We’re happy to share with you two new fresh videos from Bodwell Graduation 2015.
1. 25 minute video of Brian Wong’s engaging and inspirational message to our new graduates.
2. 10 minute video of Bodwell’s 2015 valedictorian, Rolayo Obatan who was chosen by her peers to represent the graduating class.
Both videos are well worth a watch!
For a full transcript of Brian's speech read here
“Hello everybody. Good afternoon. Let’s get moving! We’ve been sitting around for a little bit. I’m really excited to be here. Parents, graduates, Bodwell staff, Paul, I shout out to you. Thank you for having me. This is kind of a surreal. First of all, this day is all about you guys. It’s all about you. Congratulations. You should be very proud of yourself. A round of applause for yourselves.
I remember this day. It was a lot smaller and actually the surreal part is I feel like, in many ways, this is the graduation ceremony I’ve never had because I skipped grade 7. So I don’t really have a graduation ceremony, so my parents are actually here at the front. Mom and dad, say hello. So this is what it would have been like had I gone through a normal high school. So alright everyone. I’m really excited to be here. I wanted to share just a few things about why there’s a 20 year old Asian guy on stage talking about mobile and business and how you can grow up and be successful, so I’ll explain that and then also dive into a few pointers that a gist of things that helped me guide in principle in how I would have built my business and then get to I guess where I am right now today.
So, a quick background of me. I was born and raised in Vancouver. I went to high school actually in U-Hill, back in where it was a tiny shack, with like 500 people, and then now it’s like a glorious glass building with like brand new everything. I drive by there and I’m super jealous because they get the new stuff, because I got old stuff. Then I actually skipped a bunch of grades, so I skipped grades 2, 7, 9 and 11 and that’s kind of crazy how it was all scattered and I did some gifted learning program everything leaning programs as well throughout the way. And then I graduated high school when I was 14 and I went straight to UBC. I decided to go into Commerce, which is where I met Boris. And then I was in Commerce for 4 years, which apparently is like fast now. The cool thing to do these days is 5 years in college, but I don’t know. And then I ended up graduating with a Commerce Degree, and immediately went down to San Francisco to actually work for another company called “Digg”.
Now, there’s sort of 3 formative experiences that led to I guess me just being an entrepreneur. The first is hockey, the second is Singapore, and the third is losing my job. So I’ll quickly explain those three. Hockey. So how does hockey play in this? This guy plays ice hockey? Well I used to, I used to be very buff, I know it’s hard to believe. Yes I played ice hockey for about 10 years. And I was the fast-agile one that was dodging everyone. Now there was this one time though where I didn’t dodge someone. And that was when I was 16, I was on a knee-on-knee hit, which actually fractured my lower femur, which is not a bone you’re supposed to break. And it was obviously very painful and I ended up being on a wheelchair for about a month and then crutches for a little while. Now, during that time, I pretty much had nothing to do, so I decided there are two choices. I can either play a lot of video games, or start a company. So, I started a company. So I learned how to design actually much younger, I was about 11 years old when I was pirated Photoshop, cause you can’t really afford $800 worth of software when you are young, so I decided to learn design on my own, so I had this design skill and one of my buddies in college was like “hey, let’s do some websites together and make some money off of it” so I said great and I started a web design agency while I was in a wheel chair. And that’s what kicked off my entrepreneur career. Now that was my first company and Kiip is my second.
So the second formative experience in kind of helping shape my worldview was when I went on an exchange in college as well. So third year I went to Singapore and I studied abroad for a semester. Now, I chose Singapore for various reasons. First reason is, my Cantonese or any other second language is pretty terrible so I was like Singapore speaks English, let’s go there and I figured out I want to learn more about Asia and the continent so I decided to go there. Now when I arrived in Singapore, I figured out that they weren’t really speaking English. It was like Singlish. For those of you who’ve been there, it’s like English but just totally different. So I ended up being in Singapore for 6 months, I loved it so much but a part of what Singapore did for me was I grew up in Vancouver much like or not I know some of you didn’t grow up here. Now Vancouver’s very comfortable city; it’s got everything you want so getting out and seeing the world was amazing. I also got my parents used to me not living at home so when I finally left to San Francisco I think it was a little easier. Now, Singapore also, I remember very distinctively being in Taipei. I was stuck in a typhoon and I had missed all my midterms the following week because I was super sick because I was running around in the rain, don’t ask me why, but that experience just going and being able to just hop on a plane and go anywhere kind of gave me this worldview you know we are so connected and that feeling that you can be anywhere within 24 hours in the world is what makes us citizen of the world. It doesn’t really matter kind of where now, it’s what you do and so that’s what got me so excited about, again, building my company and making it global. Actually I’m very excited to go back to Singapore next week so it’s going to be awesome.
The third is, I have mentioned getting laid off and losing my job. Now, I mentioned I graduated college at 18, I moved down to San Francisco, and originally worked for a company called Digg. Digg was a big competitor of Reddit and I know you guys read Reddit. Digg was pretty cool a while back. And then I got laid off from that company because they started to hit a wall and I was without a job. Now think about this, graduated college, first job out of college, gets laid off, not that great, especially for my parents. So I’m kind of in this hoopla for going away party and everything and now I’m coming back and I didn’t have a job. Now, it wasn’t my fault, it was obviously other people’s faults but that’s what happens when you get laid off. It’s not your fault, it’s not like I sucked at my job. At least I think so. I ended up without a job but when you get stuck in a situation actually I wasn’t stuck, I was like what do I do, I either could apply for more jobs or create my own. So I kind of knew how to do that because I started my first company so I was like, why not give it a try so I did that in 2010. Now, four and a half years later, in a work 80 people in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and LA, and we’ve raised about $20 million now in venture capital and it’s an honour to have a chance to build something that I’m really passionate about something I started from scratch. Now, I wanted to share with you guys some things that helped me along the way. Again, you get so much advice throughout youth… I know that for the next few years, it’s not going to stop. Everything goes. Be passionate, do what you love, be sure that you follow your own path, be unique and all these things. I’m going to pile onto that but with my little twist.
The first I wanted to share is sort of audacity differentiates. What I mean by that is being different, being unique, everything that you do that isn’t part of just what is your normal curriculum. A lot of things that are outside of school things like extra-curricular, everything that you are interested in that you pursue, these are the things that differentiate you and make you different. That makes you indispensable. Now, what I’ve noticed is that we are so excited to build this foundation of knowledge we graduate that we kind of get satisfied with that and that continued curiosity the desire to learn should never leave. In fact, that’s one of my biggest fears is that I ever lose my sense of curiosity which I hope never happens, but that is what will drive you forever. Now, the fact that you are able to differentiate yourselves, anything your friends even tell you. Oh you are really good at this, you seem to be good at photography, you seem to be good at drawing, sport, whatever it might be. That should be the thing that you continue and own. A lot of the time when you are going through high school or even throughout college, you will be told to fix your weaknesses which is to an extent true. Now, there’s some things that you are very weak, I was pretty weak in finance and I know it’s really weird, I’m supposed to be good at math but I wasn’t and I had to fix up some of that stuff to a basic level, but then now I have people who are really good at that instead of me. Because if I were to do it, things will be running around. So, there are things that you have to realize when you look at your strength and hold on to that. It will help you to continue to find or sharpen that tool and make it very effective. My talent, what I know I’m really good at is I get people really excited about stuff. And that’s what I do, to sell, to build my company, to just push things forward. And bring in investors as well.
The second thing I wanted to share is sort of following a path. Again, like I said, there’s paths that you will follow throughout your life. School, college, get your degree, things like that. But just remember, with everything you’ve done when you go through college, everyone you are with is pretty much the same as you. You’ve just graduated from school, when you’ve finished college or university, you’re going to have your bachelor’s degree and those things on paper make you the same. Now everything like I said that you do different will make you that person that people will remember and again that travelling experience when I went abroad was one, but there’s many many more that you can do. And these come from your internal talents, things you notice that you really really like.
The third I wanted to share is think big. Think absolutely massive. And when I say that, it’s not just thinking big in terms of what you want to do, but obviously there are things outside of what you’ve been told. And again, to the parents in the back, all cool, you only mean the best for your children, you told them about all the amazing jobs they can get, like a lawyer, or doctor, or politician, or accountant or banker, but I need you to know that 5 years ago, actually it was way more than that oh my gosh, I feel old now. I’m 23 by the way. But anyways, 5 years ago, more than that! The jobs that I thought I was applicable but, super sexy, are jobs probably not relevant now in terms of the technological improvements and changes that happened especially with the introduction of the smartphone. I’m sure many of you have seen some of the opportunities there. So what I’m saying is ultimately there’s this need to discover job opportunities and things that are not necessarily something that you’ve been told about that you can actually find very enjoyable. I had never known in Silicon Valley whole area of expertise about product management, business development, and things I didn’t even know existed. But having a chance to see it is enough, it’s a chance to know that at least it exists. So that constant discoveries of exploration is amazing. Remember, there’s the whole world in front of you. Many of you have world perspectives that make you very unique. And that’s what you need to be taking on as your core competency. So that’s the next one. It’s take what makes you unique. Sometimes it even seems to appear at least initially as a weakness. Right? So some people will ask me, “You’re very young. How do people take you seriously?” I’m like “well, that’s a leading question because you think initially people don’t take me seriously. But the point is, you can take what is a weakness and actually turn into a strength. And that’s very much so the thing that for you worldly being cultured not from here means you actually have a different perspective and you see things differently, you grew up differently and that is ultimately what people like me employers are looking for. It’s people who have very different perspectives because that’s how amazing ideas come about. If everyone thinks the same way, I don’t want that. It’s not useful to me. I want everyone to think differently.
The next thing is asking. It’s incredibly under-rated. What I mean by that is you know, when you don’t ask for help, how do people know how to help you? Right? And so one of the things that has really guided me and has helped me build my business, do what I’ve done over the last 5 years is the fact that I just ask for it. Now, when you are young, there’s one thing that happens. You look very benign. You are not really that threatening. That means you can ask anything. And you can learn as much as you can. You are a massive sponge. People will teach you. They will share with you. This is ultimately the advantage that you have. It’s that people are wired to share and pass along knowledge. So the moment you ask, you will get answers. And actually if you don’t, usually that person’s not someone you want to spend time anyway so is kind of disqualified. But the point is, if you are able to ask and get the things you want, just ask it. And people just don’t do that. People just sometimes wait for things to happen to them but unfortunately, in this world if you don’t try to make that path ahead of you, there’s usually a difference in the two types of people that I notice. Of course folks that have an external locus of control usually wait for everything around for them to align until they can actually make a difference or someone who goes you know what I can make it now. Some of you might have seen this video and I’m going to be cliché and quote Steve Jobs. I don’t think he came up with it. It’s more like a general thing. But there’s a video of him younger and he went “that moment you realize as a person that everything around you that you see, the floors, the ceilings, this process, the institution of school, the clothes you wear, was all created by another person”. And you’re a person. That’s when you mind starts to explode. You go wow everyone. Everything that got created, someone else did it, so I am a person too I have these knowledge and skill and I can also create these things. I can change whatever I want. Everything in front of you is malleable and is something you can affect. That’s what becomes unbelievably powerful, and that’s one of the realizations that I had very early on, that to a degree well to my business for those of you curious of what it actually does is that we just embed rewords into the apps or games using your phone every day. Someone might have gotten them. So you get a level up on a game and you have a free latte from Starbucks. The reason why I created that was well no one here has ever tapped on a banner ad on their phone intentionally. No one has ever done that on purpose if you are a normal human being. So that would be a problem. So I was like why is that still there? That has to be removed, that has to be changed. So I decided to say try to change it. And when I went 1/10 of the way there, at least we were starting.
So, the next thing is the little things matter. Now, again, you are in the middle, you are in the moment, so it probably won’t sink in until 10 years later but that’s okay. As long as you remember hopefully. There’s these little things that I remember doing when I grew up that at the time I was doing I like urgh I have to wake up so early, I have to do this, and my parents are making me do this and you just aren’t thankful. You’re not grateful at all. And then 10 years later, you go wow, if they hadn’t forced me to do this, I wouldn’t be able to do this. So, just remember that the things that your parents might make you do, or that you’re made to do by your teachers or whoever might be these things, these little things that make. I’ll give you an example. I did two extra-curricular, in fact, I did too many extra-curricular activities when I was growing up. My parent’s philosophy was the busier you are the less opportunity you have to go off and go do crazy things and get in trouble. Which is a good theory because I ended up working. I had no time to do other crazy things. Now, there’s two things. One was boys’ choir so I sang in the choir this is before my voice changed. I sounded like an angel. And then the second was speech art. So actually I did sort of like a version of improv it’s like drama, reciting poetry in front of audiences. Now, those two things at the time I was like this is interesting, I guess this is fun, it wasn’t that pain that bad, but it was only till now really last 4 years that I go, if it wasn’t for that, my memory of reciting things and being able to stand in front of large audiences and present, especially when I was presenting to investors and building our business and speaking at conferences, none of that stuff would have been able to come naturally had not been for those things but at the time, you don’t realize. For you the many little things that you do become you, becomes a huge part of your life and it becomes your assets as you grow up. So just remember those little things will matter.
So the last thing I’ll leave you with is this phrase I use a lot. I call it “generate serendipity”. And that basically is creating your own luck. I like the word serendipity because it sounds really good. Now, the idea here is how do you take your environment, find an environment as well that can be of good use to your strength. I think it was Edison or Einstein, someone like that once said you know, you don’t judge a fish by how well it climbs z tree. I felt like a fish. I was being judged by how I climb the tree quite honestly here because I had all these nerdy internet ideas and I would have to repeat myself like 15 times no one would really understand what I was doing. And then when I went to Silicon Valley, it was just like nerd-topia because everyone’s a nerd, they go wow I get exactly what you are saying this is amazing. You don’t have to explain 3 times, I get it. And here’s a lot of money to start, I’m kidding, it’s not that easy, but that’s how, you need to find an environment that becomes that place where you can become the best you can be. And that’s where these collisions happen. That’s where serendipity occurs. You need one person who believes in you and that starts it off. There’s one person I remember I’ll leave you with this and I will go. His name is Matt Van Horne. There’s one person that when I first down to Silicon Valley. I had emailed pretty much everyone I could find. By the way, if you want to get a hold of someone, just guess their e-mail. It’s really easy. In fact, a small tip, you put your best guess for the e-mail in the “to” field, and in the “bcc” field, you put every other permutation that you can think of. And then they don’t know that you are desperate to try to contact them. They just see the first e-mail and go oh whatever and they get the e-mail. And then you know which one it was when they bounce back. The point is, you can reach everyone you want in the world. Everyone has an e-mail address. That’s the good news. Well, not everyone. But mostly the people you think relevant would have one. And, the point is, when you get to those people, they will either have two reactions. One is nah I don’t want to meet with you which is not like if it was any better than where you were when you were originally even in the first place. It’s not like no is any different than the situation you were in. Or they’ll say yes which is amazing. At that time, and Matt said yes and he said come by and have breakfast with me at 6:30 am. I remember I flew down to San Francisco to have breakfast. And we had breakfast and after that breakfast he drove me over to the office, he introduced me to the CEO of the company and that’s when I got my first job. So there’s always going to be these opportunities these little things in life that will just align to you that are coming from serendipity but only because you had brought yourself in that environment in the first place, put into motion these things that will create that potential success. And be there and be ready. And just have a lot of fun along the way. With that, congratulations again. I’m super honoured to be here. And have an amazing day.”
For a full transcript of Rolayo's speech read here
“Good afternoon honoured guests, parents, staff, teachers, students, fellow graduates and a warm welcome to Brian Wong. I welcome you all today to our family, our home away from home, Bodwell High School. Whenever I think of Bodwell, I see a large family with people from all over the world. It never came to my realm of thought that I would ever meet any of the nationalities here at Bodwell. In fact I told my mum that I would never, ever, ever, ever… ever ever go to a boarding school- but here I am so never say never. Bodwell has shaped me into a new person in different ways. I have learnt how to say hello in many languages; nihow, konichiwa, aniow, Priviet, hola, merhaba and so much more. At Bodwell, we are constantly learning as we walk within these hallways.
I would like to share an experience I had at a Leadership Camp this past Fall. I am sure all the house captains and Student Parliament can agree with me about how amazing the camp was. We set off for the camp on a Friday right after school. It was a long 2-hour bus ride and we were worn out from finishing our midterms. We finally arrived in the evening and all the camp rules were laid out to us. We had dinner and quickly went to bed to rest our brains and muscles for the next day’s activities. We were put in teams with three activities to accomplish- the high ropes, the low ropes and the climbing wall. The most significant challenge to me was the climbing wall. Before I saw it, I was confident because I had climbed walls before. But my previous experience, with thick padding at the bottom was no match for this wall I was about to climb. I remembered a story Mr. Burnett told us about a girl who kept slipping and falling but never gave up until she reached the top. I finally started climbing and everything was going as planned until I reached a spot where I could not go further. I slipped. I tried again to climb but I continued to slip.
It was freezing and my fingers were numb so I could no longer grip the holds. A lot of feelings and emotions were running through my mind at that point. I was tired, cold and frustrated. I wanted to give up. But just as I was about to give the signal to be released and let down, I heard a voice. Mr. Hallis had arrived at the scene with his camera, ready to take embarrassing pictures of me slipping and falling. I peered down and saw how high I had climbed and I screamed. All of a sudden my grip came back. I could also see my teammates and friends at the bottom of the wall shouting my name and what holds to grip next. I knew that I was not alone in my battle. I took a deep breath and tried one more time to climb and with my last breath I rang the bell at the top of the wall. It was at this moment that I truly understood the meaning of both teamwork and tenacity.
Aaliyah, a famous singer once sang, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” Grads, there will be a lot of obstacles and challenges ahead of us but remember to never give up, to keep trying and to be confident. An umbrella cannot stop the rain but it helps us to stand in it. The same goes for confidence. It may not take away all our challenges but it will give us the power to face them. Bob Marley once said, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.”
And now, I would like to read to you all a poem I wrote called ‘Not Me But We’.
You are a star and you deserve to twinkle
If they try to dim your light, let your kindness sprinkle
You are a champion so let us hear you roar
Work hard in everything and like a bird you will soar
Do not be a sponge and marinate what they say
Rather, become titanium and watch their words ricochet
Challenges can become easy
But they will never be for the one who is lazy
Dream big with no limitations
Take every step with no hesitations
Rise up, be confident, fear nothing
Rise up; dream and chant, “I can do anything”
Be the change you want to see
You know who said that, Gandhi
A time may come when jealousy slaps you in the face
Yet you will stand tall with a remedy instead of disgrace
This remedy, made simply with love and inspiration
Has the power to unite everyone and every nation
Help! One hand’s for you and the other for another
Become a brother or sister from another mother
Love is the universal language we all share
Each of us is a piece of our mosaic, so care
About the problems that you hear and see
Understand that it is not all about me but we
On behalf of all the grads I would like to thank the teachers, coaches, dorm staff and counselors for all your advice, guidance and patience throughout the years. We love you all so much. I would also like to thank our parents for trusting that we will make you proud even in your absence. And finally, I would like to thank each student at Bodwell for helping us create life-long memories. We will certainly remember all the times we spent with our teammates, and all the memories we created with our best friends and roommates. Congratulations to all the Grads for persevering. Good luck to all of you in the future and I hope you enjoy this very special day with your family, loved ones and friends. Cheers to the Class of 2015! Thank you!”