The team is more important than the original idea. As an entrepreneur, your company will go through many versions and iterations. Your idea may never pan out the way you originally thought. But if you have a good team supporting you, you’ll be able to pivot until you find the right answer. Find colleagues that care about the mission as much as you do who are nimble and can help you navigate to the ultimate solution.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian Nazari. Adrian is the CEO and founder of Credit Sesame, the company empowering consumers to better manage their credit health. Credit Sesame is a leading consumer credit and personal finance service that gives consumers personalized and actionable insights to help them manage their credit and credit decisions for better credit and financial health. It provides millions of consumers access to free credit scores and information, free credit monitoring, free credit and identity protection and better ways to save money and manage their finances — all in one place.
Thank you so much for joining us Adrian! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve worked in the financial sector for almost 20 years and founded three companies in the space. The first two were acquired by public companies. During my time with my first two companies, I worked with a financial advisor and was shocked to learn that financial advisors only focus on the assets side of a consumer’s balance sheet. The liabilities side was completely ignored, despite us living in a debt society. This set me on the path to my current venture, Credit Sesame. I realized that there was a huge opportunity for consumers — managing their credit and debt to improve their credit health.
I was fascinated by the lack of credit understanding and management, especially given our dependency on credit and the growing amount of debt in America. So I set out on a journey to help bring rigur, transparency and most importantly science to how people manage their credit and credit decisions.
My first big aha moment was when I realized most consumers don’t even know what their credit picture looks like. Their credit score and details were not readily accessible for free. Even when consumers were able to access their information, they didn’t know what it meant. Credit reports aren’t designed for consumers; they’re designed for loan officers. So I founded Credit Sesame to start the credit health revolution, not only giving people free access to their credit score and details but to help them understand and improve it on an ongoing basis.
My idea was simple: help consumers unlock their credit potential.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
In order to help consumers better manage their credit, the first step was to give them access to their complete credit picture in an intuitive way. It was critical this information was updated every month and available for free. Getting consumers their credit score and credit reports for free was a major challenge.
This had never been done before. I spoke with all three credit bureaus and they all laughed me out of the room. At the time, they charged consumers upwards of ten dollars each time they accessed their own credit data.
But my past success as an entrepreneur opened the door at one of the bureaus. After several months of negotiations and agreeing Credit Sesame would pay for the initial non recurring engineering cost, they signed a conditional one year deal to allow Credit Sesame offer US consumers free, monthly access to their credit score and information for the first time ever. This was a huge win for consumers and the beginning of a whole new era that gave people more access to their credit from a variety of sources.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I knew the work I was doing was going to have a huge impact on millions of lives. Personal credit is at the heart of everyone’s overall financial health. But this wasn’t just about bank accounts — better credit has a huge social impact. By improving your credit score, it changes the homes you can live in, the school you may go to, even sometimes the jobs you qualify for. Having seen the impact we’ve made on so many consumers lives, I’m extremely proud that we were able to overcome our initial challenges.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
Our determination changed the industry. The bureaus have productized our offerings and today consumers have so much more access to their credit information from a variety of sources. While we have seen many entrants give consumers access to their credit information since we opened the floodgates in 2010, as a pioneer we have stayed ahead of the curve. More than just providing access to credit information, we have developed data-driven tools and analytics to help consumers better understand, improve and leverage their credit. Our industry first RoboCredit is revolutionizing how consumers manage their credit by simplifying and automating it for them. We’ve helped millions achieve credit wellness faster and better than ever.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I named the company after the Alibaba tale’s famed “open sesame.” Instead of unlocking physical treasure, Credit Sesame unlocks your credit potential. However, when I first launched the company, people often thought the name was a play on Sesame Street. They made the connection to educating consumers about their credit fundamentals.
Initially, my response was to correct them and tell them the true origins of the name. Over time, I realized in many ways, we do both — unlock your credit potential and teach you about your credit fundamentals. It actually worked out better than I intended.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes Credit Sesame stand out is the fact that we give more than a free credit score or credit access — we provide actionable insights to improve credit and financial health. There are many companies that offer access and generic tools for credit information. But most who use these services find themselves asking “what do I do now?” Credit Sesame is focused on answering those questions with personalized, actionable recommendations.
24- 27% of our members see their credit score improve by more than 10 points in the first month of their free membership. 61% see their credit score improve over the first 180 days of their membership. This growth is achieved by analytics-driven credit optimization strategies that addresses the credit fundamentals used by all the various credit scoring models.
I see this in action all the time. Recently, I was car shopping at a dealership. The salesman asked me what I did for a living and I told him I’m the founder of Credit Sesame. He jumped up from his seat, shook my hand with a big smile and thanked me sincerely. He told me a year before then he was sleeping on a friend’s couch because of very bad credit. He said he had gotten his credit score from another source but was still struggling to improve it until he came upon Credit Sesame. Our tools and content got him on a path to credit heath. Since using the service, he was able to lease a car and find his own apartment. He was elated to say the least. These are the kinds of stories that Credit Sesame set out to bring to life for consumers.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You won’t get burned out easily if you are pursuing something you are truly passionate about. The first step is to make sure you enjoy your work and its mission. For me, it’s about doing something unique and different that has a profound impact on consumers life, like helping them achieve credit and financial health.
I find it helps to set goals for yourself along the journey to be able to see your progress. This also fosters innovative new solutions and keep excitement alive. Lastly, you need to reward yourself for your achievements from time to time. Celebrate your hard-earned wins.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have so many people to be thankful for that made my journey possible, including family, friends, colleagues and peers. We are in a very competitive business environment and I have been fortunate enough to have an amazing, seasoned and experienced mentors behind me.
My recommendation to young entrepreneurs and executives is to actively seek mentors to help you along your journey. They’re there to boost and guide you when things are not going well. On the other hand, they can help you recognize when things are going well and encourage you to set even higher goals.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My success, and Credit Sesame’s success, has empowered millions of consumers to take their credit health into their own hands. Credit is the foundation of financial health. It impacts so many parts of your life — your schooling, your home, even the jobs you can get. I’m proud to have created a company that puts the power back in the hands of the consumer to shape their financial destiny.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Pursue what you’re passionate, not what’s trending. Being an entrepreneur is a tough job and if you don’t truly care about what you’re doing, you’ll get exhausted and give up. If you’re doing something that’s going to make a difference in peoples’ lives, it will give you more drive to keep going.
- The team is more important than the original idea. As an entrepreneur, your company will go through many versions and iterations. Your idea may never pan out the way you originally thought. But if you have a good team supporting you, you’ll be able to pivot until you find the right answer. Find colleagues that care about the mission as much as you do who are nimble and can help you navigate to the ultimate solution.
- Don’t do it alone. Find like-minded teams, mentors and mission-driven partners to help you along the journey. It takes a lot more than one person to create a great company.
- Market risk (demand) is the biggest risk your business faces. Entrepreneurs often get caught up in technological risk or execution risk (making investments to mitigate and excerpt some control), but market risks are much more impactful. At the end of the day, you have almost no control over the market. If the market changes or isn’t there to begin with, you have no business.
- The best product doesn’t always win. Don’t spend too much time trying to build the “perfect” product. Instead, get quick data on the product so you can learn and pivot. The goal is to get to market quickly and successfully. Learning about the product and market will eventually get you there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I were to start a movement, it would be towards helping people get financially savvy to achieve better financial and credit health. I especially want to help the younger generation — future dads and moms. Our research shows that 61% of the population (and 83% of the millennials) are looking to better their credit.
It’s astonishing how many people graduate from school and don’t know a thing about credit responsibility. Credit health governs our lives, so it’s critical we understand it and can improve it. With tools like Credit Sesame, consumers can take control of their credit instead of living in the dark.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can follow me on Twitter @AdrianNazari.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!