“When people learn that I’m 22 and have been running a company for three years they assume that I skipped school, or dropped out,” says Brian Wong, Sauder alumnus and CEO of a multi-million-dollar company. “But I’m a huge proponent of business education and the ‘knowledge is power’ ethic.”
Brian Wong is something of a prodigy. Having started his BCom at the Sauder School of Business, at just 14 years old, he became the school’s youngest student to graduate in 2009. To date he has created four companies, with his most recent venture being touted by industry experts as the future of mobile advertising.
Founded in 2010, Kiip (pronounced “keep”) is a mobile app rewards network that enables brands and companies to provide consumers with real world rewards for virtual achievements.
“Think about when you’re leveling up in a game on your iPad or tracking a keep fit program on your smartphone,” explains Wong. “Kiip helps brands be a part of these online successes through rewarding users with a surprise gift like movie tickets.”
Kiip is currently active on more than 400 apps played on 30 million devices, sends out over 100 million reward notices monthly, and gives out five rewards per second. With major brands like Pepsi, Amazon, Disney and Sony on board, Kiip’s annual revenues now top seven figures.
Wong credits the creative marketing skills he learnt at Sauder with inspiring him to found the company. “I was on a flight to San Francisco and noticed tons of people playing games on their iPads or smartphones. I thought - with so many eyeballs focused here, there must be some kind of advertising opportunity.”
The breakthrough nature of Kiip allowed it to take root fast and Wong quickly developed a reputation as a new Wunderkind of the digital age. In seeking investment for his company, he broke the record set by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as the youngest entrepreneur to raise major venture capital, a figure that tops $15 million.
However, in California’s Silicon Valley, where he can be found pitching investors and brainstorming with fellow entrepreneurs, Wong maintains that he’s nothing special. “There are so many 18-20 year-olds who are starting multi-million dollar businesses that I’m less of a novelty factor there.”
The explosive entrepreneurial success of Silicon Valley has created a major shift in attitudes in the business world, adds Wong. “Before the Valley’s start-up movement, if people like me walked into a boardroom of Fortune 500 executives, none of them would have taken us seriously. Now they are curious to hear what we are offering.”
Wong’s youth has meant that seasoned business executives have in the past tried - but failed - to take advantage of him. “They don’t expect that I have a commerce degree behind me, and that I can back up my confidence with knowledge.
He attributes Kiip’s meteoric growth to the business toolkit he developed at Sauder. “Without going to Sauder, I don’t think I would have been able to get Kiip kicked off so quickly. Back in 2010, I was thrown into things so fast. I had to deal with investment funding and hiring people. I found myself thinking, what did I learn at Sauder that can help with this? Practical knowledge like HR for interviewing techniques and commercial law came in very useful.”
Wong returns to Sauder annually to speak at events like the Alumni Weekend and offers similar advice and encouragement to budding entrepreneurs.
Asked about the next big thing to come out of Silicon Valley, he cites design thinking. “In this age where so much is automated, it’s crucial to recognize that we all have unique, subjective capabilities when it comes to design processes,” says Wong. “If you can be the person that creates or recreates and improves a process - you win.”