I’m Co-Founder of NerdWallet Tim Chen and This Is How I Work

Here at Lifehacker, we’re big fans of the personal finance site NerdWallet and its suite of tools like the federal tax calculator , credit card search, and retirement calculator . We spoke with Tim Chen, a retired financial analyst who co-founded NerdWallet in 2009 and now leads a team of 450 people, about how it works.

Location: San Francisco, California. Current job: Co-founder and CEO of NerdWallet. One word that best describes how you work: Effective Current mobile device: iPhone 8 Current computer: MacBook Pro 15 “

First of all, tell me a little about your past and how you became who you are today.

I started my career at a hedge fund in New York. Unfortunately, like many others, I was hit by the financial crisis and was laid off from my job the day after Christmas.

This bump in the road was the catalyst for the NerdWallet. This, and my sister Kim asks me which credit card to get. It was impossible to find a clear, unbiased answer to this simple question, and in the end it took me (a qualified financial professional) more than a week to make a recommendation, after already having spent weeks researching and seeing firsthand how many sophisticated financial products were out there. … It was then that I realized how much the complexity of information is a barrier to consumers. I put all the credit card information in a spreadsheet, and about a year later, in 2009, the first credit card tool, NerdWallet, was created.

I launched NerdWallet to clarify financial decisions because everyone, not just the super rich, needs to have access to the information and insights they need to make smart financial decisions and live their best lives.

What apps, software or tools can’t you live without?

Shutdown button. I put my phone in night mode and turn everything off when I work. Otherwise, I will be greatly distracted.

How is your workplace arranged?

It’s simple. I am sitting next to our CPO in an open workplace. My desk is pretty empty – mostly my computer and a few knickknacks from my wife and colleagues.

What’s your best time-saver or life hack?

It will sound socially offensive, but I don’t check my email every day. Instead, I do it in batches every two to three days.

During business hours, I focus on the work itself, so I don’t watch emails. I measure the ROI between answering emails or finding a solution to a problem, and in most cases it benefits the consumer, the company, and the team if I’m working on a solution (one of NerdWallet’s core values).

Meetings can take more than half a day. To avoid this, I assess if the meetings that invite me really require my presence, will I have some additional benefits, or if it can be dealt with via email at the end of the day.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I do not use it! Instead of making a to-do list, I set aside time daily and weekly to reflect on what happened the week before, learn about problems and obstacles, figure out how I can connect the dots between people and / or functions, and also do step back to see the big picture.

It’s easy to let your inbox be your to-do list, but I think it’s funny because you didn’t make this to-do list – it was sent to you by other people. Therefore, I actively avoid making it a habit.

However, in Evernote, I have a parking lot for administrative equipment.

What are some of the things you do best in everyday life? What’s your secret?

I remain very emotionally calibrated, which is probably a lesson from my investing days. I am usually less pessimistic during recessions and less optimistic during good times than the average person.

What do you listen to while you work?

I prefer silence at work, but I listen to podcasts on the way to work.

When you’re worried about unproductive things, there is nothing better than listening to someone else’s life story or learning something new to focus your attention. After that, I often feel like I have a better idea of ​​what I need.

What are you reading now or what do you recommend?

I have been obsessed with understanding the division within this country since November last year. I recently read No Banking America by Lisa Servon, The Financial Diaries by Morduch and Schneider, Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, White Working Class by Joan Williams, and Jacob Hacker ‘s Big Risk Shift .

How do you replenish? What do you do when you want to forget about work?

Reading and podcasts!

When I just stop and read a book, it usually helps me solve problems or problems that I face at work in unexpected ways. It stimulates a different part of the brain and helps me see the problem differently.

What’s your favorite side project?

I started sketching books about people I met around the country on my research trips.

Over the past two years, our entire executive team and dozens of other NerdWallet employees have traveled to cities across the United States and discussed with the people in their homes about their financial needs. It really helps to understand who a person is, how they think about finances and where they think they need help. It has also greatly influenced the way we create products at NerdWallet and continues to be one of my favorite things to do.

What is your sleep routine? Are you a night owl or get up early?

I’m not an early riser, but every morning I spend some time thinking about my goals for the day.

Then, before bed, my wife and I talk about what we are grateful for every night. Achievement-oriented people are always focused on what to do next, what could be better. This is a way to cultivate more appreciation and consideration. And after that we feel really happy.

Please fill in the blank: I would like __ __ to answer these questions.

I feel like you get the most interesting ideas from people you disagree with, so Kim Jong-un.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Opportunity is a graph. On one axis, it’s what you do, and on the other, it’s who you’re talking to. Some of the career mistakes I made at my previous company were because I didn’t share my accomplishments with enough people.

What else would you like to add that might be of interest to readers and fans?

When I started NerdWallet, I was much less mission-oriented and much more concerned about building a successful company. In fact, it was our success that made me feel a tremendous responsibility and an opportunity to use our platform for public good.


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