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Why Wesabe Lost to Mint (precipice.org)
373 points by Concours on Oct 1, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 195 comments

He doesn't give the name element enough credit. It's huge. Mint is one of the two examples I give of best brand names ever.

Not kidding. Ever. Silk Soymilk is the other example I use.

Mint's a killer brand name, I think it'd be literally impossible to beat Mint on natural branding in personal finance, it's the most perfect name I could imagine. It has double, good meanings - "Mint" as in a place where coins/money are minted, and of course the plant/candy. Then the plant/candy is associated with being fresh, clean, safe, and it's colored green, again like money.

It's just genius. It's also only four letters, easy to remember, relevant, and they got the domain name for it. It's really, really good. The only other name so good is "silk soymilk", for basically all the same reasons. (soymilk -SoymILK - easy to remember, silk is clean/smooth/elegant/upscale, four letters, hard to forget, etc).

Seriously, Mint might be the best named/naturally branded online company ever. I'm not joking. If I ever had to do a lecture on naming and branding, I'd 100% for sure use Mint as an example.

(This is Marc, author of the linked post.)

I think people attribute success to a name because that fits the mental model people have for success: You just choose the right name! And then you win!

That's nonsense. Winning is a long series of decisions that have to go right far more often than not. I pulled out the decisions I thought really were critical and irreparable turning points -- hard decisions that required a lot of analysis and a lot of work to fulfill, both for us and for Mint.

You'd like to believe the name is all that matters because then the path to success is so short and so clear. It just isn't so. (And there are counterexamples galore that you're emphatically ignoring -- companies with fantastic names that never got anywhere.)

To be clear: they did have a better name. I say so in the article. But that's not enough to win.

> I pulled out the decisions I thought were really, critical and irreperable turning points -- hard decisions that required a lot of analysis and a lot of work to fulfill, both for us and for Mint.

Buying mint.com was a hard and critical decision for Mint - they paid $2 million for it in equity during their series A. I think you massively underestimate it as a reason they won. I think if the names are flipped - if your company was named mint.com, theirs wesabe.com, then quite possibly you win. I did enjoy the article a lot though and thought it was very honest and good reading and insightful. But maybe you underestimate the power of their name and branding? Mint might be the best naturally-branded website of all time (edit: maybe ask.com is better, which also proves that branding and name isn't everything). But that was a big advantage.

I thought the rest of your post was very good and insightful and I agree with a lot of it, but I do think you underestimated the name effect. It's big, it has a multiplier on everything - more press, more PR, more virality, more trust, more conversion, more desirability, more user retention, etc, etc, etc, etc.

> I think if the names are flipped - if your company was named mint.com, theirs wesabe.com, then quite possibly you win.

Whoa there, you're jumping to extreme, unsupported conclusions. No one disagrees that Mint's branding is great. But to count that as the main reason why they won? Even top 3-5 reasons? That flies in the face of the wisdom given by every successful startup veteran: it's all about execution. If Mint.com hadn't provided the instant gratification that got people talking, if they hadn't won TC50, if they hadn't spent heaps of money on marketing, they would have been dead in the water.

Don't get me wrong: branding is important. But if your product+marketing is inferior, you'll probably lose, and if it's superior, you'll overcome all but the most disastrous names. (Nobody knew what a googol was, most people still don't, and look who's running the show.) You're focusing on the name to such an extent that you're ignoring most of the factors that lead a business to success or death... it's like MBA guys who've never built a product in their lives, yet say things like, "Oh I'll just outsource it, it's not important." Yeah right.

Supporting evidence:

Two years back I tried Mint, Wesabe and the new Quicken online.

From those three sites, only Mint could retrieve data for my WellsFargo visa. So I stayed.

Quicken was the worse - they actually made changes to my account (for which WF notified me by email) and their support was basically useless when I asked them about it.

So, the name had almost nothing to do with my decision - if Wesabe had the same scrapper as Mint, things would have been different.

(I misspelled Wesabe twice while writing this post - so maybe the name does matter... but I still maintain that a working product matters more)

Until this post, I thought we were talking about the Mint linux distro.

Today I learned that people use a program called Mint for handling their finances. I would have expected, at least, a program called "Money".

That name would just get them sued by Microsoft.

> > I think if the names are flipped - if your company was named mint.com, theirs wesabe.com, then quite possibly you win.

> Whoa there, you're jumping to extreme, unsupported conclusions.

I never used wesabe, but assuming that the products were anything close in quality, the difference in naming/branding could've made the difference between winning and losing.

Yes, everything else matters too, but if you get even a small short term edge in press articles, signup, and customer retention due to naming, then it has a snowball effect on everything. Press begets more press, signup and happy customers begets positive word of mouth, and so on. It might've made the difference - it might not have, but it's not so crazy a thought.

You're also discounting the notion that competitors don't "execute". Even if you're not "executing" everything as well as your competitors, people will come back to an easy to remember name (easy to remember, spell, say, repeat, etc).

The name, imo, was/is a huge factor (as one of the OPs wrote) that I think helped snowball the other aspects of execution - being able to build on customer feedback - precisely because it was such an easy pass along name. Having loads of people come to your site gives you a lot of valuable info that a 'better executing' but poorly visited site doesn't get.

While I agree execution is important, it actually doesn't matter if no one can remember your products name or website. I could see how a name could break a company regardless of how good the product is. Why did I choose mint? Because it was the site that I actually remembered months after discovering it.

Replying to a (very good) counter argument with your original argument does not make your argument better nor does it bring the discussion forward. For my part, I'm very grateful to Marc for sharing his experience and thereby providing us with knowledge.

If the most important thing is getting people to start using a site, a weird name (sorry) is a definite barrier.

Imagine a website is behind a locked door, like a 1920s speakeasy. You have to hear, remember, then say (maybe even spell) a secret codeword to a grumpy doorman to enter. This is pretty much the user reality.

A startup could easily test domain name memorability using Mechanical Turk, I think, which would make this a far more objective exercise. Briefly show panel members a short list of websites and descriptions, then quiz them.

If you get your numbers from 30% to 60%, maybe paying a few thousand dollars for a domain name isn't so bad. I know many (myself included) still have a 1990s level of spite about paying for resold domains, but maybe we can get over that if it's quantified.

Finally, I'm not saying mint.com is necessarily worth two million dollars, but I quickly add that if it's worth two million dollars to anyone, it's to a financial-services startup.

mint.com was 2 million for the domain? Do you have a source for that? Is there a source for general cost of domain names owned by companies as of today?

Marc, I suspect writing an article like that might be kind of hard. Thanks for sharing your inside view.

Thanks. I'm naive - I thought it would mostly be of interest to friends and family. I was wrong, but I'm glad if it's helpful.

As a startup entrepreneur I think it's tremendously helpful. By the way, when you mentioned about the $1 user acquisition by Mint, I couldn't but help think of Andreessen Horowitz's (as championed by Ben)'s view of "fat" startups - "sometimes you got to eat" (his counterpoint against being "lean").

I know this is all speculation since it's already played out, but suppose you decided to outspend Mint and when they spent $1, you spent $2 per user. How do you think that would have changed things in the equation for you?

Very simple: if they had spent $2 per user, they would have run out of money faster. Their problem seemed to be that they didn't convert as well as Mint, for the reasons explained in the blog post. Spending more to get more traffic would have just emptied the savings faster. However, if you could make $2 of profit from each of those visitors, then yes, it would have been a game-changer. The problem wasn't spending more, it was converting enough people to make reasonable profits.

Marc, thanks for the post-mortem. We make the best decisions we can w/ the info we have at the time - this is definitely a useful piece for other founders to read. Hopefully airing things out like that serves an "expunging" purpose and helps you clear it and move on. Best of luck in whatever your next pursuit is.

This is possibly the single best blog post about entrepreneurship I've read in the last...I can't even remember. Thanks.

Agreed. Its fantastic to see someone publish such a raw inside account of how their startup failed so that others can learn from it.

I agree with Marc. Google is a mediocre name.

But it's a lot better than "Wesabe". "Wesabe" looks like "wasabi", which is completely irrelevant. (You can pull off irrelevance if you spell the name right--"Apple"? But misspelling plus irrelevance is pretty bad.) And I don't know how to pronounce it. How do I tell my friends about it? Google doesn't sound like anything (except "googol", which trivia buffs and nerds know is a large number but is otherwise unknown) and you know how to pronounce it, even before it got popular.

Not a lot better. Possibly no better. But certainly much worse than "Excite" or "Yahoo," whose lunches Google ate. That's my point here.

My point here is that "Google" attains a level of adequacy that "Wesabe" doesn't seem to, for the reasons I pointed out.

Past adequacy, I agree that "Google" was a worse brand than its competitors and that it didn't matter.

It sounds like goggles, and goggling - ie looking. It also means the large number 'googl' 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 - vast scale. It's not meaningless, and does relate to their product.

The google brand and message - with its single input box, and 'just search' focus was awesome.

Wesabe is a completely wrong name on so many levels for a financial company. Any decent branding consultant would have told them that.

Google sounds like goggles? I'm not sure I have heard someone suggest that, nor do 99% of Google users know about the mathematical significance of the name. I think it is a good name because it is simple, unique, easily spelled and the name of the best search engine for the last 10 years.

Pointing to Google is such a non-argument, in my opinion. What does it prove? That you can succeed with a mediocre name, not that picking a good brand doesn't matter. I don't like it when people say "Google does X, so it must be fine". Google is a much better name than Wesabe, anyway. Of course picking a good brand helps. Will it make or break your company? No.

What does it prove? That you can succeed with a mediocre name, not that picking a good brand doesn't matter.

That is what I intended it to prove.

I agree that brands are overrated (not with their complete irrelevance), but the Google argument doesn't prove anything. There is a huge difference in people's willingness to try a new search engine, compared to many other applications. Particularly when it comes to sites that deal with your money. That makes people conservative and want something recognizable.

> There is a huge difference in people's willingness to try a new search engine, compared to many other applications.

Sure people were willing to try new search engines... until Google came along and built a better one.

Point is, branding takes a back seat to product quality, and the companies in question were clearly leagues apart in terms of quality. If they were of a similar quality, or if instead of "Wesabe" it was called "xXxVirus39" you would have a point. But that's not the case, so you've got your work cut out for you if you want to make a convincing argument that the brand played a relatively significant role here.

In addition, let us remember that Google is a misspelling as well for "Googol".

I've never understood why people tend to bring this up. If anything it shows that the misspelling was a more natural way to transcribe that specific string of sounds. Perhaps had the person who registered the domain looked up the proper spelling, word-of-mouth marketing would've been impaired, and people might have generally had a tougher time spelling the name correctly in their address bar.

Frankly, it is enough to win.

I suspect that if Mint had executed poorly, they would still have gotten enough customers hanging around just due to the great name that they could have fixed it, recovered, and gone on to success.

Wesabe. I have no idea how to pronounce that. Wasabi? WI-SAYB? WI-SAY-BEE? WEEZ-A-BEE? What the fuck is that? That is the bottom 10% of possible company names. Bottom 5%. It's awful. No one can pronounce it, no one can spell it, and it bears no relation whatsoever to personal finance.

When one company is being boosted by their name every day, and the other is dragging a giant anchor behind them...

how did YOU think wesabe should be pronounced? I pronounce it like it was spanglish. "we" like in english "sabe" sa (sayonara) be (better) sabe = "know" in spanish

follow up comment. I signed up for wesabe EARLY on, but didn't get what it was supposed to do. none of my friends could easily explain it to me "its supposed to help save money" whereas mint was VERY clear on its value proposition early on. great post btw, commendable to write a post-mortem like that.

This is an amazing post. Thanks for laying out your version of the story which I feel is definitely more accurate.

Why did you not decide to not pursue Wesabe for the long term ?

As I understand, Mind did well in some places like immidiate gratification but was bad in accurately aggregating financial statistics. You could have reworked your UI to provide the immidiate gratification and over time also made a more robust aggregator.

Also, the fact as you state is that Mint/Wesabe both did not really make a dent in the market. Additionally, the fact that Mint has got acquired, most likely they never will. It is extremely unlikely that Mint after being acquired will be able to keep pace with Wesabe. More so the fact that you guys had substantial revenue , you could have cut the fat and dumbed down for a long haul easily.

Hi Mark,

Good article, thank you for that. What exactly is 'Wesabe' and how did you come to that name? Is there a worthwhile backstory to it? What other names were on the whiteboard before you settled on Wesabe?

Were you the first owner of the domain in April of 06 according to archive.org, or did you have to negotiate the domain name from someone else?

Do you think there is value in the name being a zero hit on a google search? In other words, invent a word entirely, making sure that at least for your company/product name, regarding the domain name space, you have a complete monopoly on the name.


I agree with both the fact that Mint is a great name and also that it's not a determining factor of success. But especially in this case, it played a bigger part than normal. "Mint.com" instills a lot more trust than WeSabe - clearly, money was spent on the domain "mint.com", and people understand that. WeSabe could be a fly-by-night operation, and when the biggest hurdle is the trust issue (this is your bank login!), you need EVERY advantage you can get for people to trust you - so design and domain name are a huge element.

Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed your article and learned from it, esp the part where you guys did not use Yodlee and Mint did.

Your article has made me rethink a part of a product I am developing with regards to useability.

Yeah, a name like mint.com has a truckload of authority, while wesabe sounds like some foodie's blog.

"I think the examples of Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google, and plenty of others make it plain that even ludicrous names (as all of those were thought to be when the companies launched) can go on to be great brands. "

None of those names are "ludicrous", nor were they when they started. They don't have much to do with their function, but as names go, they're solid. All of them are spelled the way a normal person would guess (even google is more guessable than googol), which adds a little functional value, but more importantly adds to comfort and trust.

All else being equal, would you be more likely to entrust financial access to mint.com or myntt.com?

'Wesabe' sounds like a foodie's blog... if you know what 'wasabi' is, in which case you might think the spelling should be 'wesabi'. If the 'wasabi' connotation isn't triggered, you might think the 'a' is long and 'e' silent, 'we-sayb'.

'Wesabe' is a passable name for something mostly discovered by reading or direct links, but a big drop from 'Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google' (for syllables/familiarity/multiple ways to pronounce&spell), and each of those is one notch below 'Mint'.

Without the wasabi reference point, it looks like the beginning of a sentence in Gungan. As in, "Wesabe watchin' your monies!"

One reason Mint left me with a bad taste as a brand was that Shaun Inman had been using the same name for his analytics webapp for at least a year (at haveamint.com). The duplication felt tacky, to say the least.

I actually was quite confused about this when I started hearing about the 2nd mint.

If name alone could carry a company, sex.com would be a billion-dollar business.

"Sex.com was sold to Escom in January 2006 for a reported $14 million price, widely cited as the highest priced domain sale in history. [1]"

Apparently it's up for sale again, so perhaps it's not worth quite that much...

[1] http://techcrunch.com/2010/07/01/sex-com-sedo/

So clearly it's not a billion dollar business.

Common words don't do well as names when they are words that describe exactly what the company does. Common words can be better used when they have nothing to do with what the company does.

For example, Apple is a much better name for a computer company than "Computer", would be. Same Amazon is much better for an online bookstore, than "Bookstore.com" would be.

The reason they are better is because they can be uniquely associated with that company. How many Apple companies are there that sell computers? How many Amazon's that sell books?

They use a common word to actually turn it into an unique one.

Sex.com like names are usually highly valued as domains because of the perception people have on them, thinking that a name so descriptive MUST be valueable as a brand.

It's actually absolutely worthless as a brand name, and if you follow the track records of the companies that have used domain names like that you'll see that most of them have failed. Sure it might help a little bit with SEO, but that benefit is not nearly enough to compensate for how bad a brand like that is and how easily people will forget it.

As for what Marc said, I agree with the fact that their approach was not about the automation is probably the biggest factor in their eventual failure. However, the Wesabe name did create some friction as opposed to Mint.

When you have a bad name is like trying to drive a car with your foot slightly pressing on the break pedal. No matter how fast your car (product) is, your speed will still be dramatically reduced.

I was being facetious, but I do partly agree with you. A bad name does hurt. Wesabe isn't a good name; it comes off as syllable salad. Mint is a much better name.

On the other hand, plenty of successful companies have terrible names. 'Google' is just as bad as 'Wesabe' - and Google's early adopters had to find them without access to a good search engine! I'm sure that Wesabe could have succeeded in spite of their name if their product had been competitive.

> How many Amazon's that sell books?

Maybe. I always thought the connection is that they cut down the Amazon rain-forest to make and sell high-quality books.

There was a stock trading startup with the domain trade.com (this was 10 years ago, when day trading was en vogue and E-Trade was going to put Schwab and Merrill Lynch out of business, etc.).

They also spent a lot of money acquiring the domain, thinking it was perfect.

But they executed poorly, and was gone in a few years.

The name is such a small part of it.

Until this comment I exclusively associated it with the plant and thought it was retarded (other than being short) name for a finance app. [disclosure: I often miss the blindingly obvious]

I used mint cause coworker raved about it and when I tried it the UI was slick and it auto catergorized my purchases with 95+% accuracy.

I know there are counter examples like Yahoo and Google that don't impact their name but I also have to mention

flickr Dropbox (good name) didn't even own their own domain name for a long time.

The name has a valid impact, but it's not make it or break it. The people who saying "oh man if you switched names you would be ahead" are putting way too much into a name and not enough into a product.

Mint always reminded me of those little Andes mints. Who thinks of money in terms of a "mint"? My Grandpa?

Especially because mint is about physical currency/coinage, not about electronic transactions.

It is however short and memorable.

Apart from the fact that Mint is a credit card company in the UK and hold the top google result as well as Mint.co.uk

I don't think the developers of a personal finance app targeted at US consumers is too worried about UK consumers that don't monitor their finances in US$ and won't use any of the US financial services they profit from recommending. The cost of having to rebrand if they ever decide to launch localised versions for other countries is outweighed by the strength of the brand in the domestic market where the rich pickings are available.

- Despite it's huge popularity and domain mint.com is down on page four of a google.co.uk search for "mint" which suggests Google has done a good job of realising how useless it is for Brits. I suspect that UK service comparison site confused.com (another brilliant domain-based brand) doesn't rank too well in the US version of Google either...

Something about Mint struck me as refreshing; I thought it was mostly their home page design because I always thought their name a little generic. But you're completely right -- it's a great name and their website design really reinforces the feelings associated with the plant.

I'd love to hear what you think makes a really good name. What about playful-type/kinda-made-up names like Google and Yahoo and Reddit?

I spend a lot of time starting up new projects, so I'm always looking for good names and it'd be cool to hear what you think, since you obviously spend a bit of time thinking about this sort of thing.

Recently I was thinking about starting a lesson sharing site for teachers called Lessonauts. It's a silly name, I know, but it stuck in my head. I also considered LessonNotes, Educape, and ShareLesson.

Let me tell you, choosing "historio.us" as the name was a bad decision (for two reasons). People are surprised by the extension and it takes some explaining to get them to spell it as ".us" (here, something like historious.net would help a lot), and they always spell it "historius". We might just rename it to historius and redirect to historius.com just to get rid of all the hassle...

The moral of the story is that you should try to minimise homophones of your name, so "lessonauts" would basically be impossible to tell people, they would parse it as "lessonnauts", "lessonnotes", "lessonotes", etc etc. Unambiguity is a big advantage.

You made me laugh as I setup breadandcirc.us and had the same sort of issues you highlights. I also own the name ben.to - which I've been considering for use on a company I'm working on, but I have that same concern. Opinions?

After my experience with historious, I wouldn't do it. People are just not used to it, they can't parse "historio dot us". They expect a ".com" or something, so they might even mangle it as "historiodotus.com".

There also seems to be great resistance in parsing "historio". "ben dot to" might do better in that regard, but "bento.com" would always win because people are just used to it.

Thought I might leave this feedback even if I am an odd one out in the case you might be interested. But the first way I read that was Less 'O N(a)uts.

Mint is a great name agreed but what's the actual impact? 5%? 10%? 50%? Possibly not even 5%

> Mint is a great name agreed but what's the actual impact? 5%? 10%? 50%? Possibly not even 5%

Impossible to measure that, because you can't do controlled experiments. But if you're asking, "Why did Mint make the first blockbuster web-based personal finance product?" I think you'd have to have their name/branding in the top 3-5 reasons.

Edit: But if you put a gun to my head and demand that I guess - then 35%. Totally arbitrary, but that's: The increased signup/conversion rate, increased trust, increased media/PR, increased word of mouth, and increased prestige/exposure/desirability for acquisition. I think it produces huge benefits in all of those areas.

So you think a startup's 35% of success is based on their name?

He thinks 35% of Mint's success was based on their name. That is exactly what he said and it seems like you're trying really hard to lay out some flame bait.

He said the 35% was completely out the top of his head. That is a guess. He has little information and really what he is basing such guess is on his opinion that the name has such a great effect as to count towards 35% of the success, which, no offence to lionheart whatever because he is an esteemed contributor and I really like his comments, is ridiculous.

The name might and does have some advantages, especially if it is short and relatively easy to remember, but the 35% should possibly go towards the two things mentioned, that is design, and user experience in filling in the form, 20% possibly marketing and the name would at best have a 5% effect.

Yes, and they made great use of it.

But if they hadn't backed it up with good design and instant gratification, they wouldn't have gained traction.

I also disagree with his downplaying of the importance of branding and design. I definitely remember stumbling across Wesabe a few years ago when I was starting my first job and looking for a personal finance tool on the web. One look at Wesabe made me hit the back button. First, the name was strange and foreign. I didn't know how to pronounce it. Second, the logo (which is the same today, apparently) uses thick, bold strokes that just made it seem less like a legitimate finance product. I don't think I ever made it past a few pages on the Wesabe site before abandoning it.

Mint, on the other hand, had a very direct value proposition to me. As soon as I hit the landing page, I instantly knew what they were offering. The design was pretty, colors were soothing, and the font made me want to read the copy. It was good enough for me to get through the signup process, even though I eventually balked when they asked for bank account login information.

If my experience is anything like anyone else's, I can imagine Wesabe having lost many, many potential customers simply by virtue of having a less desirable site. Even right now, as I look at their current logo, I feel the same way. It's one case where a log actually significantly turns me off towards a service.

The post talked about product design flaws as the second biggest contributing factor to Wesabe failures. I think aesthetics and branding need to be grouped into that. If the appearance of a product isn't good enough to draw potential customers past the landing page, then the design is the bottleneck and the biggest culprit, bar none.

A websites name is extremely important. Anyone that doesn't think that has never started a company. It needs to be simple, easy to say, easy to spell, and unique/meaningful.

Take eBay. This name actually has nothing to do with Auctions if you have ever read about where it came from, but it is perfect because it is unique, easy to say/spell, and brandable.

Don't underestimate a good name, it is an absolute necessity now with all the millions of websites out there.

I agree with many of the other respondents that you are grossly overstating the role the names played. Additionally, while I agree wholeheartedly that "Mint" is the better name, when considering the role the company names played (however large or small) in the eventual outcome, I think one needs to weigh Wesabe's poor choice of name at least as equally significant as Mint's good choice if not much more.

Its also very hard to misspell.

Having an appealing brand name is a part of the way a company positions and messages itself to potential customers, but I wouldn't isolate a brand's catchiness to the detriment of a conversation about marketing. Positioning/messaging is tied to sales, but URL choice was just one of Wesabe's marketing failures.

Great name, but 0 impact on their success.

You have to check out this website I used to manage my personal finances, I think you'd love it.

- What's it called

We-...we-seebe? Wasawbe?

- How's that spelled?


You have to check out this website I used to manage my personal finances, I think you'd love it.

- What's it called


As opposed to Google? I'm pretty sure everyone has spelled it gogle at one point. Whereas Ask.com is the possibly the best domain name in the world for the search business.

There's a word that describes this process: friction. Mint, the name, the website, and flawless yodlee integration, completely eliminates friction. Most importantly, it eliminates viral friction. A web savvy person will seek and find out any name, but telling my grandmother over the phone, in a rush? No way in hell she'd ever remember wasabe.

I don't think the name is that great, to be honest. Not a native speaker, though.

I had to hear the name several times before I could remember that it is a company related to money management.

Wesabe is just extremely bad, though. I keep thinking it might be the scripting language of FogBugz, which is probably horrible (as most proprietary computer things are).

Didn't they spend a huge % of their initial money on the name?

I agree the name matters a lot. Good names are really hard. I write down company names all the time, and have a list of well over 100. The hard part is also getting one that can translate to an affordable domain name.

A perfect company name may have to be rejected because the domain name is unavailable. While all domain names are available, for a price, it may be better to use a different name if you feel new competition could pick up your ideal domain name because it is out of budget.

There is also the issue of the founder realizing that the name is not as good as a competitor. At that point, it is game over, as you will never be able to mentally think about your own business in a way you are 100% passionate, and it will show.

When you are the only kid on the block, any name will do, and you have the advantage of first to market. Sometimes #2 comes along with a better name, and side steps every mistake you made because they had a chance to watch your mistakes. At that point, having the stronger name is going to be very important.

I remember Mint, Silk, WordPress, and a several others immediately. Those names are simple to remember. Those are great names to start with, and it is a huge advantage for a user who is told a website they will need to remember.

Company names that evolve into a brand, must be a brand that is significantly more worthwhile to the user. It is hard to build a brand; much easier to start with a good name, and the brand building may build itself.

Wikipedia used to scream out to me as a terrible name. I can't think of a better name any longer, as it has been branded, signed, sealed, and delivered. Amazon was another I thought was terrible, and MySpace, was on my list at the top of my list. Then again, I discounted MySpace as a stupid idea. Repetition and time can fix anything, determining if you can afford that time is the rub.

Wikipedia had lots of time. They are a non profit, and a large scale idea. Not many will come to compete with something that large, and it is even harder to compete with non profit. This is another factor to consider when naming. Wikipedia could afford to be much more idealistic about their name.

Mahalo is one of the worst currently in my book. I have heard it was not a cheap domain to buy, and Calacanis loves it, believing it is a great name. That alone is worth a lot, that he loves it and believes in it. I think the name sucks, it tells me nothing, is hard to spell for some, and in general, has no relevance at all to the product or service.

Company names are indeed a challenge, and a very important one at that. It would be a very interesting article to read about the process of company naming from the likes of Amazon, eBay, Flickr, Delicious, MySpace, FaceBook, Digg, Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp, Bing, and all the rest of the big guns.

Nor does he seem to understand the difference design can make. He hints that he understands, but I don't think he really gets just how much of a difference the stunning first impression of Mint made. It's like the difference between meeting your favorite actress, and meeting some b-list reality star like Paris or Snooki.

Per your assertion, I think Nike (greek goddess of victory) is the best brand name of all time, and Apple would be second. But Mint is definitely right up there.

Wow, I'm a native greek speaker and I never made the connection Nike -> Νίκη; they're pronounced completely differently.

I think you mean that _you_ pronounce them differently. I've heard 'Nike' pronounced in more ways than any other brand name; I myself pronounce it in at least two different ways.

Really? I've only ever heard it pronounced to rhyme with "mikey". What other variants have you hears?

In a number of countries I've heard it pronounced to rhyme with "Mike."

Ironically enough, that's the way it's pronounced in Greece.

Really? I can understand different people having different pronunciations, but you have two yourself? Based on your mood or something?

Hi, I was one of the early Mint.com product guys.

I just want to say thanks to Marc for sharing this. I know how difficult it is to be objective in a post-mortem analysis, and I think your post is a very balanced (and dignified) assessment.

There's one more important differentiator, however, that hasn't been discussed yet and which pre-empts a lot of this commentary, that I thought I'd share: Mint intentionally targeted a different market.

Most consumer spending in the US is managed by middle aged men and women that are not especially financially nor technically savvy. It was our view that previous personal finance solutions (Quicken, MS Money, and the following web-based solutions) catered more towards the technically/financially proficient, and had therefore missed the larger market opportunity.

So we tried our best to ignore the Silicon Valley drivel around "viral distribution" and "cloud security" and focus instead on issues like "How can we make it easier for a soccer Mom in Kansas to set and meet her monthly grocery budget?".

The Mint brand (including the name, visuals, and user experience) were all designed with this in Mind. They were definitely supportive, as Marc correctly points out, but in no way were they determinate.

I think Mint and Wesabe were both strong products that served their users' needs well. We just happened to target different users, and ultimately there were more of ours.

The essential point seems to be that Mint was easier for users. This is something we constantly emphasize at YC. You care a lot about your startup. You have no idea how little a potential user cares. So you can't let the activation energy be high.

Plus users are mostly not programmers. They're terrified by software. Most software they've tried in their lives has caused them pain, either by not working right or by being incomprehensible (which are indistinguishable to the victim).

So imagine you're designing your app for someone who's both apathetic and cringing with fear at the same time. You cannot make it too easy. If there's something you can do that will take a week and make your app 1% easier to start using, it's worth doing.

Your reasoning can be applied on a micro level also, comparing the name mint to wesabe. The former is unquestionably easier to remember, type, and tell friends. Is it worth spending a lot of money to get a premium domain? The question sounds very similar to asking 'how much effort should I spend making 1% improvements in usability?'.

One of my friends spent (from what I heard) over 200K for a very good domain. It seems wasteful on one hand, but on the other hand they must get a lot of credibility because of it.

I know the dude himself says it wasn't the domain name that killed it, but I was a wesabe user and I too can tell you the founder's assessment was spot on - financial data import was too tricky with wesabe. And I tell you as someone who did NOT jump to mint as a result - I admired the morals ("noble purpose") that wesabe had, and when I couldn't really get it to work for me, I just gave up on that kind of product.

The sad thing is, and I know this is easy to say in retrospect, was that if they had polled their users at the time, especially ones like me that spent some time on the system and then faded away, I would have told them that was my showstopper (though granted by that point it was probably too late to change their whole business approach).

Depends on the situation and the name. I can't imagine many situations where it would be worth paying 200k. You can get good enough names for free usually, or at most 10k. It just takes some ingenuity.

Perhaps, but most high-priced domains will retain a significant chunk of their value if not appreciate over time. In the worst case, you resell it.

Interesting point. For most startups though the opportunity cost of having that cash tied up is a problem.

This is a really good article and it does cover a few things that were probably factors, but I remember looking at both Wesabe and Mint back when they were both new and I chose Mint for two reasons:

1. The design was better, which made me feel more comfortable about handing over my data (Mint's designer Jason Purtorti talks about this here: http://vimeo.com/15066599)

2. Mint seemed more focused on being a really simple-to-use webapp to analyze my finances, whereas Wesabe's messaging indicated that they were trying to leverage the wisdom of crowds to help people make better financial decisions. I don't want the crowd analyzing or managing my finances, and it wasn't clear at a glance how their goal could be accomplished while protecting my privacy.

Also, as he mentions regarding the Yodlee thing, Wesabe had a "download this application and it'll retrieve your bank data" thing, but Mint just worked with thousands of financial institutions, and that seemed much easier and more reliable.

Regardless, this was a great blog post and I wish we could see more introspective posts like this when ventures don't work out the way the founders hoped.

Mint focused on making the user do almost no work at all...Their approach completely kicked our approach's ass...Changing people's behavior is really hard

Hmmm, reminds me of an old saying, "When in doubt, leave it out." Now I'm going back to all my forms and mockups, wondering if there's anything else that can be removed. Short attention spans, human nature, and plain old laziness make "Keep It Simple Stupid" more relevant than ever.

A domain name doesn't win you a market; launching second or fifth or tenth doesn't lose you a market. You can't blame your competitors or your board or the lack of or excess of investment. Focus on what really matters: making users happy with your product as quickly as you can, and helping them as much as you can after that. If you do those better than anyone else out there you'll win.

Bulletin board material. Front and center. (I really should be spending more time writing code and less worrying about the market or reading Hacker News.)

[EDIT: We complain a lot here about "survivor bias". This is an excellent post and a great counterexample with much to be learned. Wesabe may have lost, but AFAIC, Marc is most definitely a winner.]

I really should be spending more time writing code and less worrying about the market or reading Hacker News.

I couldn't disagree more. Worrying about your market is how you know what to code. I think the number of startups who fail because they don't get sales, marketing, and product-market fit outnumber those who fail because they didn't write enough code or good enough code 100:1.

Worrying about your market is how you know what to code.

You're absolutely right, Ryan, in theory all the time and in practice most of the time. But there are exceptions...

OP is an exception. When it came to understanding his market and satisfying their needs he did so many things right and still got his ass kicked. By someone who "dumbed it down".

I can't tell you how many times I've beaten enterprisey competitors with teams of marketing and domain experts because the customer understood my simple offering over their complex one.

I really hate that old Henry Ford quote, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said 'faster horses,'" but there's a grain of truth in it. At some point, you just gotta stop asking everyone what they think, say "fuck it", build what you think is right, get it out there, and find out for real. I believe I'm at that point, that's all. Whether others think they're also at that point is for them to decide for themselves.

What I take from the Henry Ford quote is that you shouldn't ask people what your core business or product should be. However once you know what it is you should absolutely talk to them to improve it.

Fair enough; I understand that there are a variety of cases, and I was responding to what I perceived when I read it as a general statement, rather than a self-assessment of your particular situation.

because the customer understood my simple offering over their complex one

This is a good example of a better product-market fit. My problem is that I have a tendency to do what a lot of hacker-entrepreneurs do: hack. But that's often not what's most needed.

I talked about both of these needs in a post in 2006, when I was wrestling with exactly these issues:


I looked at both Wesabe and Mint when trying to decide on a aggregation service. I ended up choosing Mint.

- Mint was easy to remember, and easy to spell. Wesabe was neither. I often typoed the name as "wasabi"

- Mint didn't make me do any real work. Wesabe made me do all the work.

- Mint felt private. Wesabe wanted me to work with "the crowd" of other users

- Mint was simple and beautiful. Wesabe looked rough around the edges

So I went with Mint.

This is the most important comment in this thread. Wesabe should have listened to potential customers like you without being defensive of their offering and adjusted UX/positioning/messaging accordingly.

This "Myth": Mint's design, while definitely very appealing and definitely a factor in getting people to trust the company, doesn't seem to me to be enough to explain the different outcomes,

Is contradicted by this: Second, Mint focused on making the user do almost no work at all, by automatically editing and categorizing their data, reducing the number of fields in their signup form, and giving them immediate gratification as soon as they possibly could

UX design isn't just pretty pictures - which is why its now called "user experience" as opposed to "user interface" now.

I think a lot of people dismiss ux considerations because they think its just the part of the site thats "pretty" and its not.

(This is Marc, the author of the linked post.)

You're right, I both credited and dismissed a very large category with the word "design." In my view some people believe that it was just the visual appeal of Mint's site that did us in. In my view that helped them but not enough to kill us. I do think that we spent our usability effort (as I say in the post) in the wrong place, making editing, for instance, easy, instead of making editing totally optional.

Too bad you did not have the funds to continue, I thought it was pretty a useful service.

You're conflating design with UI and UX.

I think the point was that being prettier alone wouldn't have won Mint the war, but being way more usable totally did. If you stripped the pretty colors, backgrounds and images from both products, the user experience for Mint is still miles better than Wesabe's was, and that is the difference.

I'm actually (it looks poorly) trying to not conflate UI and UX. I'm trying to say that design is the entire experience both the UX and UI.

Oh, in that case, I respectfully disagree. To me, the 'visual design' of a site is what it looks like in Photoshop, or Gimp, or what have you, before it is even necessarily sliced into even HTML bits.

Once it is sliced into HTML, and the mouseovers, hover elements and all that jazz are added (or not, depending on your workflow), that's when I consider it a 'UI' instead of a 'design'.

Before either of those happens, you need to have at least given consideration to your 'UX', which is a concept encompassing movement between functions, what goes where, how you move from page to page, what glows or fades when you hover / click / etc., and all that jazz.

Perhaps I'm the idiot here, and I'm segregating the concepts unnecessarily, but I don't feel like I am, though I'm sure my explanation here is poor (sorry -- pressed for time).

You're wrong. Design is the graphics and user experience taken together. Most companies still have a designer that designs both UI (graphic element style and placement) and UX (dictation of frontend behavior).

You may still have a good UX not because of a designer, but because of business or engineering.

Whether you collect something or not in the first place is a business need. UX is almost always taken into consideration here (will the user give us this information).

Whether or not one automates something factors in UX. However, being able to automate something is often in the hands of engineers.

All these (and more, I'm sure) affect the UX.

Design makes a better verb than a noun.

I think he talked about aesthetics in the first case.

Yeah but I think its a mistake to try to distinguish between aesthetics and user experience when its being done as a single discipline.

I agree the design was a critical piece of Mint's victory.

So how does a startup find a designer who's THAT good vs. just PRETTY good?

To me, the larger story is about risk. A lot of people here, if directed to build a personal finance startup, would go about it in much the same way that Wesabe did. Launch early, attempt to build a community of enthusiasts, and grow the site organically (through word of mouth) as opposed to advertising. This is the time-honored way, and a lot of startups have succeeded by it.

What did Patser do? He went and dropped $2 million on the domain name before he even had a single user, and then inked a sweetheart deal with Yodlee to gain an overnight technical advantage on the competition. He spent money on advertising, artwork, and design. (Interestingly, the claim that Mint spent $1/user conflicts with something I read earlier: http://www.slate.com/id/2228846/. Not sure where the truth lay.)

He did everything that the 37 Signals / MVP crowd says you shouldn't. I'm not criticizing, but in their pursuit of instant profitability / dislike of VC money, they sometimes seem to lose sight of the value of gambling big. Patser took risks, and the market rewarded him for it.

Is that about risk then? Or is it about the advantage of being the guy with $2million in his pocket to drop on the business before he even starts, and the connections to get the sweetheart deal with Yodlee?

I don't know anything about the guy other than what I have read, but nothing I have read suggests to me that a) he started out rich or b) he had any sort of insider connection to Yodlee. (TFA plainly states that they could have gone the Yodlee route first, but chose not to.)

He just strikes me as someone who is a smart businessman, better at it than your average hacker.

That is incorrect. Patzer offered stock in his company to the previous holder of the mint.com domain, which ended up being very lucrative.

I LOVED the wesabe downloadable data import client. The fact that I didn't have to fork over the login credentials to my financial accounts was a huge win & what kept me away from Mint until wesabe closed. But clearly this was not an issue for most people and hence why the simplicity of the yodlee backed solution ultimately won.

Wesabe did one very interesting thing when they launched which was that the CEO had open office hours when you could call and talk to him. They were one of the first "Web 2.0" companies to do this. I think they stopped this at some point, but I always loved the concept.

Handing over bank usernames and passwords in order to use Mint was the one thing I thought would be a barrier for Mint compared to Wesabe, esp. since for my banks I can't provide one (limited) credential for Mint while keeping one for myself. It's interesting that a tool like Mint, which is designed to empower people with control over their finances, asks people to give up control over their financial information and most people seem to be OK with that.

Same. As an aside, does anyone know any banks that do offer this? It seems like a no-brainer to me to allow users a set of read-only credentials for online account access.

A lot of banks offer OFX access, it's what stuff like Money and Quicken talk to. It's mostly read only, although I think there are a couple of banks that can do bill pay over OFX. This is pretty common knowledge if you're writing this kind of software.

Some vendors, like Ameritrade use different credentials for OFX.

Mint/Yodlee asked for front door passwords and security answers that give them the ability to trade securities and empty my account, rather than the OFX id/pin that would give them access to a standard API to retrieve transactions and balances. This made me seriously doubt their competence, and I never became a customer.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Financial_Exchange for details.

I don't know of any many trusted services, but I actually use Bank of America's tools to do the online budgeting thing. They built it into the site pretty well.

I liked Wesabe's approach to my data, period. Wesabe let me export my all of my data, and even provided an API for it. Mint, last time I used it (a long time) did not.

Thank you Marc for your insightful article. It must stung like the beejesus to work so hard and still get your head handed to you. It seems like your decisions were guided by your high-mindedness, believe in the best in the people, for the people, for example: people should work and understand closely their financial data. Betcha learned people are f@!#$%ing sloth, eh? Perhaps this is a case of self-project yourself onto your target market, then finds out that people are not like you at all, because if they were, they'd get off their asses and start a company, change the world or something like that :)

I tried wesabe and mint. Mint was easier to use. However, now that you explained a little bit about your Yodlee decision, I can sympathize w/ your conclusion. It turns out to be strategically deadly wrong but given your high-mindedness, don't beat yourself up too much. You can always take comfort in the fact that you were not "Webvan" :).

To get websabe to where it was, you must have made a number of "right" decisions also so you should reviews those too. You'll be back, I'm sure, and we look forward to your next venture. good luck.

ps. do consider the whole user-experience next time. pps. I ditched mint and went back to quicken for better control of my data and mint haven't got the cash account feature to fully work yet.

The key lesson seems to be that ease-of-use is of absolutely paramount importance. Maybe this can even be expressed in mathematical terms: you can't just look at the "raw value" provided by a service, you have to look at the ratio of value received to time and effort invested.

Maybe I'm just ignorant but I never even heard of Wesabe until this HN post. I've been an unhappy Mint user for years though (I still argue Mint is nowhere near as good as Microsoft Money was).

So if I'm representative of "average people", then lack of marketing may have been a folly too.

I'm in the same boat as you. I'm a happy Mint user and had never, ever heard of Wesabe.

Yes, this is equivalent to the statement "Mint succeeded and Wesabe failed", and not the reason it did.

Mint reached probably an order-magnitude more people ultimately, so it isn't surprising that most of us haven't heard of wesabe.

I disagree. I see mint reaching that "more people" as the reason why it succeeded, not a side effect

From the article: When we talked to Yodlee in 2006, the company was crumbling, having failed to get acquired and losing executives. They were also very aggressive in negotiation, telling us they would give us six months' service nearly free and then tell us the final price we'd be charged going forward. --

This is pretty disturbing to me. It seems what Marc and Wesabe did was the right thing to do to not trust Yodlee HOWEVER, it also appears that the user doesn't care a damn.

How do you handle such situations?

You weigh the cost/risk of dealing with Yodlee against making it yourself. Marc seems to have used a usually sound heuristic - I don't trust these people, I don't want to bother working with them. Personally, I would have agreed - a partner that's an aggressive negotiator with high executive turnover can end up being an enormous liability in more ways than one. Better avoid them.

But heuristics are by definition imperfect. If Yodlee really gave Mint as much momentum as Marc thinks they did, this might have been an exception to the rule.

It seems like making a bad decision was key to Mint's success. They built their service so that it relied on the existence of an insolvent, unstable company and got lucky. Yodlee didn't implode, so their shortcut paid off.

The one thing to resonate with me the most is "No one, in my view, solved the financial problems of consumers."

Marc is right. Financial literacy is a huge problem for a country that's supposed to be the richest in the world. How do we teach people the importance of personal finance management or change their spending habits? We teach all sorts of things in school except this.

Personally, I have been on a campaign for the last 9 months to teach people about the importance of planning, budgeting and saving. It's been difficult convincing people that they should think about their future. Even when I'm sitting down at the kitchen table face to face, it is difficult to establish the reasoning why they should care in the first place.

There are 4 types of people I encounter with the most:

1. I don't know how to take care of my finances and I don't care about my future.

2. I do know that it is important, but everything is going to be okay even I remain ignorant.

3. I don't know, but I would like to learn more, but don't know how.

4. I know some, I think I have a good idea, but still want to learn more, but don't have somebody to turn to.

The common problem between all of them:

1. Most people don't know WHY they should care about their personal finance.

2. Most people don't know where to get trust worthy information to help them or have access to professionals.

I have been trying to solve these problems with one family at a time. If you can do the same with power of reach through the internet, it would be golden.

Excellent, clear thinking; thank you for this analysis. I wanted to ask more about:

we both totally failed at... actually helping people.

Changing people's behavior is really hard.

Yes, but it seemed to me -- and this post confirms -- that Wesabe was genuinely thinking about this problem of how to get people to change behavior, to improve their lives. Mint seemed (and still seems) to have a much lower ambition in this respect.

Question #1: Was Wesabe actively engaging in experiments in how to help people/change behavior? I know the support community did help some people, but it sounds from your post that in its existing form it didn't do something palpably different from what people would do on their own. So it seems that Wesabe ought to have been building as many experiments as possible, hoping for something that seemed (at least anecdotally, at first) to help some subset of users above-and-beyond what they were able to do elsewhere.

I suspect Wesabe was running some experiments but too few. If that's true, what prevented those experiments from happening? Infrastructure work/scaling challenges/security concerns? Was the employee or user count too high to efficiently run experiments?

Question #2: If Wesabe was running a good number of experiments, why was Wesabe unable to secure investment for a longer runway of more experiments? After fixing the Yodlee problem (which I agree was a major problem), Wesabe seemed well positioned to lead in experiments to change behavior. The space still seems enormously ripe for innovation. So why did new funding not happen? Was Mint's success demotivating? Was the timing bad, given the economic downturn?

I was previously the system architect for a financial institution who attempted to use Wesabe's PFM integration in their website.

I had some exchanges with Marc and he was great and helpful. I was taking a big risk on signing up with Wesabe so I conviced my superiors to give me one month to set it up, and a second month to run an internal pilot and then decide if we would launch the PFM integration to all customers.

Unfortunately we ran into some issues, that were minor in my mind, but my employer being in the financial services industry they have a very low tolerance for risk when working with customer's financial data, so they called off the Wesabe integration within two weeks into the first month.

This was for the enterprise Wesabe product, mind you, and was around six months ago so I guess Wesabe was already in its last run anyway, but I guess not having a stable enough MVP for their enterprise customers might not have helped much.

I wish you great success in your next endeavor, precipice!

Oh, shoot I just made a comment about this. I was suggesting if they had focused squarely on enterprise earlier, they might have been fine.

Do you think a future finance aggregation tool, that was focused entirely on enterprise (with subsequent accountability), would have had a better chance of success?

So many smaller banks have online banking that is lacking, I'm always frustrated that there aren't more companies trying to make that experience better.

That's actually what BankSimple is trying to solve, right?

The problem with enterprise is, like I said, they have so many regulations and tight tolerances, they are not very startup friendly.

However, if Wesabe was bought by Intuit and in turn Intuit offered exactly the same product that Wesabe already had, the banks would easily pay $10,000 a month for it just based on the name.

For reference, Wesabe was around $2,500 for their most expensive enterprise plan, which was very inexpensive when compared to having Intuit add your bank to Quicken for $10,000 a month.

I thought BankSimple was its own online bank.

Yea, I imagine you could get away with a very hefty license fee. I know of one company that charges affiliate TV stations $5m a year license for essentially a glorified hosted CMS. If they can get that for something that doesn't even remotely require the kind of privacy a bank system needs, the price tag for an online banking tool should be pretty high. Even $500k-$1m+ a year seems reasonable by comparison. Its really all a matter of support and sales prowess

An actual BankSimple employee might be able to explain it better, so I welcome any corrections, and I might be very wrong since I believe that only during the last two weeks or so is that the whole team has been built and started wholly working on the product, but this is what I knew about BankSimple from a few months back.

They are working on a great online front end, focusing on awesome user experience, while partnering with another financial institution (just one, or more, I'm not really sure) to handle the back end: all of the transfers, payments, ACH handling, and so on.

So basically you have this awesome online "bank" with a great web PFM but the business processes are actually being handled by an established brick and mortar bank.

There are many banks and they do one thing great - handle money - but many of them have awful web/internet teams. So in comes BankSimple, they solve the web part of the equation and partner up with one or more banks.

If you think about it, it kinda sounds like what Mint could be if they were more than an aggregator and closer to an online bank.

On the name thing I see a lot of misunderstanding about this. A name can be a little silly, sure. Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Mint. People use this to justify terrible domain names all the time.

There are a few things the above have in common that Wesabe doesn't:

1. They're real words. (Technically Google isn't, but it's a misspelling of a real word that probably more people than not would make.Very few people, if told about it, would type in googol.com). Look at the Alexa top 100 in the US, it's almost entirely real words.

2. They're easily pronounced. If I tell my friend about Yahoo.com, he's going to be able to type it in or easily Google for it. I assume Wesabe is similar to wasabi, but I'm still not even sure about that.

Nothing silly about the name "Mint"

Its fun to look back and enumerate the reasons for success or failure, but dumb luck is just such a huge part of this game as well.

Marc had a vision, stuck to his guns, and the competitor "won". If Wesabe had won Techcrunch 40, we'd be reading an article about Mint's failure due to shoddy data accuracy and how Wesabe succeeded by "build[ing] tools that would eventually help people change their financial behavior for the better, which I believed required people to more closely work with and understand their data."

A startup can't implement every feature perfectly, and will ultimately have to make choices without knowing which was the "right" one.

I firmly agree with Marc on the issue that to be truly effective personal finance requires people to work more closely with their data. I have been working on a web project of my own for my own personal finance use, as neither Mint, Wesabe, or other web based product do what I needed. The most common response from people I show it to is that it looks really helpful but that they don't have the discipline to organize their finances enough to be useful.

Mint definitely got the "no user thought required" down and this path has brought them [some] financial success. Is their overly simplified view of a complex process actually useful? The consensus for mass market web based personal finance systems so far seems to be

- Users don't care about privacy.

- Users don't care about data accuracy

- Users don't care about digging into their data at all.

- Users will pay for pretty graphs/charts with questionably-useful automatic analysis that is unlikely to make a significant difference in their financial situation.

What is the best thing to do in this case? Just give users what they want? Sell illusions because reality is too hard to deal with? I know there are some people who do care, how do you find them?

I'm surprised the winning of TC40 isn't cited more strongly - That's where I first heard about Mint. You can argue that they wouldn't have won had they not done many of the other things right, but what's the adoption curve of Mint like before and after that event?

It was huge for them. My point, though, was that we made our own mistakes. If we had had a better user experience before TC40, they either wouldn't have made such an impression at the event or wouldn't have overtaken us so quickly.

Very nice article - many lessons learned and I think you're on the mark there, TC40 gave Mint social proof - if they can win within their own community then it must be ok.

I wonder if personal financial software is a tougher market for adoption than business financial software is.

It seems to me that many of Wesabe's features are also relevant to small businesses who are already used to making more input decisions and "wrestling" with their financial software and who might be more willing to adopt if benefits exceed costs.

I am working on a financial system that is directed more toward business than individuals (however still relevant to individuals) and I am looking for a co-founder. If you're interested Marc, I'm @blusie on twitter.

seems like their mistake was ignoring yodlee and trying to make their own stuff...which lost them a lot of traction.

had they launched with yodlee, Mint would have been nothing more but a "better designed wesabe"

seems to me like they should have spent the cash to subscribe to yodlee, and then spent their effort building their own version like they ended up doing.

Yeah, but it's a case of "shoulda, woulda, coulda." In retrospect, it was an easy decision. But, if it were your startup, would you have tied yourself to a single, almost bankrupt, vendor? I don't think I would have. Though it is better to buy software rather than build in most cases, there didn't seem to be alternatives rather than rolling out their own solution.

I'm not sure I agree. Some perspective: Mint sucked at supporting the long-tail of financial institutions when they were using Yodlee.

Wesabe decided to not use Yodlee in the beginning, but it seems certain Mint recently did the same.

Mint announced vastly expanded FI support on May 5th. I suspect this is when they made the Yodlee -> Intuit conversion. (FWIW, I consider this a matter of fact: Mint's crawler now originates from cc.intuit.com.)

Following this conversion, my small (~$150mil) credit union was supported by Mint for the first time, along with 200+ other FIs which use the same core+online banking system.

To this day, Yodlee MoneyCenter doesn't support my account.

The puzzling thing is that the 200+ FIs I refer to would seem trivial to support: that particular core stack has a sane OFX 1.0x interface accessible over the web. Wesabe always struck me as focusing more on OFX, and I know they supported some of these CUs when Mint didn't.

Mint scrapes the OFX file from the online banking interface, a design decision I never fully understood.

yes, but even before Mint, there was Yodlee MoneyCenter... so you could say that Mint was really nothing more than a "better designed MoneyCenter"

Yodlee MoneyCenter was a surprising discovery for me. Sure, I had head of them because of Mint, but I didn't know that they supported most Indian banks. I've been using them for some time and quite satisfied with it.

I thought that wesabe's integrating at the bank level might have been a smarter approach. For instance Bank of America has a mint-like finance aggregation tool built into their online banking. I already entrust them with my finances why not use their tool?

As far as I recall, Wesabe was providing a similar service to smaller banks, as their solution for this, right? Personally I would guess that market opportunity would be at the bank level, you sell $500k-$1m/yr licenses to integrate the tool directly with a banking website, you don't even need consumers, just a really friggin good sales team...

It might work, but you'd need a hell of a runway. Think year plus sales cycles, if you're lucky. Not a real good fit for an agile, non-vc backed startup. Banks are slow, conservative, and no two are alike under the covers, even the ones running the same outsourced core software.

Very true, and you'd really need a team with a serious track record in banking. I imagine half of selling the product would be based on the perception of trust and experience.

So, recently, as I started pulling loans out for school and creating budgets, I went on the look for a money management service and tried out Wesabe among a few others. Mint ultimately won, and I'll tell you why, from my personal opinion as a user. Maybe it might help somebody somewhere.

A) Design

Perhaps the biggest selling point for me was how polished Mint was in comparison to Wesabe. It felt professional. I felt I could trust Mint with my personal financial data. Wesabe seemed unfinished, rough around the edges. Sure, it played more to my irrational mind, but I just felt more comfortable using Mint. Just hook in my various accounts, let me create a budget, and do the rest for me, which is what Mint did. I was guided through the profile filling process, and there was a strangely human quality about Mint -- as if it were my own personal accountant.

So the first thing I learned was that a good design and user experience can be very effective in developing trust within a potential user for your service. Second was that lots of time should go into capturing a user's attention upon first laying eyes on your app, placing guides along the way, etc, ensuring initial and continual engagement.

B) iPhone App

At the time, Wesabe didn't have a native iPhone app (I don't think they ever did come out with one). They had a webapp, but it wasn't good enough for me, especially when Mint had a native app. This played a bigger role than I thought it would. Having a native app just feels better. Just the feeling of launching the app is rewarding. I don't know about you, but I really try to avoid using webapps in mobile Safari as much as possible; they tend not to be as polished and snappy.

So, if your app and users create the need for a mobile interface, don't settle for webapp.

C) Focus (Personal/Community in this case)

Wesabe seemed to have a communal element, which I really didn't care for. Mint came across as a more walled-off made-only-for-me personal assistant, and I liked that feeling. I didn't want to share my tips on saving cash with others; I just wanted a service to manage my money, nothing else. In that respect, Mint felt more refined and catered to my needs -- it was more focused.

Give your app laser-focus.

Found this blog post to very revealing, although not entirely the way others do. Expressing openly and owning these two decisions (to focus on build vs. buy & simplicity vs. user customization) is admirable, but the slippery rhetoric undermines these mightily. There are many shrewdly baked-in messages and denials that are far afield from above: - No has solved the problem that we set out to solve in personal finance. In other words, yeah, I know I said Mint won, but we didn’t really lose to Mint – no one has won! - Circumstances conspired to make me CEO. Er, perhaps another decision was to not have the humility to bring in a more qualified CEO. Since we’re all being so honest. - Our product was just as good as there’s other than these 2 facts. In other words, I created and know how to execute at the level that Mint did. Of course you do – you’re in the job market! I’ve heard this 'falling on the sword' rhetoric from CEOs of a failed company as a public way of engendering praise. It’s politically disingenuous because -of course you’re responsible- – everyone knows that claiming otherwise is horrible PR for yourself. The purpose of the post to bake in all the rationalization of how the decisions were right given in the information, you’re of high character, and get that personal brand out there in a controlled way. And that’s the way to ‘keep the focus on making the user happy’

"Mint aggressively acquired users by paying for search engine marketing (reportedly spending over $1 for each user), while Wesabe spent almost nothing on marketing".

Startups need to realize that customer acquisition is an important part of the equation too. Sure technology,UX, and a memorable name is important too but too many people are still thinking if they build a good product, start a blog, twitter everyday is all that is needed to succeed.

I'd rework that statement slightly. If you're building an actual company, then customer acquisition is not merely "part of the equation," it's the whole ball game.

All other factors you list (tech, UX, naming, etc.) should primarily be evaluated as means to that end.

First interesting read. However, overly simplified. Name, product and UX are all good reasons but they can all be fixed. Companies succeed or fail for two reasons - CEO and cash flow. The importance of a CEO is usually understated but the CEO is critical. Being a visionary, cracking the whip when necessary and instilling values (excellence is the first) cant be replaced. He is driving the company forward. He can be a coder but he should not write single line of code. His role is to manage not to develop. As per Cash flow. Given enough cash flow, anything can be fixed. Company can relaunched, product improved and marketing invested. As per Wesabe vs. Mint. In this day and age people who give control of their accounts to ANY third party are plain crazy. However, the buzz instilled confidence in people and they think Mint is safe. Wesabe could have had a place in the market with people who don’t trust Mint's approach. The issue was, it was not "sexy" and the people who might have been interested didn’t hear about it. Good Marketing could have addressed that (positioning, PR etc). Which goes back to the CEO being a CEO and not focus on coding.

There is still plenty of innovation happening in this space for those outside of the US. I know of three New Zealand based startups http://www.pocketsmith.com , http://www.xero.com and http://www.heaps.co.nz

Winning the DEMO contest put Mint on the radar for me. First time I heard of such a business. Knew of Quicken but the idea of taking it to web was 'a ha!'. Never heard of wesabe - and I consider myself web savy - flickr, delicious etc.

I loved the idea but did not trust putting such info online. Then I saw yodlee relationship. I knew banks trusted Yodlee so I gave them (mint) extra trust because of that. I read through their TOC and it gave me more confidence.

On a related thread...I wanted to do online bill pay some time earlier and knew that there was some independent company-yodlee (not wanting to tie myself to my bank) that did it but darned if I could remember the name). So yodlee lost business because of that odd name (in my - survey of 1- case). Love the post and cmts. Good luck with your next venture. Bring same passion - and invest in good URL<g>

Web 2.0 personal financing tools:

Mint - Aquired by Intuit

Buxfer - not actively maintained, founders working @ facebook

Wesabe - shut down

Anyone want to speculate on what went worked/didn't work and might work in the future in this space? As mentioned in the article, it seems like users don't really care about digging into their data, but seeing pretty graphs is good enough.

I'm impressed with Marc's lack of rancor towards Mint -- very classy. It lends credibility to the whole article.

Very insightful read. But I don't understand why he didn't continue the startup. He even identifies a yet unsolved problem. I would have cut the costs and continue in my own direction and try gaining traction. There is probably room for this. I dont see how mint success has to mean a failure for wesabe.

This is an amazing post.

Thanks for laying out your version of the story which I feel is definitely more accurate. Why did you not decide to not pursue Wesabe for the long term ?

As I understand, Mind did well in some places like immidiate gratification but was bad in accurately aggregating financial statistics. You could have reworked your UI to provide the immidiate gratification and over time also made a more robust aggregator.

Also, the fact as you state is that Mint/Wesabe both did not really make a dent in the market. Additionally, the fact that Mint has got acquired, most likely they never will. It is extremely unlikely that Mint after being acquired will be able to keep pace with Wesabe. More so the fact that you guys had substantial revenue , you could have cut the fat and dumbed down for a long haul easily.

Marc I remember hearing you speak at a conference in '07 and being very impressed at how exaustively you interviewed potential users before building. 

Do you feel in retrospect that there was anything obvious you could have done and monitored post-launch that would have let you out-manoeuvre Mint?

Wesabe built our own data acquisition system, first using downloadable client programs (partially because that was easier and partially to preserve users' privacy) and later using a Yodlee-like web interface

That is the real product, the real company, launch it.

It is clear that Wesabe lost. What is not clear to me is that Mint won. Yes, Patzer got $170M out of Intuit for the investors, got his share, and a nice new job at Intuit. But now what? Mint's revenues were not that great, and as for profits....who knows. Now it is being absorbed into the Intuit Borg. Intuit is still trying to figure out what the heck it did when it bought Digital Insight. Will Intuit ever see an ROI on its $170M? Oh I forgot, this is Silicon Valley. ROI doesn't matter. But Mint is a neat name. That and $5 will get you a coffee at Starbucks.

Great analysis, very valuable -- thanks to Marc for taking the time to do it. The points about the Yodlee tradeoff and focusing on the use case that required a lot of work from people are very insightful.

I agree with the others here that Mint's name and design played a huge role in its success. Years ago somebody mentioned Wesabe to me and from the way the name sounded I couldn't find it on a quick web search, I gave up. When I eventually saw the site my reaction was "looks complicated". By contrast Mint was easy to find and looked very easy to use.

While Mint is a great name, I totally agree that the difference was execution. Several years ago I tried Wesabe, Mint, Quicken, MS Money (which, IIRC, used yodlee), as well as Yodlee's site itself. I went with Mint because it just worked. It had access to all of the Yodlee banks, with a far more intuitive interface than yodlee. Frankly, at the time, there were no alternatives. I've not bothered to look since.

My 2 cents:

1. Mint was viral to a degree. The service itself wasn't, but their blog was. They put a lot of effort into building a community around their blog - posting tips and guides on managing your finances, and so on.

2. I wonder if Wesabe ever tried shifting to be a more power-user service. If what he says is true, it sounds like they could made it into a service that caters to people that really do want to actively manage their finances.

I had never heard of Wesabe until reading this article, though I'm not sure how I missed it. My biggest complaint against Mint is specifically why most people flock to it: it's automated and there isn't much you need to do to get existing transactions and analyze them. Maybe it's changed since Intuit bought them, but I signed up for their service two different times and toyed with it for a few hours before canceling on both occasions. To me, true finance management is not only analyzing existing spending, but preparing for future spending.

I want to be able to setup a budget.

I want to be able to setup recurring transactions and future bill payments so when I look at my finances at any given moment, I can see what I have coming due today, tomorrow, in two weeks.

I don't want to rely on my bank to tell me how much cash I have available, because it doesn't know the $1 pending gas charge from yesterday is actually a $45 fill up that hasn't cleared, but I do.

I want to keep track of all aspects of my paycheck so I can estimate my taxes all year long and adjust my withholdings accordingly or save if I'm going to have to pay in.

I'm sure I could go on and on. I realize we're moving towards (or are already in) the era of webapps and people are moving away from desktop apps, but I've yet to find a decent online finance manager that does what MS Money can do. It's a shame they discontinued it, because in my opinion it kicks the crap out of Mint.

I'm not really sure how this relates to the article, I just think it's a shame that Wasabe lost out to Mint because Mint was dumbed down enough that users don't have to do much of anything. Properly manging your finances should most certainly require user interaction to do it properly and it sounds like Wasabe was trying to do just that. Maybe that's why so many people struggle with finances, because they don't take an active enough roll in managing them and I fear something like Mint just aids in that passiveness.

As the Marc says in the article, "Changing people's behavior is really hard. No one in this market succeeded at doing so -- there is no Google nor Amazon of personal finance." It's been a while since I've given it a look, but last I check Mint wasn't even close. If Wasabe was, it's truly a shame they were beat out by Mint catering to and lazy users and enabling them to stay lazy when IMHO, the problem they're allegedly trying to solve requires exactly the opposite.

Mint has budgets. In fact, I'd say it's their killer feature. They also added pending transactions recently, though I don't really use them.

I completely agree here. Mint is too simple and automates too much that shouldn't be automated. I have been toying around a web based finance project of my own and if you'd be interested I'd love to talk more about what exactly you might find useful.

I want banksimple.com, or some other kind of 21st century bank that will let me do all this stuff natively from my primary banking....

If you qualify for membership, USAA has added a lot of Mint-like features to their online banking service.

"Changing people's behavior is really hard. No one in this market succeeded at doing so -- there is no Google nor Amazon of personal finance. Can you succeed where we failed? Please do -- the problems are absolutely huge and the help consumers have is absolutely abysmal. Learn from the above and go help people (after making them immediately happy, first)."

I humbly disagree with you guys. I personally don’t think the name played that much of a role. In my opinion Mint won because of 3 reasons.. 1) They won techcrunch disrupt and had people buzzing 2) They gave customer what they wanted. They had the right "easy" approach to the problem. 3) They got higher value users by doing SEM.

"A domain name doesn't win you a market" - he clearly didn't understand the domain name field. That's why he got that crappy Wesabe name. Mint gave hares to the owner of Mint.com so he let Mint use it.

A domain doesn't win you a market but CAN help you quite much! Otherwise, you put more money in the marketing...

I only used Wesabe because I'm from Australia and Mint doesn't support my bank, the Firefox uploader was great (a bit more control over access to your bank account, sort of) but the actual website wasn't useful enough for me to keep using it. Would love to see what Mint is like.

For those who haven't seen, it appears this blog post was prompted by this Quora discussion: http://www.quora.com/Why-did-Wesabe-shut-down-while-Mint-did...

I found the most interesting part to be when the author admitted to overlooking the idea that users might want instant gratification from a useable site. seems like in this day and age that would be the #1 priority of any company/website/startup.

"No one, in my view, solved the financial problems of consumers. No one even got close. "

Completely disagree. Mint's easy budgeting tools helped me cut expenses and start an aggressive savings plan. That, plus INGDirect's multiple sub-accounts.

To summarize:

- Give instant gratification; require as little work as possible from your users

- Be visible; Mint advertised heavily; neither site was viral

Other smaller factors too, but those seem to be the biggies, based on Marc's article and comments here.

Reading the article, it sounds like Marc set out to change people's behavior. I don't think Mint did that. There's a lot more money in giving people what they want rather than what you think they need.


Thanks for putting your thoughts out there like this. We are currently tackling the small business finance space (Profitably.com) and it's interesting to see your comparison to Mint.

What are you up to now?

I really loved reading this post. Thanks Marc, for sharing! I'm sure that brought back some painful memories. Totally worth it to us ;)

Isn't the attitude of "If Company A Wins, Company B Loses" kind of a dangerous mindset to have when you're running a startup?

Acquiring customers for $1 a pop is cheap. If customer lifetime value is < $1 then something is terribly wrong.

Question: Is there a way a financial management site can be viral? Marc claims that neither Mint nor Wesabe was.

The name Wesabe had a huge part to do with losing. Patzer is right, with a name like Wesabe you have ZERO chances of capitalizing on word of mouth. Before you buy a domain for your business, find 10 random people and ask them to type out the domain. If they fail or have to stop to even think about how to type out the domain, it's a failure.

Also, Mint didn't ignore the power of SEO... Even before the product had launched they had a blog that was providing inbound traffic.

my response to Marc's post based on being an investor in Mint and a colleague of Marc's


I had a phone interview with Marc sometime in 2007, I think just after TC40. During the interview they made me aware of Mint.com, so I spent the afternoon playing with Mint & Wesabe.

By the end of the afternoon I had begun using Mint to track all of my finances and had only managed to get Wesabe to recognize 1/3 of my accounts. Wesabe had a fantastic team, but Mint was the clear winner, so I decided not to go forward.

The name is an albatross.

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