Not many people spend their birthday on a roof with MC Hammer. Fewer still are also the CEO of their own multi-million dollar company.
But UBC graduate Brian Wong, who returned to campus last month for Alumni Weekend, is living a life normally found in the movies. And he’s only 20.
“I’m still figuring out what my day is supposed to look like [as a CEO]. It is never the same,” he said. “I always leave at least 20 per cent of my day open, because there will always be shit that happens.”
Wong graduated from high school at 14. Since then, he’s started a Twitter service that helps connect users with new people to follow, scrounged $200,000 in seed money for a platform that advertises in mobile games, and turned that into a company, Kiip, backed by four million dollars of funding. Not bad for a guy who can’t legally drink at parties south of the border.
Wong proved to be bright early on—he skipped grade two and was placed in a multi-aged cluster class for gifted children.
“I literally remember one day our teacher going ‘hey, who doesn’t want to go into grade seven next year and wants to go to grade eight?’” said Wong. “I got in [to high school] at the age of eleven.”
Wong attended University Hill, where he was accepted two years early. “I did a regular year of grade eight, which was pretty fun, I never got shoved in a locker. I was considered the cute grade eight guy, [but] the cute part was a baby cute, not cute as in good looking.”
After finishing grade eight at University Hill, Wong entered the school’s Transition Program, a joint initiative between UBC, the Vancouver School Board and the BC Ministry of Education, where he was able to compress his final four years of high school into a two year program.
After graduating, Wong transferred into the UBC Sauder School of Business at 14.
”A lot of people will try and imagine what it’s like, but I’ll just tell them it was as normal as anyone could have guessed it to be,” he said.
Wong made the decision to be up front to his peers about his age at UBC.
“If you start by pretending, then when you get past a certain point there’s a point of no return, either a) you’re a completely untrustworthy individual, or b) you’re lying.”
He did, however, make one exception.
“I didn’t want my professors to know,” he said. “I wanted to be…judged without any type of bias, where I could just do the classes and pretend as if I was another 18 or 19 year old.”
Wong was an active member of the Commerce Undergraduate Society and was VP marketing in his third year. Yes, he went to conferences and parties.
“[Being underage] obviously added very interesting elements around social events,” he said. “In first year most people are underage anyways so it wasn’t a big problem. When second year came along, I got very lucky, my brother was four years older than me, and kind of looks like me. So I’m just going to leave the rest to what people would imagine.”
Wong admits that academics weren’t his highest priority at UBC, instead putting an emphasis on extra curriculars.
“I don’t think UBC or Sauder had any idea what I was doing until things started to pop out,” he said.
“I wasn’t a star student, I’m going to admit it. I don’t even know what my GPA was, my average graduating was 77, so it wasn’t absolutely stellar…but the reason why I didn’t make the effort to [improve] is because the marginal effort I found that was required to get from 77 to 85 was phenomenally larger than the effort that would be required just to get 77 in the first place.
“So if I’m happy with 77, it’s enough to get me where I need to go, which is to finish fucking school then I’m cool with it. Because after that, all the other percentage points are just you putting a shitload of time into something [when] you could be doing other shit, like actually being productive and doing extracurricular activities.”
After leaving UBC, Wong worked for Digg in San Francisco. But when Digg laid off 37 per cent of its staff, he found himself without a job.
“It was the best decision I never made. I took a couple months off, it was not really my choice obviously, and decided to start Kiip. It’s been about eight months now.”
After last month’s public announcement of the project, funded by Hummer Winblad and True Ventures—the money behind ideas like Napster and SocialCast— Wong’s schedule is busier than ever. His birthday celebrations in April were cut short by a red-eye flight from San Fransisco, California to Lexington, Kentucky for another conference.
“There’s one thing that happens when you get venture capital funding is that your entire life, and more, is your company,” he said. “You need to focus 180,000 per cent on it, because they are putting that money behind you as a vote of confidence.”
No time to stop for a 20-year-old behind a multi-million dollar company, not even for MC Hammer.