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8.24.21   5:00 PM

Kayla Kilbride was a self-professed newbie to the world of finance — even terms like “bullish” or “bearish” were brand new to her when she began making TikToks last year. Perhaps because of their easy-to-understand nature, as well as a sense of humor, her videos quickly took off.

Kilbride, otherwise known as “Robinhoodkid,” built her TikTok following by explaining financial concepts, often as a way to teach them to herself. Now with over 150,000 followers, plenty for the relatively niche “FinTok” space, the 25-year-old knows a lot more about markets, crypto, and taxes. She even interviewed Robinhood founder Vlad Tenev for her channel and got Mark Cuban to help her buy Dallas Mavericks tickets with Dogecoin.

She discussed her journey into the world of “FinTok,” the benefits and drawbacks of Robinhood investing culture, and why her next move will likely be to broaden her content beyond finance.

This interview has been edited for clarity and content.

  • Gaining traction as a ‘FinTok’ influencer


    The Business of Business: How did you get into TikTok and become a creator? What made you so interested in crypto, stocks, and personal finance?

    Kayla Kilbride: It's a new discovery of mine, actually. So it's a little interesting. But I started back in November, generally learning about the stock market. I feel like I tell the story all the time. But it is the epitome of exactly how I stumbled into it — I was transitioning between jobs and wanted to stay active in my personal finances. I didn't have a lot of familiarity with the stock market or investing. 

    I reached out to my dad, who does this kind of stuff. And he's like, “Well, it depends. Are you bullish, or bearish?” I was like, “Excuse me? Like, I have no idea what you just asked me. The fact that I just had no conceptual understanding of anything finance related, like to ask someone if they're bullish or bearish, genuinely seems to be one of those most basic questions, everyone should understand the language and I didn't. 

    I started learning about it a little bit. I realized there were a lot of terms that just sounded like gatekeeping terms where it was making the language really complex to keep the outsiders out. I decided to just start teaching myself through a very visual and kinetic way by making videos. So my TikTok was really just a way for me to creatively make a fool out of myself and hopefully get some giggles out of it, and whatnot. But it was all the concepts that I was learning personally. So I started that, and it seemed to resonate with some people. So I kept doing it. And over time, it's actually become a source of income as well. So now I'm doing it full time as a creator, and I'm not doing great in my trades, but that's okay. That's what we're here for. Learning every day, right? 

    Did you know that this was going to become a full time job? Did you want this to become a full time job?

    When I started learning about it, I was actually at a period of time where I was living off of my savings account. I was searching for jobs. I can't even tell like I've never, truthfully, I've never had a problem getting a job. Even at one point, I was like, forget it. I'm just gonna go work at Starbucks, because it was just getting so complicated and so difficult. And I was like, why is it so hard, and I started resonating with people who were genuinely job searching during the pandemic and couldn't find anything. I'm married, but my husband had lost both of his jobs during the pandemic, he was working at a school and a gym. So it was like, both those things shut down, we were living off of our savings. 

    At that point, the finance thing was a second thought. It was just something for me to be able to do right by what I had remaining while I found a job. So around January, I got a job. January is also when I kind of blew up on TikTok. The two coming together at the exact same time, I had a lot of people reaching out, like we'd like to sponsor your videos, we'd like to do this or that. How can we work with you? We like the way that you talk about things. And I just very quickly shut everyone down. For probably up until March, I didn't even consider it. It was March 2021. 

    “If I didn't have the support and the encouragement from people letting me ask silly questions, I would have very quickly exited the space.”

    I don't think I took up a single partnership until maybe a month and a half ago. And it was with an app. That was the first app I ever downloaded, which was TradingView. I was like, well, you're the only app that I use every single day. So I guess I'll take a partnership. But I didn't think of things. I didn't think of this as a career. I didn't intend for it to be or I didn't even intend for it to make money. But when I realized that there was the opportunity there and coming together with me really enjoying what I was doing more so than what I was doing in my job. That was the tipping point where I was like, I like this more than my job. And I don't know how to balance that because I don't want to tell people that I'm a full time tech talker.

    How do you grow your account? You have something like over 150,000 followers now, right?

    It’s funny you say that because 100,000 is actually small in the realm of creators on TikTok. If I were to have seen — I have a couple friends who randomly have — before I was on TikTok, I was like, I'm sorry, you have 1,000 views on something. That's crazy, like, oh my gosh, you have 5,000 followers. That's nuts. I was like, it's a big deal. And then I get into the creator world. We're looking for people with 500,000 or a million followers. And I'm like, oh, wow, this is just so new. 

    But what I would say is it genuinely is with TikTok, it's a little bit of creativity and luck, like you do have to create good content. But I do think that I created good content early on, which I know is supposedly good for the algorithm. I've given up on trying to understand the algorithm at this point. My two main things are engagement and overreach. So if I have 100,000 followers, and I'm interacting with 10,000 of them, that's huge, as opposed to someone who might have 500,000 followers and be interacting with 12,000 of them. 

    So I try to keep that reminder that there's this one video where it's like, 30 viewers might not be a lot. But if 30 people walk through that door right now, to see what I was doing, I would be overwhelmed. So I try to keep that mentality where I'm like, honestly, whatever. However, if a video performs, as long as I'm putting out work, which is the second thing, work that I personally am proud of. That's the second thing. So engage with the community that's out there. And that's responding no matter how big or how small, and then create good content that I'm personally proud of.

  • Vlad Tenev and the Robinhood investing craze


    Right. And that led to interviewing Vlad Tenev. That was huge. So even though you don't describe yourself as huge on TikTok, you still managed to have a niche audience and then you got the founder of Robinhood. 

    The third pillar is shoot your shot. 

    You talked to Mark Cuban briefly as well. How did all of that happen? We can start with Vlad. I would love to hear how you got a hold of him.

    When everything happened with GameStop, a lot of people approached Robinhood very aggressively, and wanted everything to be reopened. I approached it with a lot of curiosity. Granted, I wasn't trying, I didn't have a lot of money in the market. So I wasn't angry. I wasn't putting a lot of money into meme stocks. I participated. But I really wanted to understand what was happening behind the scenes, so I put a video out there. 

    And like I said, third pillar: shoot your shot. I just was like, Vlad Tenev, I'm just gonna call you out, I want answers. And I addressed him directly. Now granted, I think, because I was under the pseudonym Robinhood Kid, that at the time probably was helpful. I know that Robinhood had at one point been aware of my name. Prior to that, within my first three weeks of being on the platform, they were aware of my presence on TikTok. 

    If I could keep the name Robinhood Kid, I absolutely would. I love that. I think this story behind the name is actually one of my most favorite things, which is just that it's new kids in the market. And most of us use Robinhood. With everyone getting in, everyone knows that Robinhood completely invaded the industry. It's no surprise that even the larger brokerages do commission-free trading, so I like the name, but it definitely came with its pros and cons. So I think all of that came together to get me that interview with Vlad, which was awesome.

    What did you talk about? I got to watch a couple of the clips, but how was he?

    I got to have a couple phone calls with him and the interviews that you probably saw, we talked about Dogecoin. We talked about how he felt about investors, if he had anything that he wanted to say to investors about everything that happened in January. We talked about a couple other things that Robinhood offers through the platform and what they hope we — especially because my audience is younger — I asked about whether they'd offer educational courses at some point, free resources like that, or custodial accounts. I know there's a lot of young and younger 13, 14-year-olds that messaged me and are like, how do I sign up? You can't quite yet, unless x, y, z. So I wrote that, and that was good. 

    “I've given up on trying to understand the algorithm at this point. My two main things are engagement and overreach.”

    But overall, I'm talking with him, I'm like, he's a dad, he's a husband, he's very level-headed. It seems like when it was off camera and not recording, he was just a very genuine person. We talked about our favorite coffee shop in Orange County, which is where I'm from. So like, it just is very casual. And he seems, contrary to the popular opinion, just very normal.

    You mentioned kids messaging you. What is the state of financial literacy from what you've seen? Do you feel like young people are now learning more than ever? Or do you feel like they're not? Because often you’re teaching people concepts you’ve just learned.

    I mean, that's pretty much all that I'm doing. It's teaching people concepts that I've just learned, which I actually don't think is necessarily a bad thing, considering a lot of people don't realize that. I've talked to multiple TikTokers about this. I'm like, how much research you put into 130 to 60 seconds picked up, and we're like, oh, six hours, usually six hours. It's huge. I mean, we spend and this is people who have also been in the finance industry for [years].

    One of my friends, Kyla, who goes by Ky now, she says she puts hours and hours into research, and she's been in finance for years and years. I think the general demographic and the response that I've been getting from people, and what I've seen financially is, at least in the niche that I've found, which is predominantly female, it's about over 70% female, and they're between the ages of 17 to 25. 

    I posted a video very recently that was a little embarrassing, but I acted like an eight-year-old and talked about the stock market as if I were an eight year old walking my neighbor Karen’s dog to earn money to put away into an investing account. I had so many I can't even tell you how many comments were on that video of like, I didn't realize that I needed someone to explain it to me this way. Or like, can everything be explained to me this way? Or, I'm 31 years old and I've never understood the stock market until you explained it to me like I was a kindergartener. 

    There are people out there that we assume — like myself, I assume that I'm supposed to understand everything about the finance industry going into it. And you can just come to terms that it's okay to not understand something, and then to ask questions. A lot of people are really scared of asking questions, but the people that do ask questions, we find answers together.

    What have been the most surprising things you've learned or debunked? 

    I'm still figuring that out a little bit. I think that what I'm finding specifically in the markets right now, are a mixture of in the market and with my content. For example, I'm finding a 12% annual return very easy to achieve right now. I occasionally post videos where I'll use a 12% annualized return and the amount of people that lash back and say this is way too high, and you should be gauging that percent. I intentionally choose numbers like that, because I want people to think about — I think investing should be passive.

    I think there's an active level where you can do even more towards your financial future if you're engaging in the conversation a little bit more. But I'm shocked at how many people are so aggressive towards being a little ambitious, and I mean, you see that with everything with GameStop. With AMC, it's like, you have ambitious new ideas, or Robinhood giving commission-free trading or whatever it is, and people get aggressive towards it. You can't change the system, and I didn't realize just how many barriers there were to jump over, even as a female in the industry, which has been, a whole nother story.

    Mentioning GameStop and AMC, I would love to ask you how you feel about meme stocks. You talked about passive investment. And that should be the main thing, in your opinion. But these are stocks that drove people to Robinhood in the first place, and got them into stocks and investing. Do you think they're doing more good than harm? Or the opposite maybe?

    It's tough, because I wish I could just analyze a really large group of people very quickly, but I can't. So I have a sociology background. And a lot of that has to do with designing research. When I give answers, I'm like, well, this has a flaw. And this has a flaw. So what I would say from the conversations that I've had, I think that people are more open to talking about finances in general than they ever were before. 

    I think more people are thinking about their retirement and their financial futures than I've seen ever before. Is that just because I'm now engaging in the content more often? Maybe, possibly, that could be a factor. I have a friend that came up to me yesterday and said, like, Hey, I bought stocks and I don't know what to do now. You know, and I'm like, okay, so we'll have some of that. But I think that, you know, if anything, it's at least bringing people into the conversation. 

    For someone like myself, who never felt welcomed into the conversation, something like GameStop brain, see, if that's just how you got into the conversation. That's how you did it. A lot of people will critique that, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I don't think that means it's going to be this short term, mega-burnout of a lot of young people, I think you'll probably see a bit more increase in interest in overall financial wellness over the next however many years. 

    Right, because maybe these youngsters will move on from GameStop. What advice would you give to anybody who doesn't know anything about these things, and doesn't know how to find a way in but is interested?

    Yeah, I think everyone else is in your shoes too. For the most part, the majority of people are probably in the same shoes. I think most people are probably insecure about entering the conversation. The only advice that I honestly would give is that if you understand that there are a lot more people in your shoes, then you think it makes asking the seemingly stupid questions easier. 

    I would also give advice to people who have been in the industry, and when they have someone ask what does it mean to be bullish or bearish, be patient and be honest. I think that finding a new approach to explaining those things is really important. So with so many new people, myself included, coming into financial systems and the stock market and whatnot, the only way that I was able to succeed is because people were willing to take the time to answer in new and creative ways. If I didn't have the support and the encouragement from people letting me ask silly questions, I would have very quickly exited the space. 

  • What goes into making a TikTok


    You also mentioned you do research. I'm curious how that goes and who are the people you're talking to and asking those stupid questions to and the resources you check up on.

    There's a couple things my basic research starts with. Usually, and I know this doesn't sound like research, but also as a college student, I'm confident this is exactly what I did in university. Investopedia is where I start. I actually start on typically something like YouTube or a podcast, or a resource that a friend sends. And I'll begin diving into that when I stumble into a concept that is mentioned in that specific resource that I don't understand. 

    I basically create a web diagram. So I have my starting resource, and then concepts I don't understand. And then concepts that come from those. So look up, like, what is an option? Because they're like, oh, if you trade options, and I'm like, shoot, okay, options. And then it's like, well, it depends on calls or puts on like, okay, here we go again, and it starts to create this web of complexity. I just take time to go through basic terms. And then I start to learn more about all that side of things. 

    There's that, that's my personal side of things. And then there's also, whether it be via Twitter Spaces, or TikTok LIVE is the most embarrassing when someone's like, Well, how do you feel about this? You know, what's the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA? Well, that is a great question. Let's learn that together. Now. You know, like, that's how new it is. Yeah. So I think, for me, it's engaging with other people. That's the second aspect of it. I'm being open to saying like, I'm gonna figure that out right now. And then, yeah, Twitter Spaces is nice, because you can request to be a speaker. So someone will say something  like, “Can you elaborate on that?” And then they elaborate and that's awesome to have those. I know some people use Clubhouse or things like that. So a lot of it is this social driven conversation. The last thing might be I’ll stumble upon someone on social media that I'm inspired by their posts or whatever it might be. And I'll just shoot my shot, send them a DM and ask if they're willing to explain it to me. I'm grateful that I have had the platform to get a lot of yeses, but we'll set up calls and walk me through seemingly basic concepts.

    Who are some creators you know, either on TikTok or any influencers that you admire, doing crypto or stock stuff?

    For example, on TikTok, people I talk to on a regular basis would be — like I said, Kyla is someone that I talk to occasionally, so she's like macroeconomics. And I know there's a term like hawkish and dovish, which the first time we ever met up. She's like, well, yeah, I guess it's like if you're hawkish or not. And I was like, dang it more animals, there's more animals! Get rid of the animals. That's been a good relationship to have. And those have been good conversations. 

    “I decided to start teaching myself through a very visual and kinetic way by making videos. So my TikTok was a way for me to creatively make a fool out of myself and hopefully get some giggles out of it.”

    Another TikToker, by the name of Austin Hankwitz, has been someone who's been really helpful. And he's also in the stocks and news realm. It's funny to say news when you're just on TikTok, but that's how it is. Errol Coleman is someone who is also on TikTok, and he and I exchange trading ideas. So he shorts small cap stocks. That's his technique. And we trade together on tastytrade. And we just trade options together live with that team, which is another resource that has been beyond helpful when it comes to learning. They have spent the past five, six months just teaching Errol and I how to trade options. So that has been an incredible blast. I loved every part of that. 

    And then in the Twitter realm, there's almost too many to talk about. Just because I am definitely on meme financial Twitter, which is fun. But if you can get into the DMs of some of these memes they're actually brilliant people. There's a lot of people on that platform that I'm incredibly grateful for. You'd be absolutely shocked with the intelligence of some of these people. They just dedicate their lives to making memes on Twitter.

    It takes knowledge to get to the humor of something, to know it well to see what's funny. I saw you had a conversation with Dr. Parik Patel. And I thought that was hilarious because I'm reading him every day. He just pops up everywhere. 

    Yes. I mean, he's been one of the greatest resources to be able to just message and, you know, ask questions about value investing.

    What is next for your videos? What projects do you have lined up? What's on the horizon?

    I am hoping in the near future to find a way to shift my stocks TikTok page into something that resonates a little bit more with what my initial goals were specifically in college and what I studied in college. So I studied sociology and anthropology. I also minored in religion, which is just such a random thing, but all of that brings together human behavior and especially an attempt at a non-biased observation of human behavior.

    Going into the wealth and inequality gap and how those behaviors and different socioeconomic statuses, depending on where you — there's so much that goes into it, I don't even know how to not stumble upon all of the intensity of the things that I learned.

    I did a very deep dive into homelessness my senior year, and that's what my whole thesis was on, and understanding that the concepts are really, really complex when it comes to vulnerable populations. And so a lot of my goal, hopefully over the next year, would be to transition my page just slightly to open the concept up to minority populations and to broadening that conversation and helping open that conversation specifically to just any general vulnerable population to figure out finances together. 

    Because it's not easy for me. I know it's not easy for a lot of people, and bridging a massive wealth gap has been seemingly impossible for a lot of people. I guess I would call it helping industries, but it's even tough to call it that. So I don't know what that looks like exactly. But I think that will trickle into the next year of content specifically.

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