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Generational warfare isn’t always a brand asset

September 21, 2009

Jason Fried, of 37 Signals, takes Mint to task for selling out to Intuit. Jason believes the company betrayed its generation by selling out to an older incumbent created by an old generation.

“They were everything their main competitor, Intuit, was not. While
Mint was inventing, Intuit was out of it. People used
Quickbooks/Quicken out of habit and legacy. People used Mint because
they loved it. Intuit was disgruntled, Mint was disruptive.

But
here’s what happened: Intuit, last decade’s leader in personal finance,
just became the next decade’s leader in personal finance. Mint had
their number, but they sold it for $170 million. A big payday for sure,
and if that was their two-year goal then they nailed it, but I can’t
believe that was the point behind Mint. It had too much potential.

Mint
was a key leader of the next generation of game changers. And now it’s
property of Intuit — the poster-child for the last generation. What a
loss. Is that the best the next generation can do? Become part of the
old generation? How about kicking the shit out of the old guys? What
ever happened to that?”

I am sure “kicking shit out of the old guys” is a good motivation to start the company, but as soon as they come forward with the piles of cash, this goes away.

It becomes interesting when the brand has been developed and grown on the back of an attack on the incumbent that it eventually sells out to, that’s when this stuff can backfire. Virgin selling out to Sprint springs to mind as an example.

In Mint’s case, the brand is shiny, new and very C21st in a way that Intuit is not and as long as Intuit does not plan to hack it to pieces or start charging folks to use it, they will be OK.

In fact, Intuit’s intentions were made clear in a nicely constructed letter from the company’s founder, that appeared as a post on the Mint blog.

Scott Cook from Intuit here. OK, I’m about to date myself. Long ago
(27 years ago in fact), I watched my wife complain about paying the
bills. That gave me an idea. And that idea became Quicken. Check with
your parents – they might use it. Maybe even your grandparents.

But probably not you. For many of you, Quicken is a 20th century
product in a 21st century world. It’s like the car your parents had
growing up. So you turned to Mint.com. Because it wasn’t Quicken.

Mint brings a fresh, unique approach to managing money, creating new
ways to help you save or get out of debt. I so admire what Aaron and
the team have done and how they have done it. I can recognize great
innovators and innovation when I see it.

As you know, Intuit has entered into an agreement to buy Mint. Over
the past few days, I’ve read your posts and comments. I understand your
concerns about what will happen to Mint in the future.

So let me set the record straight: Mint.com isn’t changing. It is
remaining free. Following the close of the acquisition, Aaron Patzer
and the Mint team will remain in charge of Mint.com to continue both
its principles and its fast pace of progress.

We’re not planning to change Mint.com and make it like Quicken.
Quite the opposite. Aaron and team will also run Quicken and
Quicken.com to ensure this doesn’t happen. Plus they will benefit from
this larger pool of resources. I want Mint thinking to infuse Quicken.

On a personal level, Mint’s leaders have earned the chance to
re-invent all of personal finance on the broadest canvas possible. I
will give them that chance. Will you?

I hope you’ll be part of it.

Scott Cook
Founder, Intuit

Judging from the comments to this letter, it appears there are not many customers who share Jason Fried’s perspective, they are prepared to give Intuit the benefit of the doubt and see what happens.

While generational warfare might have been a rallying cry to start the company, it certainly isn’t part of Mint’s DNA for consumers, the only people who see Mint that way are start-ups who come from the same generational space and time.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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