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Young Vancouver entrepreneur Brian Wong, co-founder and CEO of Kiip, spoke with Report on Small Business at the recent 2014 GROW conference in Whistler

Katherine Scarrow

Brian Wong is co-founder and CEO of Kiip, a mobile rewards network that offers prizes to players who reach new levels or achievements in games or apps. The San Francisco-based entrepreneur is from Vancouver, and he graduated with a commerce degree from the University of British Columbia at 18. Mr. Wong spoke with Report on Small Business at the recent 2014 Grow conference in Whistler.

Q: How would you describe Kiip, for those of us who aren't familiar with it?

A: Kiip is a platform that rewards what we call "the moment" that exists in mobile apps and games. Let's say you level up in a game or you finish a to-do or you just logged a run – these are all things that happen in these mobile apps. In that moment, instead of having an ad there – which is what all the experiences have been in the past – we said: 'why don't we just reward you?' We have brands such as Procter & Gamble, Unilver, Johnson & Johnson, Pepsi, McDonald's – you name it – rewarding you at these moments, and the way we do it is unique and serendipitous. You don't know when you're going to get the reward. It's based on your existing patterns of behaviour and on surprise and delight.

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Q: During a session at Grow, veteran software designer Scott Jenson said the end of apps is nigh. How do you respond?

A: I agree. I think apps was a 1.0 way for OS creators like Apple or Google to distribute content and that's the way it is now, and it'll obviously evolve in the coming years and who knows what will happen after that. But our thing is all about the moment. It could happen in your Google Glass or your wearable or in your car. One of the things is a partnership we have with Mojio and it's all about connected car moments.

So imagine that your car is about to run out of gas. Potentially Esso could reward you. So for us, the model is less limited on the tangible manifestation where a moment could be. The point is that moments will happen in any digital interaction.

Q: When you started you were more focused on gaming, but you've since moved into different categories. Tell me about this.

A: Two years ago, we had this insight: the games area is one slice of someone's day. Some people will play games, but they're going to be doing other things during the day. So what if we could take the concept of the moment and extrapolate to all sorts of other things that people are doing.

I think it was such a natural fit to go into fitness, productivity and even in food. For example, if you bookmark a garlic recipe, Trident would reward you with a free pack of gum. When people hear that, they think "oh my god, that's so cool." But that's real. That's happening today – it's not science fiction.

The moment is very natural and rooted in human behaviour. It's not going to disappear. It's a concept we're trying to introduce in the mobile ecosystem for people to try to frame what the opportunity is in terms of interaction with the person.

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Historically, the reason why advertising on mobile is so bad is because the way it's been framed is impression, which means every time you go through the carousel of photos, they show you 15 different ads. That's not the user experience that we expect. And the opposite thing is that when you look at TV or billboards or print or radio, the number of times you hear something is going to lend to your ability to remember and recall, which is a positive thing.

Through repeition you know about this offer, and that's why reach and frequency was so important for those mediums. But when you look at mobile, the number of times you see something is actually more correlated with how angry you are at the brand. There needs to be a different way of looking at it, and that's what we're trying to contribute to the ecosystem.

Q: You're based in San Francisco, but you're from Vancouver. How did you end up there and why didn't you come back?

A: The history really quickly is I graduated from college four years year – I graduated from UBC when I was 18 and I moved down to the U.S. in 2009, when the economy was still reeling.

I went down to San Francisco and applied for a few jobs there because I'm a nerd, and I thought 'hey I'll go to the nerdtopia.' Digg offered me a job and at the time I was its 115th employee. That was the peak and a bunch of people got laid off, and that's when I started Kiip.

I didn't go down there to start a company, I just happened to have most of my professional contacts in that city so I started the company in 2010.

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We continue to grow the company – we're now at 80 people in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, L.A. and Vancouver, where we have an engineering office. I go back and forth quite a bit because my family's still here and we do a lot of Canadian businesses out of Toronto, such as Cineplex.

Q: So it was important to you to have an office in Vancouver?

A: It was important because it's good access to talent and I'm going to face the reality of the fact that engineers in Siicon Valley are very difficult to hire because there's a huge talent war. So I thought I would leverage an advantage that I have – I have roots and a network here in Vancouver.

Q: What's something that most people don't know about your company ?

A: Last year American Express invested in us. The thing about Amex is that it wouldn't normally invest in an advertising company, but one of the things that we've noticed over time is that our utility is in loyalty and rewarding people. For them, it's a loyalty play rather than just an acquisition play.

Right now we perceive loyalty as a thing where you accumulate points or miles and then you redeem some distant thing in the future when you have enough to get something. But I think the perception of loyalty is going to change – it'll do a total 180. It's not going to be about accumulation any more – it's going to be about instant gratification. And you can imagine where we play in that space. We basically almost built an engine that's designed for instant gratification rewards so we're really excited about that.

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