Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A very unique version of Mint story from FOWA Miami

Listening to Aaron Patzer, CEO of MINT shares his lessons of growing Mint from idea to $170M acquisition.

I had a different view of Mint as a company which was getting lot of press and growth but didn't know to hire really passionate early employees dying to be part of Mint.
I knew of a friend who was super passionate about personal finance and was referred by a Mint angel investor and did not make it through to even get an interview call giving a sneak peek into some some growth pains as they scaled.

I am sitting at FOWA Miami and listening to Aaron Patzer, I hear a very different he shares the real story of his experience.

I am blogging live, here are my notes, its valuable lessons for any startup entrepreneur:

Aaron is so real, talks about his experience in taking his idea to exit in 3 stages

1. Garage (idea) 2 <$1M 3 >$1M revenues

Details now:

Stage 1: Garage --> Seed: Raising Funds
  • Solve a real problem
  • In a large market
  • Real rev potential
  • Sustainable advantage (best tech guy, patents filed, good UI)

Key learning here is - Find What is your per user or per transaction revenue is important not the hockey stick of growth

Facebook makes $2/user Google makes $6/user

Mint developed estimates for lead-Gen for categories Credit Score, Credit cards, IRS, CDS, Mortgage redifinancing. Aaron built a justification of each of these as estimates to CPA of $30/user. So the built a B Model on lead gen and estimated user base x rev.user/yr = Mint opportunity at $1Bil.

Seed stage got funded by Josk Kopleman because Aaron had a working prototype and showed it to Josh passionately. Raised $750K in April 07

Stage2: Funded: Scaling People

'Why" is more important than "what" in hiring interview. He shared his interview style.
Aaron shared his experience of buying mint.com by giving the owner of that domain name stocks in mint.com (smart!)

My notes: I wish we had heard more from Aaron's practical experience of scaling team from Engg to business folks, as this is where they seemed to have hired initial set of people based on where they came from and not so much on their real passion for Mint.
Is there any lesson on hiring, team building as you scale and lessons in building a real management team as Mint seemed to have done it successfully to exit. This is typically a leap for an engg founder to comprehend what it takes to be successful here.

Aaron gave a Book Referral : Top Grading by Bradford D.Smart.
I want to check it out for some learning!

Stage 3: Funded: Beta to Big Launch

  • Venue Techcrunch40
  • Hired an aggressive PR agency
  • Offered free alcohol and won people's choice award and leveraged it to next level of PR.

Q: How do you validate your idea
Talk to as many people as possible, don't be secretive, let them poke holes.
Did concepts chart of value and tested with normal people at train stations.

Q: Missed the user question, but Aaron's answer had a nugget of wisdom here.
Mint hired someone who did UI wireframe to Product dev instead of a silod resource so it helped in smart execution of Mint UI.

Summary: One of the most honest and valuable startup entrepreneur lessons I've heard it a while.

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