Traditionally, fintech is a lot like industries such as programming, emergency services or professional culinary arts. You just don't see a lot of skirts or lipstick. But Krista Morgan is a rare exception to the current rule. The co-founder and CEO of P2Binvestor is brutally honest about what it's like as a woman in the male-dominated sector, including having to give up on venture capital and raise $10 million by herself.
Going after success through the window after the main door closed
Morgan spent the entire 2015 year getting meetings with some of the industry's biggest names. But the meetings always ended the same. No funding deal.
"I remember thinking that I was a failure," Morgan admits. "I was so confident we could raise a venture Series A--my team was confident, my board full of investors was confident. Truly, I never thought we wouldn't be able to do it. [...]. Finally our board agreed we weren't getting any traction in fundraising and so we opened up a Series A round and I went to work travelling the country pitching angel groups."
That effort proved that, despite not hitting it with venture, Morgan's gut on her company was (pun intended) on the money. Not only were the angel investors interested, but they paid out in a big way. In the end, Morgan came away with $10 million to save her startup.
The experience taught Morgan the extreme, literal value of not giving up. But that doesn't mean she doesn't have other doubts to battle, and the influence of gender on the industry still gets thrown at her hard.
"I remember asking the CEO of one of the top fintech lenders how he raised his Series A round to see if I could learn something," Morgan explains. "And he told me that he phoned his previous investors and they gave him the money--just like that."
Having her father as co-founder and former CEO adds a twist, too. Morgan notes he's happy they get to work together and that she thinks he feels very proud of her. But she acknowledges the gaps that exist.
"My father and I are from different generations, we value different things," Morgan says, "And while we have similar tendencies, we are very different in our approach to people management and the running of the business. For example, he thinks I shouldn't talk about gender diversity because it makes me seem weak--like I'm making excuses. So on issues where we are on opposite sides, we just agree to disagree. And it still works, because even though we don't agree, we still have respect for the other person's beliefs."
The biggest battle is ongoing
Morgan says that the female tendency to be accurate and transparent about the good and bad conflicts with the male tendency to exaggerate successes, resulting in many men taking an "I'll believe it when I see it" attitude when women talk tough. But what's hardest as a woman in fintech, she claims, is trying to make waves and fit the standard at the same time.
"When you are a female CEO operating in a predominantly male industry like fintech, you find yourself trying to both blend in with all the guys and trying to stand out because you know your perspective is often different and valuable. [...] And so the psychological hurdle is that you're trying to be everything to everyone, and it's exhausting."
Morgan adds that her focus is on proving herself and achieving strong results. But she adds, too, that her objective is to "keep pretending like it's no big deal to be a woman living in a man's world".
Except it is a big deal. And Morgan's words reveal a harsh truth: In trying to demonstrate strength, capability and sameness, women in male-dominated industries might be only delaying the necessary conversations about their reality and what they need. By pretending it's OK, even when it's not, they're swallowing everything that comes with isolation and denying themselves the opportunity to find support and comfort. This practice, coupled with the tendency Morgan says exists for fintech leaders not to value diversity or prioritize it in hiring, makes accomplishing change a truly uphill battle.
Morgan says she still encounters professionals who are surprised she's a fintech CEO. The fact they're impressed, she adds, is wrapped around the idea that it's abnormal for women to have the capacity to build a financial business. But clients generally are supportive, and her experience hasn't broken her dream of building the largest, most successful marketplace lending company in the world. She has strong words of advice for others--male or female--who might not fit the industry they love.
"Be bold. Be yourself. Don't change for them. Let them change for you. Don't stress if you're not succeeding in the same way as everyone else does. There are multiple paths to building a company, so look for people who will recognize your achievements and allow them to pull you up when others push you down."