This year marks the tenth anniversary of Wattpad. It’s amazing to think that a decade has passed since I frenetically hashed out the details for the business with my co-founder Ivan Yuen in the Vancouver International Airport.
We founded Wattpad because we wanted people to discover, share and connect through stories. We wanted to remove the traditional barriers between readers and writers, and build social communities around stories worldwide.
If 10 years in business has taught me anything, it’s that you really don’t know where a venture will take you. As our community has evolved, so has our business. Wattpad has transformed into a global entertainment company for original stories. It is striking deals with global entertainment players and working with some of the biggest brands to pair them with the best creative storytellers in the world. We’ve come a long way from providing a couple lines of text on a mobile screen – but growth hasn’t always been linear, and we had our fair share of setbacks along the way.
So for all the startup founders who are just embarking on their first venture (or facing year two or three in the trenches), here are some of the lessons I learned – and some of the things you can expect – in your first 10 years in business.
1You won’t find customers overnight
When we first launched our storytelling platform, we didn’t have any writers. Without writers, we didn’t have content, and without content, we couldn’t attract readers. It was your classic chicken and egg conundrum. So we spent our first year in business importing novels that were already in the public domain – Pride and Prejudice, David Copperfield – whatever was available that could help us attract book lovers.
It wasn’t until year two that we saw the first piece of original content land on Wattpad. It attracted 50 to 100 people to the platform, and soon, one piece of content became two, then three, then four. Like any business, it takes time to build up your customer base.
People won’t flock to you just because you’re there. You’ll likely have to find ways to fan the flame until you reach critical mass.
2Your timing might be off
Establishing a solid customer base is additionally complicated by the fact that your timing might be off. How many startups exist today with ideas that are just too advanced to be successful? For many entrepreneurs, it’s a matter of waiting for the industry to catch up with you. At least, that was the case for me.
Related: 21 Steps To Start-Up
Ten years ago, mobile reading was a very different space. There were no iPhones or Kindles – just feature phones that could display a couple lines of text at a time. Sharing content on the internet was also a bit unusual, and there was a smaller percentage of people actively doing it. But today, 90 percent of all Wattpad activity is on mobile, and sharing content online is common – you don’t even need to think about it.
Bottom line: Don’t lose hope if the industry’s not there yet, and continue to preserve. Eventually, technology will catch up with what you’re trying to do and pave a way for your success.
3There will be “lows”
When you first launch your business, there’s a natural sense of exuberance and expectation. But, let’s be real, that feeling won’t last.
I remember sitting in a coffee shop with my cofounder, sharing a coffee I had bought using the total revenue we had earned from the past month. That was a low point for us and a time when we seriously questioned whether we had the emotional strength to keep going, but we did.
You will also face these “lows.” You’ll have to re-examine what you’re doing and decide what is the best path forward. These are the moments that force founders to grow and businesses to either shutter or flourish. In this moment, you’ll ask yourself whether your idea is worth the struggle.
Just remember: A great vision won’t fade with a setback. If you give up when you reach the first, second or third low, your mission may not be energised enough to endure. The personal weight of your vision is what will get you through these low points.
4You’ll need to switch gears
We made it out of our dark pit by taking on consulting jobs and using those funds to support our business. For many founders, such a move can feel like failure, but for us it was literally the only path forward.
When you find yourself challenged, don’t be afraid to switch gears, and don’t be so wed to a plan that you make impractical decisions. It’s ok to deviate a little from the grand scheme of things. Or to put things on hold until you figure it out.
5You’ll get your big break
Eventually – if you’re creating something truly different – you will make it through the hard times and catch your big break. For us, it was getting our initial round of funding.
We received our Series A in 2011 from Union Square Ventures, the same company that invested in Twitter, Etsy, foursquare, Kickstarter and others.
Having such a huge industry player pay attention to us and see our worth validated the work we were doing. It gave us the jolt we needed to keep going and stay committed to building something great.
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6Working on yourself is as important as working on the product
I’ve yet to meet a single entrepreneur that, when he or she started their company, could do everything all by themselves. You can’t write all the code, design the product, balance the budget, find funding and market the product on your own.
Part of growing as a start-up founder is realising that you need other people to help you and, more importantly, that you have to motivate this team as a leader. At the end of the day, the best product you build isn’t necessarily the product – but yourself.
7Culture is critical to growth
As you grow your business, you’ll realise that it is only as strong as the people in it. Your employees need to share your vision and values if you want to take your business to the next level.
When we look at hiring, we put a lot of focus not just on technical skill but also a cultural fit. Does this employee care about creating a lasting entertainment experience through stories? Is he or she motivated by our users’ success?
Our employees aren’t culturally identical either. We want to hire people with different perspectives and ideas, but who ultimately will work with their team to reach a common goal. This also allows us to create a more global community utilising the perspectives of a diverse team.
8You’ll learn from your users
When I first met Ben Ling of Khosla Ventures I asked him how YouTube had expanded into so many different categories. His answer? “We didn’t start these new categories. These categories emerged organically and we spotted them early. Then we poured fuel on the fire.” In other words, YouTube didn’t create how-to videos; its users did. Then YouTube oriented their product to support it.
Likewise, your users or customers will influence the direction of your product or business, but only if you learn to listen. For Wattpad, user feedback has contributed to developments such as in-line commenting and multimedia. We’ve taken the time to assess what is happening naturally on the platform and have made changes to our product so that it’s easier for them to do what they’re already doing.
Related: How To Know What Passions To Pursue
9Your business will evolve
As I mentioned before, you won’t stick to the grand plan you had when you first started your business. Wattpad started as a storytelling app – and it still is – but we realised that storytelling is the foundation for entertainment content. Stories themselves can not only entertain, but they can also inspire people. So as our community has grown, we have been able to grow with them, leveraging our strong community of readers and writers to shape their content into TV shows, web series, movies and books.
This is not a deviation from our original mission, but it is a change. Change is perfectly fine (and necessary) in order to help you survive from year to year.
10You’ll change people’s lives
When we first started Wattpad, I was solely focused on solving a problem that I faced myself. Over time, I realised the true impact that my company had on other people’s lives.
There are people in Africa thanking me for helping spread the written word in their country. We have parents telling us that their children are improving their writing. Not to mention writers who have thanked us for helping them find an audience.
It’s hard to see it now, but your company will also impact lives beyond what you can imagine. Whether it’s your employees, your customers, or your partners – knowing you have made a change in someone else’s life is the sweetest thing you’ll experience in your first decade of business. This feeling will not only fulfill, but it will propel you further yourself as an entrepreneur and motivate you for decades to come.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
6 Resources For Start-ups Looking For Funding
Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.
Anyone who has ever considered starting their own business, or is currently in the process of doing so, knows that every little bit helps when it comes to making ends meet. Part of the charm of start-up culture is the low-budget creative atmosphere that seems to continually fuel innovation. But, eventually you’re going to have to keep the lights on and water running, and you can’t do that with creativity alone.
Whether you are a business that is just starting out, or already well on your way, there are plenty of online platforms that offer start-ups advice and funding opportunities. Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.
At one point it seemed that anyone with a clever idea could make a video showing why the world should invest in the next big thing. While a lot of crazy projects have gotten funded over the years, utilising a crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter continues to be a viable way to get your project off the ground. Of course, if you want to reach your funding goals, it’s best that you have already done your market research, have a solid plan, and treat crowdfunding like a global VC.
Visit Kickstarter here.
Those who are new to the start-up world might not know exactly where to start when it comes to looking for funding. While the freelance economy has grown immensely in the last 5 years, it’s important to know where to look.
Platforms like Toptal offer a wide range of freelance professionals that specialise start-up funding. Start-ups seeking a consultant on Toptal can also rest easy knowing that they carefully screen each candidate, ensuring they have the necessary professional background and experience to guarantee a successful project.
Visit Toptal here.
If you couldn’t already tell by the name, appbacker is definitely worth checking out if you are a start-up working in app technology for both Android and Iphone. The platform helps people discover different apps through the crowdsourcing model. Investors can scroll through apps from around the world, and if they like what they see, they can choose to invest. Funding incentive is based on an investor’s ability to purchase an app at the wholesale price, eventually making a profit once the app starts flying off the shelves in the official app store.
Visit Appbackr here.
Investors are more likely to invest locally, which is why Gust is an attractive option for start-ups around the world, as they represent over eighty countries worldwide. Founded by a team of investors and lawyers, Gust knows their way around the start-up world.
With portals for both start-ups and investors, the platform seamlessly connects those seeking funds and those looking to invest. Start-ups can create a profile on Gust, and also have access to tools and tips to help them regulate finances and legal matters.
Visit Gust here.
Not just for investment, although that is a major part of the platform, AngelList is also a great place to find start-up jobs as well as recruitment. Those start-ups that are looking to expand can greatly benefit from this feature, while also getting their name out there to potential investors.
Their syndicate platform, led by technology experts make room for those who are looking to invest the chance to apply to a lead or directly invest in a fund.
Visit AngelList here.
From top corporations to big name accelerators, Seedrs aims to simplify the funding process for investors. Providing a vast network of investors from 48 different countries, who tap into an additionally impressive network of start-ups, there is plenty of room for collaboration on this platform. Seeders also encourages investors and start-ups to continue their relationship after the transaction is made. Their online and offline networks aim keep both start-ups and investors in the loop.
Depending at what stage of development your company has currently reached, exploring various funding options available to you is a worthwhile endeavour. Rather than blindly pitching investors, investigating each potential platform, whether it’s crowdfunding or a hiring a freelance funding expert, will save you time and resources so you can focus on the right type of investment based on your needs.
Visit Seedrs here.
Picking Your Lane: Maximising Your Chances Of Success And Happiness
How do you choose? What do you prioritise? What’s right for me is almost certainly not right for you.
Most entrepreneurs start businesses out of necessity. They do what they have to. They don’t think far ahead. They fight fires every day. They are the foundation of every economy all over the world. Some succeed, some fail, few shoot the lights out. Some are happy, some are not.
For me, there’s nothing more thrilling than building a business. Seeing your ideas turn into reality. Seeing your team exceed your expectations every day. Seeing your customers’ lives improved by your products.
But, entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. You pour blood and sweat and tears into your business. You get more than your fair share of punches in the nose. It’s hard, but if you’re lucky and you persevere, the rewards are great.
So, how do you maximise your chances of getting into the ‘happy and shooting the lights out’ club?
Picking the right lane – figuring out what you’re going to do – is probably the most important decision you’ll make. Once you’ve figured that out, you can get down to the nitty gritty of picking your team and building your business.
But, how do you choose? What do you prioritise? What’s right for me is almost certainly not right for you.
The Sweet Spot Model, which has been drifting around the web for years, provides great guidance. If you do what you love, the hard yards won’t feel like work. If you do what you’re good at, you’ll beat or (even better) outstrip the competition. If you provide something the world needs, you’ll feel a sense of purpose. If someone will pay for it, you have a business.
When I co-founded Simply, I wanted to tick all 4 boxes AND work from Cape Town AND be extremely flexible (so I could prioritise family health).
I worked on three different ideas: A GIS-platform for solar and other utilities; a transaction platform for stokvels; and a cheeky online life insurance play.
The life insurance play quickly emerged as my best choice (it helped that my partners are top actuaries J):
- What I’m good at – doing start-ups, connecting people and teams, and using technology and data to solve business problems.
- What I love – working with people I like and trust to build businesses that solve hard problems and make the world a better place.
- What the world needs – most adult South Africans have one or more funeral policies. Few have life or disability cover and policies are often very expensive. There’s a clear need for simple, convenient, well-priced life, disability and funeral cover.
- What someone will pay for – the market we’re targeting is huge – nearly R7.5Bn of new premium is written annually.
With the stars lining up, we pressed the go button in early 2016. It’s now twelve months since we launched to market and early signs are good:
- Our innovative, online products – Family Cover, Domestic Cover and Group Cover – have been well received and are improving all the time.
- We have an amazing, engaged team – inspired by the purpose of protecting vulnerable people.
- We’ve sold more than 4 500 policies to date, providing more than R2.5Bn of cover to more than 20,000 people.
- We’re based in Cape Town, working hard and having fun, and I seldom miss a swimming gala, netball game or opportunity to go mountain biking.
While picking the right lane is no guarantee of success, it definitely helps stack the odds in your favour. You’re going to need all the help you can get. So, take the time to pick your lane. I bet it’ll be worth the effort.
9 Quotes Every Entrepreneur Should Live By
Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.
Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.
There are great learning opportunities that present themselves when we fail, but we must be willing to continue on and try again in order to learn anything at all.
It can be quite an arduous task to strive for your own means, to create your own vision and to rally the support within yourself that starting and running your own business requires.
Thankfully, we’re not in it alone. The wisdom of others can greatly ameliorate the process learning from our missteps and hiccups.
Taking from sagacious investors, inventors and thinkers can help you pick yourself up and make something meaningful out of your quest to become a successful entrepreneur.
By studying the thought processes of other entrepreneurs, we can become more enriched and more aware of how to approach the challenges we face in business and in life.
Here are 9 quotes every entrepreneur should live by:
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