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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Today I learned that people use a program called Mint for handling their finances. I would have expected, at least, a program called "Money".
> 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.
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.
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.
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?
Past adequacy, I agree that "Google" was a worse brand than its competitors and that it didn't matter.
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.
That is what I intended it to prove.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
Your article has made me rethink a part of a product I am developing with regards to useability.
"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' 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'.
Apparently it's up for sale again, so perhaps it's not worth quite that much...
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.
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.
Maybe. I always thought the connection is that they cut down the Amazon rain-forest to make and sell high-quality books.
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.
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.
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.
Especially because mint is about physical currency/coinage, not about electronic transactions.
It is however short and memorable.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But if they hadn't backed it up with good design and instant gratification, they wouldn't have gained traction.
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.
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.
- What's it called
- How's that spelled?
You have to check out this website I used to manage my personal finances, I think you'd love it.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
So how does a startup find a designer who's THAT good vs. just PRETTY good?
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.
He just strikes me as someone who is a smart businessman, better at it than your average hacker.
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.
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 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.
So if I'm representative of "average people", then lack of marketing may have been a folly too.
Mint reached probably an order-magnitude more people ultimately, so it isn't surprising that most of us haven't heard of wesabe.
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?
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
All other factors you list (tech, UX, naming, etc.) should primarily be evaluated as means to that end.
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>
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.
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 ?
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?
That is the real product, the real company, launch it.
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.
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 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.
A domain doesn't win you a market but CAN help you quite much! Otherwise, you put more money in the marketing...
Completely disagree. Mint's easy budgeting tools helped me cut expenses and start an aggressive savings plan. That, plus INGDirect's multiple sub-accounts.
- 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.
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?
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.