How Wattpad Used High Touch Tech To Build Community

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How Wattpad Used High Touch Tech To Build Community by Tim Sanders

February 25, 2013

Wattpad is one of the fastest growing social startups in the world, with over fourteen million users.  It's called the YouTube for writers, where anyone can post/publish content, gain followers and build a direct connection with readers.  Over two billion minutes a month are spent on this dynamic platform.  Venture capital firms have taken notice too, recently investing about fifteen million dollars in this startup.

Last week, while attending the Tools of Change conference, I bumped into Allen Lau in the speaker ready room.  We had a short breakfast together, and in conversation, he revealed his early days strategy in developing Wattpad's community.  "When we had only one hundred users (2006), I contacted every one of them to make sure they were having a great experience," he told me.  While that might not sound like a scalable strategy long term, it is not much different than Ben Silbermann took in the early days of Pinterest. 

"I learned a great deal from talking to them directly," Allen continued.  "As a founder of a new community, you can't rely on data or reports alone."  His soft spoken demeanor was a perfect fit for the original writers on Wattpad, many of which would have been off put by a hype-ish or corporate personality.  Each time a user had a problem, and Allen interacted with them to reach a solution, a die-hard fan was created.  This is the magic of high touch relationship management, even for a high-tech startup with a bold vision.  Today's biggest success stories in startup world are not "we built this beautiful thing, and people gravitated to it" like you might think. 

Great products require vibrant communities that feel like they have a personal connection with the company, and sometimes the founding team.  Too often, though, startups fail to offer such personal services early.  Some might say that it's because technical people are too introverted for such direct-service types of interactions.  But often, early adopter users are just the same, being technical types themselves. 

Last year, I developed a friendship with Goodreads founder Otis Chandler, who told me about his early days, and how important it was to make personal contacts with users, both the happy ones and those with problems.  (See picture below, where Otis and Allen arm wrestle at dinner for the prize of "Biggest Reading Community In the World.") They offer takeaway value for anyone reading this post: Author, entrepreneur or community builder. Make real contact, be humble and leverage all the feedback to build a better mousetrap.

Visit Wattpad to join the community and start writing or reading today!

Tim Sanders

About Tim Sanders

Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.

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