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Inspire Me

This Serial Entrepreneur Shares the Surprising Confidence Strategy That Helped Her Build a Billion-Dollar Business

Kabbage's Kathryn Petralia explains why knowledge is power.
This Serial Entrepreneur Shares the Surprising Confidence Strategy That Helped Her Build a Billion-Dollar Business
Image credit: Courtesy of Kathryn Petralia
Entrepreneur Staff
Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.
4 min read

Editor’s Note: Inspire Me is a series in which entrepreneurs and leaders share what motivates them through good times and bad, while also sharing stories of how they overcame challenges in hopes of inspiring others.

As co-founder of Kabbage, Kathryn Petralia is in the business of helping other companies and entrepreneurs get loans to get their companies off the ground.  

In 2010, the financial services data and technology platform launched with 50 customers on its platform -- and a few headaches. There was one in particular that she had to contend with right out of the gate.

Just as Kabbage was about to launch, thanks to some regulatory changes beyond their control, they learned that in order to comply with the new rules, they wouldn’t be able to move forward with a bank partner they had in place.

“It was a part of our story that we were going to have a bank partner and these were going to be bank issued loans,” Petralia recalled to Entrepreneur.  “At the 11th hour we were left without a bank. It was the only time I've ever cried at Kabbage.”

Related: This Young Entrepreneur Started a Company to Harness the Power of Networking and Help Her Community Hustle

Despite feeling discouraged, Petralia and her team shifted gears from the orignal plan to a merchant cash advance product. The company has since shifted back to the model with bank-issued loans and today, the company has provided over $5 billion to more than 150,000 small businesses in the U.S.  In 2017, the company was valued at more than $1 billion.

Petralia says that during these sort of tough moments it is technological innovation, along with customer stories, including those overcoming their own challenges, that make her excited to get up and go to work every day.

“We have to be willing to share the mistakes that we make and take pride in them,” says Petralia. “That's how you know you're moving forward.”

For our series Inspire Me, Petralia shared her insights about how to build your confidence in any new endeavor.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

When you know you're facing a serious challenge or obstacle, how do you motivate yourself to tackle it?

My approach is that it's never as bad as you think it is. There's always a solution to whatever the problem is. Any sort of big challenge you have to break it down to the elements of that problem and what's the one biggest roadblock? You have to prioritize that challenge.

What is a book that inspires you?

Outliers and David and Goliath, both by Malcolm Gladwell. [Both books] take the personal story out [of success] in many ways. People often are where they are because of time and place, not because of something they did. People take a lot of credit for great things that happened, and it often doesn't have as much to do with them as it does the circumstances surrounding them. I wish that there was more humility in tech and business. Malcolm Gladwell's books makes us all a little more humble.

Related: Multimillion Beauty Brand Carol's Daughter Founder Shares How Her Family Has Made Her a Better Person

Who is a woman that inspires you?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I'm 48. My parents’ generation is the one that had to fight and work to overcome the obstacles of being able to even just do jobs. Forget getting paid for the same work, just being allowed to do the job. RBG is a great example of that. She went to law school and then worked at a law firm [and had to] hide two pregnancies. I find her story to be really inspiring. We stand on the shoulders of [women like her] every day.

What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs who are just starting out and need advice on staying motivated when they get discouraged?

A lot of confidence comes from knowledge. It's important for people who are starting businesses to be experts in their field, and that everybody needs to look to you as the person who knows it all -- and not in a negative way.

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