Kenneth Lin, founder of Credit Karma, on bioluminescent plankton and traveling light

Ken with his wife, Serrie Singhasiri, and his kids, Brandon, 7, and Stella, 4.
Ken with his wife, Serrie Singhasiri, and his kids, Brandon, 7, and Stella, 4.Handout

Kenneth Lin, cofounder and CEO of San Francisco-based Credit Karma, has fond memories of the 10 years he spent in Boston — four of which were as a student at Boston University. “There are so many traditions, like on Patriots Day, for example, you have a Red Sox game being played, a marathon going on . . . what’s not to love about that?” Lin, 44, said. One thing he doesn’t miss about Boston? The cold weather. Lin is going to be the featured guest on a Sept. 9 BU alumni webinar, “Lessons learned: How Credit Karma’s Ken Lin built a billion-dollar brand.” Born in Guangzhou, China, Lin moved to Las Vegas when he was 4 years old and lived there until he moved to Boston for college. He lives in Oakland, Calif., with his wife, Serrie Singhasiri, and their two children, Brandon, 7, and Stella, 4. Lin said the webinar (in which he will be interviewed by John Byers, associate dean of the Faculty, Mathematical, and Computational Sciences at BU) will cover a variety of issues, including the many career paths one can take with a computer science degree, and how he would like to see more women and minorities in the field. “There are wonderful entrepreneurial aspects to technology these days. Technology is being redefined and that may not be on the radar of many students,” he said, adding that it is imperative that young people follow and focus on their passion. “Your major, your field of study, has to be something you enjoy, because when [life’s] curveballs come, you’re going to give up if it’s not a passion.” We caught up with Lin to talk about all things travel.

Favorite vacation destination?


I have a special affinity for Thailand. My wife is Thai; it was my first international trip I’ve ever taken, and it is ultimately where my wife and I got married. My favorite memory is from Phi-Phi Island. We had our ceremony on Phuket but invited our friends to join us for a few days on Phi-Phi Island. It should be noted that Phi-Phi Island has no roads. You can only travel by long tail boats operated by local gypsies. One night after dinner with our friends, we rented two long tail boats to head back to the hotel. It was a calm, warm night, the moon was out, and all you could hear was the hum of the long tail boats. When we put our hands in the water, it glowed from the bioluminescent plankton. Most importantly, we were experiencing this while surrounded by our closest friends and family.

Favorite food or drink while vacationing?


When vacationing, I always do two things: First, I have to try the local beer. Every country in the world seems to have their national beer. I love the fact that beer is so familiar and common — yet, it is unique and distinct from every beer that I have had from various regions. It really represents the people of the country. Secondly, I love to see the local culture. A good place to do that is in the local restaurants; I find the culture of a country is always on display at the non-tourist restaurants. We always make it a point to head off the beaten path and eat with the locals. We avoid places with English menus and try to survive on our ability to point at things we like, being polite and respectful, and just enjoying the atmosphere.


Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?

Lhasa, Tibet, has always been at the top of my list. We almost went before kids, but due to the sheer amount of planes, trains, and automobiles necessary, we couldn’t make it work. Now with young kids, it is even more complicated given the potential for altitude sickness. With that said, I’d love to someday experience the culture and the grandeur of being in the shadow of Everest.

One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?

There isn’t anything I must have. My wife and I once did an around-the-world trip with only carry-ons. We like to travel light. We’ve made a contest of who can bring the least amount of items. You can always spot us on vacation because we are mostly likely wearing the same thing we wore two days ago. We wash clothes in between days.

Aisle or window?

Window. You can only be hit by the beverage cart so many times before you learn.

Favorite childhood travel memory?

I grew up in Las Vegas so I have fond memories of the drive from Las Vegas to Yosemite. It is a quick destination with beautiful scenery all along the way. We used to do it a couple times a year as a family.

Guilty pleasure when traveling?


A points upgrade. There is nothing better than sitting in business class knowing you paid coach fares.

Best travel tip?

When you arrive at a destination and the taxi lines are long at the airport, head up to departures and get in a cab that just dropped someone off. You’ll save a ton of time for you and the cab driver.