Our Women in Fintech Series continues with an interview featuring Kathryn Petralia, co-founder of Kabbage, an American Express Company.
We caught up with Kathryn Petralia to discuss her journey to success as the co-founder of Kabbage, an American Express Company, how alternative lending is democratizing access to financial services, and the importance of advocating for inclusion for every employee and end user.
Can you tell us how you got involved in fintech?
Kathryn Petralia: I was always interested in technology, its possibilities and impact, but I never considered it a career until much later. I was on track to earn a masters degree in English when a family friend asked me join a tech company he had invested in at the time. I ended up ditching the graduate program to take advantage of the opportunity.
From there I spent close to 15 years working in the credit, payments, and e-commerce industries, leading strategy and corporate development, as well as founding multiple companies. When my co-founder, Rob Frohwein, approached me about the idea of Kabbage, I immediately saw the potential to help small businesses gain access to capital via real-time data.
What drew you to the world of alternative lending?
Petralia: I’ve been in alternative lending since the late ’90s, and my passion for helping small businesses has always been a driving force.
I was drawn to alternative lending as it’s a very interesting area of financial services that was ripe for disruption as new technologies paved a path to give customers a better experience.
At the time, I could see that automation and access to real-time data could do away with the lengthy, manual processes which were the status quo in the industry, and democratize access to financial services.
Where did you find support as you were starting out?
Petralia: It’s important to have a strong partner and support system at home and in the office. I’ve been fortunate that my husband has been an at-home dad for our kids. And I’m an advocate of having a co-founder in business, someone that compliments one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve been lucky to have Rob a part of this journey.
Kabbage has grown into a hugely successful company. Can you share some of the challenges you have faced on your journey?
Petralia: It was very challenging to raise money when we first launched Kabbage, especially in Atlanta where the venture community was small and there was not a lot of competition at the time. This unfortunately tends to drive down company valuations. It was hard to get Silicon Valley investors behind Atlanta businesses, but we ultimately succeeded and really raised the profile of Atlanta as a fintech and startup hub.
What advice do you have for small businesses coming through the pandemic?
Petralia: While businesses were forced to adapt their processes to stay afloat during the pandemic, it’s crucial for them to continue evolving for long-term success. According to our Small Business Recovery Report, 77 percent of small businesses agreed they’re more open than ever before to replace old systems and adopt new technologies to run their company more efficiently.
Be nimble in the face of uncertain circumstances and adopt new technologies that will aid in the success of your business.
Where do you see fintech heading in the next 12 months?
Petralia: The pandemic highlighted where small businesses have cash flow gaps and operational blind spots, so fintechs should shift their focus and offer more comprehensive solutions that address these concerns. Offering a full suite of solutions and integrated platforms can provide business owners with the tools they need to solve their immediate needs while instilling more confidence in how they run their company with data.
What more do you think can be done to support women in fintech?
Petralia: There is so much more we can do to create equality in fintech. The gender disparity in fintech is due, in part, to the tendency of white-male-dominated industries to invest in other white-male-dominated businesses (which is of course true for technology companies generally). We can ensure this situation doesn’t endure by building inclusive products and encouraging leaders to make diverse hires. It’s crucial that we continue promoting policies and products that minimize biases and create a more inclusive industry.
What advice would you give to women starting their careers in the industry now?
Petralia: Women in Fintech must advocate for inclusion not just for leadership, but also for every employee and end user. But as for those women—or men, frankly— just joining the industry or pursuing their goals, I always advise to really take the time to be the smartest about your field, job, or industry. That will earn you seats at tables and trust among executive teams that will help propel you and your career.