One year after being acquired by Naver for $754 million CAD, Wattpad’s CEO is charting a new course for his company.
In a blog post set to be published today, Allen Lau points to four areas that Wattpad will focus on for growth. Those goals look decidedly familiar to those outlined in a letter Lau wrote in 2016 on Wattpad’s 10th birthday: leveraging machine learning to discover more stories; revolutionizing how traditional entertainment is produced; creating new forms of entertainment; and distributing Wattpad stories across all formats (on multiple platforms) and earn money for writers.
However, while the goal lines haven’t moved, the end zone for Wattpad is now bigger.
The company also has greater resources and capacity to achieve those goals – five months after purchasing Wattpad, Naver combined the respective production studios of Wattpad and Webtoon, investing $100 million USD in the newly merged company.
While the goal lines haven’t moved, the end zone for Wattpad is now bigger.
The devil is also in the details. Wattpad has been utilizing machine learning to discover stories for many years, but Lau says the company to date is “only scratching the surface of possibilities for this technology.” He plans to expand how Wattpad uses the tech with the possibility of helping creators improve their writing and increase engagement.
That machine learning tech has already helped propel Wattpad to become the intellectual property (IP) factory that it is today. With Wattpad Studios, the company has had several Netflix successes, with more than 100 TV and film projects in development globally – in addition to the stories it turns into books through its publication arm.
Wattpad has also often been at the forefront of new forms of digital content – the first version of Wattpad was built as a reading app for the Motorola RAZR. Now, with Webtoon, Wattpad has new avenues for content and ways to help its writers make money.
What may be truly different for Wattpad now is how the company is navigating its goals within a larger corporate structure.
The CEO has confided to BetaKit that he spent significant time simply learning the new corporate structure he found himself in shortly after the acquisition in order to stay an effective leader. With vastly different time zones between Toronto-based Wattpad and South Korea-based Naver and Webtoon, Lau has had to contend with more than meetings outside of traditional business hours.
Despite those pain points, Lau has a very positive outlook about the merger, noting “clear synergies” between Wattpad and Webtoon.
Those synergies might lead to more change. Naver has hinted at plans to take its web cartoon unit public in the United States. And sources familiar with the company’s operations indicated to BetaKit the potential of a Webtoon-Wattpad spin out.
Without confirming any potential plans, Lau told BetaKit: “[It’s an] incredible, amazing idea because if it becomes a separate entity you will see a very, very unified vision with multiple brands, multiple platforms that can drive value from the content IP that we own.”
On a potential Wattpad-Webtoon spinoff, Lau said “it’s a work in progress.”
“It’s a work in progress,” Lau added. “I don’t have a lot to share at this point. That being said … it makes a lot of sense and we are working on it.”
For Lau, the focus now is on how to utilize and expand what Wattpad and Webtoon have built to ensure their companies remain at the forefront of digital content innovation.
In his grand plan, Lau noted about the company’s early days: “In many ways, we were ahead of our time, and we anticipated nascent megatrends like the global ubiquity of smartphones, the mobile internet, and the importance of user generated content in celebrating and elevating diverse voices all over the world. We had the first mover advantage and never looked back.”
Wattpad did the same around 2016, leveraging machine learning and getting ahead of the shift from linear TV to streaming.
Lau wants to keep that momentum going.
“With the wind at our back, we’ll continue to leverage new megatrends, such as the explosion of the creator economy and blockchain, to continue to grow, innovate, and remain a global leader in web novels and storytelling technology,” Lau writes in his blog post.
Lau also spoke to BetaKit about his excitement around Web3 the potential for Wattpad to utilize NFTs and the metaverse.
Having long been compared to Disney, Lau teased in his blog post: “If you read the original Master Plan you’ll know I alluded to building a Wattpad theme park. Although we are not there yet, we must continue to think big and contemplate what the Wattpad ecosystem will look like in the future. Who knows, as the metaverse expands maybe our theme park will be completely virtual making it easy for anyone.”
Speaking with Lau last year, he called Wattpad’s acquisition “[the] first episode of season two.” One year later, he told BetaKit, “we were watching season two in real-time, and you can see the excitement and some of the progress that we’ve made.”