For the past 1 year, 1 month, 1 week and 1 day I've been working at CARD.com. I love it. I've had a lot of great jobs in my career so far, but this is one that is truly extraordinary.
I'm currently pretty enthusiastic about a set of quotes from Jeff Bezos compiled at fool.com, so I'm sprinkling some of those through this post.
What is CARD.com doing?
Our CEO put it like this in a recent interview he gave:
CARD.com is the world’s first likeable financial company. We make payments fun, fair and fashionable. CARD.com offers Visa cards and MasterCard cards featuring card art and amazing perks from the best brands in the world, like Star Trek, Elvis or The Walking Dead.
And...that's a good description of what we do. But, what do I think we're doing that is exceptional?
- We're using a ton of open source software and contributing back where we can. That just warms my heart :)
- We're doing everything with an eye towards scalability. We have a lot of card designs and many more are coming. Some of our designs are big and some are small. We still want to delight the people with a "small" brand because to them that brand is their life.
- Bezos said "Your margin is my opportunity." and we're following that. We aren't aiming to be the cheapest provider, but we are undercutting a lot of other providers with what we believe is a much better product. That will help us scale and as we scale big we win. It feels great to provide a product that is competitive with other options available to our typical cardholder.
- Since we're scaling big, we sweat the small stuff. We review contracts to see how we can squeeze pennies or fractions of pennies out of different transactions.
- Scaling big also means a lot lot lot of fun things. Do you think HTML5 input types with browser side validation make a difference? How about a 30% difference? We took a few days and figured out that yes, they do make a statistically significant difference. Jared Spool likes to say (roughly) "Here's what Amazon has learned, but guess what: you're not amazon." While we don't have the scale of Amazon (yet) we have some nice scale and makes it fun to solve little problems.
- We're doing our best to have high standards when we hire, which makes it really fun to work. I know I can rely on my teammates to create cool things and to push my skills forward.
- We follow lean startup principles: propose hypotheses, implementing features as quantifiable tests as simply as possible, learn from those tests and repeat. We can finish tests in days, sometimes. Shipping new features and seeing a measurable improvement is very satisfying. Doing it over and over and over again is fulfilling.
- Bezos said: "I almost never get the question: 'What's not going to change in the next 10 years?' And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important [question] -- because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time." Our fundamental business is providing a set of services that look a lot like branchless banking, using brands that people already love. The rise of branchless banking is not going to change in the next 10 years. When was the last time you really needed to use a branch? With smartphones, service provided digitally, electronic transactions - those are all clearly trends that are going to increase. People are going to continue to love brands: a blank t-shirt is $5 while a concert shirt from your favorite band is $50. How many people love their bank's brand? Very few do...and yet that is the brand you see every time you get your card out or log in to their website. Financial services are not going away any time soon. It's one of the biggest industries on earth. In a time when so many business concepts are based on "creating a market" or unproven technology, it feels good knowing that our business is based around easy to understand long-term trends. We're embracing new technologies, for sure, but the basics of our business leave me with no doubt that we're building a profitable business.
- We've got a clear focus and cut back distractions. We are a direct-to-consumer, web based payments company. Having a focus makes it easy to know that your coworkers are going to support your needs. We may argue if project X has the best ROI of our current options, but we don't have to argue if project X really fits into our mission because our scope is so clearly defined.
- For at least the tech team working at home from my favorite city is fine. We've got folks who migrate between Portland, Santa Monica, San Diego, New Jersey and other locales as their needs move them, and working from home is fine. I often go for a bike ride with my wife and daughters during lunch, and just the fact that most lunches are with them makes my life much better. Working at home isn't for everyone, but it sure works for me and for CARD.com.
- Bezos also said: "We innovate by starting with the customer and working backwards. That becomes the touchstone for how we invent." We spend a fair bit of time trying to get to know our customers. We survey them. We call them (I've called several dozen to chat with them). We look for trends in anonymized customer data (where do they live? where do they shop?). We think about what our customers will want to do and make it as easy as possible for them to do that. I love implementing features that will save people 2 or 3 minutes from their life. At scale, 3 minutes is a really big deal. And it makes our customers love us.
One specific cool thing we're doing: using various ad apis. When we onboard a new licenser we have a script that creates images in dozens of sizes. We manually tag the brands with some keywords. We send the cards through an approval engine with various stakeholders and then they get populated on our live website. We do coordinated launches with the licensers. And then we use various ad apis to create dozens of ads with different options on them and see which one works best. Cool process, right? And we are extending that process to make it better all the time.
What am I doing?
I spent the past 7 years working with Drupal as a consultant. I saw how a lot of organizations ran their products. My role now is Director of Engineering where I help run our scrum process and am the final decision maker in our product meetings. I spend most of my time building new features or reviewing branches from other people. I spend a significant amount of time meeting with other people (internally or at our partners) learning about what things we might want to do in the future.
I'm not sure I'll be in the product owner role forever, but it's a fun place to be for at least a little while. In the near future we're likely to get someone to be in charge of product with more time and I'll spend my time more focused on building features, improving internal tools/processes, and reviewing code from teammates i.e. being a website builder and coordinating a team of like-minded website builders.
On a day to day basis I interact with a few great people. And while I love all my team-mates, here are some I particularly enjoy working with:
- Ron Lin and I got to know each other as freshman in college and we've stayed in touch since as he worked on random Linux Kernel patches, I worked at Telcos and eventually we both did more and more work with Drupal (him less so, but it's what we bonded on). Ron is our CTO and my direct boss. He's an extremely compassionate and supporting person to have as a boss and is hilarious: we both laugh in nearly every interaction we have which is always a bonus.
- Ben Katz is our CEO and another person I met as a college freshman. We've stayed in touch on random topics (being proud Wisconsonites, for example) and always enjoyed talking about developments in business. Ben has the perfect combination of background experience and personality traits to lead our company: he's worked in payments and licensing and is dogged to the extreme.
- Ajay Gopal was Ron's mentor in data processing during Ron's PhD and is our resident Director of Data Science and Analytics. Ajay brings advice on the scientific method to our Agile development process and crunches numbers to make sure the tests we run are valid and indicate we're headed in the right direction. Ajay is also a steady force in the company focused on solving problems.
- Jeremy Geltman is our CMO and brings a diverse background in design, email marketing, web development, copywriting and strategy. Luckily he's hired a team so he doesn't have to actually do all those things all the time. Jeremy does a great job of balancing diverse inputs to his design/strategy process and making sure we're well presented.
- Mike Roberts joined us a few months ago and has been tearing it up every since, adding great features to the site with great speed. He already knew Drupal when he started and has accelerated his knowledge ever since. On top of all that, he's got a positive outlook on life that makes our frequent conversations a great pleasure.
- Carl Wiedemann is..Carl. I've had the pleasure of working with him for several years. Carl is too much to try to contain in mere sentences.
- Oscar Mota is our VP of Bank Ops and brings a wealth of knowledge from his decades of experience in the payments industry to the company. It's...very handy having someone who knows what the MCC codes are, for example.
And, like I said, there are many more great people who I don't interact with frequently who are also huge in terms of what they bring to the company: data analytics, marketing, PR, licensing, and brand launches.
The "little" things
Last November my second daughter was born. The team was very supportive of me taking the time I needed to recover and bond with my wife and daughters. We might hope that's a minimum behavior for all companies, but the reality is it's not. Not only that, I got a giant box in the mail from Aviram (our awesome finance/HR person) with a giant plush teddy bear. Now that she's 11 months old my daughter plays a game of crawling on it and having us tickler her. It's good to feel supported in my personal life.
Shortly after that I showed up in Los Angeles for a meeting with our board of directors. I received a very nice CARD.com hoody sweatshirt. The original team members all got blue sweatshirts and new folks got red ones for a while and...something new will come in time. It feels pretty fun to be a member of a band of hooded sweatshirt teammates. The board meeting itself was quite fun - we've got some really amazing advisors on our board who have been roughly where we are and created very successful companies. It's nice to have them challenging us to do more and better work so we can build a legendary company.
This past spring we shipped a crazy set of new features. It was...a lot of work but it took us to a new plateau of functionality: a beautiful portal for managing your card, an iOS and Android app, new partners who gave us better financial terms, MoneyPak for loading cash in minutes with minimum hassle. It took a lot of hard work from our whole team to get those features out the door. When we finished we all got a tasteful vase full of succulents with a customized label on them. Most of my succulents are even still alive :)
Some of these things may seem a little hokey or shallow, but taken together they make me feel appreciated and part of a team.
Oh, and our compensation is solid and we offer equity to those employees interested in it. Did I mention that we're hiring?