Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies.
It’s with great excitement today that I’m here with Brian Wong, who’s the founder and CEO of kiip. Kiip is a rewards network for achieving milestones in games. With that said, Brian, we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio.
Brian: Yeah. So, my love for tech started at an extremely early age when my father first bought me this clunky IBM. And I remember there was a big red switch on the front and it had a bunch of games on it. I remember I was one of the earliest kids to have access to the internet, basically. And I was also one of the first kids to have a laptop, too. So, my dad was really very tech forward, but not in the way that he knew exactly what I would need to do to understand it. He just knew that I needed to have it in my hands first.
My hobby started to grow in the form of both gaming in general, just playing games on my PC and then also web design. So, I started designing layouts and graphics and sigs. If you were on forums and BBS’s, you would know what that is. And I learned how to design by myself through Photoshop and tutorials online through various websites.
I kind of just started to really enjoy it. It became a hobby. I never realized that it could be a job or it could be something that could generate me money. But, then I started to learn how to do just that when I got my first offers and people started, “Hey, I’d love to pay you for this layout,” or whatever.
So basically, my roots are in design and layouts and UX and UI. And I have a passion for branding because I learned a lot about consumer behavior and marketing in college. And so, part of a lot of my experience is a combination of sort of consumer behaviors, psychology, web design and sort of aesthetic. And you kind of see those two coming together actually quite a bit in the way that kiip has grown as well and through my thinking and how I perceive the way that businesses are built.
Matthew: What makes kiip unique? Who’s it for and why are you so passionate about it?
Brian: So, kiip is creating value essentially out of thin air. That’s what’s so unique about it. It’s a rewards network in that it’s basically creating a reciprocal value to anything you’re doing. And we look at achievements in games as this first step. You know, you’re way back in high school in chemistry class, you know, and with every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, right?
And we’ve been doing all of this stuff online and we’ve basically been bombarded by ads this entire time. But, kiip’s promise is, “Hey, listen. Instead of just getting into ad, why don’t we have a brand reward you, give you some kind of value. Allow you to interact and actually understand what it feels like to know how to interact on a commerce level or transaction level.
So, the reward itself as an entity is something we’re re-introducing in the most unique way, through the fact that it’s now part of anything that can be an achievement, really. And then also, because of the fact that it’s now completely complementary to any other advertising value that’s in a game or in an app.
You may be playing a game and you may see ads and you may do other things. But here’s kiip where you’ll get a reward, which is designed to make that experience that much more syncy. So, that’s really what’s so unique about kiip.
Now, my passion around this rewards layer is that it could be applied to anything. And that’s the bigger vision around kiip. How can rewards be a part of our daily lives? And we already have that. But, what’s lacking is that nothing has been centralized around a central consumer brand, around something where you can look at something and totally realize that this means rewards.
And right now, we’ve been able to expose kiip to tens of millions of people. And it’s been with great pleasure that I know that this is a brand that they now recognize and understand on a level of a reward. Which, fundamentally, is supposed to mean something valuable, but a lot of companies in the past have unfortunately ransacked that. So, we’re here to bring the sexy back to rewards, create that additional value for people and also centralize it under an authentic and genuine brand.
Matthew: What are some of the technology and market trends that currently exist and where do you see things developing in the future for your space?
Brian: So, mobile right now is exploding absolutely in a massive growth trajectory. Beyond the growth, I think, it’s a mixture of people understanding what’s actually the use cases of a lot of the new technologies that have been introduced. Touch screens, ambient noise sensors, light sensors, cameras in the front, cameras in the back. Hardware wise, the connection with the web overall. 4G, LTE, all that stuff.
So, when that starts to mature in the way that we understand what people are using it for, then you start to see a lot of technologies emerge, right? So, I see the most exciting things coming out this year that really make our business interesting and also just the general space that we live in is, obviously, the continued rise of virtual goods as being part of ecommerce. You’ve got near field communications, you’ve got tablets being a part of a lot of our new usage patterns. And you also have ways to identify people that have become a lot more interesting, where the identification actually becomes a part of the device itself. And that becomes a lot more fun.
Then location, I think, now means something completely different than it did three years ago. Location is a marketing opportunity and an entertainment opportunity. So, we see a lot of location where there are games and then location where there are services and that becomes now a default in a lot of the different types of services that we create.
So, those I feel are a good summary of a lot of things in mobile right now that, in our space, get me very excited.
Matthew: Originally, you started as a sole founder but now you have co-founders. Can you speak to our audience about the qualities you’re looking for in your co-founders and how’d you know they’d be a good fit and what’s the story behind that?
Brian: So, our story is very unique. My co-founders, I have two. One I used to work with at Digg and the other was his really good friend and they had been working together for a while on a lot of projects. So, immediately the chemistry was there.
And so, Courtney is our CTO and Amadeus is our Head of Design and so all three of us make up this trifecta as a founder group.
And so, the luck that I had here is that, with my sort of designed business acumen, I understood the language that both of them spoke and we kind of came together, actually, in a very unique setting. So, Courtney left Digg a month before I got laid off and then Amadeus and he were working on some projects. In fact, the project they were working on that brought us together was a game. The game was called Skeemo and this is a game that they were actually planning to do real rewards in, right. And then I came along with this idea of, “Hey, why not do real rewards but for not just one game but for every game.” And then, when we started talking, it just became very natural that it was about time to start teaming up. And that’s when things started coming together.
Matthew: From idea to product launch, how long did it take and when did you launch your product?
Brian: So, we started building September 6, 2010 and we launched the product April of 2011. So, the gestation period was, what is that, like seven months, right? So, seven months of gestation and partnership building. So, my role was going in and bringing all the brands and games that we had networked into the technology itself. And then Courtney’s job was to create the product. Amadeus created all the current interfacing elements. That is what, actually, a lot of people still see today.
Matthew: Are there any neat metrics or social proof about kiip that you’d like to show the audience?
Brian: So, in a nutshell the model is you’ll play a game. And the theory with kiip is that there are at this very second millions of achievement moments being hit across the world in these games and what if we could reciprocate and reward people. In the use cases, imagine you’re playing a game here and there’s a McDonald’s just down the road. You could get a reward for a free McFlurry. So, it’s really using this notion of location and the moment and the notion that you feel like you’ve earned it, to be able to tie you to a particular giveaway or a sample. To drive you to build a relationship with that particular brand.
Matthew: We know founders face unique challenges when they decide to launch and build a company. What was the hardest part about building kiip and how have you overcome this obstacle?
Brian: So, the common sort of challenges are always around. Oh well, you know, building a team, bringing in customers, raising money, whatever it is that most people talk about. I’d rather sort of talk about the unique challenges that we really faced which was how do we introduce something that’s so unique into an industry that’s really old? Advertising is extremely old when you think about it. There’s decades of ad junkies and mavens and there’s TV shows being made about it and the definition of it has evolved immensely. The word ad holds many connotations and meanings to it.
So, what we had to do was balance the perceptions of Madison Avenue and the perceptions of Silicon Valley. The reason why I particularly talk about perceptions is that at the end of the day, there’s a core value that I believe every business has. If you were to reduce everything, boil all the water away, what exactly is the thing that they do? Most businesses have something that’s very undifferentiated. What makes it differentiated is the way that the product is presented, the way that it’s executed, how efficient the model works and what types of brands and customers you end up working with. And the people, of course, is what adds to your variability.
So, for us it was how do we tackle this? By the way, we had presences in both New York and San Francisco on day one. In fact, our sales team is based in New York and our product teams are based here. And the way that we are constantly communicating is just amazing to me. But, that’s required for us to be able to speak in a language that we understand as a company, but then to quickly translate that to a language that is required by the people who actually buy from us and our clients.