Today’s blog post goes to Wattpad’s official company blog. A lot of people do not know “the Wattpad movement” is more than an English phenomenon For example, Wattpad has a huge following in the Philippines. A couple of weeks ago, avid Wattpad users in the Philippines rallied together to meet one another off the web. Almost 100 Wattpad members organized a Meetup in Manila. Go check out their “thank you” video and also ours recorded in the Wattpad HQ.
The Innovator’s Dilemma written by Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen is arguably one of the most influential business books ever written.
From the back cover:
In this revolutionary bestseller, innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen says outstanding companies can do everything right and still lose their market leadership—or worse, disappear altogether. And not only does he prove what he says, but he tells others how to avoid a similar fate.
Focusing on “disruptive technology,” Christensen shows why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. Whether in electronics or retailing, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know when to abandon traditional business practices. Using the lessons of successes and failures from leading companies, The Innovator’s Dilemma presents a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation.
Professor Christensen coined the term “disruptive technologies” that we all use today. If you call what you are doing “disruptive” (which is an over used term, unfortunately) and haven’t read this book yet, go read it now. Mark Suster summarized the book nicely in his blog. If you only have 5 minutes, his blog post is a quick read to give you a good idea of what “disruptive” truly is.
Anyhow, I am very honoured that one of Professor Christensen students Thomas Lueke and his classmates have written a paper titled “Disrupting the Publishing Value Chain” that focused on Wattpad and the publishing industry in general. Professor Christensen supervised this paper and it is now shared here. If you work in the publishing industry, it is a very good read.
The other day I blogged about why rewriting everything from scratch is a really bad idea. Other than all the problems that I mentioned in my original blog post (and links to Albert’s / Joel’s blog posts), one big problem of this “big bang” approach is that it is not optimized for learning quickly, which is crucial when creating something new.
Even the best entrepreneurs can testify that they can only get things right 50% of time. In many cases, one has to try many times before that aha moment. Therefore, the best thing you can do is build and deploy incrementally. Don’t confuse designing, building, testing and releasing incrementally with “not being bold”. One can almost always break down big projects into smaller initiatives first. For those initiatives that resonate well with users, double down. In other words, with a good idea of where you are heading, start 100 fires, and then pour fuel on those that lit up. It applies incredibly broadly. Not just to software but also to marketing, design and other projects. This applies to writing too. That’s why serialization that Wattpad pioneered in the digital age is so great.
But what’s better than building things incrementally? Not building anything at all! The other day our team was debating if we need to build A, B and C before we can validate X, Y and Z. I (half jokingly) suggested that we just need to spend 5 minutes to create a static HTML page and roll it out to 5 users. We log the data when a button is pressed and then we can do everything else by hand offline.
This is similar to what Dropbox co-founder Drew Houston did. To avoid the risk of waking up after years of development with a product nobody wanted, Drew did something unexpectedly easy: he made a video.
Remember: Speed matters a lot. Successes compound quickly when optimize for pace of experimentation and learning.
Today’s blog post goes to Wattpad’s company blog. I am happy to let you know that we’ll be collaborating with two time Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner Ondi Timoner on a new project to visually tell the story of our community of storytellers. Can’t wait to watch the video!
Big milestone coming up. At this rate we should hit “10 million” in the next hour or so. Will keep you posted!
Update: we crossed 10M moments ago!
Many congratulations to Margaret Atwood who receives the 2012 Innovator’s Award in the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. Very glad to see that Wattpad story The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home is used as an example of how Margaret has embraced the digital landscape recently!
The other day I stumbled upon this excellent blog post titled “You should blog even if you have no readers”. I wanted to write about this topic for a while and now I just have to write a much shorter post.
I find writing really helps me to reveal holes in my thinking. It is almost like teaching - the best test of whether or not you really understand a concept is trying to teach it to someone else. Same applies to writing. If you can’t write it down, you probably haven’t think through all the issues yet.
It also helps me to share my thoughts more easily. As I mentioned before, founders should err on the side of saying too much and blogging is one effective way to achieve this.
Lastly, it is actually a time saver. I can’t tell you how many times people ask me to make an intro, or to grab a cup of coffee, or to give them advise on their “mobile first” product idea. Before I had to send a long email. Now I just have to send a link to my blog post.
Obviously blogging has many other benefits too. But the above can easily be overlooked.
I will end here with a quote from the blog post I referred to in the beginning:
I have over 50 unfinished drafts. Some of them are just a few ideas scribbled down arguing with myself. Most of them will never be published, yet I got value out of writing all of them.
Albert blogged about the problem of rewriting everything from scratch the other day. He mentioned another blog post written by Joel Spolsky 13 years ago that is still amazingly relevant today. If you are into software development and haven’t read these 2 posts yet, go read them now.
Now it is my turn to share my story. It was in the 90s. I was fresh out of school and worked for a company called Delrina. One of its flagship products was WinFax. I was lucky enough to join the company early enough when I witnessed how a good product became a great product, which in turn propelled the product / company into a household name. The fast growth meant we were constantly under pressure to ship a new version. While the product worked great, the code behind the product wasn’t in very good shape.
When we started to work on WinFax 7.0 for the upcoming Windows 95, we decided to rewrite the product from ground up to fully take advantage of the new operating system. We estimated the rewrite would take 3 months and then we would spend another 3 months or so in bug fix mode before we could ship it. The team was so pumped because we all thought the new codebase would be much better than the old one. We all LOVED creating new things, right? The team happily took on the challenge of rewriting THE WHOLE PRODUCT all at once.
But we forgot one important fact (which Joel correctly pointed out): when you start from scratch there is absolutely NO REASON to believe that you are going to do a better job than you did the first time.
A year after we started the rewrite project, we were still 3 months away from completion. Every day went by we added another day to the schedule (sometimes we added 2 days!). We went further and further away from that elusive “ship date”. With the team grew from 10 engineers to 50 during that time, the mess was growing at an even faster clip as those 40 new (and very smart) engineers had absolutely no context of why we did certain thing in certain way!
We were able to send a fax a year ago. A year later we couldn’t even send a fax - the most basic thing it was supposed to do!
At the same time, the company was sold to Symantec for US$400M. Symantec demanded “shipping WinFax 7.0 within 90 days” as one of the conditions of closing the deal. Everyone’s mind shifted from “rewriting” to “shipping”. Needless to say, we were under tremendous pressure to ship. I remembered I was coding in the office until 5am in the morning, went home to take a shower and then showed up in the office again at 9am! I even put this up in my office to remind myself (and everyone else) to focus on shipping:
When it works, don’t touch it. When it does not work, kludge it.
At the end, we managed to ship it with 5 days to spare. We thought the quality was good enough for shipping (but it was not as we found out from our customers). The software still couldn’t “send a fax” in many cases (like Joel said in his post, each of these bugs took weeks of real-world usage before they were found). Obviously we turned many happy customers into angry customers. It took us quite some time to recover.
Lessons learned: resist the temptation of a complete rewrite. ”Design from ground up” is just marketing.
P.S. Avoid a complete rewrite does not mean you shouldn’t do anything bold. I will write a follow up blog post on this topic.
FeedM8 (pronounced feed-mate) was another company that Ivan and I founded a few years ago. Think “Flipboard for feature phone” and you should get what we did.
FeedM8 got some traction pretty quickly (see below).
Although it was a self-served service, one of the reasons for our early traction was the unsolicited email we sent to prospective web publishers. But we never purchased a mailing list or fully automated the process. We personalized each email. It was time consuming but apparently the effort paid off.
Now I am on the other side of the table. Everyday I receive a ton of proposals like this one:
Greetings of the day. I was reviewing your website and thought you might be interested in our Autocad Users Email database. By which you can expand your reach and widen your client base. We maintain contacts with permission based emails.
Thanks for telling me that I should be interested in reaching out to Autocad users. I didn’t know that.
How are you? This is Grace from JST Industry, we are a professional manufacturer of machining parts, stamping parts, plastic mould and injection molded products, do you think it possible to co-operate with each other? With over 10 years experience in this field, we strictly carry out the ISO regulations and can assure you the top quality & competitive price. If you have interest to outsource these products from China, please do feel free to send us drawings or samples for quotation.
If they can do steam-powered battery extender, I might consider.
This type of obviously mass-emails without any direct relation to Wattpad will quickly go to my spam folder. My eyes are very well trained to ignore these emails in nano seconds now.
Given the volume of spam everyone is receiving everyday, if you want to reach out to someone you don’t know, what is the best way to send an unsolicited email and get a response? The other day I received an unsolicited email from Darius Tan. I have his permission to disclose his name. The company name and the proposal itself is obfuscated as they are not important to the story here.
Hey Allen, how are you?
Looks like another proposal ….
It’s nice to meet you virtually. I came by your blog post, Lessons From Blowing $30M in a Startup, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. One of the lessons - “Build something you are truly passionate about” was something I could relate to - at the age of 21, I had started making six figures a year playing poker. However, at the end of it all, I realized that it wasn’t something that I could do for the rest of my life. Beating people at a card game for a living is cool, but it gets boring after awhile.
Ha. He actually read the crap I wrote!
Another lesson - “You should build a company with a purpose” resonated with me deeply as well. I’ve spent time in Panama helping farmers out, and I’ve tutored kids from low income neighborhoods. Also, I love helping my friends and their friends get jobs (I’m pretty darn good at interviewing). It’s hard to beat the feeling of helping someone. I eventually realized that I couldn’t be happy playing poker forever, and eventually transitioned into internet tech.
Hmmm, looks like he is a like minded person … off to a good start.
Look, I wanted to reach out and introduce our company, Peanut Central. Peanut Central, is a mobile commerce platform for selling peanuts. We yield very high revenue with a near 100% global reach and I think there’d be a great opportunity to work together.
Oh man, not another peanut commerce platform! Stop spamming me already! I just wasted 30 seconds of my life that I will never get back. I should have clicked on the spam button 30 seconds ago.
I know what you’re thinking - oh man, not another peanut commerce platform. Stop spamming me already!
Exactly! STOP SPAMMING ME! (note: somehow I managed to keep on going as he seemed to be able to read my mind)
However, Peanut Central is different from the rest. Our investors have invested in Walmart, General Motors, and Exxon Mobile, and one of our investors is United Airlines. They think we’re unique enough to help us on our mission to create the best mobile peanut buying experience there is, and I certainly believe so as well.
Ok, you are throwing big names now. It sure looks like you have some serious backers.
The major difference between us and the competition is that we freeze our peanuts which allows us to provide a great buying experience while still providing our partners really fresh peanuts. We have been selectively working with a number of awesome partners - Burger King and McDonald’s are two quick examples.
That’s an interesting approach. Wattpad could definitely sell some peanuts. In fact, we did try selling peanuts but we decided the best way to monetize is to sell steam-powered Android tablets.
I know you’re busy, so could you forward me onto your head of mobile commerce so that I could have a quick call with them?
Not a call …. It came close but this is not the right type of partnership. But I do appreciate his time investment. He did think about what would work for us from our perspective. And of course I appreciate his time to read my blog posts. I will reply and politely say no.
This is a great example of sending unsolicited emails. You have to think about what the other side is thinking. You have to invest the time to personalize it. You have to make sure the other side feel like it is not an obviously mass email. And of course you really have to figure out how your proposal helps the potential partner reach their goals. If you don’t do all of the above, your email will likely go straight to the spam folder even if it is the right partnership.
It is time consuming. It limits the number of proposals that you can send everyday. But remember, sending 100 emails with a 20% response rate is still far better than 100,000 emails with 0.001% response rate.
A couple of weeks ago I talked about how Wattpad gave the writing of an 81-year-old best selling author new lease on life. This past weekend I stumbled upon another Wattpad user whose story is simply inspirational. Wattpad writer tjgarrett is legally blind and yet he WRITES STORIES on Wattpad! This is what he wrote on his profile:
I’m registered blind and haven’t been able to read a book for twenty-five years. Last Christmas—actually October, an early present—I was given a Nexus 7 tablet, and discovered that I could change to Font. Not only the size, but the contrast, too—white words on a black background suited my particular eye-sight condition—and I was able to read again; albeit very slowly, and with very large print.
Since then, I have red: The Hobbit (Twice), The Lord of the Rings (Twice), half of ‘The Wheel of Time’; some of Brandon Sanderson’s stuff. And even Sword of Shinnara. (unbelievable plagiarism; Terry Brooks should be ashamed.) and of course, quite a few things on Wattpad.
Once I had red the Hobbit, I decided to write my own story. It has been every day since. I love it…! Even though it is incredibly slow going because of my eyes.
Wattpad’s mission is “Enrich Lives Through Stories”. This is another prime example.
To support this amazing writer, please follow him on Wattpad and read his story “The Call of the Crown: Book One of The Dragon Oracles”. Don’t forget to leave him a nice comment!
I was having lunch with a friend of mine over the weekend. He just bought the very cool Android 4.1 based Samsung Galaxy Camera. What can one do with it when it is not taking pictures? Read Wattpad Stories (of course)!
Sub-US$50 Android phones are coming fast and furious if they are not here already. Here is what you can find on eBay today - a brand new, unlocked phone running Android 4.1 for less than $60.
I am pretty sure in some local stores in Asia or Africa one can already buy a brand new, unlocked Android phone for less than $50.
About a decade ago, the price point of typical feature phones dropped below $50. All in a sudden, global mobile subscribers number grew from 1 billion to 5 billion in a very short time. Just like today no one is talking about analog TV vs HD TV anymore. These cheap Android phones will very soon make the term feature phone obsolete even in developing countries.
Obviously it does not mean that Android is the only platform that developers should focus on. iOS devices continue to sell very well in the top half of the pyramid. There are still billions of desktop PCs out there. As I said before, the winners will be the companies that can successfully execute their “mobile first” strategy and the one that can find the best optimal between the 2 major mobile platforms and web.