Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting evidence:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That name would just get them sued by Microsoft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree with Marc. Google is a mediocre name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is what I intended it to prove.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frankly, it is enough to win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Mark,

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

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

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


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

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

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

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact