The End of 8-Hour Days

Both my parents used to work for a bank. For them, the work day started at nine in the morning and ended at 5:00 pm sharp. Day in and day out, this was their routine. They never understood the concept of flexible hours. They questioned why I would bring “work” home. On the other hand, they were always amused that I never needed to take time off work to see the doctor or get the car fixed during office hours.

“Am I expected to work an 8-hour day?” I get this question from employees from time to time, but I believe this is the wrong question to ask. Employees are expected to get their work done, deliver on OKRs and contribute to a positive workplace culture. For the most part, I don’t (and neither should their direct manager) care where or how the work gets done. Of course, it goes without saying (but I’ll still say it), flexible work hours should never impact collaboration or attendance at critical meetings.

Startups are fast-paced, ever-changing environments filled with bright employees. They’re solving complex and fascinating problems and it’s all very exciting. Being a disruptor and part of a paradigm shift is thrilling and the work itself should compel employees to give 100%. Offering flexible hours instills trust in your team and gives employees a sense of ownership to execute on projects in the way that works for them.

That’s not to say there will be no instances when burning the midnight oil for a specific project or tight deadline is required. Make no mistake, there will be times when a critical security issue needs to be addressed after-hours or a client has an urgent need on the weekend. But there should also be opportunities to take it easy and spend a few weeks out of the country or deal with a family or health issue. It’s about flexibility.

Most startups offer flexible hours, and it makes sense. After all, tech is a creative industry unlike working at a bank or factory. As people head back to work after their relaxing summer vacations, my advice to founders and startup execs? Measure productivity by outcomes and results, not timecards.

Building a Company for Everyone

I wholeheartedly believe that diversity is a strength. Entrepreneurs can’t build a global product without understanding and embracing the spectrum of identity, gender, ethnicity and language found all around the world. Building a diverse team that reflects the people you serve is crucial to long-term success. It’s easy to say diversity is important, but how do you measure it?

Today’s post is from Wattpad’s Head of Product and Head of Wattpad Labs Seema Lakhani. Like me, Seema is a huge champion of inclusion and diversity. Her post outlines the results of Wattpad’s 2018 Diversity and Inclusion survey that aims to understand how employees self-identify and tracks how empowered they feel within the company.

I strongly encourage all companies – startups, scaleups and corporate giants – to track and share results of their diversity and inclusion efforts. The first step in creating a diverse and inclusive tech industry for the future is to understand where you are right now.

Here’s the full post:

2018 has been a year of challenge and (some) change for the diversity movement in tech. The struggles of minority groups in the industry are finally a mainstream conversation, even as real change lags for many.

At Wattpad, we’ve long recognized that diversity is our strength. Our company culture, our teams, our ability to innovate, and ultimately our product, are all made stronger by the variety of perspectives, experiences, and voices that make up Wattpad.

Wattpad’s commitment to diversity has been established since Day 1. The fact that we were founded by two people of colour (one of whom is an immigrant), in Canada (one of the most diverse countries in the world), has helped us maintain a more diverse perspective than most technology companies. Early in Wattpad’s existence, we made the decision to make Wattpad community safety a top priority. This ethos deeply informs how we approach our platform and how we build our teams. As a result, Wattpad has always been a safe and diverse place for both users and employees.

WHERE WE ARE TODAY

It’s been a year since we released the results of our 2017 Diversity & Inclusion Survey. Our goal is to be a leader in transparency around these issues, showing exactly what we’ve done to create an inclusive workplace.

We’ve now completed our 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Survey.* This year, we’ve expanded the survey for a better understanding both the representation and sentiment for different groups across Wattpad. We know that building a diverse workplace isn’t just a matter of numbers; it’s equally important to understand that people will have different experiences of a workplace. This year’s Diversity & Inclusion Survey attempts to understand how people feel about diversity at Wattpad and if our efforts towards inclusivity account for how marginalized people experience life here.

DIVERSITY AT WATTPAD  

Today, we’re proud to say that a majority–56%–of Wattpad employees are women. That strong representation is reflected across most teams: women make up 50% of our Leadership Team, 50% of our User Experience and Design Team, and 100% of our Product Team.

We’re incredibly proud of those numbers, but know there is still work to do. For example, less than a quarter of our Engineering team are women, so that will be a continued area of focus for us in the coming year.  

For a more intersectional look at our team composition, we’re proud to say that People of Colour make up close to half (45%) of all Wattpad employees and 41% of our Leadership Team. Company-wide, 21% of Wattpad employees are Women of Colour, 15% are non-native English speakers, 8% identify as having a disability, 13% identify as LGBTQ+, and 3% are transgender.

Diversity at Wattpad – Highlights

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Charts_POCINCLUSION AT WATTPAD  

Sentiment questions help us better understand how marginalized people feel about working at Wattpad. We know the experiences of a workplace–its communication styles, and organizational structures and processes–can be different for men, women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ folks. So, it’s important that we create a space in our survey for people to express those experiences, helping us understand if we’re headed in the right direction.

We were happy to hear that, in most instances, there were no large gaps in sentiment among the diverse groups and identities that make up the team at Wattpad. While there is room for improvement, there were no major disparities between how different groups experience life at Wattpad. All areas saw an increase in sentiment from 2017.

When asked if they agree that “People from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to succeed at my company,” 75% of women and 77% of People of Colour agreed. At Wattpad as a whole, 80% agreed.

Similarly, when asked if they agree that “My Company Values Diversity,” 92% of women and 91% of People of Colour agreed. Company-wide, 94% agreed with this statement in 2018, up from 85% in 2017 and a true testament to our Diversity & Inclusions Committee’s hard work throughout the year. When asked if they agree that “I can be my authentic self at work,” 82% of women and 77% of People of Colour agreed. Eighty-one per cent of Wattpad employees overall agreed. When we dug even deeper into the intersectional data for this question, we found that while 88% of white men and 85% of white women agreed they can be their authentic self at work, only 80% of men of colour and 75% of women of colour agreed.

When it comes to voice, 79% of employees and 75% of women agreed that “When I speak up my opinion is valued.” This number was lower for People of Colour (68%) and Non-Native English speakers (58%). While both of these were improvements from last year, they still highlight the work we need to do to ensure all employees feel safe and valued when contributing at Wattpad.

Inclusion at Wattpad – Highlights

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charts_straight_authenticWHAT’S NEXT?

2018 has been a year of growth and expansion at Wattpad. We’ve grown our team, expanded our work in entertainment around the world, continued to lead the future of interactive storytelling, and deepened the learnings and applications from Machine Learning to the more than 500 million story uploads on Wattpad. Our community is growing every day. This means new voices coming to Wattpad from all over the world. A diverse and inclusive company culture means more voices and experiences to challenge assumptions. It means broader perspective and fewer blind spots. It means better products for users everywhere, built by happy, safe employees, who can truly be themselves and thrive.  

Our Diversity & Inclusion Survey is the result of a team of people who have worked hard to better understand and improve our workplace. These results show what is possible when a company empowers employees with the financial and people resources to research, listen, and take action on diversity and inclusion initiatives. But they also demonstrate areas for improvement.

Diversity at Wattpad is about creating more diversity in tech overall. We’ve taken a leadership position in transparency, holding ourselves accountable to continually do better and making sure our stakeholders are aware of our efforts to create a more diverse company. Our team should match our community, which is why we’ll keep listening, learning, and pushing ourselves to do better, until we get there.

*Results for our 2018 Diversity & Inclusion Survey are based on participation from 84% of employees.  

Halo Indonesia!

Building a global product requires intent and sustained commitment. From launch day, entrepreneurs need to think globally and take international users, their interests and habits into account. When Wattpad launched over a decade ago, some of our very first users were based in Asia. our international community has thrived since then, and now we have 65 million users in nearly every country of the world and support over 50 languages.

Today is a huge milestone for Toronto-based Wattpad: We announced a landmark production deal with Indonesian-based iflix, the world’s leading entertainment service for emerging markets, to bring Wattpad stories to millions of iflix users across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Over the next year, iflix and Wattpad will co-produce dozens of original movies based on Wattpad stories from Indonesia. You can read all about it in the official blog post here.

Wattpad has more than 17 million users in Southeast Asia, and Indonesia is one of our fastest-growing markets. Fans of the six million original Indonesian stories on Wattpad will soon be able to enjoy them in a completely new format.

Wattpad adaptations can be massively successful (Netflix’s The Kissing Booth, anyone?) Stories that are adapted into other formats already have a built-in audience that love and follow the story on and off the Wattpad platform. Our proprietary data gives producers insights into the story they can’t find anywhere else. We can tell production teams what characters resonate with the audience, what plot points generate the most intense reaction from fans and more. These detailed insights lead to more awesome adaptations. Then, when an adaptation is ready, Wattpad has the ability to promote the book/movie/series to a global audience of over 65 million people, including targeted marketing to the story’s original fans.  

This iflix partnership is one more step towards cementing Wattpad as a global entertainment powerhouse. We know that Wattpad can dramatically improve the success of traditional entertainment projects, and the industry is catching on.

Read all about the news here.

Your Next Summer Challenge: A Digital Detox

I love gadgets. They surround me everywhere – in the office, in the car, at home. I’m always connected … except when I go completely off the grid.

Twice a year I unplug for 2-3 weeks. I turn off my data. I don’t reply to email. I stay off social media. I take a break from being an entrepreneur and focus on being a husband and a dad.

It’s during these weeks when I’m unplugged that I have an opportunity to reflect on the past challenges and think about future opportunities. Going off the grid gives me a sense of clarity and enables a freedom of thinking I can’t achieve when I’m constantly pulled in multiple digital directions.

Case in point: I recently spent three weeks in Asia with my family. While I’ve traveled throughout the region extensively for work, this was the first time I could experience cities like Taipei and Shanghai as a tourist. I got to enjoy a ride on the fastest train in the world, eat the most delicious food, and shop like the locals do. I observed, indulged and enjoyed without the need to constantly check my devices. And while I was technically off-the-grid and not working, my offline experiences provided me with inspirations I will take back to the office.   

Building a business is hard. Entrepreneurs have infinite to-do lists. They are constantly pushing ahead through one challenge to seize the next opportunity. While the line between work and personal life is becoming more blurry (especially when you’re scaling a startup), it’s critical that entrepreneurs carve time out of their hectic schedules and go offline. A digital detox – even for a short period of time – yields tremendous business and personal benefits.  

If you still have a summer vacation planned,  I challenge you to use your time to explore, discover and connect IRL.

The Evolution of an Entrepreneur

Years ago, a summer job gave me one of the most valuable lessons in entrepreneurship.

I needed tuition money for university so I got a job at a factory printing t-shirts. I witnessed firsthand how the owner juggled multiple and often diverse tasks in order to operate a successful business. Looking back, I was naive to think that a t-shirt printing company was just about printing t-shirts.

If you look at the journey of an entrepreneur, it all starts with an idea. But an idea is just that – a thought. Without execution, an idea is as good as yesterday’s newspaper. Only when execution follows an idea, can you determine if there’s product-market fit. If you achieve product-market fit – congratulations, that’s a major accomplishment! You can start a company to further iterate on the idea and cement your place in the market. But once you start a company, you have to turn it into a business.

I’ve personally gone through this journey three times. My first business failed, I sold the second one, and the third has become one of Canada’s most successful startups. My experiences failing and succeeding as an entrepreneur reinforced the lesson I learned that summer many years ago: As an entrepreneur, the best product you can build is yourself.

You will wear many hats throughout the entrepreneur journey. As your company grows, you play different roles in the company and you can expect to change ‘jobs’ every few months. Each new job requires a different skill set. You may start as the product designer, but soon you’ll lead a team as a manager, and then eventually you transition into a leadership role.  I have yet to meet a single person who, at the launch of their company, has every required skill. So welcome continuous learning and crave self-improvement.

Taking the time to build yourself as a well-rounded entrepreneur will pay dividends.

Welcome to Allen’s Thoughts

I’m Allen and I’m a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and a champion of the Canadian startup ecosystem. Welcome to my new blog where I plan to share my ideas, insights and inspirations.

I like to write. Over the years I’ve probably shared in excess of 300,000 words. I’ve contributed to media outlets like Inc. and Entrepreneur. My previous blog, Making Things Out of Nothing, covered technology trends, my latest investments and company milestones. For several years, I’ve also maintained an internal blog to communicate with 100+ employees around the world. This private blog encompasses everything from company strategy to technology shifts to management advice. Through my internal blog, I created a lot of content that’s applicable to many people, but discoverable by few.

My hope is that this new blog changes that and becomes a central place for me to share the things I’m passionate about more broadly. And yes, of course, there will be a ton of new content as well. I know there is no shortage of business and tech insights available on the internet, but I believe I can offer a different perspective – from a scale-up or Canadian lens, for example – that sometimes can be difficult to find.

So what am I passionate about?

I’m passionate about entrepreneurship. I’ve launched three companies; the first one failed, I sold the second one, and the third, Wattpad, has grown from a reading and writing app, to a global entertainment powerhouse with a vision to entertain and connect the world through stories (and is well on its way). Both failures and successes have taught me valuable lessons and I’m excited to share these lessons with others – it’s my way to pay it forward so others can avoid (and learn from) the mistakes I’ve made.

I’m a believer in the power of the innovation economy to transform the world by creating a virtuous cycle of disruption and innovation. As both an entrepreneur and investor, I’ve seen some incredible ideas that will dramatically change the way we work, live and play.

As a proud Canadian and as an immigrant myself, I am certain that diversity is a strength, especially in the workplace. It’s no vanity metric either, I can cite numerous examples where diversity powered progress and drove real business results.

So what can you expect from this new blog? In a nutshell, I’ll share my experiences, ideas and even advice about the things that matter to me – entrepreneurship, startups, tech and innovation, leadership, diversity and a whole lot more.

Welcome to Allen’s Thoughts. I’m excited to have you here!