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.