Mint Sales and Marketing: How Mint Beat Wesabe

October 14, 2010 - Get free updates of new posts here
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I recently had an article sent to be me about why Wesabe lost and a few people asked me for a response since I was #4 at Mint. Here’s an inside look at Mint’s sales and marketing and success.

I initially saw Mint with Aaron Patzer and Dave McClure in November/December of 2006. Instantly, I was in love. It was a unique approach to a massive problem and Aaron already had a working prototype. Note: Aaron spent the previous 6 months building it alone in his apartment. Most people never realize there were way more competitors than just Wesabe: Geezeo, Buxfer, Yodlee (data-aggregation company used by Mint), Quicken Online, MS Money online and a few others I can’t remember. Later on I quit Mint myself. You can read about my decision to quit Mint, move to Argentina and do my own thing here.

Here is Mint’s initial version:

So what did it take for Mint to win? Here’s the breakdown of Mint vs Wesabe

1. Instant Value. This is easily the most important thing. All the other solutions required work. Facebook was our secret weapon that trained people to share their personal information online. Thanks Zuck. Within 3 minutes of using Mint you get your full financial picture and ways to increase your own money. All for free. Basically, too good to be true. No other service came close to doing this.

2. Name. Next to family and health, personal finance it is one of the top 3 most sensitive things in life. The site was originally called mymint.com. I was initially against buying Mint.com but Aaron / Anton spent months acquiring the domain. This may seem inconsequential, but would you feel more comfortable entering your bank details on Wesabe.com or Mint.com?

The idea that we could buy / use that domain showed people we had money and aren’t as likely to just steal their information. The shortness of the domain in and of itself [chase.com, mint.com] signals legitimacy. Think about companies adding ‘as seen on tv’ stickers to their boxes. Shows they had the money to buy the tv spots.

3. Trust / Design. This goes along with the name. This seems to be discounted but sometimes I talk about Mint as a design / marketing company whose product is personal finance. Think of Zappos as a Customer Support company that happens to sell shoes. Jason’s clean design style helped make users feel comfortable with giving Mint their financial information. I’ll cover this in more detail another time, but for now here’s a few key things we did to increase trust:

  • SEO. People trust Google, so we knew they’d trust us more if they came to Mint from there, so we used search engine optimization to get Mint to the front page of Google searches.
  • Authority. We got thought leaders in personal finance to back us.
  • Security. We actually promoted security front and center.

To drive this point on design & trust home, compare these 2 sites (names removed) and tell me which one makes you warm and fuzzy about sharing your financial data.

If you want a contemporary reference, it would be something like this “Hello, ladies, look at your man, now back to Mint, now back at your man, now back to Mint. Sadly, he isn’t Mint, but if he stopped using ladies scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he’s Mint.”

4. Investors. Aaron is one of the most strategic people I know and was able to bring on the who’s who of investors. Those people had deep connections anywhere we needed it. For example: one of the leaders of Quicken, the guy who invented Gmail, and many more…

How did he do it? Good question. He wasn’t a Silicon Valley insider (he’s from the midwest) and he didn’t pitch these guys right away. Aaron built a functional prototype for 6 months and then hit the streets. He picked investors based on their industry experiences relevant to Mint.

5. Research. Aaron’s father has research experience and we spent countless weeks figuring out what people really wanted before we ever launched our beta. Guess who we found out Mint’s biggest competitor was? No one. Apathy. This shocked me! Most people would rather not track anything and just see how they are doing when they go to the ATM. Guess who was #2? Ms Money, Intuit, Wesabe? NOPE. Microsoft Excel. Who would have believed that!

Learning about all this provided us with the messaging / approach and branding to appeal to the right audience. This affected our messaging, internally and externally we were similar to Firefox in saying “take back your money.”

6. “Lean”-Startup. Mint was well-funded and definitely took its time to launch. 1.5 years. Think of how it was to be the marketer of that (:

I am a fan of validation through research (you can usability test your site for cheap or free)- approaching people at cafes, user testing in person, surveys, segmentation and interviews – which Mint did way beyond any quick-to-launch first movers.

There are times when getting your product out there before it’s ready can hurt you; first mover advantage may not apply to a market where the product needs to convey trust. Would you give your credit card to someone who was caught cheating?

Could Mint have won if they hadn’t raised $15+ million dollars? I don’t think so. Where did the money go? Yodlee is not cheap. Hiring the best people. Endless supply of ping-pong balls add up.

Why did it need so much money? Dealing with Yodlee seems trivial but we had dedicated engineers, and securing data is not cheap! We also spent a lot on design, and we made sure we got the product right. How did we know the product was right? That’s for another blog post. 1.5 years to launch.

Did Aaron need to take 1.5 years to launch the product? It’s hard to say about right vs. wrong but when looking at the outcome it doesn’t seem horrible.

7. Education. Dave had a the killer idea of the content network (blog) which was a HUGE traffic generator and still is to this day. It provides infographics, ideas, interviews and a wealth of useful information to users (and Google for SEO juice). The development took way longer than anyone expected so we had the time to focus. Most startups won’t have this luxury. This got us loyal followers, connections to other relevant bloggers and learnings of what keywords people are using when talking about personal finance. More recently, Stew Langille has done an amazing job creating tons of rich content & infographics in the blog and well executed landing pages.

8. PR / word-of-mouth. I get ultra-annoyed when people refer to things as viral. Mint got its inital public buzz and discussion because it won TC40. Beyond that Mint built a useful product, that tons of people wanted and was completely free, makes it easy for people to want to tell their friends about. Then Atomic PR (and their $15k+ month retainer) helped take Mint out to the mainstream press (Walt Mossberg, Good Morning America, The NY Times, etc…). We cared less about the web 2.0 crowd and more about Aaron’s family & friends form the mid-west. Guess what? They still read newspapers in physical form.

Managing your finances effortlessly (and free) was a very appealing story compared to chatter and manual input. Also, most users don’t want to install a plugin to then connect to their personal finance sites (required on Wesabe).

9. Right place, wrong community. Wesabe provided a phone # to call their CEO (great idea), was involved in all things web 2.0 but I believe missed looking to middle Americans who are the struggling the most with finances. Personal finance is an extremely private thing. Personally, I couldn’t care less about your money. I just want to know how I can protect and grow my own. Wesabe was all about forum / chats / comments about money while MInt is a entirely private experience.

10. Community. We spent a ton of time holding online chats, went to events (like twiistup la, finnovate) and connected with the entire personal finance community. Oh yea, this was 9 months before we even launched the product.

Think about this. By the time Mint launched we had more traffic than all the other personal finance sites (buxfer, geezeo, wesabe) combined. Huh? Yea, thanks to its design, 4th-mover (or later) advantage and actively seeking promotion, Mint won.

Bonus: Look how Mint responds to Wesabe shutting down. Ha!

You should follow me on Twitter.

Thanks to Jason Baptiste and Matt Wensing, Brad and Allen for reviewing.

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21 responses to “Mint Sales and Marketing: How Mint Beat Wesabe

  1. brett Reply

    I could never bring myself to using Mint, however, because I had to give up access to my personal financial data to a third party. That was a deal-breaker right there.

    Obviously, Facebook did plenty to get people over that hump, though.

  2. Patrick Foley Reply

    Thanks for this – it tracks my personal relationship with Mint (and Quicken online and Excel …) perfectly. I never realized how much the design itself impacted my decisions. Incredible.

    I’ll remember this as simply “design trust.”

    Thanks!

  3. Patrick Foley Reply

    Thanks for this – it tracks my personal relationship with Mint (and Quicken online and Excel …) perfectly. I never realized how much the design itself impacted my decisions. Incredible.

    I’ll remember this as simply “design trust.”

    Thanks!

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  5. Fernando Reply

    Nice post but more interested in understanding what’s next for Mint.com…the kind of jubilation such posts display a “we’re done here” mentality to me…you may be celebrating a bit too early…the technology world is full of successful start ups dying slow deaths after being acquired by large companies…what makes you believe that this won’t be Mint’s destiny having lost people like Jason Putorti…

  6. Kadir Reply

    I am using Mint for last 2 years and one of the biggest reason is how I can get all the info in one view. It was good to hear the behind the scenes work that went into making it happen.

    Btw, mentioned your blog and posted a link from mine on Why User Experience is Important.

  7. Web_Man Reply

    Thank you very much for sharing these great tips. Did not released domain is so important.
    This may irrelevant to this post, but WESABE means “we are stupid” in Chinese. It does not matter though, since they just focus on English speaking countries.

  8. Dinishi Abayarathna Reply

    Hey Noah,

    My fellow business partners and I are going through a lot of the same things. We are starting a business and are trying to make sure we cover all our bases before we launch-like Mint-but hopefully in less time. Thanks for the inspiration! I hope you’ll be hearing about us soon!

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  14. Leo Reply

    Great write up. It’s really insightful and yes, wonder how that translates to the Asian scene, whereby funding isn’t easy to come by. And on the post Panda algorithms by Google, it isn’t that easy to do content marketing by keywords.

    Any thoughts?

  15. Emmons Reply

    Hey Noah, I remember fondly our research efforts to make sure that Mint was aligned to where it needed to be. Making sure we aimed functionality to target interest priorities not only focused product feature development but also nailed target ‘ignition market’ users, brand personality, and the tone of marketing efforts. I have done over 25 new products, brands, & companies in the past eight years. Most had actual budgets for the work we did. But by understanding this type of research with over 10,000 studies under my belt, we were able to do it fast and nearly free. Remember the fun we had doing interviews on the train platform and then debriefing to optimized our focus and be back out again the next day? That was great fun.

    Aaron’s Dad