September 27, 2017

Building a Disqus alternative Part 2 : The launch

I finally launched Hosted Comments!

After 3 weeks of development, I finally have the first version up and running. You can scroll to the bottom of this page and see it in action.

My initial plan was to blog about the process of building Hosted Comments, but I think I am going to skip the part 1, part 2 style in favour of standalone posts talking about specific challenges of building this software.

So what’s changed since the last post?

I launched! The basic functionality is up : adding a website, embedding a small code snippet to add comments to the website, and the actual commenting itself works pretty well. Adding, editing, deleting and replying to comments works. There is also a reddit style voting system. In terms of feature parity with Disqus, a few important pieces are missing : email alerts for comment related notifications, replying to comments by email, anonymous posting of comments and social login. There are also areas that I plan to significantly improve : the look and feel of the website, the moderation tools and optimizations for improved performance. Since this is just an MVP, I decided to leave out the mentioned features. There is also no payment processing built in and will only be added if I manage to get to a point where manually sending invoices becomes a pain.

Pricing I heard a lot of complaints about pricing while talking to potential customers and decided to make the plans more generous. $29/month for 1 million pageviews and $99/month for 5 million pageviews. I believe this is more palatable for potential cutomers. I am also planning to introduce a $10/month tier for 200,000 pageviews. Since a commenting system is not exactly viewed as a critical part of a website, I guess I have to lower the prices significantly.

Closed source code I’ve kept the code closed source. This is obviously a controversial topic, but weighing out the pros and cons in my specific case, I decided to keep it closed source.

Sales : No sales yet. No surprises here. I am in discussions with potential customers and learned a few interesting use cases of my platform. People want to integrate a commenting system into existing products using an api. Eg- Managing accounts for users of niche blogging software. I did not consider the possibility that people might want to integrate my comments system using an api!

Marketing activites : as of now it’s limited to personal outreach and blogging. I received an interesting suggestion about building a tool to compare performance vs Disqus. It’s something I’ll explore in the future. Paid advertising is also something I’m exploring. Since I have no clue about how to run a campaign, I’ll have to explore paid channels carefully and be prepared to not make any ROI in the beginning.

I started using the commenting platform on this site and it works great so far.

Important lessons that I learned :

  • Talking to users, I learned surprising things from them that I did not consider. Eg- People wanted an API, Single Sign On etc.

  • Sending cold emails is hard since a majority of them go unanswered and the few responses are “no thanks”.

  • I’ve been in talks with potential customers and the turn around time is days to weeks.

  • SaaS expectations : interacting with successful SaaS owners, there’s been one truth that I found particularly brutal : building any SaaS to even a few hundred MRR takes atleast 6 months on average and along the way I might just find out that this project has no future. All the stories about some guy reaching $10k MRR with minimal effort are called outliers for a reason.

Since I am in beta right now I am not yet charging users, feel free to try out the platform and let me know you think.


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