Thursday, February 25, 2010 Offers Fresh Ideas

When launched, the web-based personal financial management service faced a huge security hurdle: it had to convince users to fork over all their financial information to a new start-up. That's why Mint launched at the 2007 TechCrunch conference to a crowd of Silicon Valley software developers already comfortable with online finance.

"If we could get these people who already have online banking to start using the service, we'd start to see a little bit of adoption from others less oriented to [online banking] and they would say, 'how could 10 or 15 thousand people be wrong?'" Mint's Vice-President of Product Aaron Forth said Thursday night at Stanford's E-week. "Coming from where we were, Mint was very proud to hit 2.5 million users because we had a lot of work to do to make people comfortable engaging once they registered for the site."

Mint agreed to be acquired by Intuit for $170 million in November 2009. Forth described the merger as a "fairy tale story."

"We built something we think adds a lot of value to the world and someone was there to take that up," he said. At the time Mint was acquired, it had around 35 employees.

Forth shared what he called "transferable ideas" to a room brimming with Stanford Business Students eager to learn from Mint's success story. Forth revealed other tricks of the trade like the importance of a business working in small project teams to empower people in the company and to decentralize power. And, as other Silicon Valley companies have touted, Mint tries to "stay nimble" and doesn't plan too much so that it can react to the market.

From the beginning product concept, Mint wanted to do something new. "One of the things we knew about financial software is that is was a male dominated sport. But, the weird thing is that females are often making the day to day financial decisions in the home. So we thought, let's be bold and do something that's not stealing blue or grey and actually print something that has some life in it and that's consistent with the mint leaf and being fresh."

The company's "refreshing"mint leaf aesthetic carries out through its company philosophy. At it's most basic level Mint says money is for living. "You work so hard because you want to make that money to have a great life. So let's talk about that. Lets talk about having a great life and how this tool's going to help you do it."

Contrary to expectations, Mint met the recession period with growth instead of set back because during a time when no one knew where their money was going, Mint allowed people to track their finances. Mint also tapped into the swell of frustration with financial institutions by taking a consumer advocacy approach and alerting users about ways to save money. Forth noted that the recession didn't end up being Mint's downfall. "We thought it might be hard for people to engage with their finances during this period, but it was one of the great growth periods actually." He said no one knew where their money was and Mint let them see where it was going. Also, the recession proved a boon for Mint because when people have less money they have to pay closer attention to where they are spending.

"Mint saw a change in behavior towards money. We started to talk less about autopilot and more about how it was important to be engaged with your finances," Forth said. "For the first time, in my life, having a budget and knowing where you spend it was cool."

When asked about the Intuit acquisition during the Q&A session, Forth said that Mint will end up merging in many different ways. "We are still very focused on the value we're bringing and how that hits the market is yet to be determined. We're studying lots of things about the brand and the technology and we are going to be opportunistic about what we decide to integrate and what not to integrate."

During the question period several students even asked about job opportunities. Mint said for every management job, the company interviews about 20 people. For engineering positions the number goes up to 50 per one hire. But instead of pummeling job applicants with tough questions and back-to-back interviews, Forth described a very different hiring process where they ask applicants to "draw a financial issue you're grappling with"

Another favorite Mint interview question: Describe a favorite product. "When someone talks about something that isn't the iphone or other technology, something that no one's ever told you is a cool product like 'I love my shampoo' because of the contours of the bottle and the way it suds up,' then I know when it comes to constructing a product themselves they'll have that sense of what they like and don't like and apply it to their own product."

No comments: