The birth of a new company is as often about very basic tasks as it is big plans and excitement. Credit Karma's first office after we started in 2007 was a small space above a bar in San Francisco. My co-founders and I pitched in doing whatever was necessary. I hadn't realized how much time I'd spend putting together IKEA furniture and paying bills. We've come a long way since 2007, in recent years doubling and tripling in size, year-over- year. We still feel like the same mission-driven start up we were with a founding team of just three. But going through hyper-growth is a pivotal time, which changes the look and feel of a company, for better, or worse if you're not careful. Throughout this rapid change, I believe we've been able to maintain what was special about Credit Karma. Looking back, I see four key lessons from what we've been through.

Don't let the pressure get the best of the process

As our membership grew into the tens of millions, we could've upped our revenue and peddled every financial product under the sun. But that decision wouldn't have been in the best interest of the company or our members and would have watered down our brand. In 2014, even as we were onboarding multiple new hires each day, we never let our momentum get in the way of making smart choices. Hiring remained a collaborative decision, where everyone had to agree before moving forward. Bad choices can change the internal culture instantaneously. You can't rush the process, even as demands increase on everything. By staying true to a mission and a foundation of standards, we've managed to grow rapidly without affecting the stability and happiness of our company.

Maintain the underdog spirit

When we started out, no one believed in Credit Karma but us. It was humbling, but kept us hungry. Industry experts told us it would take three years to set up a relationship with a major credit bureau. They were wrong. As Credit Karma has scaled into a position of market leadership, we've worked hard to hold on to that underdog energy. When it comes to business development, we make sure that with each new partnership we're setting up, nothing is assumed as a given. Even with 35 million members, you need to make your case with the same conviction as the new guy in town. Simultaneously, it is imperative that you're still striving to remain as innovative as possible. Our CTO organizes our engineering teams so that each member is empowered with a real say over the future of our product.

Culture can't be wished into existence

As your company grows in headcount you can't just create a culture out of thin air. It can feel forced and in many ways, you could also be instilling cultures that people don't all agree on. Culture is built by finding the common attributes between the people who work for you. We've facilitated this by establishing a wellness program, establishing a system of clubs and interest groups, creating ways for people to come together and find their commonalities rather than telling them what they are. Culture has been a big part of my focus as CEO. I think about what I loved about my most positive workplace experiences, the friendships and respect I felt that made it exciting to come to work. Great workplaces don't just happen by mistake.

Bring people on board to your mission

With each new person that comes on board, they're potentially one more step removed from our founding vision in 2007. At the end of 2014, as our team again doubled in size, I sat everybody down and talked about each point in our history, the struggles, successes and the growing pains. I have lunch with all new employees when they start. Even when your company reaches a size you might never have imagined, there's no reason that you all can't be moving in the same direction with passion.

Published on: Feb 3, 2015
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