America is drowning in a sea of debt. Aaron Patzer created a program to simplify people's finances -- and help them make smarter spending decisions.
Aaron Patzer was always one to stay on top of his personal finances. He would usually spend time on the weekend updating his account balances with traditional software programs like Quicken and Microsoft Money. There was only one problem: "Quicken wasn't quick," Patzer jokes.
He spent hours manually inputting numbers into spreadsheets and trying to categorize his spending activity. Patzer says he became increasingly frustrated by the amount of effort that these programs required for what he considered to be very basic -- and often unhelpful -- results.
So began his quest to build Mint.com, a tool that would make managing personal finances quick and easy. "I wanted something you could set up and that would get your finances organized in five minutes or less," he says. The version of Mint.com that Patzer eventually launched in September 2007 was exactly that -- user-friendly and required minimal effort.
Users create an anonymous account and then add their bank, credit card, and investment accounts. The free, Web-based tool then automatically pulls transactional and balance information from those institutions to provide a detailed picture -- via graphs and charts -- of one's financial activity. The program also automatically updates, so there is never any additional data entry required.
Building the technology that would sync up with data from thousands of financial institutions was no easy task. At the time Patzer set out to create Mint.com, he was working as an architecture engineer at a software start-up. He had worked for a little over two years and managed to save up about $100,000 -- enough to quit his job and figure out the technology to make Mint.com happen.
Patzer thought about nothing else for the next seven months. "I worked alone in a room, seven days a week, 14 hours a day for about seven months, and I built the alpha version of Mint," Patzer recalls. "Everything from the graphics all the way back to the database." Patzer was 25 at the time and had three undergraduate engineering degrees from Duke and had just gotten his Master's in electrical engineering from Princeton. "I don't think I dated all of 2006," he jokes.
Even though Patzer had confidence in his idea for Mint.com, he experienced frequent moments of self-doubt as he went through the process of taking his product to investors. "You go through all sorts of psychological bout," Patzer recounts. "I was 25 at the time, and here I am competing with Microsoft and Intuit. So often you ask yourself, 'If this was such a good idea, then why hasn't someone else already done it?"
In late 2006, after attending countless networking events trying to shop around his idea, one of the founders of Half.com agreed to listen to Patzer's elevator pitch. Within two weeks, Patzer had a term sheet for his first round of funding. The company wrapped up $12 million in Series B funding earlier this year.
Patzer formally launched Mint.com at Tech Crunch 40 in September 2007 -- the start-up was chosen to present out of 700 other applicants for the event. Less than a year later, the site has 400,000 registered users and has received substantial recognition. It recently picked up two Webby awards and was named one of the "100 Best Products of 2008" by PC World. Beyond all the positive press, Patzer says he is most thrilled about the feedback he has received from satisfied users. "I hear from people everyday that Mint has saved them from overdrawing their account, and in many cases has even prevented identity theft before the bank has," he says.
In addition to providing analysis on financial transactions, the service provides users with e-mail alerts anytime an account balance gets low, when a bill payment is approaching, or an unusual charge appears. Mint.com also works to help people save -- and even make -- money by identifying better offers on credit cards and higher interest rates at banking institutions.
According to Patzer, more than two-thirds of the site's users actually change their spending habits after getting Mint.com's personalized saving suggestions. And, at a time when the economy is causing many Americans to cut back, Patzer hopes his product will not only help people do so, but also encourage them to take control of their finances. "I want to see Mint change the savings rate in the U.S. from negative to positive."