Kiip Takes Its First International Steps, Inks Reward Network Deal With UK’s Yo! Sushi

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Kiip — the San Francisco-based mobile marketing startup that has created a “rewards network” in which users see offers for free goods and services instead of mobile ads — is going international. The company has signed on with the UK-based sushi chain, Yo! Sushi, to deliver offers for free food across apps used in the UK that have integrated Kiip’s service.

Although Kiip has had some of its U.S. customers serve ads outside of the U.S., this is the first time a non-U.S. company has signed on for the service, and the first time Kiip is sending out offers in the UK on a localized, London-only basis, to coincide with the fact that there are so many more people (and specifically Americans) in town for the Olympics. In a meeting this past weekend in a little coffee shop in London, CEO and co-founder Brian Wong told me this is just the beginning of many deals like this as Kiip ramps up its growth, on the back of a recent $11 million Series B round of funding.

The expansion comes at a time when Kiip is competing against a number of other companies that also deliver rewards instead of straight advertisements, like Foursquare and Groupon. The space remains wide open, says Wong, and “we have realized that we could become the trusted rewards provider out there.”

If there’s one thing that seems to annoy the otherwise mild-mannered Wong, it’s that Kiip often gets called a mobile advertising network. “We’re about rewards, not ads,” he told me, stretching out the r-word. He thinks ads, in their current state, have some major limits because of issues with usability and effectiveness. “When you see companies jamming ads into small formats, saying ‘let’s just shrink this billboard,’ it just doesn’t work,” he said.

Rather than trying to figure out how best to cram lots of information into a limited space, Kiip has moved the goalposts altogether and focused its use of small real estate directly on something that a customer can use immediately. While there are a number of apps on the market that push offers to users — Groupon and Foursquare being two examples — Kiip’s innovation of putting those rewards directly into apps by way of its network means that its offers go, in Wong’s words, “wherever you are.”

He says that up to now the engagement rates have been very encouraging. So far, Kiip has seen a 22%  redemption reward rate, and 50% of its redeemers come back to Kiip for more. The majority of users, Wong says, are between the ages of 18 and 34, and Kiip sees a relatively equal mix between male and female users, with ads coming in from big names like Disney, Best Buy and Procter & Gamble.

The bigger picture will see Kiip trying to better match up rewards with increasingly relevant apps. Right now, the company is still in early-adopter phase with a lot of the activity focused around gaming — either in the form of actual mobile games or in areas like fitness apps, which have a natural gamification element to them. It is here that the Yo! Sushi brand fits in particularly well — the company has a kind of Japanese-manga-inspired branding that matches well with gaming design.

But down the road, there will be separate micro-networks around areas like female-focused apps and women’s consumer products; car apps and car-related rewards, and so on. And with the increasing push on location-based offers you can see how this, too, will also start to play a more prominent role with Kiip.

Looking ahead, Kiip is planning to announce more brand partnerships in the UK soon, and it is “on the verge” of rolling out its first campaigns in the middle east and Asia Pacific, with Kiip’s London office, led by Eamonn Carey, leading much of that growth.