Tim Chen had recently been laid off from his job as a financial analyst at a hedge fund, during the recession of 2008, when his sister asked him for help finding a good credit card. Much of the information he found online was confusing and disorganized, so he decided to start a personal-finance website; it would go on to become NerdWallet, which is now worth $500 million and employs almost 350 people. I recently spoke with Chen about how it feels to get laid off, starting a business during a recession, and why workers should pay attention to who their managers are. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Lola Fadulu: Your parents were computer scientists. Did they want you to go into computer science?
Tim Chen: Yes. It’s a stable job. They knew it well. They had been able to provide for our family by working in the industry. My sister and I were really fortunate. My parents paid for our college education, which is huge.
Fadulu: It sounds like both your parents were steering you toward jobs that would lead to stable futures and high standards of living. How much were you thinking about money when you were applying to jobs post-graduation?
Chen: Growing up, I never felt well off, even though in hindsight we were at least much more stable than average. I think it’s part of the immigrant mentality to be really ambitious about providing for a good future for your kids. I think people base their perception of the world on what happened in their lifetimes, and both my parents fled from armed conflict in their very early years and grew up quite poor after World War II.