Early on in my career I worked at Upromise, which was founded on the philosophy that everyone should be able to afford a college education. It was my first foray into working for a mission-driven company that was viable as a business without compromising the ideas it was founded upon. It taught me about what it meant to be a truly pro-consumer company, focused as much on helping consumers as it was on conducting the business itself.
My time at Upromise meant that when I started Credit Karma several years later in 2007, I was confident that helping consumers would translate into a sustainable business model. Our business is founded on the belief that consumers should know and have access to their credit scores and reports, which is the lifeblood of nearly all financial decisions in life. Over seven years after our launch, we've found great success in both realizing our founding mission and finding scale as a business, and have seen many other pro-consumer companies find similar success along the way.
I believe that pro-consumer business models like ours have become potent for many different reasons.
Consumers have high expectations
As technology has made information more readily available, consumers are more educated, curious and savvy than ever. As a result, consumer expectations have escalated. They're demanding more of companies, and of innovation, to bring much-needed change to stagnant industries and modes of business. The consumer won't settle any longer, nor should they, and these expectations are naturally driving a great deal of evolution and change.
People want transparency
The old model of locking information behind the gates of larger corporations is dead. Technological innovations have created seamless ways for people to access and share information and data, and as a result, we're seeing companies based on educating consumers thrive, such as Zillow, TripAdvisor and Glassdoor. This breed of next-generation, consumer-focused companies share a similar fundamental approach, using technology to create transparency and accessibility, enabling consumers by putting information back into their hands.
Technology has driven a broad shift in behavior
Technology hasn't just created a shift in consumer behavior--investors, entrepreneurs, and employees have also become increasingly interested in what they can do to change the world. This has come in many different forms. Impact investing has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. We've also seen Millennials prioritize a company's mission more than salary or location when evaluating potential employers, which is a big change from previous generations.
As technology has democratized business, anyone can now create something focused on transparency and accessibility, a process that used to be controlled by big corporations and big dollars.
It's easier than ever to become more consumer-focused
As new technologies have emerged, it has become easier for companies to retool themselves to become more consumer-focused. An important part of this is building a brand consumers can identify with. This helps from a growth perspective, because what marketing and PR investment might cost upfront, you gain back in long-term traction. And when you build a brand around a focus on helping consumers, you become more relevant and in turn, more viral. At Credit Karma I once ran a Reddit IAMATM that was quickly upvoted to the front page. It drove strong engagement, allowing anyone to ask me a question, but more importantly it put a face and personality on our brand. It's important to take feedback--both positive and negative--from consumers into account, in all areas of the business. A brand isn't worth anything if consumers don't believe in the idea it's selling. It's easier than ever for companies to listen in to what consumers really want.