$4 billion Credit Karma's CEO reveals how a single meeting in 2008 saved the company from going under

$4 billion Credit Karma's CEO reveals how a single meeting in 2008 saved the company from going under

Credit Karma Nichole Mustard, Credit Karma Ken Lin

Credit Karma

Credit Karma Nichole Mustard with CEO Ken Lin hanging out before an employee Town Hall meeting

  • Kenneth Lin, Credit Karma's CEO, spoke to Business Insider about how a meeting with a TransUnion executive in 2008 was critical to the startups' future.
  • Lin met with TransUnion's John Danaher to convince the credit agency to continue working with Credit Karma after it had issued a 30-day notice terminating the two companies business relationship.
  • Lin was named one of Business Insider's 10 people transforming finance.
  • See the full list of 100 people transforming business here.

As the CEO of a company valued at $4 billion, Credit Karma's Kenneth Lin has had his fair share of high-level gatherings.

However, the most important meeting Lin's ever had came long before Credit Karma's unicorn status.

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It was 2008 and the startup had been issued a 30-day termination notice for its business relationship with TransUnion. The credit agency offered Credit Karma access to its credit-score data, making it a crucial partnership for the startup that was aiming to provide free credit scores to its customers.

If Credit Karma's relationship with TransUnion ended, the company would likely have folded shortly thereafter.


As Lin was running out of options just days before the notice came into effect, he sent a cold email to John Danaher, president of TransUnion Interactive, the consumer subsidiary of credit reporting agency TransUnion.

"I didn't know him from anyone, and no one could give me an introduction," Lin said. "So I just got the email address and wrote him like, 'Hey, I am the CEO for this company that you just shut off. Can we talk?'"

Read more: How this woman went from a Pizza Hut employee to a founder of a $4 billion startup

After a couple days Danaher responded. As luck would have it, he was heading to Hawaii on vacation and would be stopping over in San Francisco, where Credit Karma was based, for a few days on business.

Lin was able to schedule an early-morning breakfast meeting with Danaher to make the case for why TransUnion should continue to work with Credit Karma.


"I remember that was one of the most restless nights of my life, still to this day," Lin said. "I knew that everything was relying on the balance of that meeting."

In the meeting, Lin pointed to the user base Credit Karma had already grown in its early days as a proof-of-concept for why the company could work. The startup had the potential to be valuable to TransUnion, he added, if it had the chance to continue to learn how best to work with its growing customer base.

See more: Credit Karma is acquiring a fellow fintech startup for UK expansion

At the end of the meeting, Danaher offered Credit Karma a stay of execution: It would continue to offer the company access to its credit-scores data while the two sides renegotiated a new agreement.

The whole experience, while stressful at the time, turned out to be a blessing in disguise, Lin said. Following the meeting, Credit Karma and TransUnion were able to establish an even better partnership that evolved beyond a traditional supplier-type agreement.


"We were brainstorming our product ideas, and we were coming to them with different innovative ideas in the space that I think would have been much more difficult had it been under the guise of the old contract, in which case they were just sending us the bill every month and we were just sending them the check," Lin said.

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