Inc.com | by Aaron Patzer | October 2009
Aaron Patzer launched Mint.com as a user-friendly alternative to Quicken and other personal-finance software out there. Little did he know that just two years later, Intuit, which makes Quicken, would fork over $170 million for his website. So how’d he do it?
Step 1: Create a product that makes a difficult, tedious task easy and fun.
“What set us apart from 95 percent of other start-ups is that we served a real need,” Patzer says. “Personal finance is so complex and too difficult for most people. I was frustrated with the existing tools and found out that others were frustrated as well.”
Step 2: Choose a market that’s really, really big.
“There are 250 million people worldwide who already use online banking,” Patzer says. “With our 1.5 million users, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Intuit made a billion dollars on its tax business alone and that’s a once-a-year thing. People do online banking every day.”
Step 3: Develop a business model that actually allows you to, well, make money.
“Our product is free, but we make our money by helping people save money,” Patzer says. “We understand where people spend their money so we can say, ‘You should refinance’ or ‘You should change your auto insurance.’ The only ads people see on Mint.com are ones that will save them at least $50. Financial institutions then pay us for new customers.”
Step 4: Don’t pay to acquire customers. Ever.
“All of our customer acquisition has been free — through social media, blogs, and the press,” Patzer says. “We don’t pay a dime for advertising. We also use business partnerships with Motley Fool and the credit-report companies. And Apple has given us a lot of free advertising as a featured application.”
Step 5: Be a compete stickler about who you hire.
“In the last start-up I worked for, hiring was done haphazardly,” Patzer says. “We have a very rigorous hiring process. For tech people, we might screen 50 people and hire one. For all managers, we use a technique called top grading which reveals patterns in behavior. In the history of Mint, I’ve only fired two people and only one has left voluntarily.”
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