In episode 157, Erik and Kerel talk with Karna Crawford, Global Chief Marketing Officer at Marqeta, the world's first modern card issuing platform. Karna was born in DC, raised in Indianapolis, moved to Atlanta, and eventually found herself at Tulane University studying biomedical engineering and switching to marketing. Growing up watching her mom work as a paralegal, a steady, solid, job, she knew she wanted to do anything but that, which is why the fast paced marketing work excited her so much. She has gone on to work for JP Morgan, Coca Cola, Miller, Coors, Ford, Motor Company, Verizon, and more.
Karna shares what challenges Marqeta is currently facing, along with the major impact they’re creating in the world, why she chose to work there and why culture was such an important part of her decision. She takes us through her journey of how she figured out what she wanted to do with her life, her mentors who helped so much, helpful advice she has been given and also advice for those who are going into marketing. Karna also talks about what excites her about the future of marketing, where she draws inspiration from, and most importantly - what’s in her music rotation right now.
“Be curious and listen and learn everything that you can. Even when you've mastered something, find something else to learn, something else to be curious about, because you never know where that will take you, as well as how well it will position you for influence in whatever situation you may find yourself in.”
I want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of Erik and Kerel's Minority Report Podcast. Each episode we talk with real operators and leaders in digital media. And joining us today is actually Karna Crawford, who's the Global Chief Marketing Officer at Marqeta. Welcome, how are you?
Karna Crawford 00:26
I'm fantastic. Thanks for having me, guys.
Yeah, we're thrilled that you're able to join us and can't wait to get to know you a little bit more, you've got tremendous experience working at some really, really cool companies. And we'll unpack a little bit of that a little bit later. But first, tell us a little bit about Marqeta. Tell us what's going on over there these days.
Karna Crawford 00:47
Well, I am so excited. I just started at Marqeta at the beginning of June, so it's very new for me. Marqeta is a modern day card issuer and a modern day enabler of embedded finance. And a lot of our clients are FinTechs, as well as larger enterprise. And we service them with card issuing, with accelerated wage access and other things. It's really about unlocking the access to money and capital for people who need it exactly when they need it in a much more seamless, frictionless way.
Exciting, that sounds really cool. Also, as Global Chief Marketing Officer, what makes that kind of like unique today? Like what are some of the unique sort of challenges you're sort of facing there?
Karna Crawford 01:40
Well, I think first, let me just say that one of the biggest things for me is that I really built my career as a deep consumer-marketer. I really approach marketing from a full funnel, full stack perspective, but I've always really focused on data targeting, rich consumer insights and storytelling. What made me excited about coming over to Marqeta is being able to take that skill set, but apply it in a b2b and b2b2c way that will really allow us to continue to grow how Marqeta is able to empower consumers and their access to money. It's very different for me than what I've ever done in the past in terms of the b2b aspect of it, so it's really exciting at this stage of my career where I've had a lot of great experiences, but not necessarily this specific application of it. So that's really exciting. And then in terms of what's really unique about Marqeta, for everything that I described that we do, one, there are not necessarily a large landscape of people who offer the services and capabilities that we offer, especially when you layer on the actual program management of all that I described. It's a very complex space. And Marqeta has done it at massive scale, with ridiculous speed to market. We've kind of been an innovator in the space that created things like "buy now pay later," and like "just in time funding" that you guys might know from people like Klarna. We were kind of the starting place empowering some of that, which I think really has led us to a place where we have scaled above and beyond what others can. A little loose nugget for you, on't hold me to this, but some seven or eight out of 10 consumers in America have utilized an application powered by a Marqeta capability or service on any given week.
Karna Crawford 03:49
It's ridiculous. I mean, it is absolutely ridiculous. And so you know I describe it, and for people that aren't in the sexy space that is FinTech, you're kind of like, "Okay, that's cool." But when I tell you how deeply ingrained it is into how people like you and I access our money, and do things every single day, all of a sudden, it is a game changer.
Yeah, yeah, it sounds that way. Karna, is it the uniqueness of the opportunity and sort of the challenge of doing something a little bit different one of the main reasons why you decided to go in this direction?
Karna Crawford 04:29
A part of it is there are very few people that can do this and Marqeta in particular has a growth trajectory that's out of this world, a fantastic leadership team on the executive level and some really great talent. That's definitely a huge factor. The other really important thing for me was culture. I've had the privilege of working for some amazing companies and brands and leading fantastic teams. This presented an opportunity to move into a smaller space with a really wonderful culture of people. And then also with the ability for me to impact things very directly in a very hands on way and help guide and shape the future of of how this organization grows.
Gotcha. And a follow up question there, when you're looking at in evaluating a company, because I believe the potential employee has to do their valuation and are evaluating the company just as much as the company is evaluating the potential employee, right? How do you uncover whether or not the company has the culture that you want to be a part of? And I ask that question because, I'm sure you've gotten this too as you mentor people or people are asking you questions about like, career growth and opportunities, that's always something that comes up."Well, I want to work at a great place that has a great culture with great people," right? And so how do you personally go about evaluating that?
Karna Crawford 06:02
Well, I will tell you, I don't necessarily think I have mastered it, but a couple of things that are really important is asking the question less directly. So sure, you can ask the question of "Well tell me about the culture." And then you'll get some kind of like, structured, defined answer. I've started asking questions that are more about the behaviors of culture as opposed to just the direct culture question. So as an example, I might ask a question like, "Okay, I saw that there was a point in time when you lost X, Y, or Z sale, or when X, Y, or Z thing, at least that I could see in the public didn't go well, or the stock is, you know, having a struggle or whatever the case may be? How did the CEO or how did the leadership team react to that? How did you guys get yourself out of it and what was the experience like?" And then all of a sudden, you can start to hear, how does the intensity level change in what they're both saying and not saying. Did things go badly when that occurred? Or was it about coming together and rallying out of it? Things like that so that you're turning it into a very tangible behavioral dialogue versus just a direct question that is going to get a very, you know, staged answer.
Great insights, great insights. I'm curious and I definitely want to talk to you about your awesome experience at tremendous companies, you know, like JP Morgan, Coca Cola, Miller, Coors, Ford, Motor Company, Verizon, so many. We'll get to that in a second, but I wanted to actually ask you a little bit about you, too. And tell us about the early days of Karna. Where were you born and raised? And tell us a little bit about where you come from?
Karna Crawford 07:54
Yeah. Well, many, many, many years ago, there was a time, no I'm just kidding. (laughs) So I'll tell you, I call myself an Atlanta girl. I grew up in Atlanta, I actually moved there when I was in fifth grade and stayed there through you know, when I went away to undergrad, and I also went back there at at a certain point after undergrad so I would generally consider myself Atlanta girl. When people say, "Where are you from?", I say Atlanta, when people say "Where's home?" depending on the day, I might say Atlanta or I might say where I live now, which is New Jersey. Actually, I take that back, I never say New Jersey. I might say the New York City area. (laughs)
I'm born and raised in New Jersey, but I won't take offense to that. (laughs)
Karna Crawford 08:36
(laughs) But I was actually born in Washington, DC and I lived there for about two months of my life. Then my mom moved to the great Midwest and I spent my what I call my formative years in Indianapolis, Indiana. So people ask all the time, why do I not have like a Southern Atlanta accent, whether it's an Atlanta accent or a southern drawl, I don't have as much of either. And it's because I learned to speak in Indiana. But depending on how much I've drank and who I'm around, you might hear a little bit more drawl or a little bit more Atlanta come out.
Oh, that's great. And, you know, eventually make your way to Tulane and really like, how did you get started down that path and kind of knowing where you were gonna go to school?
Karna Crawford 09:27
Dude, Erik, I didn't know a thing. I didn't know anything.
Real talk, real talk. (laughs)
Karna Crawford 09:31
Let me be real here, so there was lots of air quotes science behind how I ended up where I ended up. So first, let me tell you I got a degree, my undergrad degree was in biomedical engineering with a minor in business. And, interestingly, I chose biomedical engineering because at the time I didn't know a lot about what the professional world looked like, and in my mind, there are like a handful of jobs that people have in the professional world, you either work for the government slash a civil servant or you're a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist. And so I thought I wanted to be a doctor and I AP'd out of all of my math and science classes. So I like AP'd out of like calculus, and biology and physics, etc, etc. So when you put all those things together, maybe I should be a biomedical engineer, and I'll do that on my path towards becoming a doctor. That point in time I didn't even really know marketing was a career, I was actually working in marketing jobs. I worked in high school as well as an undergrad for a company called Momentum, which was and is still an event marketing company. And I started off as like a young little intern and sampler with this company. And it was just a job that, at that stage paid really high hourly wage and so it just seemed like the right thing to do. And it wasn't until I was probably in my sophomore or junior year that I realized that marketing was actually the right career for me. And the main reason for that is because what I loved about engineering and math and science is this idea of having models and structure, and being able to kind of like apply all sorts of craziness into models and structure. But then what I loved about like marketing and what I did on that side of my life was the creativity and the inner connection to people and the social nature of it. And so I've gone down this pathway of marketing leadership, with a real bent on data, on technology, on analytical rigor, etc. to kind of bring in that part of my brain into a very creative oriented storytelling other side of my brain.
That's fascinating hearing you describe it that way, but it makes perfect sense. You know, you're working in it, you're going through it, and you're like, "Hey, this is good, it pays well, but I like it," and then you get better at it. And I'm curious, do you find that you kind of pass that on to others, too, about marketing and having a career in marketing? Like, kind of knowing now that there's so many other things that you can do besides those other careers that you mentioned? Do you find that you kind of pass those things on a little bit?
Karna Crawford 12:27
You know, it's funny, I don't interact with as many people that don't already want to do marketing. I spend more of my energy trying to get people to think about building their skills in math, science, technology, and just STEM as a whole, even if they're going to apply it in a marketing oriented career. I'm trying to increase the number of people that are building their analytical capability and building their STEM capability inside of that. But that said, when I am talking to people, what got me to where I am is exposure to people and mindset and experiences bigger than what I could see in the life in front of me. So my mom, who I absolutely adore, but didn't when I was this age, she was a paralegal for pretty much most of my life. Long time, government, solid job, stable, etc. and I wanted to do anything that was not that. Anything, that was literally my sole goal. And on top of that, I couldn't see what I could do beyond that other than the things that I listed at the beginning. Because when you're just like, there was no Mad Men show at that point in time, so when you're looking at TV and you're just living your everyday life, you don't necessarily see all of that. And so I just had the privilege of working for two people really early in my life. One, they are now married by the way, but one was Susan Driscoll and the other was Dill Driscoll, or Mark Dill Driscoll. And they really both saw something in me and helped me think about what I could do in my career that was bigger than I realized at the time. And it helped open up a world and a mindset and then they introduced me to experiences that allowed me to build myself in that way. I started working for Dill at something called the Sports Illustrated Sports Fest, which was a Momentum built experience at Six Flags Over Georgia, down in Atlanta. It was like basically a sporting event that you build on the parking lot at Six Flags, right? It becomes an extension of the Six Flags experience. And my first job was like sampling Coke products or something like that at this event. And I just kind of built from there and grew from there, but Dill with that experience and his team are the ones who helped me see, I could do some more of this and then some more of this and then Susan introduced me to like my first full time non-agency type of job, which was when I started working in the global division of the Coca Cola company. What I try to do with mentees and people that I engage with is help them expand their thinking and see what's possible beyond what they can actually see, so that they can have bigger dreams and goals than I had. Like when you guys were, you know, let's call it 16, what were some of the career goals you had? Now, I don't know you well enough, so you might tell me that you were already planning on taking over the world, but like, what was the bigness of your goals back then?
Honestly, at 16? I had no clue. I wasn't even thinking about my life in that way. Honestly, that, for me, personally, really didn't start to happen until I got to college and I got to know a few people who mentored me through school, right, similar to how you met those two individuals early in your career. So for me, it was, you know, it was a little different. And then once I got beyond college and I started working and got into this industry, someone like Kirk McDonald, who's been, you know, he's been a mentor to me and had me think about the world a little bit differently as well, too.
Karna Crawford 16:19
Yeah 100%. So like, for me, when I was that age, I was a little bit more focused, because my mom is a, like a hard driver. So I was a little bit more focused than that, but in general, my dream was "God, I hope that one day I can make six figures." Whether that was as a doctor or a lawyer at the time, even once I went into marketing, like, "Gosh, I hope that I can just really do really well and make six figures and help my mom out," that was it. And I met six figures in its literal, I crossed the threshold since, not the $900,000 sense or whatever. And now here I am, the Global Chief Marketing Officer of a public company, doing really well for myself and living really well and experiencing really well and telling other people how I got here like it's, it's mind blowing, to me, mind blowing.
I hear ya, I hear ya. What's some of the best piece of advice you've received throughout your career?
Karna Crawford 17:22
Well, I mentioned one of the most important pieces of advice that I received, which is learn everything, expand your mind, be open minded, and don't think of everything through the narrow lens that you might be planning out. That's an important piece of advice. Another really valuable piece of advice I got was from a woman named B. Perez. B is currently I want to say the Chief Sustainability Officer at the Coca Cola company, but at the time that I worked for her, she was maybe the Head of Integrated Marketing for the company. And she is a Latina, and a feisty young whippersnapper, really, she's, she's really just a fantastic woman. But she taught me very early on this concept of wealth accumulation. And she taught it to me because someone else that was a mentor of her taught it to her. And so she was teaching me this concept of how I should be thinking, kind of like Beyonce, "pay me an equity," she taught me this concept of equity versus my base salary and cash. She also taught me the idea of diversifying my income, she introduced me to the concept of Board of Directors seats, and that as a mechanism of growing your wealth and your income above and beyond which, again, if you consider what I just described, about how I thought about my life and my career, I certainly didn't think the thing that is Board of Directors was even on the sphere of existing things in my life. And so I think that idea of don't just manage yourself towards the cash in this moment, but build equity, diversify, and amass wealth, and create a legacy is like one of the biggest pieces of advice that I've also received along my life and my career.
I love that because I've had some similar advice throughout my career and to me, that just speaks about the long game that we're here to play, right? Even, you know, to your point about legacy, even after we're gone, right, and that's where some of what you said, I think comes into play. So that's awesome. I want to get back to marketing a little bit. What excites you about sort of the future of marketing, especially, you know, in the technology space?
Karna Crawford 19:44
That's a great question. I am currently starting to read a book by a good friend of mine, Dr. Marcus Collins. It's important I put like Dr. in they're on Mr. Collins.
I got it, I got it.
Look at that, look at that. (laughs)
Karna Crawford 20:01
You feel me, you feel me. I brought mine to make sure I could put it up too. (laughs)
I'm gonna send him a screenshot of later that we're on this. (laughs)
Karna Crawford 20:08
But I think for me, one of the things that I find most fascinating about marketing, and it's technically why I got into it, but I just love what the future looks like, is this idea of connecting to culture, and allowing yourself and your brand and your business to listen to and engage in culture as a means of how you build relevance and how you grow revenue potential. I think that it's what we've always strived for as marketers, especially as consumer marketers, when you're at like a Coca Cola or a Miller like I was, but when social media came to be and then exploded into like the primary media channel, it introduces an entire different realm of the impact of culture on marketing and consumer behavior and decision making, whether you're b2b or you're b2c. So I just find that married with data and technology and what that future is going to look like fascinating. People ask me all the time, why do I not answer questions like that with AI? Because to me AI is a tool that I'm interested in understanding how can it help me do what I just described?
Karna, I want to take it back to just kind of like you a little bit. And I love your ideas and your energy, I'm just curious about like, where you're kind of drawing inspiration and sort of passion from. Like, I think I'm guessing part of it's kind of like ideas and what you're reading and following and things like that, but what are some other areas that you find are sources of inspiration for you?
Karna Crawford 21:45
Look, I will tell you, my most important sources of inspiration are like the teens and the young adults in my life. And frankly, social, because like my mind can connect dots from just about anything. But the place that I get fresh mental inputs is always when I'm talking to like my 14 year old nephew. Or when I'm talking to the young, early career adults that have joined a company that I'm a part of, or I'm on the board of a group. Actually with Mark McDonald, called IRTS, it's an organization that's really focused on developing the next generation of leaders in marketing and advertising. And we engage with a lot of young college and recently graduated students and being able to hear how they're thinking about the world, thinking about brands, thinking about culture, all of those types of inputs are actually where I get the most of my inspiration. I do read books, let me rephrase that, with the exception of Dr. Marcus Collins's book, I do listen to books. I am physically reading his and I bought it for that reason, but I do listen to a lot of books, and I certainly, you know, read lots of publications and have all the same sources that everybody else has. But listening to people is really my biggest source of inspiration.
Yeah, I was gonna ask you a couple follow ups to that, because I think it's fascinating to learn from others, right? I was gonna ask you too just kind of from like younger generations, what you feel like you're learning, like from them?
Karna Crawford 23:19
You know, it's a great question. One of the biggest things that I'm learning is something that we kind of inherently already know, but I'm learning what the nuances of it are, which is kind of the idea about being an authentic brand and authentic person. We say that as marketers, and we've been saying that for decades, but when you actually have a conversation with teens and young adults about something that they saw, we as marketers and advertisers might have seen that thing and thought, "Oh, my gosh, that is so cool," because it's what we wanted to be able to execute. But then I'll go and talk to, you know, a group of teens or some of the young adults about the exact same thing, and they're kind of like, it looks like you know, they just are a big company trying to do a big thing and forcing it. And like the nuances inside of that authenticity are something that I really start to kind of hone in on and ask a lot of questions about but why? But why? So I can really understand how they're thinking about things.
Love that. What advice would you give to anyone that is starting out in their career in marketing?
Karna Crawford 24:28
Okay, that's a great question. I kind of have two or three little nuggets that I'll put out there.
We got time. (laughs)
Karna Crawford 24:37
Alright, so number one, and this is probably to all of those Type A's like myself that when you are coming out of college and starting your marketing career, you were super intense and super stressing over literally everything in every decision. So item number one, it in many ways does not really matter what your choice of the first job actually is, what matters is how much you learn from it and how you focus on doing well at it. Because when you have one job on the resume, you could still go and do literally anything else next. Like, literally. But like, what do we do like when we're graduating from college, we sweat over it. I don't know, but like, I'm probably a lot older than many of your listeners, but back in my day, and maybe you guys's day, we didn't really have quite the internet that we have today. There certainly wasn't like job boards and like, Career Builder was even after my time, I was making paper resumes and sending them out to people and hoping that they called me. And I remember I had was like a star student, but I came out of undergrad almost wondering whether I was going to get a job or not and stressing and then once I got multiple offers, which one am I going to choose and I was stressing over that. And I think I would have ended up in the exact same place, no matter which of those things that I decided. And so don't let yourself sweat that small stuff, focus on where can I go to have some impact? And where can I learn a ton? So that's one little nugget. Second nugget that I will put out there. When you're doing all of that, focus on your life, not just your climb, focus on your life, not just your climb. I personally spent my younger career years, really focused heavily on the climb, focused on the career focused on what I was going to do next in this mental path I had in my head about where I wanted to be by what year and all that kind of stuff. And I let a lot of my life pass me by. In all transparency, I think, you know, I was married and I'm now divorced and a part of our challenges, not all of them, but a part of our challenges were rooted in how much attention I gave to my career and my climb over my life and my marriage and understanding my husband at the time. Again, not everything, but some of it. I look at my health. And while I'm focusing much more on my health now, I spent several years of my life, first, just you know, leading off of the natural health that I had, and the natural fitness. And then when I ran that out, I became very overweight, very unhealthy, pre diabetic and all of it was because I was putting and prioritizing too much of the career and the climb over caring for myself and caring for my personal well being and future. So I say the second big nugget is that. And then the third piece of advice that I put out there, which kind of ties to something I said earlier, is be curious and listen and learn everything that you can even when you've mastered something, find something else to learn something else to be curious about because you never know where that will take you as well as how well it will position you for influence in whatever situation you may find yourself in.
That's such great advice. Especially, I love the last one because, you know, in this day and age, you have to keep learning, you have to stay curious or you know, not only will it create roadblocks for you to move to advance in your career, you will get left behind if you don't. Alright, Karna, fun question for you that I love asking every guest that we have on the podcast, what's in your music rotation right now?
Karna Crawford 28:31
You know what, so I've listened to your podcasts and I knew this question was coming and I don't really feel like I have the best answer for you because right now I feel like I've just been listening to like old regular stuff. So I will tell you over the course the last, for instance, seven days, I've been trying to introduce my 14 year old nephew to the thing that is 90s r&b and hip hop. I should say 80s and 90s. He refuses to accept 90s r&b. He does not believe that New Edition is actually one of the greatest boy bands of all time.
Not one of them, THE greatest. (laughs)
Karna Crawford 29:11
He would not watch the New Edition movie on BET+ when I tried to, like he lasted 10 minutes and then he was out. So I will tell you, so since I was with him for his birthday over the course of the past weekend, I've been really trying to like hammer r&b and hip hop, real r&b and hip hop into his head and I really struggled.
Amazing. Amazing. Wow, I can't believe he's so resistant to it.
Especially New Edition.
Karna Crawford 29:41
But you know what, when I was his age, like you guys may take my card away from me for this but when I was his age, my mom would listen to like Luther Vandross and Shaday, what's another big one that they listened to, I can't remember but at the time when I was 14, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, you have got to be kidding me. Can we please listen to anything else?" I now, as an adult, appreciate it, but at his age, I was exactly about her music, my mom's music, as he is about ours. So I can't really fault him.
I hear you, but still tell them Uncle Erik and Uncle Kerel are not happy. (laughs)
I would just like to say that I was listening to some Shaday on the plane about four hours ago.
Karna Crawford 30:30
Oh wow. (laughs)
Timeless, timeless for me, it's timeless. Well, Karna, thanks so much for hanging out with us. And you definitely shared some amazing experiences from your life and also some great nuggets. So, a lot of times our listeners and viewers love to stay in touch or reach out, what are some ways that they can find you?
Karna Crawford 30:50
I think the best way to find me and ensure you're actually going to get a response is on LinkedIn. I am on IG, TikTok, Twitter, etc., but I use most of those more so for like social, like for my own personal life as opposed to business. So if I don't know you, I probably won't let you follow me, I probably won't get your message, etc.
Thanks so much Karna, thanks for hanging out with us again. And thanks everyone to listening to another episode of Minority Report Podcast. You can find more episodes and you can find all kinds of great, great folks like Karna and great insights just look for the logo and search Minority Report Podcast. Thanks.
Karna Crawford 31:34
Thanks for having me, guys.