Leaving a Legacy with Ivan Yuen, co-founder of Wattpad

Ivan Yuen, in front of office buildingsIvan Yuen, co-founder of Wattpad and uWaterloo alumni, created a multi-million user e-reading application and contributes to the success of the co-op program by hiring Waterloo students at Wattpad every term.

Ivan graduated from Waterloo’s Computer Engineering program in 2000.  He says that the co-op program is “the best thing that I’ve ever come across.”  After four co-op terms at computer hardware jobs, he was hired at a software start-up company for his last work term and discovered his true passion for software: “I was hooked. I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

After graduating, Ivan worked for various hardware companies and software start-ups before starting Wattpad.  His idea for the program came from a personal need: “I read a lot, and there were few options for taking reading with you.  Like most engineers, I just built my own thing.” 

In 2006 Ivan approached his friend and previous co-worker Allen Lau with the idea for Wattpad. Coincidentally, Allen had been working on something similar. They banded together to bring Wattpad into existence.  For the first couple of years they struggled to gain users because, as Ivan notes, “we were just too early for the technology to take off, but we stuck it through and I’m glad we did.”  By the end of 2007, the iPhone and the Kindle had been launched, upping user accessibility: “the fact that we were already there opened up a whole new way for people to use Wattpad.”

"Bringing in co-op students reminds full time staff that we always have to look for different ways to do things." 
- Ivan Yuen, Co-founder of Wattpad

Canadian author and advocate for youth literacy Margaret Atwood recently became a contributor to Wattpad.  She described it as the perfect tool for youth – whom you might not associate with creative writing or being highly involved with fiction – since it is native to the digital age.  “She’s been very involved and we’re happy to have her on board,” says Ivan. 

Wattpad's open workspace with red and orange furnitureWattpad is in its prime, and Ivan and Allen want to help young talent get experience.  They hire five to six Waterloo co-op students each term, and encourage them to jump in the deep end from day one.  “It’s really important for software developers to know their work can reach our millions of users on a daily basis,” says Ivan. “We tell them ‘what you’re doing has a really big impact.’”  

The co-ops at Wattpad bring ideas different from their full time staff to the work environment. Ivan attributes this to their “breadth of experience,” as a result of working multiple jobs over such a short period of time.  Students are “very receptive to change and that’s pretty rare even for people with a few years of experience.  Bringing in co-op students reminds [full time staff] that we always have to look for different ways to do things.”

With 15 million users every month, Wattpad does not show any signs of slowing down and has big plans for the future.  “We want to make Wattpad a place for everyone: synonymous with reading AND writing,” says Ivan.  “To have the social and cultural impact that we envision, we want that [number] to be 100 million to 500 million people.  This is only the first step on our way.”  

Ivan and Allen were recently named by the Financial Times as one of seven Canadian tech stars to watch due to their overwhelming success with Wattpad.