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Why Wesabe Lost to Mint (precipice.org)
369 points by Concours 1300 days ago | comments


pg 1300 days ago | link

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.

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johnrob 1300 days ago | link

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.

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pg 1300 days ago | link

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.

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mikeklaas 1300 days ago | link

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.

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pg 1299 days ago | link

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

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frossie 1300 days ago | link

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).

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ryanwaggoner 1300 days ago | link

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.

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Sukotto 1300 days ago | link

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.

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AmericanOP 1300 days ago | link

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.

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mikeryan 1300 days ago | link

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.

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precipice 1300 days ago | link

(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.

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nanijoe 1300 days ago | link

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

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xentronium 1300 days ago | link

I think he talked about aesthetics in the first case.

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mikeryan 1300 days ago | link

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

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brandnewlow 1300 days ago | link

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?

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bmelton 1300 days ago | link

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.

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mikeryan 1300 days ago | link

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.

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bmelton 1300 days ago | link

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).

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Aetius 1300 days ago | link

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).

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sbov 1300 days ago | link

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.

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mortenjorck 1300 days ago | link

Design makes a better verb than a noun.

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vagostino 1300 days ago | link

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.

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hyperbovine 1300 days ago | link

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.

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theBobMcCormick 1300 days ago | link

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?

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hyperbovine 1300 days ago | link

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.

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jyiin 1299 days ago | link

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

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mycroftiv 1300 days ago | link

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.

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btucker 1300 days ago | link

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.

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king_jester 1300 days ago | link

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.

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tapp 1299 days ago | link

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.

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dunham 1298 days ago | link

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.

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mattmcknight 1299 days ago | link

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.

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draebek 1300 days ago | link

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.

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lionhearted 1300 days ago | link

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.

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precipice 1300 days ago | link

(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.

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pg 1300 days ago | link

I agree with Marc. Google is a mediocre name.

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philwelch 1300 days ago | link

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.

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pg 1300 days ago | link

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

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philwelch 1300 days ago | link

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.

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illumen 1299 days ago | link

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.

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83457 1298 days ago | link

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.

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fmw 1300 days ago | link

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.

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pg 1300 days ago | link

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.

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fmw 1300 days ago | link

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.

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csallen 1300 days ago | link

> 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.

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sinamdar 1300 days ago | link

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

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kyro 1299 days ago | link

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.

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njharman 1300 days ago | link

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

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precipice 1300 days ago | link

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.

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jayliew 1300 days ago | link

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?

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alain94040 1299 days ago | link

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.

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scrollinondubs 1300 days ago | link

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.

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AmitinLA 1299 days ago | link

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

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wacheena 1298 days ago | link

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

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lionhearted 1300 days ago | link

> 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.

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csallen 1300 days ago | link

> 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.

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ora600 1300 days ago | link

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)

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Xurinos 1299 days ago | link

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".

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JoachimSchipper 1299 days ago | link

That name would just get them sued by Microsoft.

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mgkimsal 1300 days ago | link

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.

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vyrotek 1300 days ago | link

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.

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lionhearted 1299 days ago | link

> > 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.

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sovande 1299 days ago | link

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.

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zach 1300 days ago | link

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.

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biturd 1299 days ago | link

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?

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bluethunder 1299 days ago | link

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.

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brianbreslin 1300 days ago | link

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.

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biturd 1299 days ago | link

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.

Thanks.

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jellicle 1300 days ago | link

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...

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lubujackson 1299 days ago | link

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.

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kschua 1299 days ago | link

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.

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gamble 1300 days ago | link

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

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TimMontague 1300 days ago | link

"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/

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seunosewa 1299 days ago | link

So clearly it's not a billion dollar business.

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nextparadigms 1300 days ago | link

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.

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gamble 1300 days ago | link

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.

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Untitled 1299 days ago | link

> 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.

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efsavage 1300 days ago | link

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?

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irons 1299 days ago | link

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.

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jasonwatkinspdx 1299 days ago | link

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

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gojomo 1300 days ago | link

'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'.

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zach 1299 days ago | link

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

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create_account 1300 days ago | link

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.

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HaloZero 1300 days ago | link

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.

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njharman 1300 days ago | link

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.

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pragmatic 1300 days ago | link

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.

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ollerac 1300 days ago | link

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.

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StavrosK 1300 days ago | link

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.

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inthewoods 1300 days ago | link

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?

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StavrosK 1299 days ago | link

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.

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Dn_Ab 1300 days ago | link

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.

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biturd 1299 days ago | link

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.

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cloudkj 1299 days ago | link

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.

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neolefty 1300 days ago | link

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.

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stackthat 1300 days ago | link

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

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lionhearted 1300 days ago | link

> 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.

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stackthat 1300 days ago | link

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

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SHOwnsYou 1300 days ago | link

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.

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Andrew_Quentin 1299 days ago | link

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.

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AmericanOP 1300 days ago | link

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.

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jdrock 1300 days ago | link

Great name, but 0 impact on their success.

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atlbeer 1300 days ago | link

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

Mint

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JustinSeriously 1300 days ago | link

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.

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Aetius 1300 days ago | link

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.

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cobrophy 1300 days ago | link

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

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notahacker 1300 days ago | link

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...

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Grinnmarr 1299 days ago | link

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.

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theycallmemorty 1300 days ago | link

Its also very hard to misspell.

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Tichy 1300 days ago | link

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).

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Chicago 1300 days ago | link

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.

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sethwartak 1299 days ago | link

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

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Aetius 1300 days ago | link

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.

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reinhardt 1300 days ago | link

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

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saulhoward 1300 days ago | link

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.

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kscaldef 1299 days ago | link

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

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Elepsis 1299 days ago | link

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

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tyn 1298 days ago | link

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

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Psyonic 1299 days ago | link

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

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