The Kid Behind a $170 Million Website
BY Donna Fenn
Aaron Patzer started Mint.com because he was frustrated with Intuit's Quicken. Two years later, Intuit intends to cut him a very big check.
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. Patzer, an Inc.com 30 Under 30 alum, is also featured in the new book, Upstarts! How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business (www.upstartsrock.com), by Inc. contributing editor Donna Fenn. She recently caught up with Patzer to discuss the big sale, what his new role with the company will be, and how he's planning to change the future of transportation. Was an acquisition always in the back of your mind?
I honestly didn't even think about it. I just wanted to create something that I wanted to use. And then last May, the CEO of Intuit, Brad Smith, approached me about a meeting, saying he just wanted to get to know the other CEOs in the space. Ten minutes into the conversation, he said, "Would you consider selling?" I said "Honestly, I haven't thought about it." And I hadn't.
So was it a difficult decision for you?
Yes. It took me about three months to make the decision. We have the foundations in terms of management and procedures to be a much larger company. All of the early investors said, "If you want to make us a billion-dollar company, we'll support you because we believe in you, but if you'd like to sell, we understand -- it's your call." I thought about what I really love to do and what I love to do is build things. I like to see things made practical and real. With Intuit, all of the sudden we have a way to reach 50 million people. And with their resources, we can go global. That would be pretty difficult to do on our own because we'd need all of the investment and stock market data for each country. But Intuit gives us that reach.
Will your employees benefit from the sale?
Yes, all Mint employees have been granted stock options in the company -- some a significant amount. For people who are vested more than one year, they will see cash at the deal close. For those who have been with the company less than a year, they need to stick around at Intuit for a while to realize that gain.
You once complained to me about working for IBM because "you can't do anything interesting until you're 40." How do you think you're going to like working for a big company?
I'm there for three years and I imagine it will be an interesting transition. But I'll be the general manager of Mint, plus Quicken, and Quicken Online. Quicken Online will disappear in terms of technology and it will be Mint.com technology under the cover of the Quicken brand. Are you going to tell us how much money you're walking away with?
No. But as the only founder, I will do very well. I will have enough money to start companies and to build and to invent and to create for the rest of my life. I've just always wanted to build things and I've been doing that since I was six years old, with Legos.
What are you thinking of building next?
If I tell you, you'll think I'm crazy.
I've been thinking about the future of transportation -- how most cars sit idle 90 percent of the time and how most public transportation is too expensive to build. We need a system that combines the advantages of both. You could have a working system of lightweight levitated pods that hold two people, suspended 12-15 feet above the ground on utility poles. Every half mile or so, you'd see these suspended pods and you'd walk up a set of steps to use them on demand. So there's no waiting. I hate waiting.
I told you you'd think I'm crazy!
Well, until that system is built, will you at least buy yourself a new car?
I still drive a 1996 Ford Contour with 135,000 miles, and a 1994 Jaguar with 80,000 miles. I have two because neither is particularly reliable. I might get the third-generation Prius, but certainly not a Lamborghini or Ferrari or anything.