Money2020 – The Future is Blockchain, China and Partnerships

“Is there a China play?” was probably the most repeated phrase of Money2020 2016. “Is this built on blockchain?” was likely the second. This year’s conference—by far the biggest of the six held thus far—saw companies like IBM, Google and Microsoft unveil to the world their plans to use the blockchain to reimagine payments ledgers. At the same time, hundreds of startups walked the show floor talking frictionless payments, NFC and China. It’s an exciting time to be in FinTech.

 

Blockchain

While the blockchain isn’t new, 2016 will be remembered as the year it truly went mainstream. Money2020 got off to bang on Sunday night with IBM’s VP of Blockchain leading a conversation around regulating distributed ledger technology. The panel—with participants from across the FinTech, legal and business communities—particularly discussed the question of how to protect consumers without stifling innovation. Of the numerous approaches discussed, the one that most clearly came through was greater transparency and partnership between FIs, the tech space and regulators.

 

But while IBM’s session showed an industry pretty much in lockstep, earlier that day Credit Suisse, NASDAQ and Overstock.com had starkly differing opinions on the commercial utility of blockchain. NASDAQ, which started trialing blockchain ledgers for settlement last year, argued that certain inefficiencies in the equities market could be solved by using elements of the blockchain, a position supported by others on the panel—in particular Credit Suisse. On the other hand, Overstock.com’s Judd Bagley fiercely disagreed. He asserted that the technology would make forensic investigation of settlements “virtually impossible” and that the average processing time of 10 minutes really wouldn’t be all that useful for retailers, especially as the Clearing House shifts to a near-real-time payments infrastructure.

 

China 

On Monday afternoon, the main stage saw Alibaba’s SVP of International Operations, Doug Feagin, followed by Google’s Global Head of Payments Pali Bhat. Unsurprisingly, Alibaba and its payments subsidiary Alipay are bullish on cracking the Chinese payments space, particularly its burgeoning mobile-first middle class. More surprising were Bhat’s comments that Google is “currently exploring ways to play in the market.”

 

Beyond the big players, a huge number of startups and mid-market companies are training their sights on the Chinese. The massive market size and upward economic mobility make it far too tempting a space to ignore. In fact, of the companies that I spoke to, at least three quarters were actively looking to penetrate the market in some way. Perhaps the most interesting of these were POS and payments companies looking to not only expand into China but to use it as a trial market for the U.S and Europe because of its pace of innovation and inclination to adopt new technologies.

 

Partnerships

If the blockchain and China represent the future of finance, then partnerships represent the current reality. In the past year, FIs and FinTechs have realized that they’re actually more alike than they are different—the ecosystem is stronger in unity. As evidenced by partnership announcements from Alipay’s alliances with U.S. and Chinese banks, Santender’s alternative lending approach driven by Kabbage and Lendkey, as well as OFX shoring up its SMB play through a partnership with fellow “down-underer” Xero, Money2020 2016 showed that when there’s money on the table, differences can be put aside.

 

Interested in learning more about Money2020 or what’s next in the FinTech space? Feel free to get in touch with my colleague Kim Paone or me—we’d be happy to chat!

 

Digital Health Q&A with Buzzfeed’s Stephanie Lee

With leaders like Apple continuing to invest heavily in consumer health and wellness technology and a slew of new health-focused upstarts popping up every day, digital health is white-hot. To chat about the trends affecting the industry—and what’s next on the horizon—Highwire sat down with Buzzfeed’s senior technology reporter and resident expert on all things digital health Stephanie Lee for a quick Q&A on what’s coming next.

What do you see as the “next big thing” in digital health?

There are a couple of things on the horizon. I’m really personally interested in genetic testing, genomics and in seeing how it will become more and more a part of mainstream healthcare. The price of testing has dropped a lot and it’s become affordable for normal people. Startups like 23andMe and Ancestry DNA are collecting DNA and sharing results. But there are so many more possibilities for what people can learn and what traditional healthcare providers can do—this is only the beginning. It would be really interesting to see genomics incorporated more into a normal doctor’s visit, like seeing what a doctor can do based on patient DNA. That’s sort of begun but there’s more room for mainstream adoption.

What excites you most about digital health? What drives your interest?

I think it’s always just so interesting to see technologies that have been adopted in other industries—banking, communication with friends, transportation—making their way into health. I’m always interested in seeing how these technologies can transform people’s lives for the better and give people all kinds of data about their own bodies that people didn’t have access to a decade ago.

Today, you can track anything and everything about yourself, and access it on the go. That didn’t exist a decade ago. I’m always looking to see proof that things are working, as opposed to just the hype. Seeing that people are able to interpret the data and put it to good use versus just being overwhelmed. I’m also watching what huge, powerful tech companies like Apple and Google do in health and biotech—whether they’re inventing new medical devices or allowing researchers to do studies through phones—and if those projects are actually working.

What are the trends you’re sick of hearing about?

I wouldn’t say “sick of,” but the wearables world has changed a lot. When I started covering it, it was thought that consumer fitness wearables would be the end-all be-all of digital health. And many of them are useful, but there have been so many acquisitions of the smaller trackers, like Misfit or Runtastic, by larger companies and athletic companies. There aren’t going to be as many trackers on the market as people thought there were. It seems like it has peaked; everyone who’s wanted to try one has tried one. There will be more medical usage, though. More medical applications and trackers regulated by the FDA are coming down the pipeline.

What’s the biggest challenge for digital health innovators?

Proving that something works. The big challenge in “normal” consumer technology is that you put out a product, you test it, you figure out what works and doesn’t work. You can make changes and iterate without consequences. Health has a backward timeline. If you’re putting something out that goes beyond a wellness use, something people rely on for medical use or healthcare, you need to prove out of the gate that there’s evidence behind it. Otherwise, the stakes are too high.

You see that tension a lot—tech entrepreneurs who come over to healthcare are surprised by how long it takes to prove something, how long it takes to turn a paper into an actually workable business model. They want to get right to market but it’s not always doable. It’s hard to match health outcomes with revenue streams. Just because something makes money doesn’t mean it works. Companies are trying to reconcile those two.

Do you see any rising hotspots for digital health innovation in the U.S. or globally?

Definitely, Boston and to an extent New York. There’s also San Diego or LA.

Do you think it’s easier or harder to start a digital health company in San Francisco/Silicon Valley than some of those other locations?

Obviously, there’s so much brainpower here—established research universities, an established biotech/pharma hub, and, on the tech side, everything from VCs to software engineers. Resource-wise, it’s an ideal place to be. Getting off the ground, you face the same challenges as any other tech company—it’s expensive, it’s hard to find office space, there’s competition for talent. The challenges here are the same for any tech startup but the resources are plentiful. And there are lots of incubators and accelerators geared toward that. If you’re going to start a startup in the space, you should be here or expect to travel here a lot.

Want to learn more about the digital health landscape? Check out TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr’s take on the Highwire blog here.

3 Things to Know Before You Pitch a Journalist

Muck Rack and Mashable team up for a tell-all on pitching 101…

Constantly refreshing your inbox? Wondering if it’s too soon to call? Stalking social media profiles?

If it seems like pitching a reporter sounds a lot like dating, that’s probably because it is. And as a PR professional, you don’t want to come off too clingy, especially in the beginning of your “relationship.”

Mashable reporter Jason Abbruzzese (left) recently joined Muck Rack CEO Greg Galant (right) for a webinar on how to pitch journalists. So the next time you build up the courage to make a move on your desired journalist, consider the following:

Think long and hard about how to make your move

When it comes to pitching a journalist, first impressions are everything. You want to make sure your pitch is appealing, visually pleasing and relatable. Most importantly, you have to make sure the timing is right and start things off slow.

Journalists will be more responsive to those who take the time to get to know them rather than those who are just looking for coverage. Abbruzzese says, “I don’t care about who’s pitching me, but I tend to respond more to those who take the time to form a relationship with me.”

As for timing, most journalists prefer to be pitched mid-morning between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.—after they’ve had time to declutter their inboxes. But, of course, there’s always the exception to the rule.

“If you have a targeted pitch for a specific reporter, monitor when journalists are active on Twitter to get them while they’re online or taking a break,” Abbruzzese said.

Journalists like attention, but keep it subtle

According to Abbruzzese, journalists like when you follow them on social media, particularly Twitter. Not only is Twitter the most-valued social network, it serves as a way for journalists to let their readers know what they’re thinking and when. It can be a huge aid to pitching efforts.

“It’s fine to pitch a reporter you recently followed but be subtle,” says Abbruzzese. “Don’t ‘like’ my last 10 tweets, but interactions are key.”

It’s also good to keep in mind that journalists—just like you—are constantly checking their social media to see who’s giving them the most attention and who’s giving too much attention to too many journalists.

“If you’re a PR professional, you don’t want journalists to see you’ve been tweeting multiple people,” Abbruzzese said. But “journalists feel validated when they see their stories being shared [on Twitter].”

Accept that maybe they’re just not that into you

Maybe you got lucky and secured some initial interest from a journalist. Maybe it seemed like things were going well. But sometimes you just have to accept that the feeling wasn’t mutual and move on to the next.

For those who need some closure, the top reasons journalists tend to reject PR professionals are:

  • There’s no connection. “Personalized [pitches] or not doesn’t matter,” Abbruzzese said. “But PR pros should at least have an awareness of the publication and the journalist’s beat.” Simply put, you need to make an effort to get to know the person you’re pitching if you want a media relationship that will last.
  • You called one too many times. Journalists are (very busy) people too, with most receiving upwards of a few dozen pitches a day, according to Abbruzzese. The sad reality is most pitches don’t get a reply. Carefully read your situation to understand whether it’s OK to follow up.
  • You talked way too much. Before you make your move, make sure your pitch is as concise as possible. Abbruzzese says starting an email with, “Hey, saw your story and thought…” or “loved your piece on so and so” are immediate red flags.

So the next time you consider starting a new media relationship, remember to take things slow, show interest and don’t take it too personal if you get a rejection.

Interested in more pitching pointers? Follow us on Twitter @HighwirePR.

Note: All data is from Muck Rack’s Webinar “How Journalists Prefer to be Pitched” hosted by Greg Galant on Aug. 30, 2016.