How to build a successful Silicon Valley company by age 22
Brian Wong graduated from UBC at 17 and is now the CEO of a $50M company
At 17 he graduated from the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.
At 19 he founded his company Kiip, a mobile rewards company.
And now at the age of 22, Brian Wong is the CEO of a company valued at $50 million and has been named to Forbes Top 30 under 30 list for the third time.
Wong recently sat down with CBC Radio's Rick Cluff on The Early Edition to share his secrets for success. Here is a condensed and edited version of that interview.
Q: What is Kiip?
It basically takes moments of achievement and these apps people use everyday on their phone. So in those moments instead of being slapped around by an ad, why don't we reward you?
So imagine using a fitness app and you've logged a run, why not get a free energy drink? We were inspired by this model of serendipitous rewards, so instead of telling you what you needed to do, we'd tell you to just keep doing what you're doing and then brands would be there to delight you.
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
I was on a flight, and I did the aisle creep - where you look to your left and to your right...and I noticed that the people who were awake were playing tonnes of games on their phones.
I was really curious about why they were so addicted to those games. Turns out that are these mini dopamine rushes that occur when you achieve something and it occurred to me what if we could tie those happiness moments to something rather than an advertisement?
Q: Why do you think your model works?
The model works because there's this universal desire in people to be rewarded. Other folks try to dangle a carrot and that is a short term model. But ours takes a human approach. As for getting brands to buy in, I think a lot of it is about the feeling of frustration with banner ads. When was the last time you clicked on one on purpose? Brands already know that is a problem and our solution is naturally obvious.
Q: Television and news agencies are still adapting to the mobile reality. What do you see for the future of ads and viewing consumption?
It's in the hands of the users. We've seen that shift already. But when people perceive ads as ads, which most people don't welcome, they see it as a necessary reality. We don't think that's the model the future should hold for advertising.
I think people should perceive advertising as helpful and as something that adds value. We have started with mobile because we know that people's minds are more open [on that platform] but we know it can apply to a lot of other traditional media.
Q: When you hire people, you like to ask applicants, 'What is your superpower?' We have to ask you, what is your superpower?
I like to get people really excited about stuff. It happens in meetings or when I'm talking to them and I think that rallies people. When you're starting a company, the best thing you can do is have a vision, a strong one, and then people will want to buy into that and be part of it.
Q. You have been named as Forbes 30 Under 30 for the third time this year. What's the hardest part about being a young entrepreneur?
You know there is no "hard part''. These days it's a big enabler to be young and trying to do something cool. Anybody my age, or with that mindset of being curious and constantly challenging the status quo, are being enabled by the internet and there are tools available so that you have no excuse.
Q: What is your best advice for young entrepreneurs?
Generate serendipity. Create your own luck. I think asking is incredibly under-rated. If you don't ask, no one knows how to help you. So if you have a question, just ask, and you will be surprised at the answer you might get.