Archive for December, 2006

35 most outrageous fees

December 27, 2006

Via Consumerist, here’s a great list of 35 most outrageous fees (and how to avoid them) from Money Magazine. Definitely worth checking out. If you haven’t already read it, be sure to check out our two-step primer on taking advantage of companies that charge these fees. “Fee Free” is a Wesabe rallying call…

Gift cards: your gift to retailers?

December 19, 2006

The big news in gifts over the past few years has been gift cards, credit card-like gift certificates, often tied to a particular retailer. One survey, via Payments News, has it that gift cards have passed traditional gifts in the preferences of U.S. consumers:

Picking out just the right gift for oneself proved an important feature of gift cards among consumers according to the Blackhawk Network survey, with 88 percent of respondents stating “I can get what I want” as the number one reason they like receiving gift cards.

Similarly, 73 percent of gift givers stated their primary reason for purchasing gift cards as “I want the person receiving the gift to get what he or she wants.”

Other reasons consumers choose gift cards include eliminating worry about getting the wrong item (52 percent), the convenience of not having to find a specific gift (40 percent) and sticking to a budget (26 percent), according to the survey.

That all sounds great, right? There’s a little hitch, though: according to this Associated Press article (via kottke), consumers will buy but not use $4.8 billion dollars’ worth of gift cards this year:

Shoppers across America have millions of gift cards tucked away in envelopes, drawers and wallets. And some of the nation’s largest retailers are profiting as a result. […]

About 6 percent, or $4.8 billion, of this year’s gift cards will go unused, estimated Laura Lane, vice president of unclaimed property services for Keane Co., a compliance and risk management consulting firm.

Consumer Reports put the figure even higher, estimating that 19 percent of those who received cards last year had not used them because the cards were lost or expired.

“It can add up to significant dollars,” Lane said. “I think the message to consumers is: use it or regift it.”

Even if you do use the cards eventually, they can carry (that’s right, our old friend) hidden fees and penalties, especially if you don’t use them within the first year. This earlier AP article has a decent summary of things to look out for; and Mouse Print (via Consumerist) has a great roundup on fees for Wells Fargo-issued gift cards.

This New York Times article from last year offers another solution: it lists ways to trade in gift cards for cash. Some of the sites mentioned in the Times article:

Don’t let that money go to waste! Focus on buying people things they actually want. If you decide you want to get a gift card, maybe one from a bank or credit card company would be a better choice, since then at least it’s not tied to a specific store, and can be used anywhere they would normally use a credit card. Better yet, if you’re not sure what to get someone, donate that money to a charity on their behalf, rather than donating it to a retailer in the form of a gift card they may not use.

Upcoming appearances: ETech

December 14, 2006

I’ll be speaking twice at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this coming March 26-29, 2007 in San Diego, California. ETech is my favorite conference of the year — a great gathering of people who want to talk about fun, new ideas. If you’re in the area or are attending, please drop by and say hi.

My conference session is entitled, “Super Ninja Privacy Techniques for Web App Developers.” At Wesabe, we’ve tried to come up with a bunch of new ways to protect our users’ privacy, and we have a set of newer ideas coming down the line. The session will lay out some of our techniques and how they might apply to other web applications, and talk about the best ways to think about users’ privacy and data rights when you are developing Web 2.0 applications.

During the conference tutorials, I’ll be presenting my talk for technical entrepreneurs, “Coder to Co-Founder: Entrepreneuring for Geeks.” If you’re interested in competing with Wesabe, come on by and I’ll tell you all about how we built it! 🙂 I’ll also cover coming up with an idea, finding co-founders, getting things started, product development, hiring, and fundraising.

Hope to see you there.

About that totally awesome economics paper…

December 10, 2006

Remember back in October when I told you about a totally awesome economics paper? That paper made it into the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas” issue today:

In a free market, all costs should be subject to competition, so economists have long been stumped as to why you almost never see a hotel compete on minibar prices or a printer company advertise its low cartridge costs. Perhaps, some have said, most hidden fees are just too complicated (and therefore too expensive) to explain in advertising. Or maybe this is a case in which companies are acting irrationally, losing more by irritating customers than they gain in income. But in the May issue of The Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Harvard professor David Laibson and Xavier Gabaix of M.I.T. offered a different and more persuasive account of why hidden fees persist.

Their argument assumes the existence of two kinds of consumers — sophisticates and “myopes.” Sophisticates play the hidden-fee game well. They seek out low advertised rates and whenever possible avoid or find substitutes for the hidden fees, using cellphones at hotels, steering clear of the minibar and setting their printers to draft mode. Myopes, by contrast, obliviously sip $5 Cokes.

The Times goes on to say that no one has an economic incentive to turn ‘myopes’ into ‘sophisticates’, but that is in fact the Wesabe business plan. (Oops, I gave it away!) Since I’ve said that having your idea in the Times “Year in Ideas” issue is a bad sign for entrepreneurs, I’m very glad they missed that. 🙂

Depositing checks with a scanner

December 7, 2006

USAA, which I’ve raved about in the past, has a very interesting new product offering called “Depost@Home”: a way to deposit checks over the Internet, using a scanner. Zoinks! From their press release:

Starting today, home banking takes on a whole new meaning for members of USAA Federal Savings Bank (“USAA”). USAA is now the largest nationwide bank to offer an easy-to-use, secure new service that enables its customers to deposit checks into their bank accounts using a scanner and an Internet connection….USAA bank customers simply scan, click, and confirm. They can access their money faster than ever before….Deposits received before 8 p.m. Central on a business day are credited that same day.

Uh, wow! I know this has been done before in more limited form, but I think it’s an incredible sign of where Internet banking is going. Some more coverage of the launch:

As I mentioned earlier, I’m trying to get in touch with someone at USAA to talk to them about their change in eligibility requirements for banking accounts. If anyone has a contact or could introduce me to Mike Luby, I’d be most appreciative. I get a huge amount of interest in USAA through our support address, and I’d like to be able to give people the correct information on the bank.

Ramit's "Guide to Kicking Ass"

December 5, 2006

Ramit Sethi, author of the fantastic blog, “I Will Teach You to be Rich,” has just released a PDF book ($4.95) called “Ramit’s 2007 Guide to Kicking Ass.” He’s collected some articles from other personal finance bloggers (including J.D. at Get Rich Slowly), and put them together as a collection of advice.

The Table of Contents

  • Who Has the Most Frugal Family? An Investigation…Page 3
  • The Key to Running a Great Project (hint: it starts with an “M”) by Ramit…Page 5
  • Producers, Consumers, and the Information Diet by Ramit…Page 7
  • Why Do People Get So Nutty Around Christmas? by Ramit…Page 8
  • 101 Words on Running More Than One Project at Once by Ramit…Page 11
  • How to Send an Introductory Email by Ramit…Page 12
  • Money Day by J.D. Roth…Page 14
  • Take Advantage of Your Youth by JLP…Page 18
  • Handling Failure: Dealing with a $2.2 Million Mistake at Age 24 by Casey Serin…Page 22
  • Building the Team You Already Have by K…Page 26

Looks like it’s well worth checking out. I’m thrilled that there are so many great resources shaping up together online, and seeing this collaborative effort is great. Congrats, Ramit!

Talk to Jason

December 3, 2006

I’ve started getting a lot of questions about what it is like to be available to your customers 7 days a week. Many thousands of people visit our site every day, so some people might expect that I’m inundated with calls – not the case…I get between 3-5 calls a day (maybe one on Saturday and none on Sunday). I’m able to take 95% of the calls as they rarely overlap, and I try to schedule meetings before noon and after 4pm.

I also get roughly three calls where the caller hangs up shortly after I say “Wesabe this is Jason.” I think these are people trying to figure out if “talk to Jason” is real. Once I answer the phone the question is answered, and they have no more use for the call. It can be abrupt, but I think of these as successful outcomes…if slight abbreviated.

These numbers are significantly lower than I expected, and at one point I was actually a little disappointed, but I’ve come to see that disappointment as ego and not customer service. Taking calls now seems like a natural part of my work day, and not something special that I’m doing as a CEO – in fact this approach is fundamental to how all of us work at Wesabe. My co-founder Marc reads every single support email that comes in (over a thousand since launch) and then assigns them to the developer responsible for the feature in question. If something on the site isn’t working for you – the developer who wrote the code knows about it immediately.

For anyone else who is interested in taking customer phone calls, Quick stats:

Daily call: 3-5 (20 minutes each)
Sales calls: 1 (3 minutes…I try to convince the sales person to try out our service)
Hang-ups: 3

I also have a suggestion for anyone considering answering the phone: don’t have an agenda…you can’t have a real conversation if you have an agenda. I learned this lesson the hard way, and now I try to spend the call really listening to what people have to say.

New features: "Tips for Your Area," tag split tricks, export

December 2, 2006

We’ve gotten a ton of great feedback from people about Wesabe since launch, and we’ve launched a few new features based on what we’ve heard.

First, Brad added a way to see all of the tips in your local area, or any other area you want. A lot of the tips that have made it into Wesabe so far are very general, like “Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry,” or the countervailing “DO grocery shop when you’re hungry” (ready….fight! ‘Don’t’ is in the lead…). The Wesabe tip system, though, supports tips that work at the level of a city or region. When you create a tip, you can say what area that tip applies to, by adding the postal code for it. I use this to give tips about the auto shop I use, the grocery store that I think is a great local deal, and the doctor who keeps me from safe from abject hypochondria. Obviously people in Nebraska don’t want to hear about grocery stores that only exist in Georgia, so we only show tips with a postal code to people who live somewhere near that code. (This currently works better only works for U.S. postal codes than others, I believe. Update: we’re on the case.)

The tips tab has some fantastic stuff in it already, and it’s great to see people really take to it. My hope is that local tips will start to build out some of the more specific suggestions that will help us get more from our money — not just general ideas and good advice, but solutions to local problems. One of the ideas about tips is that reviews on other sites are helpful, but don’t really get you to a good solution. They may just be a complaint about a bad company. With tips, we’re hoping that you get not just a negative recommendation but also a solution to a need. Don’t shop here — try this other place instead, it’s better.

There are, by the way, RSS feeds available for your area or any other area where we have tips.

Second, Brad also spiced up the tag splits feature. Tag splits are one of those features that not many people know about yet — we knew they were on the more complex end of things, so we added them without making too much noise about it just yet. You can divide one transaction into multiple tags like this:

Whole Foods                             $100.00
Tags: groceries:80 food:80 cashback:20 berkeley

When you look at your ‘groceries’ or ‘food’ tag pages, this transaction will be represented as $80.00. When you look at your ‘cashback’ tag page, it will be shown as $20.00. On the ‘berkeley’ tag page it will show up as $100.00. The number after the colon shows the amount you want applied to that tag. The numbers don’t have to add up to the value of the transaction — you can allocate them however you want.

Brad added some tricks to the split values, so that you can use simpler values to express how much of a transaction should be applied to different tags:

We just made some improvements to tag splits: you can now use fractions (“restaurant:1/3”) or percentages (“writeoff:25%”), and we’ll do the math for you.

A lot of people have asked for cash tracking, and while this isn’t a permanent fix for tracking your cash spending, it does give you a workaround. If you know you spend about 60% of your weekly cash on lunch, and about 30% on books, you can do this:

ATM Withdrawal                          $100.00
Tags: cash lunch:60% food:60% books:30%

and your tags will get the right values ($60 for lunch and food, $30 for books, and $100 for cash).

Coda also added in one of the features we talk about in our Data Bill of Rights, namely a way to export all of your account data. As he says:

At Wesabe, you can always download all your data—your data is yours.

You can get to the data export tool by clicking on your username in the top header (just below the pictures), then click “Manage your Account.” Right now the export is in XML format and it covers your account data (including all of your tags, edits, and ratings), but we’re planning to add other export formats as we go, including OFX 2. Want a particular export format? Let us know: <>.

Thanks again for all the great feedback. We’re still sorting through some of it, but we’ve added banks and credit cards in twelve more countries since launch, and we’ve fixed a number of the problems people have reported. We’re thrilled that a community has started to form around the site, and we’ll continue to respond to requests, feedback, and problems as quickly as we can.