IPG Invests in Mobile Rewards Startup Kiip

CEO Brian Wong discusses deal and growth plans

Last July mobile rewards startup Kiip announced it had raised an $11 million funding round “led by Relay Ventures, with participation from existing Series A investors Hummer Winblad and True Ventures, and others.” Now the company is disclosing that Interpublic Group was among those “other” investors.

IPG’s investment doesn’t preclude Kiip from taking funding from or working with other agency holding companies, Kiip cofounder and CEO Brian Wong said. However it does solidify ties between Kiip and IPG's collection of agencies. The startup has already worked with Initiative and Ansible. Now Kiip will also work closely with IPG Media Lab, the holding company’s unit charged with finding emerging technologies for clients to start using in their marketing.

Wong wouldn’t say how much cash IPG poured into Kiip but described it as a “strategic” investment, which suggests the holding company took a small stake in the 21-year-old’s startup compared to the VC investors. Then why wait to announce IPG’s investment until six months after the round was announced? So that articles written about the round didn’t overshadow IPG’s inclusion and vice versa, it seems. “I think it was more a matter of people being too busy; there was no real reason for us [to announce it],” Wong said.

“What we wanted to do is have a really clear idea of how that partnership would look like, how we would work together, before we were able to talk about it publicly,” Wong added. “I wish I had a more juicy answer for you, but it literally was like, ‘Let’s just do it in January’ because we don’t have to [announce it]. We’ll just wait until it’s a kick-off to the year and really showing that validation [for Kiip].”

Also validating’s Kiip position as a mobile rewards partner are the 100 campaigns it ran last year for 75 brands including Pepsi, American Express, Best Buy and Mondelez. The startup had started out as an in-game ad platform, high-fiving mobile gamers with virtual goods when they completed a level or beat a game, but has grown into rewards platform that brands can use to deliver offers tied to these “own-able moments” — moments that can deepen the relationship between brands and consumers, Wong claims. Last year Kiip saw 1 billion of these moments—and 280 million in the last 30 days—and served 200 million rewards. Wong wouldn’t say how many of those rewards were redeemed “because that way people will know our revenues” but said that redemption rates range from 10 to 25 percent per reward.

Kiip’s rewards platform has been largely mobile-centric—spanning 700 apps, 70 percent of them games, according to Wong—but the company has begun making headway into search and social. Discussing the IPG investment during last week’s International CES, it seemed a logical next step for Kiip could be the connected car. “Let’s just say it would be a mistake for us not to think about other areas where rewards could be applied to,” Wong said.

“Our eventual goal as a company is to own every single achievement moment on the planet, whether it be you hit your energy savings goals with your Nest thermostat or you were able to get good mileage with your hybrid [car],” he said.