Silicon Valley’s Young Master: Brian Wong Q&A

By Silicon Allee |

At just 21, Brian Wong has already made a name for himself in Silicon Valley – as founder and CEO of advertising platform Kiip he has raised $4.4 million in funding to date. He’s in Berlin for the Social Gaming Summit tomorrow, and Silicon Allee caught up with him recently to talk about redefining the advertising industry, his favourite startups and what he thinks of Berlin.

SILICON ALLEE: You were at The Next Web conference in Amsterdam recently – what did you make of it?

BRIAN WONG: It was very impressive but I wasn’t surprised because I’ve seen the European startup audience before. I think it’s very indicative of just how closed-minded some people are in the Valley in not recognising the fact that the other side of the world has a lot of startup activity. It’s growing and blowing up.

SA: What do you think of the European tech scene in general?

BW: People are just very humble and are smart. They look at the world very differently. The cultural differences lend themselves to unique takes on different technological solutions that you wouldn’t expect to be solvable in the first place.

SA: Which startups do you admire the most?

BW: There are a few that I like a lot. One is SoundCloud – Berlin pride! Wooga is another. One that saved my ass a lot was Halo; many like to compare them to Uber but I think they’re very different. I think the platform is really great, and we use the app everyday to get around.

SA: What is your take on Berlin? What have you heard about the scene here?

BW: Berlin has definitely generated a name for itself through both of those companies I just mentioned. There are a lot more that I don’t know but I’ll find out about them when I’m in Berlin. I think the gaming scene is very hot, Jens (Begemann) and Wooga are leading the charge there and we dabble in that space so it makes sense to know them. Berlin is really emerging as a European tech centre.

SA: Tell us a little bit about Kiip.

BW: It’s a mobile awards network. Essentially what we’ve done is taken existing popular apps and games and figured out a way to get brands to reward you for things you’ve already decided to do. We call them achievement moments, these moments of happiness, moments of activity in games – it’s about leveling up and getting the top score. But outside of games you have fitness apps, so run ten miles and beat your last lap time or whatever.

We also found a way of bringing in big brands like the Pepsis, the Cokes, the Startbucks, Best Buys and Disney’s of the world to reward you. It’s been really cool so far.

SA: Have you been the salesman pulling in these big deals?

BW: In the beginning I was hopelessly trying to but then we hired someone better than me to do it. It took a lot of time to do. It’s kind of the fun trials and tribulations of being a startup.

SA: You’re sometimes described as being on a mission to redefine the advertising industry – what exactly does that mean?

BW: What’s interesting about advertising is in the last 70 years, not a lot has really changed. You have on mobile apps and mobile games what is essentially a 70-year-old marketing technology billboard made really tiny. You can’t assume that will be the final form… if you look at the definition of advertising, it’s connecting a consumer and a brand. The advertisement isn’t the banner ad, it’s the connection that was created. So if you can do it in a more organic, less interruptive and more additive way, that truly rethinks things. Like I always tell my team, think of the last 30 years of digital advertising and just throw it out the door and ignore it.

SA: How would you do things better?

BW: They always say let me make your experience better, but that’s been perverted in some weird way where making it better is showing you an exclusive interview with a celebrity. That is not advertising; that isn’t helping anybody. If we can figure out a way to bring a brand in, to reward you at the right time with the right award while you’re doing the right thing, there’s magic.

SA: You’ve achieved so much for someone who has only just turned 21 – how did you do it?

BW: It’s not a question of how but more of a why. And the why is more around my general desire to grow very quickly. Everything I’ve done in life is on a different timeline. People always laugh at how fast I move, but that’s my normal speed. I don’t have patience for incompetence, I don’t have the patience for the regular schedule of things. Rules are designed to be broken. Rules were defined by someone.

SA: Could you have accomplished what you have anywhere else in the world? Is it special in the Valley?

BW: That’s a loaded question. I think you can do anything you want anywhere but it’s about whether or not you’re in an area that judges you the right way. Einstein said you can’t judge a fish by the way it climbs a tree and it’s similar in the Valley… you will be judged properly if you have the right skill set. If you want to be a banker you shouldn’t be there, if you’re an actor or actress you should go somewhere else. If you want to be an entrepreneur that dives into the consumer tech space, you should definitely be in San Francisco.

SA: There has been plenty of talk of a talent war in San Francisco – is it easy to find engineers and creative types?

BW: The reason why certain companies are having trouble is because there is so much noise. If you can cut through the clutter by having a truly innovative and unique vision then you shouldn’t have an issue. We’ve been lucky to have a great team but we attracted a lot of talent from outside of the Valley. A bunch of engineers joined the family from Washington, down in LA and out in New York. If the vision is strong enough, naturally driven people will devote their time, energy and their heart into something they care about as well. Everyone in the company cares just as passionately about the concept and the execution as I do.

Brian will be at the Social Gaming Summit on Thursday and would love to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs – ping him on Twitter.