In 2007, Allen Lau stepped into a coffee shop in his hometown of Toronto to meet with his business partner, Ivan Yuen. The topic of discussion that day: Decide what to do with Wattpad, their struggling business. When Lau sat down, he pushed his coffee to the center of the table and said to Yuen, “I just spent our total revenue from last month on this coffee, so we have to share it.”
The moment was a low point for Lau, one that stood in sharp contrast to the optimism he had felt a year earlier on a flight home from Vancouver. Earlier that day, he had met with his friend Yuen in the food court of the Vancouver airport to talk about their mutual interest in mobile reading platforms. That conversation gave birth to Wattpad, which the two men envisioned as an online community where people would share their writing–stories, poems, fan fiction, serialized novels, etc.–and readers would consume the user-generated content on mobile devices. It would be a place where writers and avid readers could find one another and interact.
At the time, Google had just bought YouTube, which was just over a year old, for $1.65 billion. Lau and Yuen believed Wattpad had similar potential. After all, as Lau saw it, human beings have been sharing stories for thousands of years–around fires and in town squares prior to the written word. Wattpad would tap into this basic, human drive, but on a massive, global scale. Lau imagined millions, eventually billions, using the platform.
Because of his initial optimism, Lau decided to leave his full-time job and focus on building Wattpad for a year. Considering what YouTube had been able to do in a year, Lau expected that at the end of 12 months he would be able to raise capital–lots of it–for Wattpad.