Credit score companies aren't just unsexy -- they're loathed. In a world where the greatest creative minds are working on "cool" personality-driven brands like Google, Apple and Amazon, there's not much that's appealing about a dry, unsexy category like credit scores. It was not so long ago that credit score companies were known to be sleazy--falsely promising free reports, only to spam you after you signed up.
What Credit Karma did is, in my opinion, one of the most innovative breakthroughs in the last decade: make something extremely boring like credit scores more consumable so that you can make better informed financial decisions. After solving a stupid simple problem, the company arguably offers the most coveted of all platforms for financial services.
So what made the difference? Originality.
Like most early-stage startups, Credit Karma's early team was keen on Apple's aesthetic and perfection-driven design approach. Whereas most companies fall into the temptation of copying and end up in the sea of sameness, Credit Karma could be itself.
"We thought of course we should be like [Apple]," Kenneth Lin, Credit Karma's CEO, told First Round. "But perfection works for Apple in a way that made no sense for us. We're a company that always needs to be moving the ball forward rather than getting every single detail right. We need to be more accessible than Apple, and we have customers that expect us to always be iterating and improving."
The reality is, most brands in sexier, more crowded categories can't afford to be original. From a design perspective, there's design and usability value in sameness: your customers spend most of their time with other products, and they prefer yours to work the same way.
But in boring categories, there's no one to copy. In my experience working with both "boring" enterprise companies and "cool" or "sexy" brands, I find there are a lot more creative constraints and experimentation with the latter.
Jason Kolb, a friend, a client and CEO of Dais Technology (a company committed to solving boring insurance problems) said it best:
"Boring problems are the most interesting because they don't get lots of attention. The users are the most eager for help, and because of that are the most open-minded people to new, creative solutions. People are so willing to admit that the status quo is not great that they are hungry for new and better solutions, even though they don't know what that looks like yet."
As someone who's always aspired to design for as many known brands as possible, I've found my disposition has taken a dramatic turn: working with undesirable brands has actually become more desirable.
Because it's not just the creative possibilities that are appealing. Ultimately, it's impact; I hope I speak on behalf of most designers when I say impact, not profit, is the sexiest outcome.
And ironically, that outcome is more likely to be achieved in the least sexy industries.