Ahead of this year’s Money20/20 – the leading financial technology event in Las Vegas – the DCC got to sit down with Andrew Cross, Partner and Senior Account Director at Walker Sands. Walker Sands is one of today’s top tech communications firms and Andrew leads their FinTech, electronics, and startup practice areas. Andrew helps tech companies establish credibility, acquire customers, and gain market share. We asked him about big trends in the digital currency industry and his advice to startups looking to successfully grow in the space.
Walkers Sands is known for being at the bleeding edge of tech communications and you head up their growing FinTech division. Tell us why Walker Sands is focused on FinTech and some of the trends you’re seeing among the startups in your practice.
Andrew: FinTech is a shining example of everything that’s exciting about working in B2B technology. When you look at the flow of money – whether B2B, P2P or between consumers and businesses – it has remained largely the same for years. Whether it’s disintermediating the traditional financial services infrastructure and providing access to investment or credit (Raiseworks, FuturePay), reinventing the way one-to-many payments are distributed (Payoneer, Hyperwallet) or enabling merchants, banks and major brands to interact with their retail consumers via payments technology (Worldpay, SimplyTapp, Points), there are startups and established companies tackling these problems from every angle. It’s an exciting time to be in FinTech, but you already know that.
Everyone says, “FinTech is so hot right now.” What about digital currency and blockchain technology? Tell us how you got involved in bitcoin and why Walker Sands is interested in the digital currency industry.
Andrew: I’m especially attracted to the opportunity for digital currencies to streamline payments across borders. More than perhaps any other innovation in recent memory, bitcoin has the potential to level the financial playing field. Now I have my eye on the companies that are popping up to support the bitcoin ecosystem – like Glidera, which allows wallet developers to integrate bitcoin buying and selling into their applications.
Walker Sands is known for its expertise in helping tech startups raise capital and launch products. Tell us about your experience working with Techstars or a case where Walker Sands helped a startup launch a new campaign.
Andrew: Innovation comes from different sources. Sometimes it’s a startup, but sometimes it’s an established company that finds a seam and exploits it for everyone’s benefit. Last year we worked with SecureNet to launch the industry’s first channel-agnostic APIs, which enable companies to accept payments in any channel – in-person, online or via mobile – with a single integration. SecureNet was acquired by Worldpay just following Money 20/20 last year, and this year we’re back at Money 20/20 with Worldpay for the Hackathon.
Startup teams are often so focused on building their companies that they feel they don’t have enough time for publicity. What are some of the key things you advise startup teams to keep in mind as they develop their products and services?
Andrew: A “build it and they will come” approach is generally a bad idea for startups. In FinTech, it’s a terrible idea. Set aside marketing dollars now, and if you’re raising outside funds, consider marketing expenses when you’re planning your round. Make sure you’re planning for the long sales cycles that come with selling to banks and financial institutions.
Are there common pitfalls or mistakes you see among tech startups? What are some of the lessons learned for a start-up company about how, when, and how much to dedicate to launching a PR campaign?
Andrew: PR is a time investment. As a founder, you (or someone you appoint) will need to be available for interviews with media and bloggers, and actively involved with the PR program to some extent. Additionally, look at PR as one piece of your marketing engine. If you’re relying on PR for the bulk of your customer acquisition, you’re doing something wrong. Make sure PR, content marketing and paid digital strategies are firing on all cylinders – and working together.
You’re headed to Money 20/20 in Las Vegas soon. What are some of the big issues you’re most looking forward to hearing about?
Andrew: Obviously everyone is looking forward to hearing from Jack Dorsey, and Osama Bedier is back for another keynote after launching the Poynt payment terminal on-stage last year. In terms of the sessions, I’ll be paying attention to the alternative lending regulation panel (Sunday at 2pm PT) and the panels focused on cross-border money transfer and worker payouts. There’s a great two-part session planned for Monday morning addressing mobile wallet adoption, with a deep dive on Apple Pay. Jose Pagliery from CNN Money is moderating Tuesday afternoon’s panel, “Bitcoin’s Next Phase: Collaboration with Financial Incumbents & Getting to Scale,” that promises to be informative and maybe a bit controversial.