Archive for April, 2009

Quite a week!

April 29, 2009

Wow, it has been quite a week.

Over the past five days….

  • We launched Wesabe for iPhone, our iPhone app, which allows you to edit and tag your financial transactions, see graphs, use the phone’s GPS to automatically locate where you just spent money for fast entry, and more. The reaction has been fantastic, as you can see from the early reviews on the App Store:

    with a bullet

    Incredibly cool! It’s been so awesome to hear people’s reactions and feedback: “This is so much better than anything else out there.” Thanks! Wait until you see the next version. 🙂

  • We changed our tagging system, which — since tags run everywhere in Wesabe — is a major change, both in amount of work and the impact on the site. This one caused some confusion, partially because people were accustomed to the old system, and partially due to some bugs in the first launch of the new system. We’re working out those bugs, and then I’ll post a whole guide to tagging, which will explain what we did and why we did it. Until then, please be assured that all of the capabilities you had (including split and one-time tags) are still there — we simplified the interface and gave you more control, even if it may not seem like it yet.
  • We redesigned every single page on our site. Most of the reactions have been completely fantastic:

    _L

    bradumbaugh

    ianmcn

    duncan

    Those have all been wonderful for us all to read, and we’re happy to have hit such a great level in the design. Some of the reactions, though, have been less happy:

    dsmay

    Oof. We know that redesigns can be disorienting. Other people were unhappy about the lack of search and export, and others about the readability of text in the new design. Not to worry — to those who has expressed dismay at the changes or missing features, we have heard you, and we’ll fix those concerns. We may take a different approach than the old design did, but we’ll do it at least as well, if not much better. QIF import is already fixed, and the rest will follow shortly.

    A few people have asked why we removed features during the redesign. Sometimes it was because they just hadn’t been updated to the new design yet, or had bugs that were too severe, we felt, to ship. In other cases, though, we wanted to get rid of or revise features we didn’t think were working well enough, and pare down to the essential parts, the ones we know are neeed and work well. Was this the right decision? I absolutely still think it was — for instance, we removed Goals and Tips — two whole tabs out of four — and haven’t gotten a single complaint about either of them being gone. We do believe reducing the site to its essential features makes it easier to use for everyone, and we’ll add back the features people are actually missing. We’ll be happy, though, to keep out or substantially revise the features people didn’t like or haven’t missed.

    Overall, the reaction to the redesign has been completely incredible. So many people have said, “Now I can introduce this to my [less techinically savvy person]!” That’s what we were going for — getting Wesabe to more people without giving up any of the control or power we’ve always provided.

  • Last but certainly not least, we announced our first Springboard customer, Delta Community Credit Union, the largest credit union in Georgia. We’re wonderfully happy to be working with them — they take helping their members extremely seriously, and have been excited about working with us, and we’re happy to be bring Wesabe services to a new group of people by working with them. We like working with people who share our values about helping consumers, and the credit union community, and Delta Community especially, line up perfectly with that.
    Delta Community Credit Union

So, yeah. That’s a lot for five days. Thanks so much for all the great feedback and response, and for those of you looking forward to a fix or addition, no worries, we’ve heard you and will respond quickly. Follow @WesabeUpdates to get up-to-the-minute detail on new fixes and additions, and we’ll announce the big ones here. Thanks again!

Redesigning Wesabe

April 28, 2009

In November of 2006, we launched the Wesabe site after about two years of talking about it, figuring out what it was going to become, and then building it, one piece at a time. Wesabe was the first of what are now known as “Social Personal Finance” sites, and we didn’t have anything to guide us except the history of Quicken — from which we were explicitly trying to get away. Wesabe was new and the idea was new, and that meant we had to make it up as we went along.

We spent a lot of the year leading up to Wesabe’s launch sitting in our cramped, informal office (in the back of a clothing store owned by my co-founder, Jason, and his wife) sketching, arguing, trying things out, and getting the pieces to fit together. With the graphic and UI design of the site, much of that process took place between me and Jeff, the site’s original designer, sitting in front of the gigantic monitor in his office. We essentially “pair programmed” the design, which helped me enormously as the product engineer, even if it sometimes frustrated Jeff’s better aesthetic instincts.

Now that the Wesabe site has been live for almost two and a half years, we’ve taken a chance to go back to our initial design and redo it, incorporating what we’ve learned since launch, and letting Magera, our designer, have the lead. It has been a chance for us to clean up some of our mistakes, make the site easier to use all around, and introduce a new standard of design for our site. Where with the first design I was extremely controlling about every little piece, this time I told Magera, “Make something you would like” — and it turns out we all like what she likes. 🙂

Dashboard

Wesabe’s whole site has been completely redesigned — every page is different. Rather than having a developer-led UI, this is designer-led development, and we’re all extremely happy with the result. We hope you will be, too — and please do let us know what you think.

(Note: As part of this launch, we’ve disabled or minimized some of our site’s features to get the simplest version out the door that we could. Some of the site’s graphs, export and search features, and side features like Wesabe Mail and Wesabe Cutback will be offline for a short while. They will be coming back very soon. Our Tips and Goals tabs are on the blocks for more major revisions — those will both return but in different forms. At the same time, Paul has completely revised the new User Manual, so we now have substantial and valuable online help for almost all of the site’s features. We’ve also added in some long-time requests from our community, such as spending target histories so you can go over your budget for months past, and a tag cloud that takes into account how much you spend on each tag.)

Three Questions: Insights From Wesabe Advisors Ramit, JD and Trent

April 8, 2009

Wesabe’s advisory board includes three of the biggest names in personal finance.  To help you get to know them better and to tap into their considerable smarts, we posed three questions to each of them:

1.    A family member is graduating from college and you’ve decided to give him a book on money management as a gift.  What would that book be?
2.    Has the economic downturn changed your relationship with money?
3.    What is the single best piece of financial advice you have ever been given?

A big thanks to our advisors:
–   JD Roth of Get Rich Slowly;
–   Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich; and
–   Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar
for taking the time to send over such insightful answers.

A family member is graduating from college and you’ve decided to give a book on money management as a gift.  What would that book be?

JD:  When I speak to college students, I hand out a one-page guide to personal finance on which I recommend four books:

– The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke by Suze Orman
– Debt is Slavery by Michael Mihalik
– Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk
– The Random Walk Guide to Investing by Burton Malkiel

Each of these books serves a different purpose, but contains great information. Many people have told me that Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin helped them after college, and I know that it helped me later in life. Finally, my colleague Ramit Sethi just published a new book called I Will Teach You to Be Rich, and it’s perfect for young adults.

Trent:  There are several good choices here depending on the person’s situation.

My default choice for a female college graduate would probably be “You’re So Money” by Farnoosh Torabi (my review).  It’s written with the strong voice of a young female professional and deals with the social pressures that many young professional women face in terms of spending money on material goods.  Along the way, it dishes out a lot of useful and relevant personal finance advice.

My default choice for a male college graduate would be Automatic Wealth for Grads by Michael Masterson (my review).  This book does a great job of painting personal finance in a positive and exciting light by making it clear to the graduate that life really is full of possibilities as long as you put the foundation pieces in place.

However, there is one book that trumps either of these choices.  If you know the student well and he/she strikes you as a person that’s particularly thoughtful and introspective, the best choice for that student is “Your Money or Your Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (my review).  This is the single most powerful personal finance book I’ve ever read, but it requires a lot of introspection to really get a lot of value out of it.  Instead of focusing on typical personal finance issues, the book is more of a guide to reflecting on money’s role in the larger life choices you make.  A thoughtful college graduate can get a ton of valuable ideas from this book.

Wesabe for Ramit
:  Rather than let Ramit answer this question, we wanted to take the opportunity to mention his awesome new book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.  Targeting 20-to-35-year-olds, this New York Times bestseller (congrats, Ramit!) would make a great gift for a college grad.

Has the economic downturn changed your relationship with money?

Trent:  I tend to behave like we’re constantly in an economic downturn, so the current economy really hasn’t affected me too much.  I always strive to spend less than I earn, regardless of whether or not the economy is roaring or it’s tanking.

One thing I have done differently, however, is that I’ve been buying more stocks (in the form of index funds) than usual.  That’s right, in an environment where the Dow is dropping below 7,000, I’m buying stocks.  I look at it this way: I can buy the exact same stocks that I could buy a year and a half ago, except now they’re 55% off.  Many people might shout about how we don’t know where the bottom of the market is, but I argue that you’re better off buying most of the way down and right through the bottom of the market until a recovery is clearly and strongly in place.  That way, you’re sure to hit the bottom as well as a lot of “near bottoms” both before and after the real bottom.

Ramit
: First of all, I’ve been saddened at how many friends are instinctively pulling their money out of the market without thinking twice — they’re reacting out of fear, not logic. The other thing I’ve noticed is a manic sense to “cut costs anywhere,” which is driving people crazy. You can’t save money on 50 things at once! It just makes people nuts. I’ve re-doubled my efforts to save money on two problem areas (eating out and going out). If I can save 20% on those over a period of six months by setting smaller goals, that saves me hundreds of dollars each month.

JD:  All around me, my friends and family members are struggling during this economic crisis. They’re having to cut back on their way of life. My wife and I are fortunate that we haven’t had to make any sacrifices yet. Why not? Because we’ve spent the last three years trimming our budget; we’ve already cut back. One benefit of routinely practicing smart financial habits — in good times and in bad — is that when things get rough, you’re prepared. You have a buffer to protect yourself from economic storms. I haven’t always been this prepared, but I’m glad to feel safe in 2009.

What is the single best piece of financial advice you have ever been given?

Ramit: You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room — you just have to get started. Even in this economy, if you get started saving and investing, that makes far more of a difference in your overall returns than having a PhD in finance or being a fancy investment banker. Consistent, long-term saving and investing is the key, not reacting to news of the day.

JD: The best piece of financial advice I ever received is simply this: “Nobody cares more about your finances than you do. If you don’t take care of them, nobody’s going to take care of them for you.” It was only when I realized this that I was able to turn things around, get out of debt, and begin building wealth. I wish I could remember where I first heard this — Dave Ramsey? Warren Buffett? — because this principle helped me to take control of my finances.

Trent: Spend less than you earn.  I first picked up on the idea from “Your Money or Your Life,” but it was most succinctly stated in the excellent unheralded personal finance book “Debt is Slavery” by Michael Mihalik (my review).

It seems so simple, but it’s actually much more complicated than it sounds.  Each month, I make it a goal to spend less than I earn that month.  I usually make it more specific than that – for example, I intend to spend only 70% of what I earn most months – but even an 80% or a 90% goal is fine.

This serves dual purposes.  First, it pushes me to actually spend less.  If I find a clever way to save money, then it becomes easier for me to reach that 70% goal – or even beat it.  Second, it pushes me to earn more.  If I can put more cash in my pocket by working harder or more effectively, then I have more money to save (in that 30% bucket) and more to spend (in that 70% bucket).

Over time, actually, I’ve been lowering my monthly target.  Lately, I’ve been shooting to spend only 55% of what I bring in per month.  Doing that over the long haul will put me in GREAT financial shape.