Have you tried to find funding for your business lately? It’s a nightmare. Despite an increasing list of fancy options, from crowdfunding to factoring to venture capital, most entrepreneurs don’t want to do six months of song and dance just to get working capital. Kabbage is an Atlanta unicorn startup that was founded by Kathryn Petralia and Rob Frohwein to solve this problem.
What if your business could get credit like you do?
Today, they’ve served 80,000 customers in four countries and deployed $2 billion business lines of credit–mostly approved within minutes. Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square, was one of their early investors.
“Our customers are looking for less than 250K,” says Kathryn. “It’s too expensive for most lenders to originate that loan.” With the dream of making quick credit approvals a reality for companies (like they are for people), Kabbage has grown into the onlyunicorn company in Georgia.
Here are nine insights from Kathryn about what she’s learning on her entrepreneurial journey to help other entrepreneurs:
1. The importance of co-founder rapport. “Kabbage was Rob’s idea–he was smart, we laughed a lot, and he’s an incredible idea guy. I’m a good ‘how do you make that work’ operating partner.” She pointed out she was thinking of going to graduate school after a few years in various fintech companies. She has an English major from Furman. Rob made her reconsider her options and she hasn’t looked back. “I’m opportunistic,” she says.
2. Smart decision making. “If you move quickly–too quickly–you can make the wrong decision. It’s important to understand all the sides of a situation. The truth is always in the middle. Even if you don’t want to listen because you think you know the answer, the process is important. I’ve learned to give the decision making process time.”
3. Most excited about. “What’s exciting to me is building a brand that people trust–that people are willing to share their business checking account. They don’t have to provide leases, articles of incorporation, and that sort of thing. Our experience saves time and gives access to capital they need to grow.”
4. Pet Peeve. “When people say something is hard. Of course it’s hard; that’s why we’re doing it.”
5. Never underestimate corporate inertia as an opportunity. “Consumer lending has been automated since the 90s–so I thought automating lending for eBay sellers would be easy. Yet, the banks were not focusing on automation. If you start as a small business lending company with a lot of highly manual processes, it’s hard to change your genetics. A lot of what we’ve done has been done in consumer lending arena forever–we’re bringing it to commercial lending for the first time.”
6. Great business partnership begins at home. “Regardless of your gender, it’s important to have a strong partner and support system to help you maximize your time. I’ve been fortunate that my husband has been an at-home dad since our son, now 14, was born. Most women aren’t able to do what I do because they don’t have the family or spousal support that I do. My husband has been a stay at home dad for 15 years. People don’t want to hear that, that they need support that they need to do it. It’s not a failure.”
7. Mentors: few and far between. “Since I haven’t followed a clear path throughout my career, I haven’t always known where to look for mentors.” (Finding mentors is one of the top three challenges cited by almost all female founders.)
8. Hardest lesson. “The qualities that most entrepreneurs possess in the early stages actually work against them in a later stage. The mentality is that everyone does it all, that everyone does what it takes, and that everyone is equal. That is an important startup mentality. Today, we have 330 employees. You need to be able to remove yourself from the tactical day to day.”
9. When to delegate and grow. “You know you are in the weeds too much because people are waiting on you–you’re a bottleneck.”
The Road Ahead
Kathryn expects Kabbage to keep doubling revenue year over year in the near future. “We’re in four countries today and hope to be in ten by next year.”
She says,”the future will hold some transparency for small business borrowers to compare the total cost of borrowing. An APR doesn’t necessarily tell them something–they are measuring revenue in dollars.” She feels the cost of capital should be similarly easy to spot.
Kabbage keeps looking for ways to add more value to the 80,000 small business owners–and counting–who turn to them for fast access to capital without the craziness.