In another life Kathryn Petralia would be an English professor. Not this one. She’s the COO and co-founder of Kabbage, to be exact. They’re the alternative lending platform with a rumoured valuation of $1 billion and a recent funding round of $135 million.
We caught up with Kathryn to discuss her tech turning point that led her to Kabbage, and away from academia.
The journey begins in 1979.
It started with a TRS-80
As Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive and other disco anthems dominate the radio, a nine-year-old Kathryn is tucked away at home, on the computer. Her mother and stepfather, who were working in the Management Information System of the local university, gave Kathryn the Radio Shack TRS-80.
The Radio Shack TRS-80, the computer that started it all for Kathryn
The computer had 4KB of memory, which might be next to nothing now but at the time it was a big deal. So while her peers were out playing in the park, Kathryn was focused on something else entirely.
“I spent my summer learning how to type,” says Kathryn. Not exactly what the cool kids were doing, she notes. Back then, Kathryn was acquiring a taste for tech. But she wasn’t to know the huge role it would play in her later life.
She went on to work with and build a number of fintech companies through the dotcom boom and bust. Companies such as the now defunct personal credit website WorthKnowing.com, a CreditKarma and NerdWallet hybrid before these companies even existed.
With the dotcom crash, Kathryn sold WorthKnowing.com and moved on to Atlanticus where she was the Director of Corporate Development.
When the time was right, she co-founded Kabbage. This automated lending platform for SMEs uses data, including the social media statistics of a business, to decide if their loan application is approved.
After a shaky start – they were left empty handed on their first trip to Silicon Valley seeking funding – Kabbage would go on to raise $6.65 million in a Series A round led by BlueRun Ventures. Today, Kabbage is a rumoured unicorn.
English Literature was calling
Kathryn didn’t truly realise her passion for tech until many summers after she tinkered with her first computer.
After switching her major from economics to psychology to drama and theatre, she settled upon English Literature with a view to becoming an English professor. That was until she started grad school.
It was then that her friend was considering making an investment in a data compression business. Back in the day when you needed a stack of floppy disks just to load your operating system, this company wanted to use the internet to deliver the software. It was quite a step forward at the time.
Kathryn was known as the go-to computer expert in her circle of friends. Inasmuch as she had a computer, email address and knew how to use a browser – this was the early nineties, after all. So her friend approached Kathryn for advice.
After helping out her friends and getting a glimpse into the tech ecosystem, Kathryn was sure that it was where she wanted to be.
“There was no way in hell that I was going to be an English professor,” she says now.