20 VC FF 018 Brian Wong, Founder @ Kiip on Raising $30m in VC Funding by 24

Summary Notes


In this episode of the 20 minutes VC, host Harry Stebbings interviews Brian Wong, the prodigious founder of Keep, a mobile rewards network revolutionizing mobile advertising. Wong, who graduated university at 18 and swiftly entered the tech world, securing VC funding at a notably young age from investors such as Hummer Winblad and True Ventures, shares his journey from a Canadian upbringing to Silicon Valley, where he launched his company after a brief stint at Dig. He reflects on the challenges of raising growth capital, the importance of strategic investors, and managing a board of directors. Wong also discusses Keep's future, including potential IPO plans, and navigating the evolving competitive landscape in mobile technology. The episode also features a promotion for law trades, a legal services platform for startups, and a chance to win a signed copy of Brad Feld's "Venture Deals" by engaging with the podcast on Product Hunt.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Brian Wong and Keep

  • Brian Wong is a young entrepreneur who skipped four grades and graduated university at 18.
  • Moved to the USA and worked at Digg, launching their Android mobile app.
  • Founded Keep, a mobile rewards network that leverages moments of achievement in games and apps.
  • Brian Wong has raised nearly $30 million in venture capital funding.
  • Keep has grown to 60 employees across the country.

"Joining us in the hot seat today is a young man who is insanely smart. He skipped four grades in school and graduated university at just 18, at which point he moved to the States on his own and within months was working alongside tech legends Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson at Dig, where he launched their Android mobile app."

The quote highlights Brian Wong's intelligence, educational achievements, and early career milestones, including his move to the U.S. and work at Digg.

  • Law Trades is mentioned as a service for startups and VCs to get legal work done, with a special offer for listeners.
  • Law Trades provides a marketplace of attorneys with startup experience and offers transparent pricing.

"They help startups and vcs get their legal work done through providing a marketplace of really awesome attorneys with strong domain experience with startups."

The quote explains the services provided by Law Trades, emphasizing their niche in supporting startups and venture capitalists with legal matters.

Brian Wong's Origin Story

  • Brian Wong grew up in Vancouver, Canada, with a typical Canadian childhood.
  • Skipped four grades and graduated college early.
  • Moved to Silicon Valley to work at Digg but was laid off after six months.
  • Founded Keep and became its CEO, with the company now having 60 employees and significant VC funding.

"Now I'm the founder and CEO of Keep, and we're now 60 employees across the country, and we've raised now almost 30 million BC."

The quote summarizes Brian Wong's current role as CEO of Keep, the company's size, and the amount of venture capital it has raised.

VC Relationships and Admiration

  • Brian Wong initially sought to meet Fred Wilson due to his reputation and investments in well-known startups.
  • Wong's view on VCs is that personal knowledge is key to admiration and respect.
  • Wong's main VCs include True Ventures, Hummer Winblad, Relay Ventures, and others.
  • Wong expresses respect for his VCs, particularly those he has worked closely with and who have shown genuine support.

"So the folks that I truly know, because I've literally been married to them for almost five years now, are my vcs."

This quote indicates that Brian Wong's respect for VCs comes from a close and long-term working relationship, likening it to a marriage.

Brian Wong's VC Network

  • Wong's VC network includes True Ventures, Hummer Winblad, Relay Ventures, Transmedia Capital, Verizon Ventures, and American Express Ventures.
  • Kevin Talbot from Relay Ventures and Phil Black from True Ventures are specifically mentioned.
  • Chris Redlitz from Transmedia Capital and Mark Smith from Verizon Ventures are also highlighted.

"My main vcs are true ventures. Hummer, Winblad, relay Ventures... And then it's Lars Leckey from Hummer Winblad, and then Phil black from True Ventures, and Adam Del Galley over there."

The quote lists the primary venture capital firms and partners involved with Keep and Brian Wong's relationship with them.

Founder-Friendly Venture Capitalists

  • The concept of "founder-friendly" venture capitalists (VCs) was pioneered by a particular VC firm.
  • Founder-friendly VCs focus on not taking too much equity from founders and providing supportive ecosystems.
  • Founder-friendly VCs offer services to help founders build their companies, such as founders camps and office space.

"The philosophy was actually thanks to true, given to me because of their philosophy, which was seeking founder friendly venture capitalists, and that was really kind of their contribution to the ecosystem, was, how do we be the most founder friendly vc?"

This quote explains the origin of the philosophy of seeking out founder-friendly VCs and attributes the concept to a specific VC's contribution to the ecosystem.

"Well, practically speaking, it's not gobbling up so much of the company in the first chunk that you have zero incentives to stick around as a founder."

This quote defines one of the practical aspects of what makes a VC founder-friendly: not taking so much equity that the founder loses incentive to stay with the company.

Experience Working with Kevin and Jay at Digg

  • Brian Wong observed the dynamics between Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson during a transition period at Digg.
  • There was a need for a founder to reinstate the original vision of the company.
  • Brian learned about structuring teams, product thinking, and communication during uncertain times.

"I learned about sort of where founders reclaimed their territory is kind of a good way to express we're rightfully so, in the way that the company had kind of lost its way."

Brian Wong reflects on how founders sometimes need to reassert their vision for the company, especially when it has strayed from its original path.

"So it's really interesting to see companies during the not so great days and being inside the belly of the beast during that is unbelievably important in the fact that I was able to just see the way that people got through it and then how people reacted and even employees were sort of handling the whole situation."

This quote emphasizes the value of experiencing a company's challenging times and observing how people navigate through them.

Transition from Digg to Keep

  • Brian Wong moved from Digg to Keep quickly after being laid off.
  • The transition from Digg to founding Keep happened within a couple of months.

"Yeah, I got laid off in May, and then the company got incorporated in July."

This quote provides a timeline of Brian Wong's professional transition from Digg to starting Keep.

Raising VC Funding at 19 for Keep

  • Brian Wong raised $300,000 for Keep's seed round during a time when seed investing was gaining traction post-financial crisis.
  • The fundraising was facilitated by the right timing, industry growth, and Brian's prior experience and execution skills.
  • The funding environment has since become more fluid, with various avenues for raising capital.

"I ended up being able to raise 300,000 in our seed round."

This quote states the amount Brian Wong raised in the seed round for Keep.

"So company was incorporated in July and we closed the first round in September, which was exciting."

The quote provides a timeline for Keep's incorporation and the closing of its initial funding round.

Challenges of Raising Growth Capital Beyond Series A

  • Raising growth capital can be difficult, especially in the current environment where growth expectations are very high.
  • Companies with moderate growth rates face challenges in attracting growth capital compared to those with exceptionally high growth rates.

"It's really hard to raise growth capital, especially off of revenues, primarily because, especially in this environment."

This quote highlights the difficulty of raising growth capital based on revenues in the current financial climate.

"When you're a solid sort of double-digit growth rate company, it's actually really hard, because when you think about it, growth is relative, right?"

The quote discusses the relative nature of growth and the challenges for companies with solid but not exceptional growth rates in attracting growth funding.

Investor Relations and Strategic Partnerships

  • Brian Wong emphasizes the importance of strategic partnerships over traditional venture capital (VC) investment for growth.
  • Companies like Verizon and American Express invest not just for financial returns but for strategic business partnerships.
  • Strategic investors are sought for their industry relevance and the mutual benefits of shared growth and learning.

"Traditional VCs, traditional growth capital investors will take that approach. But where we found a lot of success is actually finding our customers to invest in us, a lot of the Verizons and the Amexes of the world, because their mentality is very different."

This quote underlines a shift in investment strategy, highlighting the value of customer-based investors over traditional growth capital investors for their different mindset and strategic benefits.

Evolution of Investment Focus

  • The focus of VC investment evolves from a generalist approach in early stages to a specialized, industry-related approach in later stages.
  • Later-stage investments are more about strategic alignment and direct contribution to revenue generation.
  • The importance shifts from the prestige of investors to their ability to provide tangible business growth through industry-specific expertise and connections.

"It became very industry related. Right. And customer relevant... And I care more about investors that can help us generate more revenue."

Brian Wong explains that as a company matures, the criteria for choosing investors become more focused on industry relevance and direct contributions to revenue, rather than the general appeal of the investors.

Board of Directors' Role

  • Brian Wong describes a supportive and lean board of directors that acts as an extension of the team.
  • The board provides assistance with hiring, customer acquisition, and strategic advice.
  • Effective board management and founder training are key to leveraging the board's expertise and maintaining a productive relationship.

"The board has very much so been like just an additional set of folks that can be my extension, my team, in many ways."

Brian Wong details the supportive role of the board, emphasizing how they function as an extension of the executive team, providing various types of support to the company.

Board Meeting Dynamics

  • Board meetings are held every two to three months, with frequency depending on company needs.
  • The board meeting is a venue for reviewing decisions and discussions that have already taken place, not for making new, heavy decisions.
  • Open challenges from board members are preferred to be discussed privately before being brought up in group settings.

"The board meeting is really kind of a review of everything that's already been talked about. It's not supposed to be a place where you talk about brand new things that require a lot of heavy decision making."

Brian Wong clarifies the purpose of board meetings, emphasizing their role in reviewing and discussing previously made decisions rather than being a forum for initiating new major decisions.

Addressing Competitive Markets and New Technologies

  • Staying on top of new technologies and competitive markets is part of a CEO's role.
  • Brian Wong has integrated Keep into connected devices, showcasing adaptability and innovation.
  • CEOs should inspire their teams to explore and implement new strategic ideas rather than doing all the implementation themselves.

"Your job isn't to do the whole thing and implement the new technology. It's to jog people's thinking into kind of looking at what you're building and then go, that's really cool. Maybe we should actually build this into a full product line."

Brian Wong explains the CEO's role in technology adoption, which involves sparking innovation within the team to explore and develop new product lines.

Favorite Book and Its Influence

  • Brian Wong cites "Predictably Irrational" as his favorite book.
  • The book inspired the company and gamification tactics they use.

"Predictably irrational. And the reason is because that was the big inspiration for the company and some of the mechanics behind our gamification tactics."

The quote explains that "Predictably Irrational" played a significant role in the foundational ideas of Brian Wong's company, particularly influencing the gamification strategies they implemented.

Best Piece of Advice

  • Brian Wong shares the best advice he received: the extremity of situations is often exaggerated.

"Nothing is ever as good as it seems. And nothing is ever as bad as it seems."

This quote encapsulates the advice given to Brian Wong, which suggests a balanced perspective on life's ups and downs, implying that one should not get overly excited or overly dismayed by events.

Most Read Blog

  • Brian Wong finds Jason Calacanis's lengthy newsletters interesting despite a reluctance to like them.
  • The newsletters resonate with his own thoughts.

"Enough, just top of mind as I found some of Calcanus's hugely long, rambling email newsletters. Pretty interesting. As much as I don't want to like them."

Brian Wong is drawn to the depth of thought in Jason Calacanis's newsletters, which align with his own reflections, even though he initially expresses a jesting reluctance to appreciate them.

Career Highlight

  • Being featured on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine is a significant milestone for Brian Wong.
  • He takes pride in his company's growth, revenue, and his continued role as CEO.

"Obviously, it was getting on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine last year, but, yeah, that was pretty highlighty. But I think the ability to make it this long is the highlight."

The quote highlights two major achievements: the public recognition from a prestigious publication and the internal success of sustaining and growing his business over five years.

Thought Leaders and Inspiration

  • Brian Wong does not seek to emulate others but finds inspiration in their achievements.
  • He admires founders who solve big problems without seeking attention, like Mike Serbinez.
  • Mike Serbinez's work at NASA and his preventative health care app, League, are particularly inspiring.

"I always like to say I don't necessarily want to follow or emulate someone because what worked for them may not work for me."

"Mike's a pretty cool dude."

These quotes reflect Brian Wong's philosophy on inspiration versus emulation and his admiration for Mike Serbinez's low-profile yet impactful approach to entrepreneurship.

Must-Have Apps

  • Brian Wong mentions Tinder as a game-changing app in both dating and professional contexts.
  • He also values productivity apps like Hotel Tonight, Evernote, and Box for their utility in his life.

"In the dating world, it's Tinder, and in the professional world, Tinder."

"Other must-have apps are for productivity as much as there's been a lot of... Well, actually a couple, like hotel tonight's pretty badass with the founder's card discount."

"I love box. Yeah, the storage service, their mobile app is pretty awesome."

These quotes reveal Brian Wong's reliance on various apps for different aspects of his life, from personal to professional, highlighting the importance of technology in facilitating daily activities.

Future Outlook for Keep

  • Brian Wong anticipates significant developments for Keep, potentially including an IPO.
  • Keep is tackling the connected device space and has launched a loyalty platform with Mastercard.
  • The company is well-positioned due to the rise of ad blocking and the need for app data understanding.

"A lot and maybe an IPO, maybe more."

"One being the ad blocking is now at an absolute fever pitch and we are right at the center of being the ones that can actually help it."

These quotes outline Brian Wong's ambitious vision for his company's future and the strategic advantages they have in the current market landscape.

Law Trades Endorsement

  • Harry Stebbings endorses Law Trades for legal work for startups and venture capitalists.
  • Law Trades is praised for its domain experience and user-friendly platform.

"Law Trades helps startups and VCs get their legal work done."

"Their website is fresh, it's fun, it's lively, and that's really what law trades is to the legal profession."

Harry Stebbings provides a strong recommendation for Law Trades, emphasizing its suitability for the startup ecosystem and its vibrant approach to legal services.

Podcast Promotion

  • Harry Stebbings encourages listeners to support the podcast on Product Hunt.
  • He also promotes the Product Hunt's new podcast section for discovery.

"All you have to do is head on over to Product Hunt's new podcast section and upvote this episode of the 20 minutes VC if you enjoyed it."

"It's my new go-to place for podcast discovery."

These quotes are a call to action for listeners to engage with the podcast on Product Hunt and explore its new podcast discovery feature, aiming to increase visibility and audience engagement.

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