Brian Wong – venture capital veteran, CEO of a global mobile business, star of digital conventions and media darling – is no normal 21 year old. Well, except in one respect perhaps.
“The girls in Edinburgh are hot, man,” he tells The Drum on a recent trip to speak at a tech festival in the city. “Scotland is definitely now one of my favourite places.”
The youngest person ever to receive venture capital according to the Wall Street Journal, Wong recently secured a second round of investment worth $11m for Kiip (pronounced ‘keep’), a category creating mobile rewards network. He already raised $5m when he co-founded it last year.
A Chinese Canadian, now based in San Francisco, Wong’s youthful enthusiasm and intellect shine through – a combination backers obviously find compelling.
After skipping four grades, he graduated from the University of British Columbia aged 18. And after a stint at Digg – where he launched the company’s Android mobile app – he set up Kiip.
The business effectively follows an advertising network model, but rather than serve ads it offers rewards. And rather than chasing people around the internet it encourages them to engage.
Kiip came to market via the games industry, where reaching certain levels allowed gamers to redeem awards, such as a free coffee, meal or voucher.
Now it has opened up its system to app developers, and in theory any app can now reward users reaching certain keystones.
“One of my favourite offers was for a women’s deodorant called Secret,” he tells us. “They wanted to target people who were working out, but couldn’t really offer a free deodorant – what would they be saying about their consumers?! What they did instead was offer a free download for their workout playlist when certain milestones on their fitness trackers were met.
“And we have just signed up our first partner here in the UK. Yo Sushi is using Kiip to offer one free meal – a great promotion because the brand is exactly right for us, and who goes into a restaurant and orders just one meal?”
Kiip clients also include Pepsi, Amazon, Best Buy and Disney.
Offering rewards rather than serving ads turns the whole model of online advertising on its head, says Wong.
“Because we offer rewards it means that people actually want us to know more about them to get more relevant ads. People see Kiip as a friendly face.
“We do not have any privacy problems, because all the information is given to us by consumers in order to redeem rewards.
“You never hear consumers saying they love AdMob for example, because their ads annoy people. If you saw apps with ads which make them less happy, then of course you will annoy the market. But we actually get love letters. Somebody wrote to let us to know they really like Starbucks, because they’d be interested in their offers. That is a good thing.”
The big opportunity with mobile according to Wong is that it embodies people’s personal behaviour.
“The key as far as we’re concerned is to tap into an individual’s existing stream of behaviour. We want to help them do what they’re doing anyway, not forcing them to do something else.”
He illustrates the point with a real world example: “Take a marathon. It usually has rehydration stations, and in the US they usually offer Gatorade. That’s great because people have already decided to do the marathon, and as a result need to rehydrate. And, when they do, Gatorade is there. That is the sort of thing we want to achieve in a mobile environment.”
Now that any developer will be able to install Kiip into their app brings Wong closer to achieving this, and it gives Kiip an edge over the likes of Foursquare.
“Why should you have to download an app to get rewards? Our rewards are delivered through apps you will be using in any case.”
However, to help people manage their rewards and identify relevant deals, Kiip has launched its own App in the US (Kiipsake) which will soon launch in the UK too. However this development, coupled with the new funding, suggests that Wong believes his system is still in the early stages of development. So where is the new funding going to be spent?
“You know the freaky thing?” asks Wong. “We actually generate revenue already, and, unlike many social media start ups who like to burn through cash, we have since the beginning. But this business is in a hockey stick growth curve. We have to rapidly expand to ensure we don’t miss out.
“We started in games but since applying Kiip outside games things have really blown up. I would say 20 per cent of our offers are outside the traditional games market.
“The money will be advertising fuel, although we don’t need to advertise in a traditional sense. To date we have doled out 90 million rewards, so it is now about joining the dots to exploit this, while also looking at things to make us more social.”