This article is part of CMO.com’s February series about mobile. Click here for more.
It’s a hard-knock life for startups, especially in the very early days. Research shows that over 50% of startups fail within their first five years of business.
Well, it has been almost eight years since Brian Wong hooked up with an engineer and a designer in Silicon Valley to launch Kiip, a mobile rewards platform. Wong was just 19 years old at the time. Since then, the company has grown, evolved, and, most importantly, thrived.
The reason, he told CMO.com, has everything to do with Kiip’s customer-centric strategy.
CMO.com: Can you talk about the very beginning? What is the story behind why you launched Kiip?
Wong: I started the company in 2010. The initial premise behind the business was no one really seemed to like mobile ads. And yet they are everywhere. I saw an opportunity to improve the user experience, so why not take it? The goal was to make mobile advertising something that people could like.
But the story goes like this: I was an innocent Canadian boy that graduated college quite early at the age of 18. I decided to come down to Silicon Valley to work at a startup. I got a job at a company called Digg.com, which you may have heard of. Digg was quite prominent in the startup scene. It was, at the time, very hot.
But, unfortunately, Digg ran into some issues and started laying people off. So I lost my job six months into it. I decided I would actually start something just because, hey, I was already down here, I already had a network. And it was all very serendipitous because one of the engineers that I ended up starting the company with, Courtney Gertin, was actually already building his own game on the side. I brought him the idea of creating a rewards platform not just for his game but for thousands of games. He brought on his buddy Amadeus Demarzi, who was a really good designer, and the three of us started it together.
CMO.com: What does Kiip actually do?
Wong: When you think about it, there are moments throughout the day where you are doing something on a mobile device. So let’s say you level up in a game; in that moment, instead of just an ad being there, why not a brand be there to reward you? In the beginning, Kiip was very gaming-centric, but then we realized that there’s a lot of other apps out there that have moments and moment mechanics, like fitness, for example. If you finish a run, Gatorade could reward you with anything from a coupon for a free Gatorade, to a free song download, exclusive content, you name it. We created this model of adding value to the user experience as something that a brand would sponsor.
CMO.com: What do you owe your success to?
Wong: The reason we have remained relevant is because customer experience has always been at the heart of everything we do. It was the entire premise of the business: How do we make mobile advertising something that people can enjoy? We’ve just always been user-centric. Experience is our business.
CMO.com: Looking back over the past seven years, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
Wong: Differentiation. It kind of comes in the form of staying true to your core principles as a business and why you did what you did in the beginning to start the company. For me, it was the frustration that mobile ads were everywhere, yet nobody seemed to like them.
Also, as marketers our responsibility is not just communicating but also servicing the customer. When you think about Under Armor, they have apps such as Endomondo, Map My Run, and MyFitnessPal. Those are actually marketing tools, but they are services in that you can use it to track your food intake, your fitness, and it gives you a wealth of tools. Now you align with Under Armor on a daily basis.
There’s never been a finer time to be a marketer because now your job is not just creating experiences around communicating but also experiences around servicing.