The Last Word with Brian Wong, BCom'09
Q: What are you afraid of?
A: Not having a purpose.
Brian Wong, a Silicon Valley CEO, says that one of the biggest barriers to business success is fear. His advice to would-be entrepreneurs is that they should be bold, stand out, and know their strengths.
Wong considers his own strength to be infectious enthusiasm. “I’m really good at getting people super excited about stuff!” says the 26-year-old. “That’s all I do, pretty much every day.” This natural zeal has served Wong well. He was still in his teens when it helped him become one of the youngest entrepreneurs to attract venture capital for a business idea, and by the time he was 20, he was a self-made multi-millionaire.
But it took more than enthusiasm for Wong’s idea to get taken seriously -- it also took boldness and innovation. Instead of merely looking to fill a gap in a market, says Wong, entrepreneurs should be seeking to influence and change that market.
Wong’s big idea was a mobile rewards network that offered a wholly different approach to the advertising industry. It came to him on a plane, as he observed fellow passengers playing games on their phones and tablets. Many were annoyed by unwanted ads taking up valuable screen space, to the point they were even prepared to pay a small sum to stop the ads appearing.
Wong’s industry-disrupting approach was to have companies advertise their brands by offering small rewards instead -- usually sample products -- to coincide with players achieving a new level in the game, or beating their highest score. The players get a freebie, and companies have an opportunity to introduce their brand to potential customers during a happy moment of achievement. Wong soon realized this rewarding-for-achievement model could be applied not only to games but to countless other apps involving achievement or productivity – such as running apps, or weight-loss apps. He refers to the concept as a “marketplace of moments.”
By 2010, Wong’s idea had materialized into San-Fancisco-based company Kiip (pronounced “keep”). Today, Kiip has established several more offices around the globe, employs more than 100 staff, and has formed business relationships with thousands of apps developers and hundreds of brands. Wong’s ability to enthuse others clearly works like a charm on customers and employees, as well as investors.
Wong -- who enrolled at Sauder when he was only 14, becoming the school’s youngest grad at 18 -- is often asked to divulge the secrets of his success, so in 2016 he wrote a guide for getting ahead in business: The Cheat Code: Going off script to get more, go faster, and shortcut your way to success.
Although he claims to have written the book mainly to avoid having to repeat himself, Wong is more than generous with his time when it comes to UBC commerce students. Since graduating, he has visited UBC’s Vancouver campus on several occasions for formal events or informal classroom visits, never failing to attract curiosity and plenty of questions.
As dean of Sauder Robert Helsley said when introducing Wong at an alumni UBC event a few months ago, “If you can’t be inspired by Brian, you are uninspirable.” Watch a video of the event for more advice from Wong:
Who was your childhood hero?
Describe the place you most like to spend time.
On a mountain, on my skis, with the cold breeze on my face, and sunlight right above. There’s a tranquility in the sound dampening on the snow and the feeling of being in both a beautiful but intense place.
What was the last thing you read?
Sapiens: A brief history of humankind by Professor Yuval Noah Harari.
What or who makes you laugh out loud?
Animals doing funny things. I’m a sucker for gifs.
What’s the most important lesson you ever learned?
Nothing is ever as terrible as it seems, and conversely, nothing is ever as great as it seems.
People always remember how you make them feel.
What’s your idea of the perfect day?
Not sure of the sequence, but some combination of: skiing, wine, hot chocolate, Jacuzzis, clearing out my inbox (which has never happened by the way), and an amazing sci-fi movie.
What was your nickname at school?
What would be the title of your autobiography?
13 going on 30.
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
Easy: for unlimited wishes. If that’s cheating, then I would wish for the ability to teleport through time and space.
What item have you owned for the longest time?
My little red notebook.
What is your latest purchase?
A candle from Ritual. I love candles.
Whom do you most admire (living or dead) and why?
Da Vinci. What a true Renaissance man. Multiple talents. Mastering of so many fields.
What’s the biggest mistake you have made that turned out to be a blessing in disguise?
Getting laid off (more misfortune than mistake) became the best thing that ever happened to me. I went on to co-found my own company.
What would you like your epitaph to say?
If you could invent something, what would it be?
In which era would you most like to have lived, and why?
1920s. Everything was so cool. I just want to see it all in vibrant color.
What are you afraid of?
Not having a purpose.
What is the secret to a good life?
Name the skill or talent you would most like to have.
Which three pieces of music would you take to that desert island?
Chopin. Coldplay. Kanye West.
What’s the most important thing left on your bucket list?
Becoming a pilot.
Which famous person (living or dead) do you think (or have you been told) you most resemble?
Jackie Chan’s son.
What is your pet peeve?
Incompetent people who are unaware of their incompetence.
What are some of your UBC highlights?
erving on student council and going to Singapore (NUS) for a semester abroad.