Meet the 20-Year Old CEO Redefining Mobile Advertising

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Techland: How about you yourself? Are you a big gamer?

I love casual puzzle games because it’s like they never end. Cut the Rope is a big one. Angry Birds of course. But beyond being cliché, there’s this game that just came out. It’s not really a puzzle game, it’s more of a strategy type: Sword & Sworcery.

It’s just an amazing game because of the level of detail that they put into it. Like for example, in the game they have this thing where it’s always nighttime and there’s the moon. The moon changes to the state of the moon on the day you’re playing it. I’m not even kidding you. I’m a designer by trade. I did business school, but I still really admire great design.

Do you see Kiip expanding onto other platforms? Do you see it going to consoles or to Facebook or anything like that?

I’m going to sit here and smile. (And he does.)

Did you see yourself doing this at a younger age? What’d you see yourself doing when you were a kid?

There’s one thing I want to share that fires me up every time: Every single one of us wanted to be an astronaut when we were young. And every time I say this, everybody goes, “Yeah, yeah.” I’m like, “What happened?” Like why did everybody just start deciding to be an accountant or a banker. Not to hate on them or anything…

But if you’re rich you can be a space tourist

Right. That’s the natural things to say. Our parents and friends were like, “Well you can’t do it because of this, this, this, this, and this.” I think what I ended up realizing very quickly through school (and this became a common theme) was: “Who decided that I should be doing this?”

I mean, who told me that I should do school when I’m 18? Who told me that I shouldn’t be starting a company until I’m “this age.” Or who told me that I have to be a consultant at Bain before I know how to run a business? In fact, everybody you see that’s truly changing the world broke the rules since day one.

So I don’t think I was at the university going, “Yeah, I’m going to go to San Francisco to start a company and use venture capital money and whatever.” Never. That did not happen. Didn’t even cross my head. (Laughs)

Is there anyone in the industry you look up to? Tumblr’s David Karp?

Yeah. David and I, we’ve known each other for a long time. And a “long time” in the tech world means a year.

There’s a funny story about that. John Maloney is the president of Tumblr, and I’ve known him since September of 2009. I actually made a trip out to New York with some friends as a vacation, which was the first time I’ve ever been to New York. Instead of being on vacation, I decided to be an idiot and emailed like 40 people. Folks like Fred Wilson [a venture capitalist] and John Maloney responded. I ended up having coffees with both of them, and John brought me back to the Tumblr offices.

I think he probably wanted to hire me as an intern or something at some point, but I don’t really know. (Laughs) But he was like, “Hey, you got to meet David here. He’s like your age and he’s kind of like you.” So I’ve known David since then. He’s one of those guys that you would never have known that he’s a frickin’ genius. And these things aren’t accidental. The guy works really, really hard and is incredibly in tune with how people like to express themselves.

Last question. Any idea who Fake Brian Wong on Twitter is?

I’m going to look you in the eyes and say I have no idea who this guy is. Like I really don’t know. My team follows him more closely than they follow me. They say you know you’ve made it when you have a fake account.

And it’s funny. I just look at something like that and I laugh because a year ago I was broke and I had no job [after being laid off from Digg].

And then seven, eight months later, when I call my mom up and I’m like, “Hey mom! We just got money!” And she’s like, “Oh. Now that your company’s healthy, you need to be healthy. Eat some more vegetables.”

Like my dad literally grew up in a village in the middle of China that had mud houses. And to him, what he has now — like he’s living in an apartment, he has a roof over his head, he has food to eat and he can eat whatever he wants, he can walk along the water, which is where [my parents] live in Vancouver — it’s like he taught me how to be appreciative of the little things. He taught me to remember where you’re from, and that as long as you have a beating heart and you’re not a lazy motherf*cker, you can make something out of yourself. That’s it.

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