Wattpad Co-founder and CEO Allen Lau is one of the newest contributors to INC.com, a leading site for business news, ideas, and inspiration.
His Column, Scaling the Future, will examine the challenges startups face in the innovation economy. It will also outline advice for entrepreneurs rooted in real world experience. An excerpt of his second column is enjoyable below and in full here.
Over a decade ago, I made the business decision to build a startup in Toronto, a city where more than half of residents are born outside of Canada.
It was the best business decision I've ever made.
The startup ecosystem in Canada is booming thanks in part to the country's focus on advocating values of openness, diversity, and inclusion. Since day one, diversity helped create rapid growth for our products in global markets. Here's why:
Global Perspective Spurs Global Growth
Your company's growth depends on momentum. To grow exponentially, you'll need to enter global markets sooner or later.
In the early days of our business, my co-founder Ivan and I searched for a way to kick start our audience growth. It was painfully slow until we made the decision to support additional languages on our app. The decision was a game changer, but it came with new challenges.
We couldn't read and understand the stories being shared on our site, and we had no context. Was it offending or inflammatory material? If the content was safe, how could we best serve users in these new international markets? At that point, we had no clue because we didn't have the knowledge or cultural insight. Luckily, we had worked with people who lived in these countries who could provide the insight we needed to strengthen our product.
Diversity isn't a vanity metric. It's valuable for any business looking to scale globally. The majority of Wattpad employees can speak a second or third language. Many are immigrants or first-generation Canadians with priceless global perspective that keeps our products viable in every market we enter.
Today, half of Wattpad's traffic is international. Our app supports over 50 languages and we have users in nearly every country of the world. Simple language skills only got us so far, global perspective is what makes us a strong international player.
An Inclusive Environment Encourages High Performance
Harvey Mudd College raised their graduating female science majors by 30 percent through approachable language, inspiring initiatives, and projects providing real-world experience. They're the perfect example of what can happen when you make the extra effort to create an environment that's accessible and inclusive.
When you welcome people with different backgrounds and allow them opportunities to shine, your workplace becomes an environment where people want to prove themselves.
At a major technology conference, CES, this reporter was shocked to find that VR designers had never considered why clunky headsets could be unappealing to women. To avoid costly redesigns and public backlash, the people you plan to serve need to have a seat at the table.
At Wattpad, we ensure our hiring efforts reflect the diversity of Toronto. In addition, half of our staff are female, and half of our leadership team are visible minorities.
This gives everyone in the company the feeling that they can aspire to grow here regardless of their gender, sexuality, or background. It's a powerful motivator for ambitious people looking to get ahead.