Brian Wong never imagined he would become the world’s youngest venture-funded entrepreneur when he founded Kiip in 2010. Nineteen years old and newly laid off from Digg, Wong was in a plane when he noticed that the other passengers were happily playing games on their smartphones. Seeing a potentially “huge market for advertising” through games on mobile devices, Wong decided to create a rewards system for gamers. Eighteen months later, the mobile app dispenses 5 rewards every second from brands like Pepsi and Best Buy, and Wong is building a brand of his own.
“Back in 2010,” said Wong, “the ways advertisers were monetizing was abysmal.” The banner ads that popped up during games were like “billboards made tiny,” he said, and distracted players from the action. “People find it difficult to fall in love with an ad,” he added, “but it’s easy to fall in love with a reward.” Instead of interrupting the players, Kiip’s advertisers would offer them freebies after each level that they could redeem after the game.
Wong decided to put his idea to the test. His work in business development at Digg had put him in touch with “people who became my advocates after I got laid off,” he said. After meeting with the partners at True Ventures in San Francisco, Wong said that the investors must have checked his references, because his friends immediately called him up to congratulate him. “Social validation is very important in the Valley,” he said. That’s how, at the age of 19, Wong became the youngest entrepreneur to secure venture capital funds. (His record has since been broken.)
The $300,000 Wong raised from True Ventures and other angel investors in 2010 was “the most money I’d ever seen in my life,” he said, but the founder soon learned that he would need more than that to run a company. In April 2011, Wong raised an additional $4 million from Hummer Vinblad Venture Partners and other firms.
The company has since partnered with consumer brands like Pepsi, Best Buy, Disney, PopChips, and 1-800-FLOWERS to offer rewards. In the last 18 months, Kiip has been exposed 40 million times on 10 million devices, said Wong.
Kiip is no longer just for games. A new partnership with PepsiCo’s Propel Enhanced Water rewards fitness enthusiasts for logging their milestones on apps like LoloFit, MapMyRUN and Nexercise. If you run a certain number of miles, for example, you will get a voucher for a free bottle of water that can be redeemed anywhere the brand is sold.
Now 21 years old, Wong’s next step is to make Kiip a consumer-facing portal rather than a white-label product. When the domain name kiip.com went up for auction, Wong bought it. Earlier on, he had settled for the best available URL at the time, which was kiip.me.
“Rewards have been used to scam people,” Wong pointed out. Kiip already handles the customer service on behalf of the clients. “We don’t mind being held accountable,” the founder said. When users started making lists of Kiip-enabled games on their own, Wong saw an opportunity to establish the brand as a non-scammy rewards system that worked with a lot of different games and apps.
Mobile users have a select number of apps that are allowed to live on the home screens of their phones and tablets. Said Wong, “The goal for Kiip is to be enabled in at least one of them.”