“My experience gave me the idea of a problem I can fix”: A day in the life of Kristy Kim, founder and CEO of TomoCredit
- Kristy Kim came to the US at just 11 years old, and among the many challenges she had to face was being excluded from the credit system.
- However, Kim turned this problem into an opportunity, and her experience inspired her to found TomoCredit to help others start their credit journeys.
At just eleven years old, Kristy Kim came to the US from South Korea. Her parents couldn’t move with her, but they thought that as long as they paid for her education, everything would be fine.
This meant that Kim had to figure out many things on her own, and among the many challenges she had to face was also the issue of integrating into the US financial system, which can be very opaque for an outsider.
No one had told Kim about credit scores, for example. Credit scores are a huge part of someone’s financial life in the US, and very difficult to obtain as a first-generation immigrant. One can get an education or a job, but a credit card or a credit score is a whole different kind of beast. It takes a long time to get approved for a credit card, and then a longer time to build a good credit score, and Kim experienced this first hand.
After college, she got a job in investment banking and wanted to rent an apartment, which was a struggle without a credit score, as most landlords require a credit check for leaseholders. On top of that, she couldn’t get an auto loan to buy her very first car to commute from San Francisco to South Bay. She felt blindsided.
“That experience gave me the idea of a problem I can fix. I could give credit to someone without credit, and also help this person build credit as fast as possible, even though it’s not overnight,” she told Tearsheet.
Kim thought that there was an opportunity to fix this problem, and she had the skills to do it. Her frustrations then led to the idea of creating a technical underwriting solution that would allow immigrants and others without a credit history to build a credit score.
The initial plan was to license it out to the big banks, and while they agreed that access to credit was an issue for younger consumers who don’t have a credit score, they weren’t eager to work on a solution. So Kim did it on her own and built TomoCredit – a fintech that offers a credit card without fees or interest rate, using cash flow underwriting.
Unlike other credit cards, Tomo doesn’t require a credit score and works independently of FICO, therefore positioning itself as a great option for those outside the traditional credit system to begin building their credit scores.
Kim began working on this before the pandemic, and the general quarantine that started in 2020 didn’t stop her and her team from developing the product.
She turned her home into an office space, where everyone would come in to work together. They had a blast, working, cooking, shopping – creating a ‘do it yourself’ mentality where everyone felt they were owners of the company.
It was important for the core team members to collaborate as much as possible, so they never worked 100% remotely, especially as the product launched and met rapid adoption. As the pandemic restrictions relaxed, they went back into the office.
“Now there’s too many of us to work from my home, but I am glad that we were able to create memories when we were small going through the pandemic together,” she said.
Kristy Kim (center) with members of her team at TomoCredit
But it’s a busy life, that of a chief executive, and Kim keeps work and home pretty close together.
Her daily routine starts early – she wakes up before six, works out for an hour to kickstart the day, checks some emails and is out the door by 8am. The office is a 10 minute walk from home, so she usually gets there by 8:10 am and begins her workday, which usually lasts around 12 hours.
Most meals happen at the office, where dinner is covered by the company for anyone who wants to stay at the office late: “We usually do Uber Eats – I’m the top 1% Uber Eats consumer,” Kim says. Then she’s back home usually by 8pm.
Kim likes to manage her own calendar – she would never get an executive assistant to do that for her like other founders, she said. Only she can design the workflow that’s most efficient for her.
That said, she likes to keep it simple. Kim doesn’t rely on any fancy tools or services – Google Calendar is enough. Her role requires flexibility and spontaneity – you never know what pops up, what problems need to be solved.
“I don’t really have control over what I need to do day to day, because things happen and I need to jump in. I cannot be choosy about it. But I want my schedule to be consistent, so I have more stability,” she said.
Her work mentality is all about taking it one day at a time and focusing on what’s right in front of her. That’s why she doesn’t stress too much about her schedule – it’s best to keep an open mind rather than try to anticipate what will happen tomorrow.
“As long as I know what I need to do for today and I am happy about all the to-do’s, I’m good. I’m not too worried about planning a week ahead,” Kim said.
And her company seems to be doing well – with no marketing budget, customers started applying for the card, gathering more than two million organic applicants within 12 months, and the company’s revenues jumped tenfold. Most of them are Gen Z and Millennials, as they’re ‘looking for the next cool product in finance’, said Kim.
This motivates Kim to continue growing the company, raise more money and hire more people. In fact, one of the things she enjoys most about her job is developing her team and witnessing their professional journey at her company.
“It makes me happy when I can identify what makes a person happy and successful. It is so fulfilling to have someone join and see them actually thriving. It’s interesting because I never considered or thought about this before, but as the team is growing I’m realizing that it gives me a lot of joy,” she said.
She hopes that the success of her product would finally show the industry that there are customer needs not yet serviced by the traditional system, and that meeting this demand is a fruitful endeavor.
“It’s giving a really good example to the industry so they can also innovate on their own and try to adapt more to customers,” Kim told Tearsheet.