Sep 09

Ideas vs. dollars

mintToday’s topic allows me to combine two of my favorite things: technology and money. It vividly demonstrates that in the new world, a great idea allows one to rise above the nagging details that often hold back a business — like an advertising budget.

This is the story of Mint.com: a wonderfully simple website that lets you see all your personal financial information in one place, and get money-saving tips in the process. To see it is to love it, and in just two years Mint.com has seduced 1.5 million customers. Within minutes of signing up, my first thought was “great, now I can stop using Quicken.” Of course that was Intuit’s cue to go out and buy Mint.com for $170 million, presumably to be folded into Quicken and TurboTax.

That may be a good thing or a scary thing. However, the uplifting part of Mint.com’s story is that they did what they did without spending a penny on advertising. Rather than powering a marketing effort with their dollars, they powered it with their idea. To do so, they used the free and cheap tools available to any free and cheap person.

Well, okay, they did spend in the “mid 5-figures” for search engine terms. Peanuts in this business. But they created their website and blog with WordPress (free), built a following with Facebook and Twitter (free) and kept tabs on progress with Google Analytics (free). Add a smattering of negligibly priced tools for gathering customer feedback and a cool iPhone app, and voilà: “instant” happiness — for Mint.com and its members.

As an advertising person, I can’t help but admire an ad-free success. Without a bit of hype, the idea of Mint.com spread from human to human, simply and elegantly — and that authenticity only amplified the message.

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