Credit Karma, a seven-year-old personal finance platform, has hired Nikhyl Singhal, the former head of Google Hangouts, as its chief product officer. He started on April 20 and reports to founder and CEO Kenneth Lin.
Singhal left Google in January, part of a wave of departures and changes in the company’s social and communications products over the past year. But that upheaval is not Singhal’s stated reason for departing. Instead, he cited an itch to return to his startup roots. He joined Google in 2011 when his voice messaging company, SayNow, was acquired and nestled inside Google Voice. The appeal of Credit Karma, which was founded in 2008, is the executive slot inside a company that is smaller yet has claimed some traction, he told Re/code.
“I thought it was just the perfect time for me to find my home where I could be entrepreneurial, but do that at scale,” he said. “Its product is in its first inning. But you don’t start with the base of zero; you start with 35 million plus.”
That’s the number of people Credit Karma says it has signed up for its service, which tracks credit scores, competing with startups like Mint. Its business model is akin to Google’s: After collating users’ personal financial information, it sells targeted ads to them for things like credit cards or auto insurance. The company says it has over 100 paying advertisers and is on the path for “hundreds of millions” in revenue this year. It has raised over $193 million, most recently in a Series C round in September, from a trio of investors including Google Capital.
The latest round netted Credit Karma a valuation over $1 billion, granting it the vexed “unicorn” status. The company says it became profitable last year. Singhal will oversee its desktop and mobile products, as well as their integration with advertisers’ offerings.
He has nothing but kind words for his former employer. “Google was a tremendously entrepreneurial environment during the time I was there,” he said.
That reverence may come from his swift ascent in Mountain View. Unlike some Google acquisitions, the SayNow team moved up the ranks quickly (and was even trotted out for the press). They arrived the same month Larry Page returned as CEO, bringing with him a renewed focus on social. Under the social team, Singhal was charged with leading all real-time communications, bundling a handful of existing products — Voice, Messenger for Android, YouTube livestream, Talk for Gmail and video calling in Hangouts — into one cohesive unit. He also managed the Photos product.
Still, his tenure was marked by turbulence. Google’s strategy for messaging apps and communication was never clear. Singhal reported to Vic Gundotra, the head of Google+, until Gundotra abruptly exited in March 2014, leaving the social and communications teams at Google rudderless.
Yet Singhal considers the evolution of Hangouts a success. “It kind of reached this logical completion point. And then the questions was, how do you go to the next level?” Singhal said. He opted to pass on the next level and go elsewhere. “The decision of doing that versus seeking more of an earlier innovation opportunity was what I was weighing when I decided to leave.”
Hangouts now sits under Nick Fox, Google’s VP of communications products, according to sources close to the company. Fox also oversees Project Fi, Google’s new wireless service. Bradley Horowitz now leads Google+.
Asked about the state and fate of Google’s embattled social network, Singhal declined to comment.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.