I posted yesterday on Twitter about a new report that US consumers increased their credit card debt by $14.33 billion last month. That’s right, billion, and yes, last month alone. As I said in the tweet, “Makes me feel like we’re not doing enough. Tell a friend in debt.”
When I first started talking about the idea of Wesabe, one of the common reactions I heard was, “Doesn’t Quicken own that market?” I would always respond the same way. “How can Quicken possibly own this market when the national savings rate is negative, credit card debt has soared, and people list money as their single greatest stress? Owning this market would mean having a measurable effect on consumer budgets at the national level, and I don’t see that from any product with the personal finance label.” Quicken was fantastic for me over ten years of use in making it easier for me to pay bills and see where my money had gone — but what I want for Wesabe is to do more, and to measurably improve the net worth of our members, at a level that everyone can see the effect. If our users aren’t succeeding, we may well have other outward measures of success, but we won’t have reached the goal we all share for this company.
I will feel that Wesabe is succeeding when national governments start reporting on the positive effect we’re having on the economy as a whole. That may seem overly ambitious to you. Really, though, if that’s not our goal, why the hell would we even bother trying to build Wesabe? Companies affect the economy all the time, and I fully believe we have the opportunity to do the same, by giving consumers better information, support, and tools to make managing their finances easier and to make them better off.
I really meant it when I asked that you tell a friend in debt. Tell anyone that you think could benefit from joining the Wesabe community. Of course, I’m asking for this in large part because it helps Wesabe as a business and because it will help us continue to grow and improve the services we offer. I also believe, though — for Wesabeans more than for the members of any other personal finance site — that when you bring someone into the Wesabe community, you’re helping yourself and all the other members of the site as much or more than you’re helping us as a company.
Wesabe is the only site of its kind where the community gets smarter, the reports become more helpful and more informative, and the positive effect on everyone’s budget increases with each new member who joins, jumps into Groups, and starts tagging and rating the merchants where they shop. I see this happen on our site all the time. I love it when Wesabean BS0408 tells us he saved half his budget on an engagement ring based on advice from other members. I love it when Wesabean GQ tells us that after finding himself deeply in debt despite a high salary, he was able to work his way completely out of debt with advice from our members and others. I love it when Wesabean Bzzzz tells us that after using Wesabe for a year, “I had no idea how powerful doing [so] would be…I’ve saved more than I ever have before.” We don’t believe, and have never believed, that it is our job to simply show you your own data and let you figure things out from there. Instead, we aim to find the best strategies, the best tips, the best advice, and the best support for consumers everywhere, and to share that with all of our members.
I sometimes see our competitors talk about how mortgage foreclosures are simply the fault of consumers, or how easy it is to avoid overdrafts if you just put $10,000 in a savings account, and I think, wow, are they out of touch. Cynically, I think they must care far more about lining their own wallets than they do about lining the wallets of their users. No one ever gets hired at Wesabe with that attitude or approach. We’re inspired instead by what our board member, Tim O’Reilly, recently wrote as a challenge to Web 2.0 startups everywhere:
[W]hat good is collective intelligence if it doesn’t make us smarter? In an era of looming scarcities, economic disruption, and the possibility of catastrophic ecological change, it’s time for us all to wake up, to take our new “superpowers” seriously, and to use them to solve problems that really matter.
One of our engineers, Coda Hale, put our view of this most succinctly a while back: “We’re not in this to get money. We’re not in this to get users. We’re in this to get money for users.” He’s absolutely right. I know as the CEO of Wesabe that if we succeed at that goal, all of the other kinds of success will follow for us as a business. In fact, I think there’s no better approach to business success than to put your customers’ needs first.
So today, I want to ask you for your help, because I believe that help will in turn help you and everyone who uses Wesabe. We’ve launched a new feature called “Tell a Friend,” which is available at the top of every page on Wesabe (you have to be logged in, so that it can’t be used for spam). Thanks to Matt at Wesabe for doing a great job putting this together for us. Of course, you can send a friend an email however you want. We wanted to make doing so easy and obvious, and we wanted to ask you to do it while you’re on the site.
Thank you again to everyone who makes Wesabe what it is. We get all worked up about new graphs and features from time to time, and those are certainly fun and very useful, but what makes Wesabe what it is are the people. You. Thank you.