When Credit Karma was founded, there were just a few of us for the first couple of years, giving everything we had to bring the company to life. As a founder, your relationship to the product changes when new people are added to the company. You want them to feel compelled to drive the product forward and question the status quo, rather than falling in line. It forces you to consider the company environment you're creating.
It is a question that only grows with importance over time. As Credit Karma has become a team of nearly 300 people, we've had to think about how to create a culture of uniform quality, where everybody is hungry and engaged with our mission. Successful companies are able to scale their culture of innovation with them. These cultures don't build themselves and require careful planning.
Looking back, I think there are six things we've done well to foster this sense of internal drive.
Give people a sense of ownership
Very few of our earliest hires have left the company. There are many different reasons for this, but a major factor behind it is that we've always given employees at Credit Karma a real sense of ownership and autonomy in shaping the company's direction. We don't want a culture of micromanagement. There's always an interim period of adjustment when a new employee starts--and you still have to build in the right chains of accountability--but once someone has proven themselves here, they have the leeway to choose and deploy the solutions they see fit for our product.
It's undesirable for any company to remain static and adhere to old systems just because that's the way it has been done, even if done well. You should be wary of entrenched traditions. If I put a system in place today, people that start at Credit Karma tomorrow might treat it like a standard. Subsequently, at Credit Karma, we encourage people to always question basic operating processes. Three years from now, companies are not going to be doing things the way they are now, so falling back on what works for us today is not going to help us in the long run.
It has always been our goal at Credit Karma to bring in the absolute smartest people that we can find. We encourage our leaders to find new employees that they can learn from themselves. We don't want a team that can follow orders well, we want to populate our company with the types of people that can be thrown into the deep end and come back with a better solution than their managers might have landed on. We encourage everyone to, "hire only people who are better than you."
Know when to move quickly
Innovative companies excel in getting new features out to their users quickly, staying on the cutting edge and iterating constantly. Being able to do this depends on having a keen sense of when you need to spend a lot of time building out system architecture or when you're best served getting a prototype to your members quickly. Leading the industry on product development requires developing a sense of critical thinking and awareness about where efforts are best placed at any given moment.
Make everyone a guardian of the product
I think it is important at any company that every person--engineer or otherwise--feels responsibility for the product. If people see things that they think could be improved, you need to create the sort of environment where they will feel comfortable to speak up. Your employees need be your product's fiercest guardians and critics.
Protect the culture
As a small company, culture is created organically, but past a certain size it needs to be protected. A lot of this comes from the top down. We try to be very aware of the fact that workplaces tend to mirror the personalities of their creators. We also put a lot of internal review procedures in place so we know how our teams are working together and can make changes quickly to improve internal dynamics.