How a Teen ‘Cheated Coded’ His Way into Running a $20 Million a Year Startup
Oftentimes, when we aspire to do something, we complain about not having enough resources to get it done. If we want to build a company, we delay doing it because raising money is hard. If we want to become Hollywood’s next biggest actor, we say we don’t know the right people.
Meet Brian Wong, the 25-year-old CEO of mobile advertising startup Kiip. His clientele includes heavy hitters like McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Proctor & Gamble, and BMW, among many more. This year alone, Kiip has raked in $20 million.
Although he did come from a relatively well-off family, his accolades and success have all been due to his hard work and some “cheat codes” he’s learned along the way.
“Asian parents never really let you have any free time when you’re a kid,” Wong told NextShark. “Growing up, I was always busy. Every waking moment, you had something do, from summer camp to extra curricular activities like hockey, to my mother shoving a book in my face to read.”
“This is interestingly a very foundational component to why I’m ‘driven’. I’m always doing something. I’m always filling my time. I’m never just sitting there, rotting. That means learning, that means reading, that means doing, that means talking, that means building. It’s really anything that’s something ‘-ing’,” Wong said.
At 18, Wong graduated from the University of British Columbia — he skipped four grades throughout his academic life and was in gifted programs. However, Wong stresses that he’s not as “gifted” as people would think.
“I tell people my intelligence levels aren’t really that much more remarkable than the next guy,” Wong said. “What I do do better than the next guy is I learn things in a way that allows me to do the thing faster, or do it earlier.”
In college, Wong didn’t get the best grades and just did enough to get by. He used part of his time to study, but was also making money on the side by making websites for people.
“If I study five hours and I’m going to get seventy percent, then I need to study another ten hours to go from seventy to eighty, that doesn’t make any sense. I’d rather just do the five hours, get the seventy and call it a day. Then spend the other ten hours that I might have been studying just to get that extra ten percent to please my parents, to go build my own web design company. Which is exactly what I did.”
Shortly after graduation, Wong managed to sneak his way into a highly exclusive dinner party hosted by Digg Founder Kevin Rose. There, he managed to network with some of Silicon Valley’s greatest influencers, giving him leverage to get into other future events hosted by Rose.
“I had no idea who the fuck this random Asian kid was that was hanging out at all of my events,” Rose told Wong later.
After getting to know Rose, Wong was able to get a job at Digg, a budding startup that could’ve probably been the next reddit. Unfortunately, the company went through major troubles and Wong was laid off after 5 months.
Instead of wallowing in sadness, Wong knew he had to take action. With Digg’s blessing, he spent the next month attending conferences on behalf of the company and networked with as many people as possible.
During this time, Wong devised a clever technique of setting up meetings with influencers. He’d guess the email address of the person he’d want to meet, Bcc the rest of his guesses, then cold email them requesting for a 15-minute informal meeting.
With that, Wong managed to get acclaimed Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson to meet with him. Using his name, Wong was able to secure meetings with other top tier VCs across the nation. From there, it became a snowball effect and Wong’s network skyrocketed.
In 2010, Wong, then 19, managed to used the network he built to secure $4.4 million in funding for his startup Kiip. At the time, he became the youngest entrepreneur to ever receive venture capital money.
Despite these achievements, Wong, now 25, admits that while his success is impressive, it was at the expense of countless embarrassing moments he had to deal with due to his antics.
“I’ve shown up at a meeting and been told, ‘I didn’t have a meeting scheduled with you’. People telling you never to email them again. People who actually met with you the day before and say they don’t remember you the next day. People on Twitter telling me to stop tweeting them. You learn by trial and error.”
With the massive amount of people asking him for advice, Wong decided to compile his lessons into a book, “The Cheat Code: Going Off Script to Get More, Go Faster, and Shortcut Your Way to Success”. In the book, he lists out all the life “cheats” he’s learned through his experiences. Despite everything, Wong still doesn’t consider himself “successful”.
“I’m still very early on in my career and there’s so much for me to learn. I still want to do so much. I want to learn to be a pilot, scuba dive, rock climb, cook multiple cuisines, and dance. I think success will come from filling my brain with as much as I can. I’ll only feel successful at the end of my life, when I’ve used all my time to learn and grow. I think you stop being successful when you don’t grow anymore.”
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