Brian Wong – Kiip 2 of 2

"You need guts as an entrepreneur. It takes guts to be brave and to trust yourself." Kiip is a mobile rewards network.

Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize?

Brian: People like free stuff. But they don’t actually know that in the way that they play a game. So, when we introduced it in the beginning, our redemption rates actually increased over time. So, that’s the way that we saw that historical data. The reason why it increases over time, when we started doing some digging into it, is that people didn’t really understand what the reward was supposed to kind of mean to them until they tried it the first time. So really, our goal is to get people to redeem a reward for the first time. And once they do, then they get it.

And it’s because of this whole thing that I explained before, which was we’re trying to climb over this mount of shit, essentially, that a lot of other companies have placed in front of us through things like “free iPod” and “here’s a free thing,” nah nah nah nah. Free and rewards have been so overused as words that we just feel like it’s so unfair that people have now been desensitized to that. So, we’re trying to bring that back and be trustable and that’s been a number one priority. And a lot of people have thanked us for that and that’s in the form of people redeeming stuff. And we’re very excited about the fact that people understand now and are able to view that value proposition from here on in.

Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make building companies look easy and we know it can be very challenging. What talents or skills come intuitively or easily for you? What has been difficult and how have you managed that?

Brian: So, I feel like I’ve got a keen sense of how things should look just because of my design background. And that’s like my secret sauce. Most of the time, people have to either write it down or try to describe it in this most animated way, “You know, and it’s supposed to look like this.” I actually just open up a Photoshop canvas and just design it. And usually it turns out to the way that I want it to, because I imagined it. So, that’s been my secret sauce.

The second thing is I just know that I’m capable of getting people super, super, super excited about shit. This is what I know, that for some reason, has been an ability that has been bestowed upon me. And I don’t take that for granted and I use that very carefully. But, it’s been very useful, especially for a concept and a market that you’re trying to create, when you need to educate a lot of people. And that’s been very good for me.

Now, things that I know that I just am not capable of. A lot of people have observed this about me. There are certain areas that I just happen to be really, you know, in tune on. And areas that I really just like don’t have any specialty whatsoever. And these areas I just leave alone. And that actually involves a lot of things around numbers, a lot of things around operations and day to day and keeping, you know, trains running and logistics and schedules and all that stuff. And so what happened is, you know, you still have to earn your stripes. So, I know how to do these things, but it’s just I’m not the most efficient at them, right.

So, you know, in the beginning it was me doing everything. But, now I have had the opportunity to now isolate the things that I know I’m the most efficient at and then finding other people that are more efficient at doing things than I am. In metrics, in operations, in engineering, in design even. Because, you know, I may hold a design background but I’m not the best at it either, and Amadeus is. So, we were able to create that dynamic at a team level.

So, there were things that have aided and, for some reason, were sort of this perfect combination in the beginning for showing the concept that we had. Like, my marketing background allowed me to speak the language of the ad community and go over to New York and be able to share with them the concept without being completely, you know, thrown out of the room. And then using that to jumpstart our partnerships was very crucial for us.

Matthew: What mentor has influenced your development?

Brian: I don’t think there was a single mentor at all. It was a combination of a lot of people. This starts from our early stage investors over at True Ventures. You know, investors, advisors, friends, just a combination of many people. I can’t really peg it into one person.

Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned building kiip?

Brian: If things aren’t hard, then you’re doing the wrong thing. In fact, the challenges that we face are vast and endless. We pick our battles as I had mentioned. And when you realize that something is difficult, you ask two questions. First, is there really an easier way? And if there isn’t, why is it difficult? And usually it’s difficult because it’s a problem that a lot of people tried to solve but they couldn’t do it. And if you can solve it, obviously, you build a lot of value from that.

So, basically this is also synthesized in a phrase that I use a lot with our team which is, “If it fights hard, then it’s even more worth it to fight it.” So, a lot of what we’re creating here is a battle, right? There are a lot of traditional forces working against us that we have to work against constantly. There are a lot of people that we have to convince and educate. There are a lot of partners that we need to support and grow with and cater to their needs. And so, all of these become a massive challenge and you really just have to understand where to pick your battles.

Matthew: What advice would you like to share with our audience about building a start-up? If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?

Brian: Guts, in many ways. Guts, as in bravery, and guts, as in the ability to listen to your gut and to just make decisions. One of the biggest challenges that you’ll face as an entrepreneur is making decisions fast. And sometimes you will have very little data. In fact, you’ll basically have nothing but like flying by the seat of your pants. And you have to trust yourself. You just have to. And you don’t lack your own confidence. And really, that’s the only thing you have in many cases, which is scary. But, is really the only thing you do have in that case.

The second is understanding the people that you can bring around the table. And not only that, but how can you have them as a sum, you know, as greater than all the parts put together, right? Like how do you, when everybody’s together, become a better group? And I see myself as an enabler rather than a manager. In fact, I tell my team, you know, there’s no way that I can sit in front of you and claim that I’m the most experienced and knowledgeable CEO ever. Impossible. You know, I’m 20 and I barely know what I’m doing most of the time.

What I do, though, is I ask questions. What can I do to make this process easier for you? What resources do you need? Who do you need to connect with? And then get out of the way. But when you have a certain level of trust and you can let go, it becomes magical.

And most of the ideas that have emerged from this company have really not been mine at all. In fact, what I do is I just throw out random things and people will usually grab onto them and make them into something amazing. So, you give them the opportunity to do that without them feeling like there’s a political reason why they shouldn’t. Or, that if they were to do it, it wouldn’t be received well just because of the fact that it’s not someone else’s idea. That doesn’t matter. You keep an open, transparent space above your head, so to speak, that everybody can just throw things across. And, in fact, literally things get thrown around in our office, like Nerf guns and stuff and footballs. These things become magical.

It’s transfer of ideas, understanding your people and being very close to your gut that I think would be three indispensible things that you will have as a founder.

Matthew: Before we close, we’d love for you to give our audience your vision for kiip and how you hope it will change the world.

Brian: I know it’s going to change the world in the way that we know how, which is at least revolutionizing the way that people view advertising and marketing. That value can be built in. That there can be moments in time that can actually become rewardable. There can be achievements and there can be parts of your life that don’t have to go on without value. And when you create a rewards layer, the bigger vision for us is, “How do I bring rewards to everything?”

So, imagine you caught your bus on time, you bought your tenth movie, you went to the nearby cafe. This is typical loyalty stuff. But what happens is, if we can create a simple way to reward people and a centralized brand around it, so that every action that you perform digitally and in person, can then become rewardable, that’s something truly magical. There is enough value there that nobody’s ever really seen before. You didn’t really ever need to have a reward. You never really knew that you needed one until, of course, you do get one. And that’s what, we realize, is the value that we’re introducing to the world.

Matthew: Brian, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at kiip. For those in our audience who’d like to learn more you can visit their website at www.kiip.me. That’s kiip.me. Thank you.

 
 

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