Kiip CEO Brian Wong is 21. He looks about 14. His brain, however, operates like a 28-year-old with an MBA.Kiip is his mobile game and app ad network, which has 30 employees and clients such as Pepsi, Best Buy, Carls Jr, Popchips and Disney.
Kiip’s business model—which rewards mobile phone users the further they get inside mobile games—could be about to turn the world of mobile advertising on its head. It essentially bribes consumers into doing the one thing they usually avoid: clicking on ads and giving marketers their information.
We had lunch with Wong at Dos Caminos, a Mexican restaurant around the corner from his new, unfurnished and undecorated office on Park Avenue South in New York last week. Right now, only about four people, including Chris Kobran—the former ad sales director at Digg—operate out of the office. (Kobran, who has grey hair, provides the adult supervision at Kiip. Or at least the appearance of it.)
It’s easy to be cynical about Wong, the chief executive who’s barely old enough to buy his own beer. But his pitch is convincing. In a nutshell, Kiip’s banners appear in a mobile game once a user completes a level. The ad offers the user a reward for their gaming success: a free bottle of Propel, for instance, was offered by Pepsi inside the MapMyFitness app for every eight miles run by a user.
The ads are easily declined by users who don’t want free stuff. Wong believes that as soon as advertisers learn to offer rewards that are relevant to the game and the demographics playing them—Amazon gift cards for every 15 thumbs up inside Pandora, for instance, or matchday tickets for fantasy league players—then consumers will respond by only playing games and using apps that contain Kiip-enabled rewards.
He wants Kiip to become a trusted consumer badge, like a Visa logo in a store window, only for mobile games. If Wong gets his way, “You will never use an app or use a game unless it’s enabled with Kiip,” he says.
Currently, Kiip is inside 300 apps on both Android and Apple platforms. Kiip is on 30 million devices and has shown a reward to 50 million users. He claims engagement rates—a tap plus an email address—of 25 per cent, and redemption rates of 5 per cent.
Wong says his revenue is in “the high seven figures.” He’s taken $4.4 million in finding from Verizon Ventures, True Ventures* and Hummer Winblad.
“We don’t describe ourselves as an ad network,” Wong says. Other mobile ad companies—Velti, Millennial Media, Appsavvy—”they’re all about the ads,” he says. Kiip only does reward programs. In the future, clients will have mobile rewards budgets the same way they currently have social media, web, TV, radio and print budgets.
When asked why Kiip hasn’t been acquired by a larger agency network or a rival, Wong says Kiip is continually being checked out by larger companies. “They like to keep tabs on companies they know may potentially usurp some of their business,” he says.
*Correction: This article originally incorrectly listed TriVentures as a funder of Kiip. It was actually True Ventures. Apologies.
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