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March 10 2011 Posted by: Mark Fidelman in: Miscellany

Kiip.me to Mobile Game Developers: There will be Ice Cream

Brian Wong discusses his company and the future of mobile advertising

 

Fourteen minutes into the movie, there’s a great scene that serves as the perfect prologue for the events to come.  Daniel Plainview has launched into a sales pitch to convince the town to accept his offer to drill into their land.  He exclaims that his competitors are ineffective or simple middlemen that are only cutting in to their rightful profit.  So without him, they’ll be selling themselves short while trying to access the black gold beneath their feet. He is in fact their messiah.  

In the early days of oil speculation you had to be talented, confident and convincing if you were to succeed in the business.  You needed to be not just good but a great entrepreneur.  And if you weren’t there was always someone ready to take it all away from you.  Think Shawn Fanning, Jimmy Wales, Niklas Zennström or even Mark Zuckerberg for examples from our time.  Each have disrupted their respective industries in profound ways. 

Enter Brian Wong of mobile game advertising start-up Kiip.me.  Brian believes today’s mobile advertising models are not working.  He despises mobile banner ads and cites a recently released statistic about how 50% of mobile banner ad clicks are accidental. 

To combat today’s ineffectual mobile game advertising models, Brian claims to have created a non-traditional advertising platform model with multiple components. He claims it’s a superior model with minimal game disruption.  He cleverly twisted a popular analogy to explain that he is providing ice cream to brands and game developers that are used to eating broccoli. 

While still in stealth mode, he isn’t too forthcoming. But I got the sense he’s going to deliver an advertising platform that matches mobile game play with a user’s real world location.  Perhaps a permission based coupon or ad that inserts itself into the game play depending on how close you are to one of Kiip.me’s advertisers.  I don’t really know, I’m only speculating.

It’s a Land Grab

Kiip.me PictureI asked Brian if he was looking to raise an A round since his initial $300,000 must be going dry.  Moreover, like the early days of the oil industry, mobile advertising is a land grab.  You need significant funding for that.

Brian responded that it is a land grab but it’s also a Brand and Game Developer grab.  And he’s not ruling an A round out.  Yet he’s confident that he’s created a new category and he will have first mover advantage with or without the funding. 

The Future of Mobile Advertising  

Brian hinted at future models which will track your daily movements through GPS, listen to ambient sounds through your mobile’s microphone and mine your social network to build user profiles.  Then, companies like Kiip.me will facilitate Brand, Game Developer and consumer engagement in the context of those profiles.       

Sounds Orwellian to me.  But Brian assures me that people will get used to it. 

On the Subject of Privacy

But will they get used to it?  Early adopters may get used to it, but will the early and late majority accept some loss of privacy?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps if an equitable trade is made for that loss of privacy some people will accept this arrangement. 

While not a major issue yet, it will only take the first leak of mobile based information for it to become one.  Imagine a hacker breaking into a database of mobile company that has stored all of your location based information for the past few years.   You happen to like the occasional Gentleman’s Club and suddenly your taste in venues is front page news.  Think it won’t happen?  Think again.  

Can we legislate mobile based privacy?  You may have strict privacy laws in your home country, but those laws don’t extend across borders.  What may be protected in Europe may not be safe in the United States. 

But to be clear, Brian cares about privacy.  In fact he only uses services like Gowalla to check into airports.  He does not check into places he considers private.  He still wants parts of his life to remain free from prying eyes and from brands. That’s a choice he’s made and he doesn’t want to take the same away from you.   

It remains to be seen how all of these issues will evolve.  But I recognize this game and there will be abuses.

On BrianWong

imageWhat I failed to mention prior to this point is the remarkable fact that Brian is only 19 years old.  I know, I had to keep reminding myself of that during our conversation.  Reports are that he is the youngest CEO ever to receive venture funding.  In fact Zuckerberg was slightly older when he received funding at 20.

Admittedly, I did get the feeling that I may be talking to a future tech icon. He was thorough, thoughtful and knew his stuff.  And with the exception of some privacy issues, I found him extremely knowledgeable.   

But can he execute better than his major competitors?

The Reckoning

While we won’t know for a few weeks the exact nature of Kiip.me it’s clear Brian and team are going to introduce a unique business model. Brian believes he’s found an obvious method for game developers to monetize their apps without stealing a lot of pixels. 

And from my many discussions with game developers, meaningful revenue generation without an interruption of the gaming experience is the holy grail of mobile gaming.  Has Brian found it?  Well that remains to be seen. 

But still, it’s undeniable that this 19 year old is really special and apart.  He’s already earned a place in Venture Capital history. 

And like the movie, his competitors shouldn’t be surprised if they wake up one morning to find the Kiip straw sucking the advertising dollars out from underneath them. He is, in fact aiming to drink your ice cream milkshake.

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