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How Credit Karma’s founder mastered the art of subtle everyday advocacy

Mustard, who cofounded Credit Karma, is No. 10 on our inaugural Queer 50 list.

How Credit Karma’s founder mastered the art of subtle everyday advocacy
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This story is part of Fast Company‘s first-ever Queer 50 List. Click here to see the full list.

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“Be happy” is the simple mantra that drives everything in Nichole Mustard’s personal and professional life. It started when she bought a one-way ticket from Ohio to Los Angeles after college. “I didn’t have a job, a place to live, or a car,” she recalls. “But I figured if I was happy, the rest would follow.” And it did.

Today, Mustard is the chief revenue officer of Credit Karma, a business she cofounded. She helped to grow it from a small consumer finance platform aimed at providing free credit scores at the beginning of the recession in 2007 into a 100-million member community, with access to a marketplace of more than 100 financial service providers. Credit Karma was recently acquired by Intuit for approximately $7.1 billion in cash and stock.

The COVID-19 crisis arrived on the heels of Credit Karma’s acquisition and its U.K. expansion, which brought more than 3.5 million additional members. “Our members look to us for help making sense of their finances, and they need us now more than ever,” she says. “We know many, if not all, are impacted by the current economic situation.”

Mustard says the company is harnessing its internal resources and working closely with partners and government agencies to provide information that members are saying they need. For example, staff across engineering, product, and marketing came off other projects to develop and launch Relief Roadmap, which is designed to assist members in finding federal, state, and local benefits and free services to help them in the wake of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

According to Mustard, building a business that was both data- and consumer-oriented was a way for her to be as authentic in her professional life as she is in her personal life. “When we started Credit Karma, [being queer] was never questioned. There was no awkwardness,” says Mustard, who is a mother of four. “It means there’s always someone at the table who brings that lens,” she explains, whether that’s toward products, employment benefits, or company celebrations.

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She says she’s been glad to be able to share her perspective and experience with those around her. “I take a lot of pride in the behaviors I show my team, peers, employees, and my children,” she says.

“Being consistent about who you are is an important part of advocacy,” Mustard says, whether that is leading marches or being the person “who quietly, subtly every day” shows others that LGBTQ people are the same as anyone else. And that, says Mustard, “feels good as a mom, a founder, and an executive.”

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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