How Our Discord Community Saved Powder
15 min readMay 10, 2022

It was November 2019. We were at a crossroads: with just 6 months of runway left, we wanted to pivot to gaming but didn’t know which solution would bring the most value. Then, Discord saved us.

We asked a community of gamers what would make their life easier — and built an app to do just that.

The rest is history. In April 2020, we launched Powder on iOS. The app, which enabled users to seamlessly create and share game clips, got 100k downloads in the first week on the App Store.

This is the story of how Powder was born thanks to our Discord community — built from the ground up to 60k members in under 6 months — which helped us iterate on the value proposition.

In a nutshell, our go-to-market strategy consisted of: 1) adopting the ‘superhuman’ methodology to gather feedback, 2) adapting it to Discord, and 3) consolidating the new infrastructure thanks to hands-on community management.

If you’re interested in…

  • Applying the ‘superhuman’ methodology in a new way;
  • Growing a Discord community in record time;
  • Setting up a welcoming and fun Discord server;
  • Best (and worst) community management practices

… the story below may very well be for you.

PART 1: Growing the Discord community from the ground up

The ‘superhuman’ methodology: what it is, how it works

Understanding your market can be a challenging task. Companies need to systematically leverage user feedback for the puzzles to fall into place. That is, talking to the users and adapting the product to their needs. Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it — except for an early-stage startup, which doesn’t yet have any active users.

This is a position we found ourselves in back in November 2019. Having worked on a video-based social app until then, we realized our tech might be of better use elsewhere— namely, in gaming.

Gamers have historically faced a critical pain point — turning hours of raw gameplay into short, easy-to-share clips. Creating content around games was a time-consuming exercise, requiring pro knowledge of editing software and expensive subscriptions.

Hence, came the key idea behind Powder — an app for democratizing gaming content creation. We needed to understand how to implement it though: Which concrete problems would it solve? What features would be best suited for that?

In other words, understanding our future users to build an app adapted for their needs became a top priority.

In search of the best way to process user feedback, we adopted the ‘superhuman’ approach. Developed by a startup called Superhuman, it’s based on a 5-step product-market fit engine. First step: setting up a survey, consisting of 4–8 questions, aimed at assessing user satisfaction with a product. The golden rule of ‘superhuman’ is: if 40% of respondents react positively, the product-market fit is as good as achieved.

Example of a ‘superhuman’ survey we’ve used.

The theory was clear — but applying it in practice required some strategic thinking.

Gathering respondents for the feedback pipeline: how best to reach your target

How do you get people to learn about your early-stage product? Advertising was the first obvious answer. We launched ads on social media (Instagram and Snapchat), inviting people to sign up for product updates on our landing page. At the same time, an interesting market phenomenon caught our attention — the prevalence of Discord.

What’s so special about Discord? Founded in 2018 as a social platform for gamers, it is now a go-to destination for virtually any community out there — a “digital Roman forum”, as described recently by Wired. The platform is built in an ingenious way to optimize engagement and gives you plenty of tools to play with when building your community. No wonder gaming folks thrive there!

After browsing through dozens of servers to learn best practices (more on those later on), we opened the doors to our Discord community!

At first, two growth hacks proved instrumental in growing its membership from the ground up:

  1. Users that subscribed to product updates via ads received a second email inviting them to join the Discord, which drove traffic there.
  2. Manual ‘fishing’, i.e. finding potential users on gaming-related servers and DM-ing them with an invitation to join.

In parallel, we continued sending out ‘superhuman surveys’ via email but found a serious limitation to that approach. Given our youthful target audience — the average age of Powder users at the time was 13–16 years old — getting a big enough sample of answers with emails alone was going to be tricky. They simply didn’t engage with emails enough. By contrast, Discord is the playground for digital natives — and our community was slowly but surely growing there already.

Then it hit us: why not advertise our Discord server directly?

We’ve never heard of anyone else doing it — but it turned out to be the greatest idea we’ve had in terms of scaling.

In a matter of weeks, the server was on fire!

As we introduced a whitelist to join alpha and beta tester lists on the app, the hype around the server only grew bigger. At some point, we had 800–900 people join the server daily, with the overall membership going up to 60k+ members in 6 months!

Now, everything was in place to scale our feedback pipeline. Here’s how we approached it: people that arrived on Discord to try Powder had to fill out the survey to get access to the app. This way, we were able to get over 16k people to answer the survey!

In the long run, our goal was to leverage Discord to nurture a community that: 1) gives systematic feedback for product development, and 2) is aligned with our vision and brand.

One of the most challenging things in achieving this turned out to be community management. In parts 2 and 3, we zoom in on our Discord strategy, including the toolbox we deployed to create a welcoming server, as our key learnings from managing a fast-growing virtual community for the first time.

PART 2: Building the Discord server

Server architecture

Must-have channels and newcomers onboarding

Server architecture is super important. Given that a lot of Discord users are active on several servers at once, delivering an intuitive and fun navigation experience is key to preventing people from dropping out within the first minutes of joining. The server needs to be optimized so that the newcomers can immediately get what the community is about and dive into action!

Checklist for setting up a server

a. Channels, pop-ups, and DMs

The backbone of your server

☐ Welcome popup screen is the start of every legit Discord journey. By introducing the main channels of the server, it is a great first step to sparking interest, filtering out and onboarding newcomers.

☐ #Rules on how to behave on the server, the “do’s and don’ts” of communicating with others and sharing content. A comprehensive code of conduct is the first crucial pillar of moderation, so you must use the language, emojis, and visuals most adapted to your audience to get the message across — and make sure it appears on top.

☐ Automatic welcome message in DM for every newcomer, outlining what the project is about and welcoming the user into the community. We used the welcome DM as an occasion to share the product survey as well. Power by the MEE6 bot.

☐ #Announcements for sharing the news on new releases, product milestones, and events. For a lot of people, this channel is the reason to visit your server, so it needs to have regular activity — or else, people might get the impression the server is dead.

☐ #General is the main forum of the community, where discussions of all kinds take place. It’s particularly important where the membership is not too large, but as it expands, it makes sense to branch it out to avoid chaos.

☐ #Introduce yourself and #self-promotion are a must-have, since people use Discord to network, find like-minded people and gain followers for their social media channels.

☐ #Feedback + suggestions, where to report bugs and make suggestions on how to improve the app.

Our welcome screen!

+some gaming-related channels

☐#Game clips where our users could post their gaming clips and vote.

☐Game-specific channels where members discussed specific games like the CoD and Fortnite.

☐#Memes are a big part of gaming and pop culture — a nice way of creating more engagement.

Movie night is one of the regular events hosted on our server.

b. Roles

Getting the “status game” right

Discord is all about roles, which are color-coded and look very appealing. Members love roles, treating them like a passion collection, which helps them identify like-minded members in the community, but also show off their status and achievements.

For this reason, it’s important to make sure that roles are not reserved for the privileged few — the more badges of honor for everyone, the better! A #get-a-role channel can be a creative way of making sure no one is left out.

Example of a #get-a-role channel.

In addition to staff roles (more in Part 3), we introduced a couple of roles specific to Powder app users:

  • Powder fam— a universal role assigned upon joining, aimed at making new members feel included and affiliated with the brand from the start.
  • First 10k, 20k, 30k” — refers to the membership ‘cohorts’ and helps to strengthen a sense of belonging, while also highlighting that the community is vibrant and growing at a fast pace.
  • Alpha’’ and beta — we found that giving some people early access to alpha and beta versions of Powder really fuelled engagement and brand loyalty. Early users are more likely to give feedback, report bugs, and generally play a more active role in shaping the app. We also created exclusive private channels for alpha/beta role holders, dedicated to discussion on app features and improvements — a great small trick for iterating with the community!

c. Bots

Bots at the service of safety and entertainment

It’s impossible to imagine a Discord server without bots! From welcoming new users, to announcing events, to keeping spammers out and toxic characters at bay, they are truly helpful in making your server a safe and entertaining place for all.

There are millions of official and community-created bots out there! Here are the ones we found most useful:

  • MEE6 is a legendary ‘Swiss Army knife’ of bots. Designed by Discord itself, it combines a number of functions essential to any server: moderation, custom commands, reaction roles, as well as Twitch, YouTube, and Twitter alerts. MEE6 can also give ranks to people to reward engagement (i.e. number of messages) — which can help to fuel activity. The ranks can be somewhat misleading though: we found that only a small percentage of members is active in chats on a regular basis. That said, just because members don’t message, doesn’t mean there is no interest — some just want to follow announcements.
  • Danker Meme is the ultimate entertainment bot, famous for posting memes and generating images. It’s also a global currency game with over 20m users, where they can collect unique items, pets, and more.
  • ‘Powder Plus’ is our very own bot invented by one of our members, Majed (!!), to simplify the reporting of bugs and product suggestions through a ticket filing system. We’ve relied on it regularly ever since.
  • Carl-bot combines a lot of the functionalities mentioned above thanks to powerful custom commands — a true magic wand once you figure out how to use it.

Final word of advice: moderation bots can become a bit of an overreacting nuisance unless configured properly. Also, beware of raids!

Key takeaways

  • Build a clear server architecture. Design a server that will showcase the value of your project and make people want to become part of the big adventure. An experienced Discord community manager is highly recommended to make the most out of the many versatile tools the platform has to offer.
  • Reshuffle channels wisely. There is no one formula for what a server is supposed to look like. It’s important to resist the temptation of imposing your own vision of how the server is to be organized. Instead, pay close attention to the dynamics of your community: because while some channels may seem trivial or even quirky to your team, they could be essential to other members.
  • Bots are great, but humans are better. We found that no amount of bots can compensate for the lack of actual human activity when it comes to engagement, so make sure to enlist the best volunteers from the community and have at least one full-time staff member animating discussions and events on a daily basis. More on that later.
  • Think through the UX. To make sure the experience is fluid and optimized for low-effort feedback communication for those who join, we even created flowcharts (image below!) to help us get a holistic overview of all the steps.
Example of a flowchart used to understand the user journey on Discord.

PART 3: Managing a fast-growing community

Community management

Recruiting staff to keep your community safe

For a community to remain active over time, you need to nurture ties between its individual members. That means, having the right people on your team to fuel regular activity — nothing gives a worse first impression than a ‘dead’ server! — and stepping in when things get messy, which they often do. Gaming communities can get toxic very easily.

When first looking for staff, our initial plan was to recruit the most active members on the server, which proved to be unsuccessful overall — it takes more than just regular activity to make a staff member.

Seeing that we struggle, some Discord veterans present on the server suggested we enlist volunteers and introduce official forms to apply for the staff roles in order to filter out the best people. Following their advice, we designed forms containing an average of 10 questions (inspired, believe it or not, by articles like “best questions for hiring in startups”).

Some examples:

  • What makes you interested in this position?
  • Have you had this role on another server?
  • What would you do in X situation, e.g. if a member of the community made an offensive comment on a public channel?
Preview of the feedback survey.

Here’s what our staff hierarchy looked like:

  • Admins — staff members with most powers in terms of influencing the server architecture, distributing roles, and ‘pruning’ members.
  • Moderator — whose main job is to moderate the server, i.e. keeping it active, answering people’s questions, and punishing misbehaviors.
  • Helpers — responsible for welcoming newcomers and helping the rest of the staff with smaller tasks, such as resolving bug tickets.
  • Curators — in-app moderators in charge of curating the gaming clips feed.
  • Game leads — in charge of animating game-specific channels.
  • Welcome team — whose primary role is to welcome every new member on the server and direct them to certain channels as per their requirement.
Preview of rules shared with Powder mod team members.

Whatever the tier, all staff members were expected to be active regularly and engage in product discussions. Those wanting to get promoted to a higher tier role, had to reapply — although some promotions were granted exceptionally to the staff whose contributions we found outstanding. To communicate better among staff members, we also introduced a separate ‘Powder staff’ server, with a general channel as well as separate ones per role.

Key takeaways

What worked well

  • Application forms. People who care to fill out the form will usually be committed, at least for some time. We noticed a correlation between the quality of answers and people’s subsequent level of engagement. It also helped to identify members that were older, hence more mature and fit to assume responsibilities.
  • Clear code of conduct and responsibilities per staff role. It can be difficult to moderate social situations, as a lot of behaviors are relative. There’s a thin line between humor and hate speech, and detailed rules on what constitutes a ban-worthy action and/or insult, help to get everyone aligned on how to handle ambiguous situations.
  • Sending out ‘thank you’ goodies. We sent out T-shirts and postcards to thank the most dedicated staff /community members, which they appreciate a lot.
  • Reviewing member activity. We used a spreadsheet to track which staff members were still active with messaging on the main channels as time passed. Whenever there was a drop in activity, a ‘three-strikes’ rule would apply. All staff that would get their privileges revoked as a result of inactivity were invited to reapply should they change their mind. This was a very time-consuming, manual effort for our team, but can definitely be worth it to filter out people.
  • Monthly calls with the Powder team. Regular online meetings create a true team spirit. Discord is about a sense of belonging, so you have to be there for your regular and staff members every day — with updates, follow-ups, etc.

Things to avoid

  • Recruiting Discord staff with a gut feeling. First impressions can be misleading, so it’s better to rely on application forms and objective criteria for recruiting and promoting staff.
  • Growing the staff team too big. That will hinder effective organization eventually. For a server of 50k+ members, 5 admins and 20 mods max should be enough.
  • Promoting people too often. Promotions are a great way of rewarding staff for their hard work. But the bigger the team gets, the more difficult it becomes to stay ‘fair’. There’s a huge impact of who gets promoted on the overall mood in the server, which can lead to things getting too personal and even political, so it must be carried out wisely.
  • Outsourcing server management. Having spotted an active older community member, we offered to become the head administrator of the server on a freelance basis — which didn’t work out too well. Community management is a full-time position that’s best performed by someone familiar with your brand, culture, and values.
  • Having a separate server for the staff. This is not a mistake by definition, but in our case led to a drop in activity on the main server as the staff are also some of the most active members.

PART 4: Conclusion

Theory vs. practice: what does it actually mean to go to market with the community?

In a nutshell, our go-to-market strategy consisted of: 1) adopting the ‘superhuman’ methodology to gather feedback, 2) adapting it to Discord, and 3) consolidating the new infrastructure thanks to hands-on community management.

  • Step 1: Make people learn about the product, fuel interest
  • Step 2: Build a Discord server that ticks all the boxes
  • Step 3: Advertise the server directly
  • Step 4: Ensure qualitative onboarding on Discord
  • Step 5: Build the hype for the product (alpha / beta) with the waitlist
  • Step 6: Send out regular surveys to assess user experience
  • Step 7: Master community management on Discord

Key learnings from the strategy as a whole

  • Being a community-led project pays off. All in all, we were able to build a sizeable community in record time and gather precious feedback for product development. Feedback-driven innovation has become a part of our DNA and has taught us a lot about the real needs of our target market. The size of the community was even taken into account as an important metric during our Series A round!
  • ‘Superhuman’ surveys should be formulated carefully when assessing market readiness. Beware of questions that yield biased answers (e.g. If we added feature X, would you use it?) or are too open-ended (e.g. What feature do you think are missing?). 1–1 user interviews may be a better alternative to email campaigns, particularly for a younger audience.
  • A Discord community does not automatically translate into a dedicated user base for your product. While strategically placed ads act as attractive bait, the people drawn to Discord this way are not always there because of you — they might simply be looking for friends — and hence will not be incentivized to give feedback, or even just use your app, in the long run.
  • Community management is a full-time job. A server like ours required at least one full-time community management. Outsourcing such an important function to a freelancer, or having your team members handle the Discord in addition to other tasks is not a good idea for sustainable scaling. However, automating the server via bots and recruiting volunteer staff can reduce the workload.
  • Moderation is a top priority for community managers. We strongly recommend elaborating a proper staff recruitment process, with clear and detailed guidelines on how to handle conflicts and misbehaviors. Things may get ugly very quickly on Discord, so one must anticipate as much as possible to protect the community and themselves.
  • Communities are earned, not bought. When building a community you must think long-term — beyond the Discord, and beyond the product pipeline. Paid ads will only get you so far, so nurture your community with care and listen to what they have to say every step of the way.

💡 To learn more about Powder, visit our LinkedIn and website.

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