By Rupen G Kalsi
After twenty informative (and amazing!) issues of The Fintech Times, we felt it was about time you met the face (some might say brains!) behind it all; introducing Katia Lang. Now a fixture on the fintech scene, having been named as one of the Top 100 Women in the industry, it’s a surprise to learn that Katia began her journey as a flame-haired graphic designer.
Why did you set up The Fintech Times?
Well we started as a magazine in 2015 when I came to London from Zurich with no idea of what to do. After hanging around Google Campus I realised there was no one covering the start up scene in print media, so we started a magazine! It was a cute-looking glossy magazine called Disrupts and it was in every coffee shop around Old Street and Shoreditch. The problem was that we couldn’t make any money from it. Anyway four months into that, after producing a ‘fintech themed’ edition of Disrupts, we launched The Fintech Times. We thought that “this is the direction things are going.”
Why make a newspaper when you work in such a futuristic industry? Isn’t it a bit of an anachronism?
You wouldn’t believe how many times people have asked us this question (!) I get it every time…
No it’s actually a good question. Print media isn’t dead. We know that thanks to Disrupts, which became really popular with the readers, and also was supported by companies like Xero and Barclays… We are credible, and we hadn’t created another online blog, or another f*cking app – do you know the amount of apps being produced everyday? We got noticed because we had a very cool-looking, printed, glossy magazine. That was a bold move. Also I have a graphic design degree so I’m pretty good at putting things together on a page. So it was never a question for us whether to do the publication it in print, but it was a question whether to make a newspaper.
Making the fintech publication in an old school format just felt like a right thing to do because, whilst the sector is very new, the people who need to know about it are quite old school, or shall I say – quite traditional? The bankers, the lawyers, and the investors read everything about fintech because they need to know this information.
And they read papers do they?
They do! They love the paper, as it makes them get away from a laptop screen for a while…
You said you did a degree in graphic design. What’s your educational background? How did you get from graphic design to Fintech?
Well that was one of my degrees – I was an artist. When I was 22 I won a competition to do a magazine for a contemporary art museum. Nobody expected me to win it because the people competing with me were big agencies – proper grown up people! I was this girl, 22, completely mad with bright orange hair and piercings. They asked me if I could run an editorial department and I said “yes of course” having no idea what I am signing up for… and that’s how I got into print media and publishing.
You mention degrees – plural – what are these degrees you speak of?
My degrees are Masters in Art and Graphic Design – and I did a psychology degree on the side, part time. Then I did an MBA in Switzerland, which probably makes me the first graphic designer with an MBA in the whole world (probably not any more!). It was business and finance that then led me into fintech.
It’s nice to see that someone in fintech has a creative mind as well…
It’s an interesting thing I noticed when I was at Google Campus here in London. After my MBA, after all my artistic adventures whilst being a painter and an art magazine publisher, I felt I missed creativity in arts – as weird as it sounds. Then I found this creativity, a bunch of ideas, and some dedicated and interesting people – in the startup scene. It made me want to help those people, to give them a voice and write about them – that has always been my mission. I think my love for creative people and ideas is my main passion in life. At every point in time there’s a new thing that disrupts something previously created. That’s what the art scene used to be about, and now the tech startup scene is!
Hence Disrupts magazine, right? Would you say the spirit of Disrupts magazine and this creative energy is what you put into The Fintech Times?
I think so yeah. I love to interview those amazing startup founders, often obsessed with making a change, with disrupting the way thing were, with designing some new ways of doing things… It’s probably not a ‘businessy’ thing to say, but that’s what inspires me to do what I am doing.
If you had to give a piece of advice to someone starting a startup what would it be?
Founding and running a startup makes you a better person, more creative, agile, fast thinking, and fearless. I think everybody should try it at some point, but we need to lose the “achiever” stereotype, this idea that you should succeed no matter what. It’s a great experience and, even if it doesn’t work out, it’ll still be something to tell your friends at the dinner table, at the very least 🙂
However, there are types of people who kind of can’t do anything else, unfortunately – like me! If I could work for a bank I would, but I can’t because I am just wired the wrong way somehow.
I’ve been doing my own thing since I was 16. I know people who are the same, and we call ourselves ‘unemployable’ – we can’t bear being told what to do. That just leaves us no other option but to start something again and again no matter what.
Well I definitely relate – that’s why I became a journalist. Coming back to startups, what’s the biggest challenge you faced setting up The Fintech Times?
The biggest challenges for all startups are customers and money.
Having a “normal” business in the startup world is a challenge. We exist in the world of mega-hyped tech startups and crazy inflated valuations, where people think in terms of millions and billions of pounds. Whereas, with us, we are the media platform for this world, with massive potential – but in a way just a normal company. We aren’t Monzo or Revolut, but we talk to the same investors! We have the passion and the guts to be disruptive, but we lack the heritage of, say, The Guardian, and the Unicorn hype of a fintech startup… So we are doing some other thing, something in between, connecting those worlds of old and new, disruptive and traditional.
Going back to fintech. In 2017, you said that artificial intelligence would dominate the year, so what do you think is going to be the big thing this year?
This year, I think it’s going to have something to do with this boom around cryptocurrencies and ICOs. In particular, the digitalisation of financial assets – so called ‘tokenisation’ – is going to have a big impact in the more traditional industries, asset and wealth management and similar. It’ll be interesting because the digital world will reach another level. In 2018 tokenisation is a word we’re going to hear a lot.
It is a very male world you’re working in. I read that women make up only 29% of the workforce in Fintech, which is low considering that they are half the working population overall. How do you think we should solve that?
I think we should invite them to mixed events and mixed teams, and look to get them inspired. The best team is 50/50, the best cofounding team I had was female plus male. All the time everything needs to be both. I don’t want to separate the two because the more we are separate the worse it gets. We should just hire the best person for the job – if they happen to be women, great! It’s hardcore but true. I don’t think the startup scene has an issue with either female or male founders – it’s very diverse – but for whatever reason women don’t choose it. It’s a good question in itself as to why they don’t find it attractive. Maybe they just don’t believe in themselves enough.
We need more role models, of course. Women that refuse to masculinise themselves, yet being successful and fulfilled in a maledominated business world. Maybe a bit like Sarah Wood (the founder of Unruly).
Well as a woman in the industry you are flourishing. You were recently named one of the Top 100 Women in Fintech, how did that make you feel?
I’m grateful because I never thought about promoting myself specifically as a ‘fintech person’. I felt that because we are not a fintech company that’s why, in the past, I’ve never made it onto one of these lists. But, we have created a fintech ecosystem and have supported just over 500 companies through our media, and that deserves to be mentioned. It’s important for Fintech as a sector to have it’s own media.
And now it feels good to have a voice of my own because I’ve been focused on giving voices to other people for so long!