How I Did It: Aaron Patzer on Creating Mint.com

The Mint.com founder talks about some of the challenges he faced while building his business.

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In 2006, Aaron Patzer started Mint Software, Inc. because he was having trouble managing his own finances. In 2009, his site Mint.com was acquired by Intuit Inc., for $170 million. Here, Patzer talks about some of the challenges he faced while building his business, along with some advice for aspiring young entrepreneurs.

I have always thought of myself as an inventor first and foremost. An engineer. An entrepreneur. In that order. I never thought of myself as an employee. But my first jobs as an adult were as an employee: at IBM, and then at my first start-up.

The start-up life kept me busy and surfaced the problem of not being able to stay on top of my personal finances, which led me to invent Mint.com. I was working 80-hour weeks, and had done enough preliminary work and research to know I had a big idea: To make money management effortless and automated. I began to think about the business nights and weekends. But it’s hard to find the time when you’ve got a very demanding full-time job. One day I decided that if I gave it 100 percent and failed, I could live with that. What I couldn’t live with was going halfway, part-time. So with $100,000 in my savings account, I decided to quit my day job. [time-link title=”(Read about Google’s growing offices in Silicon Valley)” url=http://techland.time.com/2011/05/19/google-expands-its-offices-across-highway-101/]

The first few months were tough, and there are a lot of obstacles people don’t talk about. I was 25 at the time, new to Silicon Valley, and taking on something entirely new.

I oscillated day-to-day between feeling like I had the greatest idea ever and feeling like it would never work. I questioned my worth, wondering who I was to take on Intuit and Microsoft. If this was a good idea, surely someone would have done it before.

It was a very emotional process and people don’t tell you that. Your net worth drains away quickly, you have no idea what’ll happen next, and you sit alone in a room with no help, and no resources. It’s just you, your brain and sheer will power.

Below are some things I learned that might help you optomize your chances of business success.

Find Inspiration Whenever I got down, I listened to Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” or remembered a Shakespeare quote I liked as a kid: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we might oft win, by fearing to attempt.”

Persist At the time, I hadn’t done web development in eight years. I knew nothing about Java web services, little about databases and even less about recruiting and building a business.

But I was really good at one thing: algorithms. I’m also really persistent — I worked 14 hours a day, six days a week for six months straight before I got funding from an angel investor.

Overcome Shyness I am an introvert, was new to Silicon Valley, and didn’t know any other engineers or people who could help. After building most of Mint.com’s prototype by myself, I talked to anyone and everyone I knew about Mint. It’s counter-intuitive, because you might fear someone will steal your idea, but it’s the only way to make connections, be sure you’re on the right track, and provide a solution for an audience broader than yourself.

I also joined and attended every relevant group or event I could. I hired my first engineer in the top of a tree on an organized hike. My first round of funding was closed out of the trunk of my car at one of the dozens of events I attended — after being shot down at least 50 times.

Ask for Help I know what I’m good at, and I know where my weaknesses are. I am among the best algorithms engineers, so I sought out and hired other top talents in their respective fields of security, design and communications. When I needed to make a crucial hire or business decision, I leaned heavily on the recommendations and connections of others.

However, at the end of the day, you are the decision maker and you have to have the trust and confidence in whatever decision you make. This isn’t always easy. I had investors, advisors, or board members with 20+ years more of relevant experience that made suggestions I strongly disagreed with. When that happens, you have to trust your vision and your own ability to think things through more thoroughly than anyone else to guide you.

With outside funding, a growing team and userbase, and a product that made a major promise, my decisions quickly affected many lives in a very profound way. For me, that is an honor and a privilege, that I don’t take for granted.

Founded by Scott Gerber, the Young Entrepreneur Council (Y.E.C.) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs.  The Y.E.C promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment and provides its members with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.

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