Mel Gollan is a Proud Maori Entrepreneur Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Fintech

Mel Gollan, RIPA Global

Digitisation has become quite the buzzword over the last couple of years, accelerated even more by the pandemic. New Zealand-based Melissa Gollan‘s new startup RIPA Global aims to automate one procedure that every household and business finds full of hassle – organising receipts.

Born out of her own experiences and frustrations with handling paper receipts, RIPA (‘Receipt, Invoice, Payment and Automation’) is a patented solution that offers end-to-end automation providing full visibility and automated compliance. One big advantage of the service is that it helps eliminate non-biodegradable BPA enriched paper receipts. It also makes use of emotional intelligence to design products, understanding customer behaviour metrics to deliver an intuitive automation solution.

The Inspiration

Before she started on her entrepreneurial journey, Melissa worked in various roles that included being a sales representative, purchasing officer and account manager – all calling for filing and documenting receipts to keep track of budgetary allocations. “As a Sales & Marketing expert, my role was to grow customers and sales, not process endless receipts! After 10 years, I’d had enough. I never wanted to see or touch another receipt or expense report again,” she shares.

This led her to reverse engineer the process in such a way that it would have a 100% spend transaction-transparency and compliance, fully automated from end-to-end. It appealed to her passion of innovating and designing technology that transforms businesses.

RIPA Global eventually also emerged as an outlier who pivoted successfully to prosper during the pandemic. “For us, we didn’t lose focus, we kept engineering and developing our solution. It was clear that the pandemic acted as a forcing function for contactless payments and the low touch economy: people don’t want to touch anything and don’t want paper in return,” she elaborates. The huge upswing in mobile payments and automated payment transactions during the pandemic was good for them.

Challenges of a Woman Entrepreneur

A proud descendant of a New Zealand Maori Chief, a born leader who combined the power of discipline and hard work, Melissa had no difficulty in developing the solution or to start the business. Her biggest challenge, though, was fundraising.

“It is no secret that only 2% of all investment funding goes to female-led startups. This is why almost overnight there are female-led investment firms that focus on backing female-led start-ups,” she says. Recently, there was the announcement of the first female bank, strategically focused on women-owned businesses (which grow 2x faster than the national US average), but only receive 16% of conventional business loans, she adds.

She stuck through, confident in her idea being the next big disruption in the fintech space. Her determination and perseverance paid off with several rounds of fundings coming in from investors both in New Zealand and USA.

While the overall metrics around gender parity are typically bad, Melissa believes that the technology sector is particularly staggering in this regard. According to her, whatever progress towards gender parity has been made in the area is not at a rate that is satisfactory for the current era. No wonder then that many female founders end up raising capital amongst their family, friends and close business partners. 

Young women are not engaging in tech at the same rate as men, she feels. They may get intimidated by self-doubt, scary-sounding jobs and a lack of understanding about the industry, she explains. “By sharing our knowledge, female leaders could demystify tech for women between the ages of 12 and 18 and offer pathways to gain access to those jobs. Women are amazing fixers by nature and technology is all about fixing problems. Perfect match!” she opines.

She says she has several plans on how this can be accomplished, a couple of which are already in motion. At the ground level, she is part of an initiative to empower young women via an event that immerses young women in the STEM industry, while also bringing female CEO’s together to showcase their products, network and collaborate.

The Time is Always Now

Melissa never let the disadvantages define or limit her. Being of Maori descent, she was the first woman in her family to have soft hands – a testament to the hardened people she comes from. All she wants for herself is to be able to do better for the next generation, like her ancestors did for her.

She feels that if a person has a real passion and drive for their business idea, they should not wait until the time is right. Instead, they should jump right in and do it. “You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t fulfil your dreams,” she warns.

She doesn’t believe in the oft-repeated rhetoric that women need help. What they do need, she says, is a level-playing field, especially in terms of access to funding for their projects. Once that balance is achieved, women can help themselves since they are natural trailblazers, she feels.