Wear a Mask to Help Keep EVERYONE Safe

I took this picture on Feb 1 when I was flying back from Paris to Toronto.

Feb 1 was:

– 3 weeks after the first death in Wuhan was (officially) reported

– 2 weeks after the second death was (officially) reported

– 1 week after Hubei was locked down and all major entertainment venues in China, including Shanghai Disneyland and the Great Wall, were closed

– 1 day after the death toll increased to 200; Russia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom confirmed their first cases of the virus.

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, Toronto was one of the hardest-hit cities. The memory is still fresh in my mind. Seeing how quickly the virus spread exponentially, it was very clear to me that this new virus, now called COVID-19, is another SARS except that it spreads even faster.

Therefore, I decided to wear my mask on the 8-hour flight because I didn’t want to take any chance. There were probably 10 people on this flight who did the same. Some people gave me a weird look (yes, I caught that) but I don’t really care about the stigma.

Since then, I have been wearing a mask whenever I was in a crowded space. Since the lockdown, when I really needed to go out (no more than twice), I have been wearing a mask.

Although WHO still stands by its recommendation to not wear masks if you are not sick, it really makes no sense to me. I understand that the surgical mask that I am wearing does not seal (and hence there will be leakage). However, even if it could only capture 10% of the virus-carrying particles, it would still reduce the probability of catching the virus (slightly) – in either direction (i.e. getting infected or infecting other people if I am asymptomatic).

In addition, even if wearing a mask would not help at all (I doubt), it couldn’t possibly make it worse. People might give you a weird look. Other than that, there is absolutely no downside.

Assuming using hand sanitizer, not touching my face, etc. could each reduce another 10%, all in a sudden the probability of getting infection could be greatly reduced because they all add up. Every little bit helps.

This is very similar to funnel conversion in running an online business. To improve the purchase conversion rate, one needs to improve on all parts of the funnel – from top (e.g. awareness) to bottom (e.g. intent and transact). We might only get 2% here and 4% there. However, if we could find ~10 things like that, the conversion rate could easily double and the curve would look much steeper (rather than looking flattened).

So, for your own and other people’s safety, please wear a mask if you could. It lowers the conversion rate and flattens the curve.

P.S. I know it is difficult to buy masks now, and if you could, please don’t hoard. I am lucky that our family has always had a box of masks in the house even before the crisis. But even a homemade one is better than nothing. Remember, there is no downside.

Goodbye 2010s, Hello 2020s

As we enter the final hours of the 2010s, to reflect and look forward I would like to share a couple of very contrasting collages. One was taken this year. The other was taken exactly 10 years ago.

Wattpad grew ~100x in virtually every single dimension – number of employees, the size of the office, number of users, number of stories shared but more importantly the positive impact on the Wattpad communities, our employees, our city and millions of lives we touched.

Two Small Fish Ventures grew from a side project to a VC firm with tens of rocket ships in the portfolio.

Most importantly, although the size of my family has not grown 100x (thank God!), my two little girls + an amazing lady has become two amazing young ladies + an even more amazing lady. They are the most influential on the most influential. They are the best and unquantifiable.

Look forward to 100x our impact on 100x more people in the 2020s!

Everything Starts Small

It’s a situation founders know well: the agonizing wait to see if the product/service they’ve launched will take off. The reality is, it takes months and even years to find product-market-fit. And once that happens, the struggle doesn’t really end because there’s always another, more complex problem to solve. It can begin with product-market-fit then morph into customer/user acquisition and engagement and then shift to monetization. For entrepreneurs, building a business can feel like a never-ending cycle of wait-and-see. 

When we launched Wattpad 13 years ago, my co-founder Ivan and I immediately started monetizing with ads. And when I say we “immediately monetized” the site, I really mean we earned $2 in monthly ad revenue a full year later. A minuscule amount. 

When we first launched our Android app, we saw about 10 downloads in the first month. Even in 2011 when Android really started to take off our download numbers were still puny. 

Today, we see more than 60,000 Android users sign up every day and half of our daily usage comes from Android users. Our monthly advertising revenue is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’re no longer talking about trivial amounts. It’s been a long road that had to start somewhere. 

‘Everything starts small’ is a valuable mantra for any entrepreneur. Look at Spotify: When it first launched in the US in 2010 it had 100,000 paid subscribers. Today, Spotify’s number of paid subscribers is about to cross the 100 million mark.

Not too long ago, we launched Paid Stories and we also introduced a subscription model called Premium at Wattpad. The numbers are still small. But they won’t stay that way forever (especially since we’ve rolled out these programs globally). As long as we keep improving, keep optimizing and keep promoting — basically, if we continue to hustle and grind as all great entrepreneurs do — the numbers will go up.

But we can’t expect a silver bullet. No single feature or no single promo or no single country launch will 10x these numbers overnight. While it’s not impossible to find a 10x growth hack, the reality is that it’s probably better to find 100 little things to grow 10%.  

My fellow entrepreneurs, please remember: Tomorrow will be better than today. The day after tomorrow will be better than tomorrow. Everything starts small.

Strategic Partners Turn Your Vision Into Reality Faster Than You Can

A few months ago, Wattpad announced a partnership with Anvil Publishing in the Philippines. Together, we’re launching Bliss Books, a new Young Adult imprint that’ll bring some of the biggest Wattpad stories and authors to bookshelves across the country. 

The news means Wattpad can realize the vision I laid out in the Master Plan much, much faster. But really, speed is just one of the values a strategic partner brings to the table.

Anvil also has deeper insights into local purchasing habits and consumer behaviour than we do. The first part of the Master Plan is to “Discover more great stories,” and we do this by leveraging our Story DNA machine learning technology and a passionate community to find unique voices and amazing stories that are validated in Tagalog. With their local insights, Anvil can corroborate our insights using their local knowledge to guarantee a successful adaptation. 

The best strategic partners also have a reputation you can piggy-back off of. Another element of the Master Plan is ‘Turn these stories into great movies, TV shows, print books, etc.,” Anvil has a reputation for publishing high-quality books, and that’s exactly what we want to do. 

Anvil is the publishing arm of the National Book Store with hundreds of bookstores. It’s established presence means we – through NBS – have the ability to distribute Wattpad books to every practically every part of the country tying into another key part of the Master Plan to “Distribute and monetize content on and off Wattpad and earn money for storytellers.” 

The Philippines is one of Wattpad’s largest markets and a very important one since its home to some of our most passionate users. Plus, when you factor in the expertise and reach of Anvil, it was an easy decision to partner with this local company who can help us continue to celebrate and reward Filipino authors and their fans. 

Entrepreneurs: if you have the ability to form a partnership with another complementary company, seize it. The strategic upside is great and may help you realize your vision faster than you ever could alone.  

Announcing Two Small Fish Ventures Fund II

Earlier today Eva announced on Two Small Fish Ventures’ blog that she has raised $9 million in the first close of TSFV’s Fund II. It is exciting to see her transformation from an entrepreneur to an angel investor and now a VC.

TSFV’s investment thesis remains the same. Fund II will continue to invest globally in early-stage tech companies with strong network effects. The goal is to help nurture them into global tech giants. She has made investments from the new fund already, including Printify and several more about to close.

There is no doubt Canada’s tech ecosystem is thriving. Access to capital is no longer the biggest roadblock for startup successes as we now have a lot of great investors in Canada. That being said, there is still one big gap in the Canadian venture capital ecosystem: very few venture funds are actually co-founded by internet entrepreneurs and product creators who have massive successes. In contrast, in Silicon Valley, there are numerous successful internet entrepreneurs turned VCs. They can recycle their experience and knowledge of building and scaling a product to reach millions of users. This is exactly what we would like to do and why TSFV is special: we will recycle our unique knowledge in building and scaling internet-scale companies to help other entrepreneurs to be successful.

It is also worth noting that TSFV is not just providing capital. Through Creator Circle, a group of successful entrepreneurs and product creators who are investors in Fund II, we are providing a mini ecosystem of like-minded, entrepreneurial people who are also recycling their invaluable expertise to help TSFV portfolio companies achieve escape velocity. When TSFV invests in a company, all these creators are part of the team because the success of the company directly affects their investment. They have skin in the game.

Expect more announcements in the coming months as the final target for Fund II is $15 million. There will also be more investment announcements as TSFV can now write more cheques (and bigger cheques!) with follow on investments too.

P.S. You can read Eva’s announcement here.

How to make meetings suck less

About a year ago I read an article about Jeff Bezos’ approach to meetings at Amazon that really resonated with me. Specifically, there were three things that make meetings more effective and efficient that really stood out to me.

  1. The Two-Pizza Team Rule – According to Jeff Bezos, Amazon tries to “create teams that are no larger than can be fed by two pizzas”
  2. No PowerPoint – “No PowerPoints are used inside of Amazon,” Bezos proudly declares. “Somebody for the meeting has prepared a six-page…narratively structured memo. It has real sentences, and topic sentences, and verbs, and nouns–it’s not just bullet points.”
  3. Start with Silence – “We read those memos, silently, during the meeting,” says Bezos. “It’s like a study hall. Everybody sits around the table, and we read silently, for usually about half an hour, however long it takes us to read the document. And then we discuss it.”

Like Bezos, I’m a big believer in small group meetings. Based on my experience, it’s too difficult to have a conversation that’s relevant to most if there are more than eight people in the room.

I don’t necessarily 100% agree with no PowerPoint, though. Yes, there are times when having a narrative works better, but in some cases, bullet points can be more effective. One can’t replace the other. Use the right tool at the right time for the right people.

What I found really interesting is the study hall format. Since learning about, I’ve tried it out in multiple meetings by allocating the first 5-10 minutes (not 30 minutes as Bezos suggests) so everyone can go through the document or deck and add their questions and comments in advance of the discussion. Here’s what I observed:

The Pros

  • It ensures everyone has read the materials and the context is fresh in people’s mind (and yes, I know meeting organizers can always send materials in advance as pre-reading, but people still have to carve out time in their schedule to get it done. This is especially difficult for people who attend lots of back-to-back meetings).
  • It provides dedicated time for pre-reading that is already built into the meeting (similar to the point above)
  • It helps reduce the amount of context switching so the quality of the conversation goes up noticeably because the context is so fresh in everyone’s mind.
  • The quality of the questions improves because people don’t have to multi-task in the meeting, i.e. listen, read, absorb AND ask at the same time.

The Cons

  • It means less time to talk, especially when meetings are only 30 minutes long (but IMO, we get this time back in a way because we might have wasted those 5-10 minutes getting attendees up to speed anyway).

As you can tell, I become a fan of the study hall format, and while I recognize it doesn’t work for every type of meeting, it’s helpful when teams need to be on the same page with specific background information. That’s when spending 5-10 minutes to make sure everyone is “in the zone” is well worth it.

Incorporating the Study Hall format to your next meeting gives you time: Time for understanding; Time for extended reflection; Time for focused thinking; All of which leads to better and more effective meetings.