Vancity Entrepreneurs: Brian Wong Kiips it real

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This week’s Vancity Entrepreneur is quite a special one. In fact, if I ever had to change the name of this weekly series, I would feel comfortable calling it: Brian Wong. UBC Sauder School of Business Alumni, Brian Wong, needs no introduction amongst the entrepreneurial community. He graduated from UBC at 18, is quoted by Techcrunch and the Wall Street Journal as the “youngest person to ever receive funding by a venture capital firm,” and exactly two years ago created a $50 million company known as Kiip (pronounced “keep”) – the pioneer of a fundamental paradigm shift within the advertising world.

1. Hi Brian, tell us about yourself. You missing Vancouver and the UBC days?

I’m doing well – and great to have a chance to talk to a publication so embedded into the fabric of my home city =)

I am definitely always missing Vancouver and UBC – how could you not! But there’s a lot in San Francisco and around the world that makes me always feel like I’m at home as well.

2. You have worked on a handful of entrepreneurial projects before Kiip, walk us through a couple of them. Looking back, did they help in developing the idea around Kiip? How did that lightbulb moment develop around your current company?

I’ve always had the entrepreneurial itch, to some degree it runs in my family. But what got me the most excited was the opportunity to truly reinvent an industry.

Digg was the first company to apply game mechanics in a unique space, to what had been a traditionally stale and boring advertising market. Working there really opened my mind to how different aspects of industries could work together in a unique way.

The idea for Kiip started forming, strangely enough, after I was laid off from Digg {I bet they are regretting that}, when I was on a plane, and I looked around and realized that a large number of people were playing games on their mobile phones and tablets during the flight. And, it’s no secret that every day the number of people who have mobile devices is increasing and most all of them play mobile games – which translates into captive, engaged audiences that, at the time when I formed Kiip, there was no way an advertiser or brand could really reach a user without disrupting their game play in an intrusive way.

I realized there’s a connection between how you’re addicted, and how you play, and how you’re incentivized to continue playing a game that can be tied directly to a particular behavior. I just didn’t know exactly how. At first, I was trying to make it really complicated, and then it hit me. There’s one thing in every game that’s universal: Every game has an achievement.

So I started thinking more about game play and game mechanics, and realized that there were these organic moments of emotion and excitement in a game that could be tapped into without annoying or disrupting people. It was an idea I believed in – revolutionizing in-game mobile advertising with a model based on “achievement moments.”

3. What’s the long-term paradigm shift you see Kiip driving in the digital advertising space? What’s the big marketing objective at the end of the day?

Our model is very distinct – but we do unfortunately sometimes get bucketed into other categories when people don’t understand the true nuances in the model we’ve created. With the rewards model – we’re not just giving away rewards for the sake of giving away rewards or to build loyalty with a brand. Our primary value proposition is happiness. We’ve identified a platform that taps into the games that people are already playing and optimizing that experience. You’re already playing a casual game like Words with Friends or Angry Birds, but now instead of just getting a high-score or leveling-up and moving on, we’re delivering a branded reward for that achievement. You’ve earned it. It’s a win for the consumer, it’s a win for the game developer who gets to monetize their games in the most effective manner and it’s a win for the advertiser who gets to reach an engaged consumer at the exact moment of achievement. It creates an unparalleled affinity for a brand by the consumer.

Rewarding users at a time of intense emotion and happiness is an outstanding opportunity for both the brand and the user. The user gets instant gratification for their achievement, which then translates into a moment of joy shared with the brand that they are being presented with. The user is engaged at that exact moment of interaction with the brand, creating an unparalleled affinity by the consumer. Reciprocation is a huge factor in this advertising model. Users get rewards, and brands get engagement and loyalty from consumers. We’ve seen this model grow immensely in the last two years since I’ve started the company with my co-founders – and we couldn’t be more excited for what’s next in the growth we’re seeing from the outside as well. Mobile has never grown as fast as we’re seeing it now.

4. What have some of the greatest challenges been for you as CEO?

All of my challenges are things that I’m learning into – there are always different stages of a company – like a growing child – and as a parent – I need to be equipped with the right knowledge to be able to perform as a parent as everyone/everything grows up. Today, my biggest challenge is properly putting in place a hiring process as we scale. It comes from bringing in the right people – it’s funny how “hiring to hire” becomes so real here.

5. Who are some role models who have inspired you along the way? Any Vancouverite who has been especially influential?

There are many folks who have inspired me along the way in Vancouver. I’d need to list hundreds of people to be truly fair. I will highlight one person though – Brian Scudamore from 1-800-GOT-JUNK?  – my time there really ignited something inside of me. Brian’s story is incredible.

6. What’s your advice to other people deciding to take the entrepreneurial road?

Most young entrepreneurs are at the edge of a cliff. They are looking for reasons to jump, or not to jump. There are lots of people willing to tell them all the reasons of why they shouldn’t. Very few are there to tell them all the reasons why they should, and to help them throughout to show them how to grow wings in the process. I’m there to nudge them. Being a now 21-year-old entrepreneur with a funded start up – experience at a well-known company in the social news landscape, and literally being thrown into a pit of extremely successful entrepreneurs as a non-American (a Canadian), helped prime me to learn all of the lessons that I now want to share with other budding entrepreneurs. Such as:

  • You are the most powerful force in your own life. Don’t let others set the rules for you.
  • Trust your instincts: Entrepreneurship is inherently instinctual – you’re devoting your life to something unknown and ambiguous. Your decisions and “strategy” are most often a result of a culmination of your basic instincts and parallel but not directly relevant data.
  • Generate serendipity: Essentially, by creating your own luck, there is no sense of reliance. I really, truly, believe in people who understand how to build the right relationships, know how to thrive in the right environments, and believe in their own capacity and propensity to create.

As you can see, there is a reason why Brian is where he is today. Having briefly overlapped with him at school, and recently, a chance to talk life and entrepreneurship when I visited San Francisco in April, made it clear to me that a lot of what Brian does is keep it real. He has demonstrated that being genuine and always learning from other budding entrepreneurs and leaders, is at the heart of success in the entrepreneurial world. What also greatly resonates with me is his advice on generating serendipity and trusting ones instincts. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to make things happen.

This leads to a personal favourite quote of mine by famous entrepreneur, Mary Kay Ash: “There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. We all have a choice. You can decide the type of person you want to be. I have always chosen to be in the first group.” So has Brian Wong, and so will hopefully more Vancity Entrepreneurs.

Follow @brian_wong and @kiip on Twitter.

Stay in touch @pauldavidescu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mykH04nH8E

*Vancity Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs or startups that are making Vancouver a better place. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send paul@vancitybuzz.com an email explaining why*

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Paul Davidescu Founder of Tangoo, the pocket concierge app that delivers the most personal and seamless way to organize the perfect social outing at restaurants and social venues matched to your mood: (www.tangoo.ca/app). Former editor of Vancouver Entrepreneurs series, UBC Sauder alumni, public speaker, startup mentor.
@pauldavidescu

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