With the announcement of Wattpad’s $17.3M new funding from Khosla Ventures today, CEO and Co-founder Allen Lau shares the past, present, and future of Wattpad:
It seems funny now, but I first started prototyping an early version of Wattpad in 2002 on an old Nokia Java phone. I wanted to be able to read while I was on the go, but back then only five lines of text could be displayed on the small grainy screen.
Fast forward to 2006, when cell phones were becoming more sophisticated and really starting to spread, it turned out my friend Ivan also happened to be working on enhancing the mobile reading experience. So, we decided to join up and explore our hunch that connecting readers and writers through a mobile, social community would lead to some very interesting results.
Since then over 5 million stories in 25 languages have been uploaded to Wattpad! Not many people know that we’re seeing engagement numbers which rival Pinterest, as we give users a new way to create and be entertained. In May, people spent over 1.7 billion minutes on Wattpad; crafting and sharing original new fiction spanning romance, mystery, sci fi, thriller, poetry and even fanfiction remixes and mashups that have interesting implications for brands and celebrities like One Direction.
But Wattpad isn’t just about the big growth numbers. We’ve created a positive, emotional product that fosters creativity and self-expression. We’re democratizing the written word and seeing incredible new types of collaboration come to life. On Wattpad we have friendly editors working to help others develop their writing, and groups of designers collaborating to supply the cover art for stories simply because they love designing.
Give people the tools, and the participation is incredible!
Just search for “Wattpad story trailers” on YouTube to see what I mean about creativity. People are more than consumers, they are inherently producers.
Today we’re excited to announce our new round of funding led by Khosla Ventures and to take this opportunity to share more news on what’s been happening with our community along with some thoughts on the future.
A NEW FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT
We have users writing interactive stories, building audiences of tens of thousands of fans, and seeing tens of millions of reads of their stories. Some have signed big book deals, or optioned their work for TV.
We don’t determine who or what gets published – again, it’s about the network instead of the traditional hierarchy. So, while Wattpad sometimes gets pegged as operating within the traditional publishing industry we are not a publisher. We don’t see ourselves playing in this space at all. Wattpad is actually creating a completely new digital entertainment category, one that hasn’t existed before.
Here’s my favourite example: a traditional publishing house like Penguin published 5000 books in the last 12 months, while Wattpad users uploaded 10,000 stories in just the last 12 hours! We have something for everyone – every sub-genre and every specialized interest. The diversity of human creativity is what makes Wattpad so great.
We also believe that writers want to be read by people from around the global. DRM, territorial rights and proprietary eReading experiences run counter to people’s offline behaviours in sharing books. We take the best characteristics of how people interact through storytelling and make this work on the web and across all mobile devices without any legacy issues. Wattpad is ubiquitous and platform agnostic and all about convenience and access.
READ ANYWHERE. ANYTIME.
Even though we’re in the “digital age”, people still love to read great stories for entertainment and pleasure, and Wattpad is adding a unique mobile social element to the game at a price that can’t be beat: Free! It’s a fun new approach to one of the oldest forms of entertainment–storytelling.
We’re excited about finding new ways to make long-form written content bite-sized and digestible for the mobile world, encouraging things like chapter-by-chapter uploads as well as collaborative and interactive fiction.
We work really, really hard to foster a positive community; a place where people can feel safe and comfortable sharing their work knowing it will reach an appreciative audience and receive constructive feedback. That is something I am extremely proud of. It’s something that sets us apart. Wattpad is a place where artistic expression and creativity can flourish.
Writers who have faced rejection from traditional publishers email us everyday to tell us how their work has finally found an audience. People love to write, not necessarily for money; and often, hearing directly from 100 people who love your story is in some way just as powerful as selling millions of copies.
THE NEXT 400 YEARS
Storytelling is entertainment that’s fundamental to human nature; it has been ever since the days when cavemen scrawled drawings and painted symbols to tell stories on cave walls. Gutenberg invented the printing press over 400 years ago, and I believe we are creating a product and a community that will come to define how people share and connect over stories for the digital age.
Ivan and I are very excited about building our company in Canada. Not since the very early days of Flickr has a consumer-facing internet business achieved such global scale here. We’re happy that Khosla Ventures and Union Square Ventures have looked North and believe that we’re creating something very special right here in Toronto. We look forward to expanding our team (want to join us?) and enhancing our focus on collaborative and interactive storytelling to support our amazing community.