Q&A with Wattpad co-founder and CEO Allen Lau about bringing social media to book and story publishing
Wattpad is a social network for avid readers that enables aspiring and professional writers to publish their novels, short stories or poems and interact with readers and fans. The Toronto–based company was founded in 2006.
SUB: Please explain what Wattpad is, and the value proposition you offer to readers and book lovers.
Lau: Wattpad is a place to share and discover stories. Wattpad encourages anyone to write or read a story and engage in conversation with writers and other readers. Unlike traditional books or ebooks, stories are often written in real time giving readers the opportunity to provide feedback and input. For readers, the opportunity to connect with writers one on one and discover something new and unknown is really unique from our traditional reading experiences.
SUB: How does the technology behind Wattpad work?
Lau: The technology is invisible to users. Our focus is on making Wattpad as easy to access as possible, creating mobile access to Wattpad, and encouraging conversation and social interaction among users wherever they are.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what do you offer that differentiates Wattpad from them?
Lau: We combine social, mobile, ereading and story creation in a really unique way. There are no companies doing exactly what we do. Unlike other eReading services or publishers, we did not start with an existing industry. As such, we do not see these companies as competitors. Instead, we are creating a new market that has the potential to disrupt the existing structure.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind Wattpad? How did the idea behind the product come about?
Lau: Wattpad’s origins actually begin in 2002, when I was working at Tira Wireless and created a prototype for reading on mobile phones. Unfortunately, phones at the time could only display a few lines of text at a time, so I shelved the project.
It wasn’t until 2006 when I was revisiting the project that I received a phone call from a former colleague, (Wattpad co-founder) Ivan Yuen, who had also developed a mobile reading application along with a website to make it simple for people to upload their stories.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building Wattpad?
Lau: Because Wattpad is a brand new form of reading, building the platform requires a lot of experimentation as this space is not well understood or defined. The majority of the things we’ve tried have caught on, but it has required a lot of zig-zagging to get to where we are.
SUB: You recently raised a $3.5 million Series A funding round—how do you plan to use the funds?
Lau: The additional capital will allow us to move a whole lot quicker. We can hire more great people (link to Wattpad’s jobs page: www.wattpad.com/jobs) to create an even stronger mobile presence and user experience and start working on some amazing new features. We think we’re in a great position to fully take advantage of the growing number of mobile users, social networks, the rise in eReading, the global Internet and cloud services to continue to build Wattpad into the best platform.
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise new funding?
Lau: We are experiencing very strong growth. The opportunity is huge in this new space and we need to scale up our operation in order to capitalize on the opportunity.
SUB: Do you plan to raise more outside funding in the near future?
Lau: Not at the moment. We are sufficiently capitalized in the near future.
SUB: Where do you hope to see Wattpad in a year from now?
Lau: We have great momentum. Daily signups, new stories and usage growth are very strong and growing exponentially. We expect to see a more vibrant community with broader demographics as well as more stories in diverse categories and more options for discoverability.
Wattpad – www.wattpad.com