Allen Lau is the co-founder and CEO of Wattpad, a global multi-platform entertainment company and the world’s leading social storytelling platform. Allen led the company from its early days to its acquisition for over USD $600 million by South Korean Internet conglomerate Naver. He is the co-founder of Two Small Fish Ventures, a venture capital fund. In 2021, he joined the board of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Whether he is building a global entertainment company or living life with his wife of twenty five years, walking how he wants comes naturally to Allen. Read to find out.
Allen: Of course nothing is certain, right? Especially when a company’s small, when there’s no traction or proof points. Having doubts is only natural. You overcome doubts by thinking less about how other people see you and what they think about you. You focus more on the mission and your belief in that mission.Elle: A lot of entrepreneurs at some point in their journey have felt an inner or public shame. There is a lot of external pressure from different places that we internalize. Did you ever deal with that kind of shame?
Allen: Yes, I would say early on it would impact me more. Over time you learn not to think too much about how other people perceive you or your company. Why would you care about someone that you don’t even know? They’re not you. They’re not running the company. They don't know what you’re going through. They also don’t know your highs either so whatever they think is completely out of context. Why would you care about this? Once you realize that, it’s easy to know that external opinions have no accountability either. It makes it easier to focus on your work and what you want to do.
Allen: Disney is a company that I admire. Most people admire Disney. One of the most important things that Disney did extremely well was making Disney relatable across many channels or product lines. Going from a company that began as drawing cartoons to running a theme park with hotels, to cruise ships and all the other properties that they built over a century. So that’s very inspiring. They realized that Disney is all about a great story and how you can find better or new ways to tell that story. It evolves over time. They started with Mickey Mouse almost a hundred years ago and they’ve grown so much since then. What we are doing at Wattpad is the same. We keep reminding ourselves that we’re not just a technology company. We’re not just a platform. We are at the core, a storytelling company. Once we realized that the rest has been easy to build or expand on.Elle: I really like that analogy. You’ve helped so many people tell stories and you are a great storyteller yourself. What is your favorite kind of story?
Allen: I like stories similar to my own, about overcoming challenges and eventually figuring out a way to a happy ending. This story is very common, but at the same time every story is different. You learn from those experiences. I like to read about how people lived 100 years ago on Wikipedia, or how they did things 50 years ago. That journey about people overcoming things, David vs. Goliath, always fascinates me.Elle: Is it hard for you to stop working? I'm obsessed when it comes to my work. It’s very hard for me to switch off and in fact I hardly switch off which I know is not a good thing!
Allen: I think it’s hard for most entrepreneurs. I cannot speak for all of them. The reason we are entrepreneurs is because we love what we are doing. So in a way, we find love and joy in what we do, working with people who share this joy. That way you’re enjoying the journey, regardless of the outcome.Elle: What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Allen: I check my phone.Elle: Of course!
Allen: Of course, right?Elle: What fulfills your soul?
Allen: I am a very easy going person. I think I'm famous for not having a hobby and I don’t need anything else. I’m a pretty happy person.Elle: That’s truly a gift Allen. It’s a blessing to be that kind of person and I admire that quality.
Allen: I am quite happy naturally, though sometimes of course there are challenges. It’s not that I am happy 100% of the time but I find that it’s easy for me to stay neutral at least.Elle: How would you describe yourself in less than 5 words?
Allen: Thoughtful, introverted, boring. I don’t want to be braggy…but I would say analytical, and hardworking.Elle: How long have you been married to your phenomenal wife Eva?
Allen: It has been 25 years.Elle: 25 years! Congratulations.What’s the secret to 25 years of marriage?
Allen: Eva has the completely opposite personality to mine. That could be a challenge or a blessing depending on the perspective, right? I see it as a blessing. The secret for us is that we leverage each other's strengths. We don’t spend a lot of time making decisions together. We divide and conquer. There are things she does and things I do and we split the responsibilities and accept the decisions the other person makes. We are both Type A and this works for us.Elle: I love it. You’re on the board at TIFF. Why did you join and how do you want to contribute?
Allen: TIFF is predominantly an in-person entertainment organization and what I do at Wattpad is predominantly digital. There is a lot of experience that I share with them. Not everyone knows that TIFF is actually a non-profit organization. I’ve spent most of my energy, time and effort in the private sector so this is a new experience for me which I’m enjoying. TIFF is a fantastic organization that was heavily impacted by the pandemic. But they are still in a great position and I am looking forward to contributing to TIFF as a board member.Elle: What does Walk How You Want mean to you?
Allen: Be happy on your own terms. Find what you want to work on, when you want to work on it and who you want to do it with. If you have joy and passion in whatever you choose, you’ll be better at it and then everything feeds on itself. Being able to walk how you want is a privilege, not everyone is able to do that. So if you’re able to do it, why let other people intrude or make you upset? Who cares?