As we celebrate Women's History Month this March, we are thrilled to shine a spotlight on one of the remarkable female founders within our member community: Shilpa Marano, the co-founder of PaperTrl.

As we celebrate Women's History Month this March, we are thrilled to shine a spotlight on one of the remarkable female founders within our member community: Shilpa Marano, the co-founder of PaperTrl. Her journey, both personally and professionally, serves as an inspiring testament to the resilience and innovation of female entrepreneurs. In this Expert Perspective, we asked Shilpa questions about her story, highlighting her entrepreneurial spirit and the impactful contributions of PaperTrl in the realm of technology and business, while celebrating the ongoing legacy of women in entrepreneurship.

Q: Can you share some key statistics about PaperTrl as a company?

A: “At PaperTrl, we've crafted an advanced AP Automation platform tailored specifically for the thriving mid-market sector. We help organizations drive efficiency and visibility into vendor invoice and payment processing, saving time and money, and providing more control over cash. The development of the PaperTrl platform began in 2019 and we adopted our first customers in 2022. We currently have 263 users on the platform processing invoices and payments and are headquartered in Columbus, OH with a development office in Sri Lanka.”

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself.

A: “Throughout my professional journey, I've experienced roles in sales, marketing, and product management within the realm of technology companies, a journey that started three decades ago. While I've navigated large enterprises such as Sterling Commerce (now part of IBM), the past 10 years have been dedicated to the world of startups. In my personal life, I am married and have three kids, ages 16-21, and a goldendoodle named Kirby. Beyond the realm of work and family, I love to play tennis, travel, read books, watch live music, and spend time with friends.”

Q: What inspired you and your co-founder to initiate and develop PaperTrl?

A. “The PaperTrl platform began as an internal IT project for a federal contractor out of Baltimore. As an environmental engineering and construction firm, they needed a tool to help them manage AP for hundreds of vendors and provide a complete audit for government reporting. Realizing that the tool they built was extremely valuable, they sought out a partner to help them determine if the software could be sold commercially. My co-founder and I were providing consulting services to startups at the time and took the project. We found a niche in the market where PaperTrl would be a good fit – specifically, mid-market companies that needed sophistication but found enterprise solutions to be too expensive. We were hired to stay on as consultants to create a business plan and rebuild the software. Once it was time to go to market, my co-founder and I acquired PaperTrl. Both of us had previous experience with startups and felt we were in a good position to fundraise based on our prior track record and build the necessary relationships/partnerships to drive PaperTrl’s growth.”

Q: Can you reflect on some of the most significant moments in your career?

A: “Looking back at some of the most significant moments in my career, I see it as a rollercoaster ride with highs, lows, and unexpected turns, but there are two that stand out. 

The first was when my husband and I decided to start a family and my career decisions steered me towards the startup community. At the time, my 12 years at Sterling Commerce had provided invaluable experiences, including rapid promotions and exposure to Fortune 100 clients. However, when family priorities compelled me to seek a part-time role, my employer wasn’t willing to support that choice. I chose to prioritize work-life balance and embarked on a freelance writing venture. Navigating the unpredictable terrain of freelance work eventually led me to the startup realm. While those changes were jarring and those few years unpredictable, I learned that family balance would always be an important factor in my career and that I didn’t have to give it up to be successful. 

The second moment that stands out vividly occurred when I was serving as the chief marketing officer of a startup software company. After investing five years of hard work and dedication into the company, I found myself abruptly dismissed from my position due to a disagreement on the direction of the company with our board of directors. I supported our CEO in a plan that would honor our commitments to our partners and customers, while others wanted to sever those relationships. I remained steadfast in my convictions, advocating for what I believed was right, even at the cost of my job.

Now, you might wonder how such an experience could be significant in a positive light. Despite the initial shock and disappointment, this event ultimately propelled me towards where I am today – a co-founder of a thriving software company and fully engaged in what I do best. This time in my life taught me that maintaining my integrity is never a bad choice and ultimately served as a catalyst for personal and professional growth.

Reflecting, I realize that my career has been anything but linear or predictable. It has been a journey defined by resilience, adaptability, and unwavering adherence to core values. While each twist and turn presented its own challenges, they also offered invaluable opportunities for growth and self-discovery.”

Q: Who serves as your role model?

A: “I am not one to have a singular role model. Instead, I tend to find traits that I want to emulate from every person I meet. There are a few, however, that stand out. I had one director early in my career who spent time not only directing me on my job but teaching me how to improve my skills to get to the next level. The CEO I worked with when I was CMO was another who pushed me to have more confidence in my abilities and take risks to grow as a leader. Both represented the type of leader I wanted to be, one that drives results while helping their team members grow to reach their full potential. 

My other role models are my parents. They were immigrants from India in the sixties and worked hard to build a life in America that literally started with a suitcase and $400. They taught my sister, brother, and I how to face adversity but still power through to build wonderfully fulfilling and balanced lives. They proved that by working smart, building relationships, and acting with integrity, the sky is the limit.”

Q: How has your life evolved since the inception of PaperTrl?

A. “For the first time in my life, as a business owner, I feel responsible for our team (employees and shareholders). Working for a large company, you often focus on your personal growth path or the success of your immediate team or business unit. It’s hard to see the big picture. As the owner of a startup, I have deep respect for our entire team, here in the U.S. and in Sri Lanka, and I want success so they can find success. I want them to see what their hard work can accomplish. Many of our team members are very young and have long careers ahead of them, and I want them to use this experience as a springboard to give them confidence to do whatever they want with their futures.”

Q: What advice should every woman should know about achieving success in both her career and life?

A. “The advice I have to offer can be summarized in two key points:

1. Embrace the journey: Don't anticipate your career path to be a smooth, straight line. Expect twists, turns, and unexpected challenges along the way. Embrace these experiences as opportunities for growth and self-discovery. They will shape you into a stronger, more confident leader in various roles, whether as an employee, team member, boss, partner, board member, founder, or owner.

2. Practice respect: Respect is fundamental in every aspect of your journey. Firstly, respect your community by experiencing the joy of giving back. Secondly, respect your coworkers and those around you by acting with intelligence, integrity, and reliability. Lastly, respect yourself by identifying what truly matters to you and supporting it. Trust your instincts and use your values to guide you through tough decisions. In short, don't hesitate to trust your gut and stay true to yourself.”


Shilpa Marano is the co-founder and COO of PaperTrl, an NCMM member company, based in Columbus, OH.