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  • Writer's pictureJohn Cavender

A Conversation with Axios Reporter Kia Kokalitcheva: What Makes a Fintech Startup Stand Out

This past year, venture-capital-backed fintech companies raised a record $39.57 billion from investors globally. Business publications regularly cover innovation in banking, investing, ecommerce, payments, and cryptocurrencies. But do journalists believe the hype? And, more importantly, what stands out to the reporters writing these articles?

Kia Kokalitcheva, Axios Reporter

We spoke with Kia Kokalitcheva, tech and venture-capital writer at Axios, who covers major tech companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Twitter. In addition, she regularly writes features on the crypto space and other fintech topics like funding and diversity in finance. She illuminated the important ingredients of a compelling fintech story, what makes a less established tech company stand out, and the stories in the space that interest her most.

What to do when you can’t share numbers

When it comes to emerging tech companies Kia said, “I hear from a lot of startups that they are doing a bunch of innovative things. But often they are just two dudes in a garage with one customer. You have to prove that you have an impact.”

This means that as a startup, when talking to press it’s imperative to demonstrate the influence your company is having on the industry. Kia admitted, “This can be tricky for startups that don’t want to share their numbers.” Luckily, you can try other methods to get a reporter’s attention. For example, Kia mentioned that her interest is piqued when she hears from companies that are rethinking how the establishment is doing something. If you share how you are different from the fixtures of the industry — like how your latest fintech product is replacing an outdated way banks process payments — then you have a better chance of getting a reporter’s attention.

Leverage your company’s star power

Big names can, of course, make a reporter reread an email. Kia said that having major industry players as customers or team members with an impressive track record can be a reason she looks into a company. For example, if a startup is working with a big company like Walmart with national implementation — that is interesting, she added. And, if you have any well-known entrepreneurs or investors on your team or board, be sure to leverage their star power.

Working with the media is an exercise in relevancy

News is all about how the world is changing. As a company, you should think about how your company reflects that change. Kia noted that another signal that an emerging company is worth investigating is when its mission relates to bigger news trends. Does your company’s mission interact with the local housing crisis? Are your services being used to aid natural disaster relief?

Does your team have unique insights into the latest cyber attack? Think about the ways your company connects to the big issues that everyone is talking about. This will get a reporter’s attention.

Recognize that you are at the mercy of markets

On the flip side, it is also vital to think about how recent news could result in negative coverage of your company. Fintechs in particular are susceptible to market volatility. If the market is not doing well, coverage of your company will reflect that.

Kia said that one story she wrote about a company’s funding round particularly stood out to her because of what it revealed about the industry. In October of 2018, Kia covered Coinbase’s $500 million funding round at an $8 billion valuation. What interested her about this story was what it revealed about the effect of the crypto market’s dip. Kia found that Coinbase had received an offer from investors valuing the company at $12 billion. But with crypto prices sagging, the offer was dropped. Investors were unsure how to price a company in such a volatile market, she stated. Additionally, the so-called “crypto winter” had resulted in many layoffs in the space. “The real effect of the drop in the market on the companies was fascinating.”

The funding Coinbase raised was still incredibly large, but in a market as volatile as crypto, companies need to be conscious of how reporters may approach a story given the industry climate. What started as a momentum story turned into something very different.

How to factor your company into a reporter’s view of the future of fintech

Kia notes that, “We are at a phase where everyone is experimenting with fintech in different ways.” As a result, she’s waiting to see what happens to the startups that claim they have new, innovative tech. We will see which companies, coins, or technologies survive.

No journalist can ever predict the future. This is why it’s especially important to highlight what makes your fintech company different. How do you stand out from the list of other aspiring companies solving similar problems?

As an emerging startup, one of your goals is to see your company covered by the press. When reaching out to journalists, it’s helpful to think about your company from their perspective. Kia reminds us to think first and foremost about how your business is making an impact. There are many companies out there. How is yours unique in its approach to the industry? Additionally, what big-name clients or accomplished team members do you have?

Once you have considered what makes you stand out, think about how your work connects to recent news or trends. Express how your business relates to the areas a reporter is interested in. How have they covered your industry recently? Think through how you might be portrayed negatively and prepare accordingly. Be ready to answer these questions, because a journalist will certainly ask them when they speak with you.


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