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October 4, 2010 4:37 PM   Subscribe


 
I prioritized trying to build 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.

Oh, I found the problem - he built a paternalistic tool to help people achieve his ideal of how they should live their lives. Mint meets people where they are and gives them tools to achieve their own goals, not the goals the founders of the company have for them. Looks like the good guys won this one.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:45 PM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


"I don't agree with those who say you should learn from your successes and mostly ignore your failures"

No one says this. They may say not to let your failures get you down, but that's different.
posted by mrnutty at 4:52 PM on October 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


Mint used Yodlee (at least until they were acquired - I'm not sure what they're doing now)

I'm kind of surprised he doesn't know that - the way Yodlee botched their relationship with Mint was rather notorious:
People who have knowledge of the deal say total payments from Mint to Yodlee over the last couple of years are around $2 million/year. So Yodlee made $4ish million off of Mint... The final insult: Yodlee won’t even be able to collect those small fees any longer from Mint. Intuit has it’s own back-end account aggregation service that it will use instead of Yodlee.
Makes me kind of wonder how in-touch he really is with the SV tech and startup communities. (And yes I know $4M isn't peanuts, but remember that Mint was acquired for over 40 times that amount.)
posted by rkent at 4:54 PM on October 4, 2010


he built a paternalistic tool to help people achieve his ideal of how they should live their lives. Mint meets people where they are and gives them tools to achieve their own goals, not the goals the founders of the company have for them.

What the hell? Marc built a tool that let you tag things as you like and categorize them any way you wanted, so it worked for more people in flexible ways. There was also a groups area where you could talk to other people about how to work towards your goals. Mint auto-chooses categories automatically, doesn't let you apply custom tags so I found it hard to track my own data and preferred Wesabe. Mint is also owned by Intuit, the makers of Quicken, who I wouldn't say want to help people achieve goals, more like they want you to perpetually need their software so you'll continue upgrading when better/cheaper/more flexible options are available. Also, I'll never forgive Mint for the shameless spammy SEO crap they pull with infographics. They troll Digg, BoingBoing, and MeFi with pointless infographics (that have nothing at all to do with finance, just pop culture crap) in attempts to gain links back to their site.
posted by mathowie at 4:54 PM on October 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


There's no success like failure, and failure's no success at all.
posted by Elmore at 4:55 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


...Contributing to the high cost structure was the new culture of working 9-5 Monday through Friday. Allen, Greylock, and General Atlantic wouldn’t be in the building on weekends and neither would the employees bother to come in.

Wait, what? A 40 hour work week is a new model of labor? Or am I missing something here?
posted by NoMich at 4:57 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]




Marc's a good friend of mine, so I don't know what to say about this essay except that it's really well written and very honest. If you're interested in working in the Internet startup business there's a lot you can learn from him.

My favourite example of Mint's attitude was the way they sell their customers to FreeCreditReport.com. You know, the service that doesn't actually provide a free credit report without leading you through some Dark Patterns that deceive you into signing up for a non-free credit report? Mint works hard to get you to get that credit score, too. It's ugly. I'm sad Wesabe is gone.
posted by Nelson at 5:09 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've tried various personal finance tools over the years, and Wesabe was the first one I liked. I hate Mint - the categories are usually wrong, relabeling transactions is painful, and it's totally stupid about categorizing new transactions. Wesabe was the first tool I found that let me actually manage my money well and track where it went - I was sorry to see it go.

This post got passed around my company a couple days ago - we're also in the position of having a product that gives the users too many options at first, without giving them a clear immediate benefit. I think this comes from making the thing you'd like to have, and not from focusing on the new user experience.
posted by heathkit at 5:11 PM on October 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Considering how painfully difficult it is to get started in and use Quicken (I still do, Home & Business, because I've got it set up how I like it and it works smoothly for me now) or MS Money, it's no surprise that the "holy crap this is SUPER EASY" experience of Mint wins.

But re: Mint, I started using it because Intuit isn't bothering to make an iApp for Quicken - they've replaced Quicken Online with Mint, so they steer you to the Mint iApp. Which would be fine...

... except there is no connection, nor apparently is there planned to be any connection, between your use of Quicken on the desktop and Mint via online or App.

Which is about as bizarrely nonsensical as I can imagine. So, you kill the online service that I was actually using, steer me to your shiny new (and admittedly very slick and easy) online service... and then make me hook everything up by hand again? So the numbers and categories don't match up? WTF?

Back to topic... Interesting to read a CEO's call on why his company didn't work out. You don't hear that sort of thing very often.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:14 PM on October 4, 2010


Intuit lobbies consistently against govts prefilling tax forms, which would make life easier for a lot of people with simple tax situations or low income. Fuck Intuit.
posted by jcruelty at 5:17 PM on October 4, 2010 [22 favorites]


What the hell?

Sorry, I stand by that comment. His dichotomy of "make the users happy quickly" vs. "help the users" is what ultimately sank him, because adding that second option in there is completely unnecessary. You make people happy when they can achieve their goals, and to think that there is a form of "helping" beyond that is imposing your goals on them. Maybe there's some place for that, but as the central focus of an app, it always fails.
posted by AlsoMike at 5:20 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I never quite got the Mint love. To me it was very slick and cutsey-poo interface that seemed to do nothing extra above what Yodlee's MoneyCenter did, aside from awfully inaccurate auto-categorization of your spending. That's hit upon in the article: To be defensive for just a moment, their data accuracy -- how well they automatically edited -- was really low, and anyone who looked deeply into their data at Mint, especially in the beginning, was shocked at how inaccurate it was. The point, though, is hardly anyone seems to have looked.
posted by zsazsa at 5:22 PM on October 4, 2010


The name issue is interesting. Wesabe is a terrible name to me; it has no obvious association to the domain, it's not a word, and even worse, it sounds exactly like something that is a word, so people have to spell it out if they're telling you about it rather than writing it. And you probably won't remember what the difference was later.

But this comment on Hacker News really surprised me:
Buying mint.com was a hard and critical decision for Mint - they paid $2 million for it in equity during their series A.
That's a pretty shocking number. It's easy to say it was the right decision in retrospect, but if mint hadn't succeeded, I suspect that purchase would be viewed now in the same light as all those crazy Superbowl ad buys during the first dotcom era.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 5:30 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


if mint hadn't succeeded, I suspect that purchase would be viewed now in the same light as all those crazy Superbowl ad buys during the first dotcom era

It was equity, so if mint hadn't succeeded, they would have been paying $0, or close to it. I'm sure the VCs made sure they were first in line for whatever would have been left over in that scenario.
posted by enn at 5:40 PM on October 4, 2010


It was equity,

D'oh, reading is hard.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 5:50 PM on October 4, 2010


I learned about mint.com when Intuit bought it. That news was enough to make me stay the hell away.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:07 PM on October 4, 2010


You know why they lost? The name. Honestly. Word-of-mouth for something called "Mint" is a hell of a lot easier than for something called Wesabe (hell, I had to scroll to the top of this page to remember what it was called!)
posted by davejay at 6:09 PM on October 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


having said that, I just tried Mint, and it really hasn't done anything I wasn't already doing myself on paper
posted by davejay at 6:10 PM on October 4, 2010


They troll Digg, BoingBoing, and MeFi with pointless infographics (that have nothing at all to do with finance, just pop culture crap) in attempts to gain links back to their site.

Just reinforces the sad-but-true point that these kinds of business practices are extremely effective. I wish karma were harder of a bitch so people would refrain from being such capacious assholes. Like this guy, for instance. Karma needs to crash on his couch for a little while.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:13 PM on October 4, 2010


I really dislike using Mint, but I can't find a better alternative. It's slow, clunky, and glitchy. Its focus on "ease" makes it much less customizable than I would like. This focus, paradoxically, makes its budgeting system convoluted and basically unusable to me.

I frequently wish I knew enough about computers to create my own Mint-esque website that did what I wanted, but alas, I will wait until a competitor comes along and makes me happy.
posted by Defenestrator at 6:21 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


mrnutty: ""I don't agree with those who say you should learn from your successes and mostly ignore your failures"

No one says this. They may say not to let your failures get you down, but that's different.
"

I've heard that MBA programs do lots of case studies of successful businesses. Perhaps you can dig through this set of Harvard cases and point out the failures?
posted by pwnguin at 7:42 PM on October 4, 2010


"It's easy for the press to say that we spent $135 million on Concordes and Champagne," Mr. Malmsten said, "but we only drink vodka."

I read that as "Mr. Malmsteen" and drew a way more ridiculous mental picture than was probably intended.
posted by The World Famous at 7:46 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


One thing Mint.com had that it's competitors did not: Dave McClure The man plays, or at least used to play ultimate on Saturday mornings in a clown suit for no shared reason, and has a preternatural sense for monetizing, and for markets.
posted by Dr. Boom at 8:32 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whenever I saw the name "Wesabe" I thought of sushi.
posted by rhizome at 8:48 PM on October 4, 2010


Of those 25 post-mortems, the only one I think I'd heard of was Wesabe. I don't know whether that's me being out of the loop on tech news or whether that's part of why the other 24 failed.
posted by immlass at 9:18 PM on October 4, 2010


I just read those 25 summaries and, by and large, I'm really happy all those people failed. You could cut the false humility with a souvenir branded mousepad.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:34 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I do like the one that is just a list of the people who ran the company with him and what he didn't like about them. At least he was honest.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:35 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I take special joy in the failure of guy who wrote the crap about hiring people who will fight zombies or whatever bullshit he said.

Here's the thing about working for a startup, form a developer's point of you: Doesn't pay for shit, long hours, zero job security, crammed in a room with six other people ("open plan stimulates creativity!"), working for entitled babies who more often than not have a fairly serious coke problem. All for a few free gummi bears and 8000 shares of worthless sloptions.

And then you say the stupid shit about how you want to give their life to your stupid little idea, except couched in some stupid-ass Star Wars/zombie/whatthefuckever geek metaphor, because we all know that's what developers love, as opposed to say respect and money and personal space and free time for a personal life.

A contract with a large company is actually preferable to a full-time job at a start-up at this point, in terms of job security and just about everything else.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:43 PM on October 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh, I found the problem - he built a paternalistic tool to help people achieve his ideal of how they should live their lives. Mint meets people where they are and gives them tools to achieve their own goals, not the goals the founders of the company have for them. Looks like the good guys won this one.
Geez, it's software not a girlfriend.

---
Also, how did he manage to make his text so blurry? It's hard to read without zooming in.
You know, the service that doesn't actually provide a free credit report without leading you through some Dark Patterns that deceive you into signing up for a non-free credit report?
I did know, but I'd never heard of the term "Dark Pattern" before and I have to say it's fucking awesome.
His dichotomy of "make the users happy quickly" vs. "help the users" is what ultimately sank him, because adding that second option in there is completely unnecessary.
From reading the comments in this thread -- admittedly by the guy's friends -- it sounds like he just got out assholed. He refused to use web-scrapers that put his users at risk, Mint didn't. He didn't spend a ton of money on advertising, mint did. They didn't blogspam, mint did. He didn't scam his users with freecredit report, mint did. Same story with Zynga and the company that originally came up with Farmville. It's not surprising at all that they won, that's how capitalism works.
posted by delmoi at 9:50 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Buxfer is a nice, highly-customizable personal finance site that I've been using lately. It's run by one guy, so everyone hurry up and get a plan with them so that he doesn't give up and shut it down, ok? :)
posted by breath at 10:05 PM on October 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I opened Wesabe and Mint accounts simultaneously. I kept the Mint account, likely because of its interface and usability compared to Wesabe.

I understand that Wesabe may have more or better features than Mint. But, I don't think that demonizing Mint for its glitz and glamor is really very well founded. Clearly, if Mint was all aesthetics, then it would fail. Mint is highly usable and useful, and has been good help to my personal finances. It's not perfect, and may never be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction towards what I need in my life right now. Fixing a few inaccurate entries in the Mint interface every now and again sure beats the tedious data-entry I was doing before.

I understand that Mint tries to upsell you on crap services (like freecreditreports). And, now I understand that Mint uses misleading web ads. My user experience has been free from that, though. I don't recall Mint using any annoying popup ads (or third party generated ads, for that matter), or splash-screens that try to sell me things while I'm trying to use the app. I've never been even close to buying any of these crap services, and have never been misled to them, through Mint. And, since it has been acquired by Intuit (of which I have many misgivings), there has been no change to the usability of the site.

Perhaps Wesabe failed because it retained the scruples that Mint freely abandoned, as the comments seem to assert. But, I bet there are a dozen big reasons it failed that have nothing to do with scruples as well. I have a pang of conscience that a good service, and a good competitor, has failed, especially when the representation is that the service was good at heart and offered better functionality. But, if it wasn't what consumers need right now, then that's a business model failure. By the way, how did Wesabe generate revenue?

"I don't agree with those who say you should learn from your successes and mostly ignore your failures"

And I concur that nobody says that. It's usually something that's more the other way around.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:39 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't agree with those who say chocolate ice cream is not delicious!
posted by delmoi at 2:19 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I gave up and closed my account on mint after the VDare Racist Anti-Immigrant blog post.

I can pretty much take care of myself with a nice google docs spreadsheet, thank you.
posted by willmize at 4:13 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, what? A 40 hour work week is a new model of labor? Or am I missing something here?

In the tech startup world, yeah. Startups notoriously expect people to live in the office 24/7 and be on a continuous Kool-Aid IV drip.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:20 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ugh, those post-mortems are all dripping in corporatespeak. I just got in to the office, I can't handle that much bullshit yet.

I was a bike swap meet over the weekend, and I overheard the following conversation. I think it pretty much encapsulates why some startups thrive and some fail:

Bike Guy: I worked in someone's shop for about twenty years, decided I had enough of it, and started building my own bikes. I have my own machine shop and make everything myself.

Interested Gal: That's so neat! I'm looking into starting my own bicycle accessories business, actually.

Bike Guy: Well, like I said, I make everything myself. Of course, my bikes cost about two or three thousand dollars. Most companies will design something and get it made in Taiwan, so they're cheaper.

Interested Gal: Yeah, I think I would end up going that route. Of course, I'm not much of a designer, so I'd need to hire someone to do that for me.

Pretty sure you can't fly on just an idea anymore, but what do I know? I work for The Man.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:34 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why did Wesabe shut down, while Mint did so well? by Jason Putorti, Lead designer at Wesabe.

Responses to Putorti’s post:

Why Wesabe Failed

The real reason for Wesabe failure, part trois
posted by kirkaracha at 6:44 AM on October 5, 2010


I thought this little bit summed up the reasons Wesabe failed quite well:
Everything I've mentioned -- not being dependent on a single source provider, preserving users' privacy, helping users actually make positive change in their financial lives -- all of those things are great, rational reasons to pursue what we pursued. But none of them matter if the product is harder to use, since most people simply won't care enough or get enough benefit from long-term features if a shorter-term alternative is available.
He had the long-term plan in place, but there were barriers to new customers just getting started with his product. If you can't get people past the first hurdle, it doesn't really matter how awesome things are later on. Mint on the other hand, was successful (i.e. made lots of money) by getting people fast-tracked and involved. By the time they discover the long-term disadvantages, they've already invested time and energy in getting set up and inertia stops them from switching to some other product.

If Wesabe had invested in some user experience testing and development, and found/made a replacement for Yodlee, they'd probably still be around now. It seems like the founder has learned his lesson though - better luck next time, dude.
posted by harriet vane at 6:49 AM on October 5, 2010


Yeah, what backseat said.

This made for an hour of cringing-- the dense layers of blame-shifting execuspeak brought back every failed company and tech project I've worked on in the last decade.

You really can tell from a prospectus, you know? It's not hard.

WINNER:

Our company will directly distribute medical devices for resale to physicians.

LOSER:

By constructing an optimized middlewear valuespace for Health Decision Makers (HDM) with an integrated Customer Retention Social Matrix System, it is expected that our proprietary virality algorhitms will lead to multiple revenue streams, aggregated between...

...and so on. The murdered English, the righteous sense of entitlement-- you can't get reading like this just anywhere.

Of course, you only fail upwards. If your 10M VC startup failed, you just need to get 25M next time.
posted by mrdaneri at 8:06 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


delmoi: Also, how did he manage to make his text so blurry?

Hah. As I remember from your posting history, you prefer hard-hinted, Microsoft-style fonts. His web page uses Typekit and a font that is not hinted. I think it looks great. Get a monitor with more resolution or something.
posted by zsazsa at 8:24 AM on October 5, 2010


(This is Marc Hedlund - I wrote the linked post.)
"I don't agree with those who say you should learn from your successes and mostly ignore your failures"

And I concur that nobody says that.
Two people who say that are Jason Fried and Kathy Sierra, both friends who have made that point to me several times. Here's Jason's post on the topic.

The other side of that argument was recently made by Fred Brooks:
"Brooks: You can learn more from failure than success. In failure you’re forced to find out what part did not work. But in success you can believe everything you did was great, when in fact some parts may not have worked at all. Failure forces you to face reality."
I think you should learn from both failure and successes equally. That's what I meant in my post.
posted by precipice at 9:36 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've used Mint for a couple years, and it hasn't been noticeably bad at categorizing transactions. I'm sort of mystified at the Mint bashing here. It hasn't ever made me feel like I should have anything to do with Quicken either. Mostly it's just a place where I can see what's going on with all of my financial accounts at once, and do some basic budgeting.
posted by rusty at 11:21 AM on October 5, 2010


I stopped using Mint because they were listing doubles for every credit card transaction. Then they were acquired by Intuit and the game was over.
posted by rhizome at 12:08 PM on October 5, 2010


I miss Wesabe. I always liked the way it handled the authentication bit, categorization, notes. And then I saw the head of Mint at SXSW and he just struck me as a jerk.

I think I have a pinboard.in category for other similar tools; maybe it's time to look at that list again. (breath, what do you like about Buxfer?)
posted by epersonae at 5:14 PM on October 5, 2010


My criteria for personal finance sites: can handle multiple accounts, can model transfers between those accounts (so you don't end up seeing that transfer to savings show up as an expense or whatever), can have a "cash" account, and has an iPhone optimized site where I can enter transactions on the go. Free plans to try it out are also nice. Basically I want it to show the correct balances for each of my accounts and do some reasonable job of breaking down what I spent my money on. My understanding is that most of these tools focus mostly on the second thing and less on the first, but I think that it's much more important to get the accounting right. The challenge is more about answering the question "why don't I have any cash today?" than "how much did I spend on my auto insurance this month? Oh right, same as last month"
posted by breath at 10:16 PM on October 8, 2010


Oh yeah, so what I like about Buxfer is that it does all that cleanly and without fuss. No ads, no flashy shit, just my accounts served quickly and with the balances matching what's in my pocket and at the bank.
posted by breath at 10:25 PM on October 8, 2010


Whenever I saw the name "Wesabe" I thought of sushi.

Wait, now I'm not sure: is it "we-SAW-bee" like "wasabi" or is it "we-SAYB" like "we save"?
posted by mendel at 6:31 PM on October 9, 2010


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