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Ryan Graciano remembers the early days of Credit Karma like they just happened. Born in the midst of a financial crisis, Credit Karma’s rise to significance didn’t seem certain, and Ryan remembers thinking to himself numerous times, “Are we going to make it?” Today, Credit Karma serves more than 100 million users, and provides consumers with tools that empower them to take the biggest financial steps in their lives. On this episode of IT Visionaries, Ryan discusses the early turbulence the company endured, how he leads through trying times, and how Credit Karma is helping in more ways than just by providing credit scores.
- Confidence Breeds Success: Be confident in your product. If you aren’t confident and passionate about the product you are bringing to market, the trying times will be much more difficult. Ryan details how Credit Karma born in the midst of the financial crisis, overcame their trials and tribulations
- For the Long Haul: As a CTO and company leader, you have to constantly be thinking about what comes next. When obstacles arise, you need to have already discussed with your leadership team about possible alternatives. If you are not actively thinking about how things will fail, your company will fail.
- Teamwork Makes the Dream work: The most important thing for any co-founder is having a solid support system. When Credit Karma started, Ryan was a one-man crew. Once the company began to expand, he focused on people that could magnify his skills while also expanding the product. Invest in good people and listen to your team and have faith in your decisions
For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.
If you ask Ryan Graciano what it was like starting a financial technology company in 2007 — a year before the devastating financial crisis — he leans back in his chair, smile and tell you the blunt truth.
“Nobody was going to give you money,” he said. “No VC was lining-up to cut you a check for your series A in 2008, they were more like, ‘Best of luck to you guys, hope you make it!’”
Graciano, a co-founder and the CTO, and the rest of the founding members of Credit Karma did indeed make it, but not without some trials and tribulations. It wasn’t always a linear path, and there were numerous obstacles and constant worry if what they were doing would gain traction.
“It’s hard to relay what it was like from 2008 to 2012,” he said. “You’re just grinding it out to survive. You have four or five years when you’re tiny and you’re not making any money. You’re barely making payroll. It’s not feeling like you’re going to ever clear a single dollar, let alone the kind of success we eventually had… My wife would ask, ‘Is this worth it? You could go work for Google or something.’”
Luckily for Graciano, despite the struggles, he was never forced to pursue a different path. Today, Credit Karma serves more than 100 million users internationally and during the first half of 2020, the company was acquired by Intuit for more than $7 billion. The acquisition, though, was not always written in the stars.
“We had probably three different times when we almost closed the doors entirely,” he said. “It was really intense, many moments where I thought that a lot of work had gone into this and it was all going to go under.”
Despite the early financial strife, Graciano and his team continued to be diligent and confident in their efforts to build Credit Karma into a company that could help consumers better understand the financial risks they were taking and empower them with a real tool that could change their relationship with banks. The end result was turning a modest product-market fit into a full-blown financial success story.
“Credit has never really been a system that was developed for the consumer as the end-user,” he said.
Frustrated by that fact, and because of their desire to provide consumers everywhere with a streamlined process that empowered them with the knowledge of their financial standing, Graciano and his team went to work.
“Our end goal is to effectively automate your finances,” he said. “We want to be able to not only make recommendations for you, but be able to say, ‘Hey, we could save you money right now. All you have to do is hit this button.’”
The winds of change have been constant for Graciano. In 2007, he was working as a sort of one-man-band— orchestrating everything from design to security. Flash forward to 2020 and he oversees nearly 800 individuals across three offices in multiple countries, while keeping an eye on engineering, data science, core product design and more. Being a CTO is a role that he describes as interesting but also one that has him constantly looking ahead for what’s next.
“If you’re a good senior executive, you should be thinking long-term,” he said. “How do I actually make sure that I’m still on the path of success so that in two years time, I’m going to be very glad for what I just did.”
One of the ways Credit Karma has accomplished that goal is always being prepared for any situation. For example, when the world was ravaged by the events that followed the COVID-19 pandemic, Graciano and his team were ready to assist their customers during troubling times.
They began to strategize on ways they could help their customers remain fiscally responsible, or at the very least help them access the resources available. By prioritizing the needs of customers and keeping an eye on current events, Credit Karma’s relief roadmap was born, which became an integral way for consumers to figure out how they could get help.
“One of the things that we learned from them is just the stress of trying to understand, ‘What do I do next?’” he said. “It’s just overwhelming to people — there’s already so much change in their lives and then you have all of these financial options popping up and they tend to be very complex.”
The relief road map is a free source for Credit Karma customers and it is filled with tips on protecting credit, managing expenses, and connecting with government initiatives. It’s one program Graciano is most proud of because he said at its core, the company is about helping people.
To hear more about the steps Graciano took to help construct the company into the financial giant it is today and to learn how Credit Karma is helping customers, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries here.
To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here.