On paper, it’s easy to be envious of Brian Wong. The 25-year-old skipped four grades in school, finished university by the time he was 18, and started his fourth company and raised $5 million in funding by age 19. It’s a resumé that has the inadvertent effect of making your accomplishments feel small and belated.
But hear him talk, and it’s difficult to hold a grudge against the unrelentingly positive entrepreneur. This sunny temperament helped Wong raise over $42 million for his San Francisco–based company, Kiip (pronounced “keep”), and grow it to an annual US$20 million in revenue in just five years.
Wong came up with Kiip on a flight home to Vancouver after losing his job with Silicon Valley news aggregator Digg. Watching people fiddle with their phones to pass the time, he had an epiphany. “There’s no human being I’ve ever met who looks at a banner or ad on their phone and says: ‘Oh, yes! I would love to tap on this!,’” he recalls thinking. “How is it possible that this is something that’s so ubiquitous, but so rejected by the consumer?”
Kiip makes the advertising experience more palatable for mobile users by allowing brands to offer targeted rewards instead of serving up unwanted messaging. The technology is built around what Wong calls “moments”—instances of accomplishment while using an app, like levelling up in a game or beating your personal best on a fitness tracker. Hit one of these small milestones and you’re offered a prize, like a free Gatorade or a playlist download.
Some 5,000 apps and 700 consumer brands use the technology, reaching a collective 150 million active users and delivering 35 million to 50 million rewards every month..
If you’re wondering how Wong got to where he is so quickly, you’re not alone. “I get a lot of questions: ‘How did you get your first investors? How did you find your first idea?’” says Wong. “A lot of folks, especially under the age of 30, are constantly looking for examples of entrepreneurs who have done it at an early age.”
Those questions led Wong to write The Cheat Code: Going Off Script to Get More, Go Faster, and Shortcut Your Way to Success, a collection of 71 tips for new entrepreneurs published in September by Portfolio Penguin. One of his most useful cheats: “Find your superpower,” says Wong. “My superpower, for example, is I’m really good at getting people super excited about stuff. That’s the main thing I do every day—with investors, customers [and] employees. Once you find the thing you’re naturally good at, put your attention and time into that, rather than trying to fix your weaknesses.”