Once the youngest person to ever receive venture capital funding, Brian received his Bachelor of Commerce from the University of British Columbia at age 18, after skipping four K-12 grades.
His ticket to success was Kiip (pronounced ‘keep’), a mobile startup which redefines how brands connect with consumers through a rewards platform that targets ‘achievement moments’ in mobile games and apps. This innovative approach to mobile marketing creates meaningful engagements between users, developers and advertisers. Backed by Hummer Winblad, Relay Ventures, True Ventures, Digital Garage and others, the company has raised $15.4 million in funding to date.
At a very young age Brian has been recognized with many awards for his accomplishments and leadership, including, Forbes’ ‘30 under 30’ for three years, Mashable’s ‘Top 5 Entrepreneurs to Watch’, One of Canada’s ‘Top 20 Under 20’, Business Insider’s ‘Top 25 Under 25 in Silicon Valley,’ and many others.
Continuing our Interview series at App Inspiration by Arkenea, I spoke to Brian Wong, Founder & CEO at Kiip. In this interview, he talks about what inspired him to start Kiip, his future plans, and advice to the aspiring appreneurs.
Skipping grades and finishing college at 18 is one thing, and launching a successful venture (also being the youngest in the world to raise venture capital), another. What makes you tick to have consistently outperformed?
Brian: I was lucky to have family and schools that supported and encouraged me. I also had great role models in my father and grandfather – both of whom are entrepreneurs. I think part of it is also my drive. I constantly push myself to grow, be challenged, experiment.
What inspired you to start Kiip at a time when the app ecosystem wasn’t as prolific and catering to the developer market was a niche business to get into?
Brian: I came up with the idea for Kiip while I was on a long flight overseas. I was doing the ‘aisle creep’, or stretching my legs walking up and down the aisles, when I noticed everyone was on their phones playing games. When users won levels in those games, however, ads would appear and block out app content. They’d look annoyed and click out of the ad without ever really looking at it. That’s when it struck me: Why not create ads that users want to see? Content that recognizes and celebrates in-app achievements?
At the time, nothing like this existed so the market felt right. I connected with some colleagues from my previous job at Digg and we set to work making mobile rewards mainstream.
Recent reports provided insights into the app ecosystem from the entrepreneur’s point of view – that less than 1% of apps are financially successful. Isn’t that a concern for Kiip? Are you taking any steps to foster growth of successful appreneurs?
Brian: When we first launched Kiip, we partnered with the hottest mobile games in the space. This attracted top-tier brands, which in turn attracted more app developers and bam – you have the birth of Kiip.
Flash forward about five years and you can see Kiip today. We still partner with successful developers, like PikPok, whose games have tens of millions of downloads each. On the other end of the spectrum, we have smaller developers, who are doing something noticeably unique. We recently partnered with SafeDrive, for instance. SafeDrive gamifies responsible driving, encouraging users to put down their phones while behind the wheel. While newer, SafeDrive is making the kind of positive impact we hope to see more of in the industry.
I’m not worried that our partner apps will fail. If anything, having rewards in mobile apps increases user retention and app favourability. We have a study to prove it!
Discoverability and consistent traction is the biggest challenge for appreneurs. What would your advice be for an app developer or appreneur who wants to build a successful mobile-first startup?
Brian: Choose a few leaders in the space you admire. I think you can learn the most not from the business moguls, but from leaders who are one step ahead of you. You can see what they’ve done and learn from their successes and mistakes. So observe what they’re doing and find a way to replicate those strategies by working smarter, not harder.
And above all, try – as much as you can. I tell everyone who asks for advice this: if you’re not getting rejected every day, you’re not trying hard enough.
What are your views on tech entrepreneurs looking to move to the Silicon Valley to build a successful business – is that imperative or one should consider the move only for some specific reasons?
Brian: No one move is right for everyone. There is a lot of talent in Silicon Valley, but there’s also a lot of competition – you need to be able to keep up in the race. Personally, I spent my youth in British Columbia and moved to San Francisco post-university for work. It was one of the best decisions I made for my career, but again – you need to make the choice that’s beneficial to you.
So what’s next for Brian Wong – what is that one passion or dream that you’d like to take steps to achieve – outside of Kiip or post Kiip?
Brian: Right now, my focus is 110% on Kiip. Earlier this year, we partnered with MasterCard to power their loyalty app, Priceless Surprises. And very recently, we teamed up with Campari America to launch a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) campaign. It targets the mobile moments when users are most likely to drink and rewards them with a $5 Lyft credit, encouraging users to get home safe from the bars.
I’m excited to explore the possibilities with these brands and see how else we can grow Kiip. There’s so much left to do and we’re just getting started.