Growing up in Las Vegas, Greg Lull, ’02 BS and ’06 MS Electrical Engineering, was vaguely aware that his parents struggled at times but finances were just not talked about in polite company. And pre-Internet revolution, there was little access to credit scores and even less understanding of the nuances of debt that could push a score up or down.
Now as chief marketing officer for Credit Karma, Lull’s goal is to arm his 85 million members with information so they can confidently start taking the small steps that lead to big financial progress.
Here he talks to us about changing careers and the future of the personal finance industry.
This really is the antithesis of who I thought I was. I really thought I’d be a design engineer. I worked at the Nevada Test Site for a while but wasn’t happy.
If you’re considering a career change, you just have to do it. Just remember: You’re not considering that change because you’re happy and fulfilled.
The skills I’ve gained are lifelong and transferable. I think most people will find that’s true of their college education too.
In my 20s, I’m pretty sure I said a few times that marketing is evil — that it makes people buy things they don’t need. Then I worked at a startup; I had to learn marketing just because I was one of the first employees.
I definitely bring an engineering mindset to marketing. There’s still a creativity side to the field, but today it’s very data-driven. It’s about modeling — testing, learning, and iterating. It’s about breaking systems down into smaller, solvable problems.
I genuinely wanted to build a product that helps people just like my parents understand their finances.
I was an undergraduate for seven years, and then in grad school for three. I didn’t have money for a long time. When you’re really young, you don’t realize that debt is good, so long as you use it responsibly.
A poll just came out that credit debt is the number one taboo subject — above religion and politics. We are all reluctant to address it head on.
Struggling with finances is a big cognitive load. It takes away from your ability to build your career, to build relationships. So people avoid the topic, especially with people they know. But that leaves them without good, trusted advice.
You can find general information on the Internet, but it doesn’t really explain your exact situation to you. That’s what we wanted to do with this company — give people their information in way that helps them think about credit and debt as tools and understand how to use them.
I think everyone at this point should just assume their identity is compromised.
Every time you give out information to sign up for a service or fill out a form of any kind — which is kind of a requirement to be part of society — you’re putting that identity at risk. It’s impossible to totally prevent that information from being compromised. But you can mitigate that risk. Get signed up with a service so you can proactively take steps if you find that identity being used.
The way people manage their finances today is really pretty antiquated. In the next five to 10 years, I think we’ll see fin-tech companies help people manage their checkbook in a digital way. That will let them spend more mental energy elsewhere.
So many people live paycheck to paycheck. I think automation will help them the most. We’ll all be spending a lot less time thinking about which account has money and which bill is due when. There will be an intelligent, predictive platform to connect those dots so you know exactly what your discretionary income is.
I came up with the name for the company. The alliteration is great, of course, but we also liked the juxtaposition of the word “karma” with finances. It reflected our goal to do good in the world. It has this sense of optimism and hope.