#ImmigrationMatters in Toronto, Ontario

Hong Kong immigrant Allen Lau co-founded Wattpad, the hugely successful tech start-up that is helping writers find audiences far and wide.

Supporting writers, promoting literacy and creating jobs

Allen Lau

When Allen Lau arrived in Toronto from Hong Kong in the late 1980s, he had just finished high school and was embarking on an engineering degree at the University of Toronto. He had no idea that he would someday be the visionary behind a tech start-up that helps writers connect to worldwide markets.

He landed a job with IBM after graduation, but the large corporate environment wasn’t his style. He moved to Delrina, a small tech start-up (later acquired by Symantec)—and caught the entrepreneurship bug.

By 2001, he had started his first company, Tira Wireless, a mobile gaming company. A few years later, the idea for Wattpad, a platform that allows writers to post and readers to view and interact with writers, came to him.

“Gaming is not my passion”, says Allen. “I spend more time reading and writing. But because I was so close to mobile, I envisioned people’s desire to bring their reading with them everywhere on a device.”

He started Wattpad with a colleague, Ivan Yuen. In the earliest days, it was just the 2 co-founders. Now, Wattpad has around 170 employees and 70 million users spend 22 billion minutes on it each month. Wattpad also seems to be boosting interest in reading among young people. According to Wattpad’s website, some 90% of its users are millennials or Gen Z.

Wattpad opens doors for writers to audiences they could never have reached before. Allen points to Canadian writer Isabelle Ronin, who had the most popular story on Wattpad in 2016 and is now a published author.

“Allen is a great visionary and incredibly inspiring. I believe he has the ability to see into the future and figure out how to make it a reality.”

Matt Golden, co-founder of Tira Wireless and an early investor in Wattpad

“As a writer based in Winnipeg, it would have been mission impossible for her to gain an audience outside of Manitoba, let alone Canada, let alone beyond North America”, notes Allen.

But any story shared on Wattpad is instantly available anywhere on the planet.

“Wattpad gave me a huge platform to share my work with the world”, says Isabelle. “Without it, I may not have had my novels published in 6 languages, worked with brands like E! Network and Open Road Films, or been asked to take part in all kinds of amazing opportunities.”

Isabelle says Wattpad has changed her life. “It’s incredible. It feels like a dream.”

Around the world, nearly a thousand Wattpad stories have been published as books, or adapted for TV and film.

“I think it’s reshaping not only the way people read and write, but also the way entertainment is created and consumed”, says Matt Golden, who co-founded Tira Wireless with Allen.

Immigration profile: Toronto, Ontario (Census Metropolitan Area)

Quick facts:

  • Immigrants in the Toronto area represent almost half (46%) of the population.
  • India is the biggest source country of immigrants in the Toronto area, followed by China and the Philippines.
  • Half of all immigrants who came to the Toronto area between 1980 and 2016 were economic immigrants, more than a third (34%) were sponsored by family members and 15% were refugees.

Did you know?

  • Toronto is one of the most diverse and welcoming places in the world. The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants launched the Toronto for All campaign to keep it that way. Learn more.

You may also be interested in ...

Feeding it forward – 1 sandwich at a time

The owner of a Toronto eatery offers a unique way for customers to help feed those in need and build a strong community – all for less than $4.

Fundraising for much-needed services in Sudbury

Inspired by her mother’s example, Bela Ravi works tirelessly to raise funds for what people need most in her home town of Sudbury.

Cooking up a community—and feeding it

Steve Kidron, who once struggled to feed himself, now runs an enterprise in Toronto that supports food industry start-ups and feeds others.

See all stories

Canada’s immigration track record

What does immigration do for our country?

Learn more

Canada’s immigration system

How are immigrants selected, screened and set up for success?

Learn more

Growing Canada’s future

How do immigrants contribute to fields such as sports, business and health care?

Learn more

Immigration and our local economies

What role does immigration play in local economies?

Learn more

 Get email updates

Get new #ImmigrationMatters stories, info on events and updates.

Sign up

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: