word instruction read TAP. Tap the falling star at the right moment, and it would bounce away. But Nguyen understood the mantra of game design that Nolan Bushnell, creator of Pong and founder of Atari, described as "easy to learn and difficult to master". More recently, indie game makers had taken this to speed-metal extremes with the so-called masocore genre – games that are masochistically hard. Shuriken Block was deceptively ruthless. Even the nimblest player would have trouble lasting a minute before the men were spurting pixelated blood. Nguyen was pleased with the results, but the game languished in the iOS store.
Stop giving interviews and focus on perfecting your craft
In the last 9 months for the better or worse I gave numerous interviews to magazines, blogs and other online publications. What I found out early on is the fact that when you opt to save time and agree to oral interviews, the transcript produced by the interviewer reflects his/her views on topics, not yours . The end result is an interview where you say shallow things you’ve neither meant nor said.
Have you worked at Google?
‘Have you worked at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, , etc.?’, they ask. ‘Nope’, I reply. ‘Hmmmmm’, they murmur with a clear irony.
I don’t want to sound apologetic, but sometimes people want to make you feel inferior based on some arbitrary criteria they find valuable and important. Is the experience working at a big tech company valuable? Absolutely. Is it one of the most important signals to measure one’s qualification? I doubt.
You idiot. You’ve been listening to me for 20 minutes, and I’ve been working on this for 5 years!
Discuss on Reddit
'There is this theory in venture capital that you want to back coachable entrepreneurs. But the entrepreneurs who have really radical ideas are not only not coachable, but they generally react with hostility to being coached. One of the things we test for is - we say, “Have you thought about doing this the other way?” What we are not looking for is them say, “Oh, that’s a great idea!” What we are looking for is a stare, “You idiot. You moron. You’ve been sitting here, listening to me for 20 minutes and I’ve been working on this for 5 years and you think you understand this so well that you can make me a suggestion. And not only you’re an idiot for thinking you can do that, but now I explain you in detail why you’re that big of an idiot”. We love those! Those are fantastic!' -Marc Andreessen
The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.
— Mark McGuinness, ‘Manage Your Day-to-Day’