Sprouting Emergent Behaviour

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This post is brought to you by Wattpad Co-Founder and CEO Allen Lau.

When I first met Ben Ling of Khosla Ventures I asked him one question: How did YouTube expand into so many different categories? I knew Ben had worked for YouTube and Facebook in their early days, so I took this opportunity to relate his knowledge back into my product.

His answer was quite simple:

We didn’t start these new categories.  It is extremely difficult to “cold start”. These categories emerged organically and we spotted them early. Then we poured fuel on the fire.

For any startup looking to create a supportive environment for user generated content, it is important to consider this statement. YouTube did not create how-to videos. Users started creating them and YouTube oriented their product around it, adding support and focus to manage it properly.

Pouring fuel on the fire is an exciting way to think of growth. In the early days of Wattpad, however, growth was much more gradual and required the kind of care and attention you would apply to a new plant.

At launch, your first users are your first seeds. As any good gardener knows, seeds are naturally dormant until the right conditions facilitate germination. The environment you create for onboarding users should be like rich soil, cable of supporting and nurturing organic behaviours.

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From rich soil, a seed will begin to sprout roots usually not visible from the surface. On Wattpad, we didn’t create real person fiction. Our users did. In this way, they began to sprout their unique behaviours and categories. A sprout is a good sign of growth.

When a sprout begins to show through the soil, more attention must be paid to it. As we spotted trends, we amplified them. We took the time to assess what was happening naturally on the platform and encouraged it, making it easier for users to do what they were already doing.

It was not our job to create new Wattpad categories that didn’t exist before. Our job was to create the environment where emergent behaviour could be created organically.  In other words, we avoided building our services too tightly around particular use cases, thereby choking good seeds.

When your startup reaches enough users, you should leverage their collective intelligence.  Cold starts are extremely difficult for user-generated content companies. By limiting how creative users can spread their roots, you prevent growth. Always pour water on sprouting behaviours, always pour fuel on the fire.

Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends Report

This year marks the 20th anniversary for Mary Meeker’s annual report on Internet Trends. Since the mid-90s, Mary has provided key insights into the evolving Internet; earning her the title of “Queen of the Net.” Her “must-read” report frequently nails the up-and-coming trends and identifies the most innovative startups.

We’re honoured to be one of the few Canadian companies profiled alongside Facebook and Twitter. For us, the inclusion in the user-generated content section is a great acknowledgement of our work and the contributions of Wattpadders around the world. Together we are realizing a future where anyone, anywhere in the world can read and write stories from the devices they already own.

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Here’s three things in the report you may find interesting:

Internet growth slowing:

Internet user growth is still healthy but slowing:

  • Internet growth is down to 8 percent, single digit for the first time
  • Smartphone growth rate is also slowing:
    • 65 percent in 2012 to 23 percent in 2014

India’s growing Internet penetration:

India – the next big country of large scale Internet adoption after U.S. and China.

  • India has 232M Internet users. They added 63M in 2014 alone
  • India is already FB’s second largest country
  • 65 percent of India’s Internet traffic is mobile (higher than almost all other countries)

Advertising spending:

Print remains way over indexed relative to time spent:

  • People spent 24 percent of their time on mobile, yet advertisers spent only 8 percent of their dollars in that space
  • This gap is a $25B opportunity in the U.S. alone

Obviously there are many more interesting trends. What else do you think is worth highlighting?

Wattpad Launches App for Apple Watch

Make time for stories

We’re excited to announce our new app for the Apple Watch. The new app helps Wattpad writers visually understand how their readers are reacting to their work anytime, anywhere.

Apple Watch owners who love to write on Wattpad have a new way to connect and view their fan engagement, checking story momentum as easily as they’d check the time.

The Wattpad team created this app for on-the-go writers who love keeping tabs on their latest stats. For writers, votes and read counts serve as a way to understand a story’s momentum, and seeing a spike in votes and reads often encourages them to keep writing.

The Wattpad app for Apple Watch gives writers real-time story analytics including total cumulative read and vote counts, as well as percent increases between app checks so they can keep track of readers’ reactions to their stories.

After downloading the app users can set their Wattpad profile or any of their uploaded stories to the Apple Watch glance view. At-a-glance, Wattpadders will be able to view both total and percentage increases in reads and votes for any of their uploaded stories. By setting the glance view to profile, user will be able see updates on their follower counts.
The Wattpad Apple Watch app is available to iOS users with the Wattpad app installed on their mobile device. To download the Wattpad app, visit the iTunes store.

Hackday Culture at Wattpad

Hack Friday

This post is brought to you by Wattpad Co-Founder and CEO Allen Lau.

Hackdays are the best way for a startup to support innovation. They give everyone a break from their normal day-to-day, and optimize the use of time and work. At Wattpad, some of our most popular features and products started as a hack.

Limited resources are common in most startups, and even in an environment of abundance it’s important to make the most of your resources.  The optimal hack project has a purpose. The best way to start thinking about your hack is by asking yourself two questions:

How is the product currently supporting user growth?

What can I do to strengthen the product and accelerate that growth?

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The diagram above visually demonstrates the best kind of hack project. Going with an idea that falls in the top left quadrant is obviously a safe choice. Unfortunately, most ideas fall in the other three quadrants.

The trick is to pick some interesting ideas that exist in the bottom left quadrant, where the green dots fall in this diagram. Invest a little in those ideas and test them through small experiments. Optimally, working on these ideas should push the dots toward the top left quadrant while avoiding a movement towards the bottom-right.

You might be surprised to learn how many important in-app features and related Wattpad apps started off as small experiments. Our recently launched SoundCloud audio integration for Android, and stand-alone apps like Covers and After Dark app, are all great examples of what a small team can do given the right structure.

The structure looks something like this:

Set a clear goal up front

  • what assumption are you trying to validate?

Form a small team 2-4 people max

  • this is key. It optimizes speed and decision making

Set a time limit of a week or two

  • time limits get things done faster and reduce risk

Always remember, the best hacks support your users in some way. The collective intelligence of your users is an endless supply of insight. Creating boxes, where users have to use things a certain way, keeps you from spotting how users are developing their unique behaviours.

These two questions and simple structure can help you set up a successful hack by uncovering opportunities to accelerate user growth. Recognizing those opportunities, however, requires knowledge sharing across the startup.

At Wattpad, our hack teams are user-obsessed and we have a strong record of rolling out new products and features that build off ideas that support user engagement and experience. Every employee is challenged to bring an idea to life in a single day as part of our monthly Hack Friday event

I encourage you to hack in a way that supports your users. Reduce risk by thinking in low-effort, high-reward, it will put you on the path to success.

Happy hacking!

Wattpad Introduces Redesigned iOS App

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Today, we are excited to announce that we have launched a new version of our popular iOS app.  The latest version features a simple and more intuitive interface to help connect readers to relevant content, encourage story creation, and make it easy to manage social updates and interactions.

The updated app helps new users understand core Wattpad functions, and encourages existing users to engage in activities beyond reading. The new design introduces a navigation bar, which is always on screen and highlights the five core Wattpad experiences: Discover, Library, Write, Social Updates, and Profile.

It’s now even easier for readers to find great stories. The updated app showcases story cover images and story descriptions more prominently, and highlights user-curated reading lists. The new navigation bar places the Write option front and center to prompt existing writers to continue stories they’re already working on, and encourage new writers to try their hand at starting a story.

The redesign also combines several social elements into a single view. Now users can find their Newsfeed, Notifications, and Private Messages under one Social Updates tab.

All of these updates have resulted in an app that is simpler, more intuitive, and more engaging for the millions of people who share stories on Wattpad everyday.

To download the new Wattpad iOS app, visit the iTunes store.

Wattpad Partners with SoundCloud to Add Audio to Stories

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We’re excited to announce a new way to experience Wattpad stories – with sound! The new feature available on our Android app lets Wattpadders add audio clips to their stories. They can create their own clips, or choose from the millions of sounds available on SoundCloud. This new feature lets Wattpadders create audiobooks, narrate dialogue, add soundtracks to their stories from their mobile device, and much more.  At the tap of a button, readers can enjoy a more immersive storytelling experience with sound effects and recorded messages from their favorite writers. “Audio clips can bring stories to life. Wattpad writers can use sound effects to add impact to a story, narrate an excerpt, or share a playlist to entertain their readers in a new way,” said Tarun Sachdeva, head of product at Wattpad.

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Wattpadders using the most up to date version of the Android app can start enjoying audio right now. Check out the following reading list showcasing Wattpad stories with sound

Announcing After Dark: a new app for romance readers 17+

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Wattpad has recently launched After Dark, a free app that offers a curated reading experience for mature romance fans. After Dark was designed specifically for readers over the age of 17 who are looking for quality contemporary romance reading. The app’s sleek new interface presents a specific set of stories such as LGBTQ, Urban, and Fanfiction from the romance category—stories that have already proved popular with Wattpad users and Wattpad staff. Readers can comment and vote on After Dark stories just like on Wattpad.

After Dark was conceived of by a team of Wattpad employees at Hack Friday, our monthly hack-a-thon event. On Hack Friday, Wattpad developers and designers join forces with other employees to bring an idea or product update to life in a single day. The Hack Friday concept for After Dark was transformed into a full-fledged app in just two short weeks.

After Dark is available in the App Store for people 17 years of age and older in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.