I'm NerdWallet Co-Founder Tim Chen, and This Is How I Work
Here at Lifehacker, we're big fans of
San Francisco, CA
Current Gig: Co-founder and CEO of NerdWallet
One word that best describes how you work: Efficient
Current mobile device: iPhone 8
Current computer: MacBook Pro 15"
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I started out my
That bump in the road ended up being the catalyst for NerdWallet. That, and my sister Kim asking me for advice on which credit card to get. It was impossible to find a clear, unbiased answer to that simple question and it ended up taking me (a trained financial professional) over a week to make a recommendation, after I had already spent weeks researching and seeing firsthand how many complicated financial products were out there. That's when I realized how much of a barrier the complexity of information is for consumers. I put all of the credit card information into a spreadsheet and about a year later in 2009, NerdWallet's first credit cards tool was built.
I started NerdWallet to bring clarity to financial decisions because everyone - not just the super wealthy - should have access to the information and insights they need to make smart financial decisions and live their best life.
What apps, software, or tools can't you live without?
The off button. I put my phone on nighttime mode, and I shut down everything when I'm working. I get highly distracted otherwise.
What's your workspace setup like?
It's simple. I sit next to our CPO in an open workspace. My desk is pretty bare-it's basically my computer and a few knick-knacks from my wife and colleagues.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
This is going to sound socially offensive, but I don't check my email on a daily basis. Instead, I do it in batches every two to three days.
Meetings can take up more than half of a work day. To avoid that, I assess if the meetings I am invited to really require my presence, if I will have any value add or if it can be handled with an email communication at the end of the day.
What's your favorite to-do list manager?
I don't use one! Instead of coming up with a to-do list, I set aside time daily and weekly to reflect on what happened the week prior, learn about challenges and roadblocks, figure out how I can connect the dots between people and or functions, as well as take a step back to look at the bigger picture.
It's easy to let your inbox become your to-do list, but I think that's ridiculous because you didn't create that to-do list-it was sent to you by other people. So I actively avoid making that a habit.
I do however keep a parking lot of administrative stuff in Evernote.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
I stay very emotionally calibrated, which is probably a lesson from my investing days. I'm generally less pessimistic during downturns and less optimistic during good times than the average person.
What do you listen to while you work?
I prefer silence while at work, but on my commutes I listen to podcasts.
When you are stressed about unproductive things, there's nothing like listening to someone else's life story or learning about something new to center your mind. Afterwards, I often feel like I have a better perspective about things that are top of mind.
What are you currently reading, or what's something you'd recommend?
I've been obsessed with understanding the divides within this country since last November. I've recently read The Unbanking of America by Lisa Servon, Financial Diaries by Morduch and Schneider, Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, White Working Class by Joan Williams, and The Great Risk Shift by Jacob Hacker.
How do you recharge? 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 to tackle problems or challenges I'm facing at work in unexpected it ways. It jogs another part of the brain, and helps me think about the problem at hand in a different way.
What's your favorite side project?
I've started sketching a book about some of the people I've met around the country during user research trips.
Over the past two years, our entire executive team and dozens of other NerdWallet employees have been visiting cities across the U.S. and speaking with people in their homes about their financial needs. It really helps to get a sense of who someone is, how they think about finances and where they feel like they need help. It has also greatly informed how we build products at NerdWallet, and continues to be one of my favorite experiences.
What's your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early riser?
I am not a morning person but I do spend some time every morning reflecting on my goals for the day.
Then, before bed, my wife and I talk about one thing we're grateful for every night. Achievement-oriented people are always focused on what's the next thing, what could be better. It's a way to foster more appreciation and mindfulness. And we feel really happy afterwards.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see __ __ answer these questions.
I feel you get the most interesting insights from people you don't agree 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 the other axis who you tell. Some of the career mistakes I made at my last company had to do with not telling enough people about my accomplishments.
Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
When I started NerdWallet, I was a lot less mission oriented and a lot more concerned about building a successful company. It was actually our success that made me feel a ton of responsibility and opportunity to use our platform for societal good.
This interview has been lightly edited.
The How I Work series asks heroes, experts, and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Nick .
The How I Work series asks heroes, experts, and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Ishita.