Marc Hedlund, one of the founders of the personal finance tracking website Wesabe, has put up an excellent blog post about why his company lost to the more popular Mint service, in spite of being the first mover and having other important advantages. It’s not dispassionate, but it’s engaging and a fair analysis.
Most interesting to me is when he compares Wesabe’s security practices to Mint, and describes how he believed that would be enough of a differentiating factor in the marketplace.
Everything I’ve mentioned — not being dependent on a single source provider, preserving users’ privacy, helping users actually make positive change in their financial lives — all of those things are great, rational reasons to pursue what we pursued. But none of them matter if the product is harder to use, since most people simply won’t care enough or get enough benefit from long-term features if a shorter-term alternative is available.
This kind of account is critically important for people starting companies that aim to clone other services, but with more privacy, security, freedom, or any other particular virtue. It’s possible to succeed with that sort of business model, but it’s something that has to be approached with care and humility. Hedlund’s post is a great guide of how not just the long-term, but also the short-term interests of the users are important for creating a successful service.