Brian Wong is the founder of Kiip.me, a mobile rewards program. Prior to founding Kiip, he worked at Digg in business development. His five months there ended when he was laid off because of cost-cutting measures, an event that motivated him to start his own company. Prior to working at Digg, he gained recognition by developing social apps for Twitter. He graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in business at the age of 18.
Sramana: Brian, let’s start by reviewing some of your background. Where are you from and where did you grow up?
Brian Wong: I was born in Vancouver, Canada. My parents came over from Hong Kong in the 1980s and I was born in 1991. I lived there and went to school there until I was 18, at which time I moved to San Francisco.
Sramana: You are 20 years old now. Did you skip college?
Brian Wong: No. I skipped two grades in elementary school and two grades in high school. I went to college when I was 14. I was in college at the University of British Columbia, where I studied commerce. I wanted to have the full college experience, so I did a full four-year degree. I graduated from college when I was 18, and that is when I started my first business.
My first business was a Twitter tool that was based on their API. That was my first foray into understanding what it was like to build a tool I owned the IP for. From there I was able to create an excuse to come down to California. I went to L.A. in October 2009, which was the first time in my life I had been in California. I met a bunch of entrepreneurs, so I decided to stop by San Francisco to meet others as well. Digg was one of the companies I had the chance to reach out and meet. The people at Digg offered me a job, so I flew down a few months later after my visa had cleared to work in business development.
I was at Digg for almost five months before getting laid off in May. Digg was starting to see a decrease in traffic and they needed to cut costs. I was the junior BD guy, so I was one of 15 people who were laid off. I was cut loose very early on. Most people thought it was an internship, but it wasn’t. I went out and tried to find new jobs, and I realized that there was a lot that I could do to control my own destiny rather than pay for someone else’s mistakes. One of the main reasons that I started Kiip is because I didn’t want to get screwed anymore. When you get laid off when you are 18, it is not a great experience.
Sramana: What did you have in mind when you decided to start a business?
Brian Wong: I realized that mobile advertising was completely broken. I also realized that mobile was rolling out. There was not a public place I could go to where I could not find someone who wasn’t playing a game on his or her phone. I realized there was a huge opportunity when there is that amount of behavior at that scale. It is significant. I felt if there was a chance to figure out how to solve that problem, it would be important to me.
I found that when people are playing games or doing something on their mobiles, they hate ads. There would be pop-ups asking people for a dollar to remove the ads. When people are paying to remove something, it is usually because they do not like it. I wanted to figure out how to do something radically new. The concept was to leverage moments of achievement. Every video game in the world has achievements like level ups and high scores. Those are valuable moments in time. I wanted to tie them to brands as some sort of rewards program where the user got something back from the brand for achievements. I felt that would be something amazing.