In emerging economies, banking can be a consumer nightmare. In countries like Brazil, for example, you may face better odds playing the lottery than attempting to manage finances using traditional means.
Intransigent and centralized banking institutions with high entry costs and high fees couple with market instability to leave vast swaths of the population unbanked. If you’re one of the rare people who do have access to an account in Brazil, completing transactions often requires a physical trip to the bank, which equates to taking time off work. Surely, with all of the modern technology that surrounds us, there has to be a better way.
Blockchain, the computational model underpinning Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies, capitalizes on a distributed cryptographic ledger paradigm for digital value exchange. It presents an alternative to institutional centralization and a democratized solution for millions of financially excluded individuals — and Airfox is using blockchain to forge a new path to inclusive financial services.
Founded in 2016 and incubated at the Harvard Innovation Lab, Airfox offers a free Android app that extends critical financial services to billions of unbanked and underbanked people in emerging markets around the globe. Leveraging blockchain, the broader Airfox platform facilitates easy cash deposits, microloans, and international remittances for quick and inexpensive mobile money transfers and digital payments.
When Airfox reached out to Sterling in early 2018, one thing was clear: Its leaders had an incredible story to tell — but hadn’t solidified how they were going to tell it. In order to showcase who they are and what they stand for, we needed to revitalize the company’s messaging to answer one simple question:
“Why does Airfox exist?”
The answer prompted us to position Airfox as a technology-leveraged global provider of critical financial services to the billions of unbanked and underbanked. Establishing a clear and uniform brand identity is vital for any company, let alone a startup in a nascent industry where the rules are still being written. Airfox needed to:
- Increase awareness and cement credibility with U.S. and international media
- Create a communication plan for an upcoming regulatory settlement
- Position the company at the apex of blockchain technology discussion
- Formulate a thought leadership program for its CEO
To gain brand recognition, we began by building an extensive media list complete with vertical and top-tier industry reporters, influencers, and analysts. We individualized pitches to tell a multifaceted Airfox story. Our work thus far has resulted in feature coverage from Reuters, TechCrunch, Digital Journal, and CoinTelegraph, among other outlets.
Before contracting with Sterling, Airfox had completed a $15 million Initial Coin Offering (ICO). At the height of the 2016–17 crypto boom, there were vague governmental regulations in place regarding tokenization and digital assets. As ICOs proliferated, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other financial regulators began a crackdown on cryptocurrency companies, challenging interpretations of utility tokens versus securities tokens. Airfox settled with the SEC and the Massachusetts Securities Division (MSD), then Sterling coordinated messaging with the company’s legal counsel, developed cogent and detailed media responses, and drafted press releases positioning the outcomes expected from settlement and offering measured analysis of the company’s position. We secured Airfox messaging in many of the original articles covering the SEC’s announcement, including The Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, CoinDesk, Fortune, and Bloomberg.
Another important method for building brand recognition is through participating in industry events and applying for award opportunities. In Airfox’s case, the company was an ideal candidate for TechCrunch Disrupt and the CODE_n awards. Sterling leveraged Airfox’s new messaging to draft and submit comprehensive applications for both. To our delight, TechCrunch selected Airfox as a 2018 top blockchain company and the CODE_n organizers awarded Airfox as Best Overall Startup and Startup with the Best Business Plan.
Airfox had also asked Sterling to raise the profile of its CEO Victor Santos — not just within the blockchain community, but in the greater business world. After collaborating with Victor on messaging, it became clear that his entrepreneurial spirit, commitment to decentralized technology, and zeal for social justice are intensely personal and inextricably linked to the Airfox mission. The company’s desire to democratize global financial access springs directly from his life experience. We translated Victor’s passion into original content examining what it means to be unbanked in a digital world and how institutional exclusion hampers innovation. We pitched Victor’s first-hand experience growing up without financial infrastructure to business and general-interest press. We have secured coverage wins with Inc., Cheddar, Bloomberg, and placed Victor’s byline on immigrant entrepreneurs in The Guardian.
Select highlights from our first year representing Airfox include:
- Bloomberg: Budget, Cruises, Dreamers
- BuiltInBoston: Meet the company on a mission to make the internet more affordable for millions
- Cheddar: Airfox uses machine learning and blockchain technology to enable financial inclusion for the underserved in Brazil
- CODE_n: Airfox Wins Best Startup and Best Blockchain Business Plan
- CoinTelegraph: Airfox Launches Mobile App in Brazil, Giving Unbanked Citizens Access to Previously Inaccessible Financial Services
- Entrepreneur: Los inventos que están transformando América Latina, hechos por jóvenes menores de 35 años y reconocidos por el MIT
- Daily Californian: UC Berkeley alumnus Victor Santos works to change the finance world
- Digital Journal: Blockchain provides financial access to the unbanked
- Forbes: Chain Gang: The Boldest Blockchain Companies From The Forbes 30 Under 30
- Inc.: This Immigrant Founder’s Startup Is About to Get Huge
- MIT Technology Review: Innovators Under 35 Latin America
- TechCrunch: Top Blockchain Startups
- TechCrunch: Announcing the TC Top Picks for Disrupt SF 2018
- The Guardian: I’m a Dreamer and an entrepreneur
- Thrive Global: Lessons on Life and Business
- Yahoo! Finance: Airfox provides mobile banking to the unbanked
Sterling has gone above and beyond to win positive media attention for Airfox. They amplify our messaging, pursue every opportunity to champion our successes, and passionately promote our cause. I feel like they always have my back and I can trust the Sterling team to consistently act in our best interests.” — Katie Sedat, vice president of marketing, Airfox