Archive for June, 2007

The New York Times on Wesabe

June 27, 2007


The New York Times has a great write-up about Wesabe today, written by their Google beat reporter, Saul Hansell:

Wesabe looks like a social version of Quicken personal finance software. As you look at your bank statement, you see tips about individual merchants contributed by other members. Soon it will turn into a sort of Zagats for everything, showing which restaurants, car repair shops and so on are popular with members. (Users can mark merchants that they patronize but don’t like. Do cell phone companies come to mind?) […]

Marc Hedlund, Wesabe’s co-founder chief product officer, said the idea is to be a reverse credit bureau.

“In the same way that credit bureaus aggregate data about you to decide whether to extend credit to you, we aggregate data about businesses to see whether you value them,” he said.

I had a fantastic time talking to Saul, since he has gone from covering banks and finance to covering Google and Yahoo, and has a deep understanding of both what we’re trying to do with Wesabe, and what we’re up against to get there. It’s very satisfying to talk with someone who immediately sees the landscape and can call out its features from long familiarity. I set a couple of gentleman’s bets with him about some of our assumptions, which I look forward to collecting in the years to come. 🙂

We’ve had a great few weeks at Wesabe, with coverage in the Wall St. Journal and now the Times, the close of our funding round, the Online Banking Report “Best of the Web” award, and (most importantly) some excellent new features and fixes going up on the site. I continue to be amazed at how much email we get from Wesabe users encouraging us and talking about their experiences with the site. Thanks for all the positive feedback — and for the criticisms and suggestions, too, which are just as helpful. We’ll keep doing everything we can to respond to that feedback and make the site better using it.

Wesabe Raises $4M in Series A Funding

June 20, 2007

This morning, we announced that Wesabe raised $4 million in Series A funding in a round led by Union Square Ventures (USV). This is good news not only for our team (yes, we will be moving out of the “office space” above my wife’s clothing store), but also for our members – this means we’re going to speed up the roll-out of new features and make Wesabe even easier to use.

When Marc and I set out to raise our Series A, we expected a long, drawn-out process. It wasn’t, because one of our very first meetings was with USV and things just clicked. There were many reasons we decided to partner with USV, perhaps most importantly: 1) they have a fundamental respect for our members and place a high value on customer service; 2) they challenge us and make us smarter…sometimes the hard way, and 3) we simply like spending time with them.

USV partner Brad Burnham joined our board of directors, and we’re looking forward to his insight and guidance.

USAA Deposit@Home now available for Mac

June 19, 2007

USAASince I’m both a USAA customer and a Mac user, I was happy to see that USAA is now supporting Macs for its fantastic Deposit@Home service. Deposit@Home lets you deposit checks into your account using a scanner, which has been a huge help for me. If you’re a USAA customer, you should definitely check it out. For now at least, they’re crediting the account immediately with your deposit, which in itself is a benefit over banks that take a day or two to recognize a check deposit you make at a branch.

Macs aren’t usually well-supported on bank sites. If you’re on Windows, Deposit@Home works through Java applet that directly controls the scanner. On Mac, USAA is instead having you scan the check yourself in JPEG format, and then crop it using their applet. I’d guess that makes supporting Macs easier (since they don’t have to write scanner-control code for Mac scanners), if a little harder for Mac users, but that seems like a good trade-off. I’d rather have Macs supported, even a little awkwardly, than not at all. (Anyone want to try it on Linux and let me know what you find? If you can scan an image on a Mac, you can do it on Linux, too, I’d guess…)

Wesabe awarded "Best of the Web" by Online Banking Report

June 13, 2007

OBRThe newest issue of the Online Banking Report, a ten-year old publication covering financial services on the Internet, covers Social Personal Finance, looking at Wesabe and other sites that help people manage money and investments online. We’re honored to have been awarded OBR’s “Best of the Web 2007” as part of the report. The extensive and very well-researched report devotes seven of its 44 pages to Wesabe, and identifies us as the leader in the social finance area. Some choice quotes from the report:

Wesabe is first and foremost a Web-based personal financial management application. But what separates it from at least two dozen others, is the added layer of user connections – Tips, Goals, and Groups – integrated into the transaction data. It’s a clever platform and provides many avenues for growth over time. We are awarding it our first OBR Best of the Web 2007 largely based upon that integration. […]

It’s tempting to call it “Quicken meets MySpace”, but that’s an oversimplification. We doubt either Quicken or MySpace users would find many similarities. But those analogies short-change the vision of founder Jason Knight, who I caught up with over coffee in Seattle in late May. I came away with a new respect for what Wesabe is doing, not really looking to be a Web-based Quicken, but more of a Quicken/Google mashup, providing actionable insights into the billions of consumer purchases each year, akin to Google’s algorithmic processing of billions of Web pages. […]

Wesabe is a company you want to love. They are on a mission to bring clarity to the mess most people make of their personal finances, all the while trying to help consumers save money, save fees, and be smarter financial consumers. As a social network, Wesabe hopes to bring a bit of community around one of the more important parts of most peoples lives: their spending and banking habits.

Thanks very much to the Online Banking Report for the award, and thanks also to report author Jim Breune for providing great positive feedback and some insightful critiques. We know we’re off to a great start, but also that we have a lot of room to grow and improve on the site, and we’re well on our way. Thanks, and stay tuned for more.

Wesabe in the Wall St. Journal

June 13, 2007


There’s a great article in tomorrow’s Wall St. Journal about Wesabe and personal finance on the Web. It covers the different kinds of personal finance sites, and interviews users of our site and others. Some excerpts:

Josh Young, a 26-year-old environmental engineer from Cincinnati, decided to try out after reading about it in various blogs. He wanted to pay off his credit-card debt and the two car loans that he and his wife shared, and he expected the site would help identify areas where he and his wife were overspending. But he also got help from other users who shared their own tips on reducing debt and cutting spending. “One of our goals was to pay off all our debt, and we’re almost there,” says Mr. Young.

Some consumers may have security concerns about sending their personal financial information to a Web site. In general, the sites say their systems are protected against identity thieves and are just as safe as banking online. Wesabe, for its part, stresses that it doesn’t store users’ login information on its servers and screens out any personal information from the data to protect users’ privacy. […]

The target audience for these sites is younger users. “The idea of looking at a ledger and seeing a check number, that’s really boring,” says Harper Reed, a 29-year-old software engineer in Chicago, who uses Wesabe to keep track of his spending. “But being able to say, ‘I’m trying to spend less money at Amazon,’ and seeing how many people are also trying to save money at Amazon is a better way to quantify the numbers to me.” […]

Another advantage: “You don’t feel alone,” says Mr. Reed, who uses Wesabe. “I have a lot of student loans that I want to pay off, so it’s neat to see other people who have the same goal and how they’re achieving that goal. You think, ‘I can do it too.’ “

It’s great to see people calling out these features of the site — they’re exactly why we decided to start Wesabe. Thanks to Josh and Harper, and thanks to everyone who contributes to Wesabe and makes it what it is!

New Feature: Flash-ier, more useful graphs

June 12, 2007

One of the best ways to use Wesabe is to get a better understanding of your spending by exploring your tags. You can click around from tag to merchant, look at the different places your money goes, and find the “hot spots” where you can most easily cut your spending. (For me — especially since the Wesabe launch — it’s restaurants.)

Until now, though, we haven’t had a way to do the same sort of exploration graphically. On your tag page, we showed your spending by week as a bar graph, but the graph wasn’t interactive and was limited to showing only the past three months.

Flash Graphs

Today, we’ve launched a completely revised graphing system. If you go to any of your tag pages, you’ll find an interactive Flash graph application that lets you get a much better picture of your spending over time, and lets you compare your spending across tags, which is incredibly useful. The graphs are live on the tag pages now , and will be moving to the merchant and summary pages soon. [Update: now on those pages and more, see below.]

With the new Flash graphs you can:

  • Scroll through your spending over time. Our earlier graphs only showed the last three months of your spending. With the new graphs, you can drag the graphs back and forth to see your spending as far back as your data goes.
  • Change the time scale of the graph. Previously you could only see your spending one week at a time (that is, one bar for each week in the last three months). Now, you can view your spending by year, quarter, month, week, or day. The zoom control in the upper right lets you choose the view you want.
  • Add up your spending by year, quarter, month, week, or day, for any tag. Just set the scale slider in the upper right to the right time-frame, and then hold your mouse over the right bar. You’ll see a popup showing your total spending for that bar (including a breakdown by tag if you’re comparing tags).
  • Compare your spending by tag. Let’s say you want to see how much you spend on restaurants versus groceries. Go to your ‘restaurants’ tag page, and enter ‘groceries’ in the box at the lower-left of the graph, then click “Add tag.” You’ll see groceries appear in the graph. You can add up to five tags at once. If you want, you can delete any tag from the graph by clicking the box to its left in the legend.
  • Drill down into the bars. If you’re looking at quarter view, and see that one of the quarters had a big expense, you can click on the bar for that quarter and the graph will zoom down to month view, centered on the months of the quarter you clicked. Click on a month’s bar and you get a week view, centered on that month.
  • Build a consolidated spending graph. You may want to see one graph that shows your spending for multiple tags — not for comparison but as a single report. For instance, you might want to see everything tagged ‘movies’, ‘parking’, and ‘popcorn’ in the same graph. Just add the tags as above, and the graph will show you how much it really costs to go the movies.
  • You can also not use them at all! If you don’t like Flash or have it blocked, you’ll still get our standard graphs, which are built without Flash.

For me, it’s interesting and useful to see how my ‘restaurant’ tag compares with my ‘groceries’ tag — after we launched Wesabe, unfortunately my cooking took a big hit and we started eating out a lot more often. Seeing it in one graph made me want to stay home and cook a big dinner.

Let us know how it works for you. We’re happy with how this came out and we’re looking forward to doing more.

Update: We’ve now added the Flash graphs to the spending and earning summary pages, the merchant pages, and the search results page, too. The comparison feature only works on tags, but the rest of the features work on all of the graphs.

New feature: Cash Accounts

June 9, 2007

We’ve added a new feature today: cash accounts, one of our most requested features in the Make Wesabe Better group. It’s available on the site by clicking “New Account,” then clicking “Quick Start” and choosing a “cash” account. Of course, cash accounts are ideal for people like restaurant employees, who often receive most of their income in cash tips, but it can be great for other people, too.

One of the great pieces of received wisdom in the world of personal finance is to “watch out for the Latte Factor” (which, I had no idea until today, is actually a registered trademark of personal finance personality David Bach — zoinks, I thought it was just a cliché!). The basic idea of this maxim is that a lot of your money slips through your fingers in small purchases like lattes, and if you cut out the lattes, you’d be much better off.

It’s easy for me to see in Wesabe that this hasn’t proven true for my accounts (though others of Bach’s ideas have; he’s worth a read). I buy $20 gift cards from Peet’s Coffee once a month (they give you $1 free for each $20 card, and I reliably use up the cards, so it’s a good deal for me). That usually lasts me the whole month, since I will often make coffee at home instead of buying it in a store. About $10 in beans and $20 in store purchases a month adds up to $360 a year — less than most of my other discretionary categories. So far, it hasn’t proven true for Wesabeans in general, either — the ‘coffee’ tag has a monthly average of just $17.19 for everybody on the site.

I’m not, however, a latte drinker, and Wesabeans in general probably don’t buy all of their coffee on gift cards like I do. Since we haven’t had a way to track cash purchases, we haven’t really been able to put the latte factor to the test. If you’re concerned about this in your own finances, the cash account feature is for you. It’s a great way to keep track of the small purchases that do add up, whether for you they are lattes, magazines, cab or bus fares, or the like.

We’ve done it differently than other personal finance programs, however. One of the problems I’ve had with other programs is that they show a cash balance, as if it were just like a checking account, and expect you to track every single penny you spend through it. You’re supposed to have your ATM withdrawals be “transfers” into your cash account, and if you track every penny, the account balance they show will precisely match the amount in your pocket. That’s always been much more work than I’m willing to do — at the end of every month, I’d have to have one big “miscellaneous” fake-purchase to zero-out the balance. If I didn’t do that, my balance listing just went up and up, and made it look like I had hundreds of dollars in my wallet that I knew for a fact just weren’t there.

Instead, we’ve tried to make our cash accounts as lightweight as possible. You’re welcome to keep track of every penny if you want to, but for those of us who just want to track the expenses we think are problems, just enter those. We don’t show a running balance (if you want the balance, just open your wallet!) and if you forget or decide not to enter some expenses, no problem.

We’ve been working our way down the list of feature requests we hear the most. This coming week, we’re adding another feature that has been very much requested, and we’re thrilled about how it came out. Thanks again to everyone who lets us know what we can do better — your ideas and feedback are incredibly valuable. Keep it coming.

Wheaties bookmarks for June 5th

June 5, 2007

Good reading for June 5th: