Kathryn Petralia is not what you typically envision when you think of leaders in the technology sector. A former English major who lives in the south, Petralia is shattering every existing stereotype in the field of technology. She is the president and co-founder of Kabbage Inc., a financial technology company empowering small businesses through their automated lending platform, and in November of 2017, Forbes named her the 98th most powerful woman in the world. Despite this immense success, Petralia remains humble. She is charming and kind and should serve as an inspiration for all aspiring female entrepreneurs. I had the pleasure of chatting with Petralia by phone.
Can you give some information on your background?
I grew up in Tampa, and I went to college at Furman University, a small liberal arts school in South Carolina. I was an English major and planned to become an English professor. While I was in graduate school, though, I was introduced to a technology company by a family friend, and he asked me to help him out with it. That was when I realized that I didn’t want to do the English professor thing.
That was in 1995, so it was the early early days of the internet, but it was when I was exposed to how we can use technology to do new things and make peoples’ lives better. I wound up getting a job in technology and working in the field for over twenty years. Kabbage is technically my seventh start-up, so I wasn’t afraid to try something new and left the company where I was, and we got started with Kabbage.
What’s been the hardest part about building a business like this?
The hardest part about building a company is that you’re hiring people to do jobs that you’ve never done before, and you don’t know how to do, and you couldn’t do if you tried. It’s hard because you have to trust that you’re hiring the right people.
As a female in finance, have you ever encountered any gender inequality in the workplace?
Honestly, I thankfully didn’t encounter much of this. I will say after our first fifteen or twenty venture meetings in the Bay Area, we were at a meeting, and there was a woman sitting at the table, and it was the first time there was a woman at the table who wasn’t bringing me water. At that moment, I realized it was an incredible exception when you saw a female investor, and it’s hard because people don’t imagine doing something if they don’t see someone who looks like them doing it.
Did you have any mentors throughout your journey?
My co-founder, Rob, and I mentor each other in many ways. We’ve changed for the better because of the influence of the other, but in terms of a traditional mentor, the family friend who first introduced me to his technology company inspires me tremendously. He started in the mailroom of his company, and when he left he was the CEO. He automated the credit reporting system, but when he first pitched the idea, it didn’t get a positive response. Instead of abandoning the idea, he found the money to budget and bootstrap the whole thing, and it was wildly successful. To me, that demonstrates that if you believe in something, even if other people tell you that you can’t do it, you can.
What aspect of the business most excites you?
I’m most excited about how much we’re legitimately helping small businesses, especially given how much they contribute to our economy. I get so excited when I hear real-time stories from our customers about how we helped them.