I've been attending a lot of meetings with various London-based startups in the last few months to learn their stories on what it takes to launch a successful new product. I'm particularly interested in ones that have a heavy slant towar...
I've been attending a lot of meetings with various London-based startups in the last few months to learn their stories on what it takes to launch a successful new product. I'm particularly interested in ones that have a heavy slant towards mobile -- and iOS. This interest is magnified when I find a startup that is making a product that truly makes my life easier. One such startup is OnTrees and I think the process of bringing their idea to market is one other iOS developers can learn from.
OnTrees wants to be the Mint.com of the UK.
Financial data aggregation can be big business. Just ask Aaron Patzer who sold his Mint.com startup to Intuit in 2009 for $170 million. And while the Intuit deal did lend an air of legitimacy to financial aggregation services in the United States, in other parts of the world -- particularly the United Kingdom -- financial data aggregation services are still looked upon with apprehension. After all, who wants to give their sensitive financial account usernames and passwords to some faceless entity out on the interwebs?
But that's just what UK startup OnTrees is trying to achieve -- and they're doing it on iOS-only for now. It wants to create a one-stop offering that allows users to get a complete financial overview of all their accounts. One login; all your data and spending tracked and graphed. And though generating awareness of what financial aggregation and building trust around it is one challenge, there are others: namely security, bank participation, and making a UX good enough so people will want to spend time with your service. And though OnTrees is still in beta, the company had made great progress in the six months since it had its soft launch in November 2012. Here's what OnTrees founder and Managing Director Charlie Mortimer told me about the experience so far.
Fill a void.
"More than 20 million people in the UK use online banking, of which around 50% have accounts with multiple providers," Mortimer tells me. "Our proprietary research has shown that people using online banking want to keep track of their finances, but the methods they use are typically time-consuming: 32% rely on keeping receipts and cross checking with statements, 20% use Microsoft Excel to keep budgets, 14% keep written notes and 4% use a software package e.g. the now defunct Microsoft Money."
The above could be said to be boring product marketing statics, but they illustrate a point every developer should keep in mind: your product needs to fill a void or why will anyone use it?
And it's that void -- potentially fillable by 20 million UK online bankers -- that makes OnTrees so attractive. After all, financial aggregation giant Mint isn't in the UK. And while there have been other UK financial aggregation services, none have seemed to have caught on even though Mortimer recognizes the need for aggregation to allow people to see their complete financial picture.
But what about just using your bank's web services?
"It's great that some banks (most notably Lloyds) are launching their own 'money managers' that try to help people see what they are spending," Mortimer says. "However, OnTrees' offering is unique because it is 'provider agnostic' and enables users to see their spending across their Lloyds account as well as their Halifax, Barclaycard, and Amex accounts."
And matter of fact, OnTrees works with over 200 financial institutions in the UK, some of which don't even have dedicated apps -- another void increasingly tech savvy, smartphone using consumers are itching to have filled. "For people with these accounts," Mortimer tells me, "OnTrees provides a way of seeing transactions and spending on the move."
But surely if OnTrees works with over 200 financial institutions (and counting) it must be a development nightmare -- especially when OnTrees web services and iOS app are only coded by six developers, which seems like something of a skeleton crew for a company t