Discord chief executive on distribution and the importance of the PC in gaming

The global video game industry is exploding in popularity. Companies such as ESPN, Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts have formed their own e-sports divisions in recent months, and the gaming market exceeds $90 billion, up 9 percent in the last year. It is bigger than the movie industry and predicted to expand with new emerging platforms like VR.

Greylock investment partner Josh Elman talked to Discord CEO Jason Citron about the e-sports industry, lessons learned from pivoting, viral growth and why the PC still matters for gamers.

When Jason and his team began working on Discord, the product initially grew moderately via word of mouth, but it wasn’t taking off. To reach the gaming community, the team had to find the right channel to connect to their core customer base: Reddit and Twitch.

They built a Twitch integration, which allowed gamers to talk about Discord on stream and invite others in the community to join. They also shared their product on gaming subreddits. Eventually, Discord had more than 2 million people joining the service a month.

Many great tech products like Instagram, Slack and Nextdoor are the result of a pivot, and almost always, these choices are difficult and entrepreneurs have to make a tough call with a heavy weight on their shoulders. As daunting as this decision can be, Jason advises that founders should address a pivot head on.

On a personal level, founders have to fully acknowledge that something they care deeply about is not working. With investors, it’s best to be honest and transparent, he advised. Jason was very transparent with his investors about metrics and traction of their game, even before the pivot. So, when he broke the news to his board, they were supportive and helped him work through the process of figuring out what to do next.

For years, critics have prophesied the slow decline of the PC. However, PC gaming still makes up a little more one-third of the market. Just a few years ago, Citron bet that gaming would make a big shift from consoles and PCs to mobile when he created Fates Forever. Today, Citron feels differently. “PC is vibrant, it’s thriving. I spend most of my gaming time there. People have been calling the death of the PC for a very long time and it’s just kicking ass.”