With Disrupt NYC 2012 literally a day away (tickets here), it’s hard not to think about the past success of our former Battlefield startups. I’ve taken a close look at quite a few over the past couple weeks, and to be honest none have come as far as Mint.com. The company has rocketed to success since launching at TC40 in September, 2007, and subsequently winning the top prize at the Battlefield.
When I spoke to VP and general manager of Mint, Aaron Forth, he said that two very specific things, the financial crisis of 2008/09 and a launch on the TechCrunch Disrupt stage, were the main factors of the company’s success, both in acquiring users and being acquired themselves.
Here’s what else he had to say:
TechCrunch: So tell me the story of Mint, from launch until now.
Mint.com: It’s been such a great run. We won TC40 in 2007, and that was the first time our product saw the light of day. It was an intense moment, debuting something we had put so much work into.
Winning gave us a great start. We hit 20,000 users within the first couple hours of the announcement. We’ve been on a crazy growth trajectory ever since, and we saw TechCrunch as a catalyst for getting out of the gate.
It’s a special place to launch, particularly for a service like ours. We were trying to disrupt the personal finance world. We were asking for sensitive information, and credentials to financial accounts. What TechCrunch gave us was access to a young, tech-savvy, comfortable-on-the-web readership that was excited about exploring the service. They didn’t get aggravated by security concerns.
It became a very viral growth process for us. We continue to spend very little money in marketing. Our growth is from word of mouth, and the TechCrunch crowd are great amplifiers.
TechCrunch: I seem to get really emotional during the Battlefield. People are launching products they’ve been working on for years sometimes, and it’s a huge moment in their lives. How was the experience of launching on stage?
Mint.com: We came out with a fairly immature product at TC40. So we realized that we had a ways to go. We were very focused on trying to demonstrate the value of the product and into pulling everything into one place. We wanted Mint to do all the work for you, which was our focus at TechCrunch.
But at the time we could only aggregate checking, savings and credit. Over the next two years we worked on rounding out the financial picture, pulling in investments, loan functionality, and adding budgeting features. This type of full view built up quite a lot of data.
We knew where consumers were shopping, and during the financial collapse in 2009, we became a huge resource to the media. Our data was anonymized and aggregated, and we could help the media tell a story with real data. It got our name out, and we continued to see really healthy growth during the economic downturn.
Then we brought out mobile apps. It’s started to really drive us a lot of new users at a very affective acquisition cost. In fact, 60 percent of our new users come from app stores. By then, interest from Intuit and others started to come our way.
As you already know, Intuit acquired us in September 2009 for $170 million, and we’ve continued to grow post-acquisition.
TechCrunch: Do you think your TC40 win may have strengthened the argument for you guys, whether it be with investments of with the acquisition?
Mint.com: Our win absolutely lent credibility. But then there’s the after effect. The amplifier that TechCrunch provides means that a lot of influential people end up following your service and getting buzz going. That, paired with attention from the media gave nothing but legitimacy to what we’re doing.
The idea of aggregated finances has been done before, but it didn’t get traction. We did it substantially differently. Having that kind of platform to be born into the world got our name out there, gave us a lot of users fairly quickly, and made it easy to demonstrate growth.
TechCrunch: So if you had to name a few things that led to your success, what would they be?
Mint.com: I think TC40 made us.
It was the launch at TechCrunch and the work we did to parlay that into making us a reputable service. Another thing that helped was the economic crisis. Being financially conscious was actually cool all of the sudden, and we could help people be cool and not be trapped in the desktop or a legacy personal finance tool. We modernized it and made it mobile.
TechCrunch: There are hundreds of entrepreneurs headed to New York right now, if they aren’t already here. As a winner, and a super successful member of the Disrupt alumni clan, what advice would you give to them as they launch their products on stage?
Mint.com: I think the demo has to impress, which rests on the strength of the product. the demo just makes it believable.
But the thing that really resonates — and you have to realize that the panels are made up of guys who are used to investing and seeing lots of ideas come by — is the value proposition of how your product is going to change lives.
If you have that hook, something that makes people believe in your company, then you have a chance.
The next thing that you’re sure to be challenged with is how you’ll do it better than other people. Be prepared to speak about it in those terms. “Here’s how we’re different and that’s why we’re going to win.”
If you can show the product and communicate a clear value proposition and how you’re going to win relative to competitors you’ll have a successful onstage launch.
Disrupt NYC is set to be one of our biggest shows yet, with returns from Michael Arrington and MG Siegler, along with a variety of big names like Marissa Mayer, Sarah Tavel, Fred Wilson, and David Lee and more. It’s going to be huge.
If you’re interested in checking out Disrupt and/or the Hackathon yourself, tickets are still on sale here and info on the Hackathon can be found here. Companies who want to join the Battleground can apply for the last remaining spots in Startup Alley. You can find the full agenda here.
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