I consider myself an inventor first and an entrepreneur second. In real life, my hero is Thomas Edison. He was a great inventor, but also an outstanding entrepreneur who was able to sell his inventions to the masses. He didn't just develop the light bulb; he invented the entire electric grid and power distribution system.
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.
At Mint, we developed five pending patents on our technology, ranging from categorization to the Ways to Save system that calculates how much a new financial product would save a user given their present financial situation.
Mint's business model became, 'We'll go for free, and then we'll find these savings opportunities for you.' You know, better interest rate on your credit cards, when should you consolidate your student loans, when does it mathematically make sense to refinance your mortgage, and Mint figures all that stuff out for you.
I always knew I wanted to be a technologist, so I went to Duke and got a degree in computer science and electrical engineering. Really, I thought my goal in life was to be an inventor, a problem solver, so I thought I needed a Ph.D. to be good at inventions, but it turns out that you don't.
Tell your idea to whomever will listen, and you'll get valuable market feedback before writing a single line of code.
I pitch Mint to everyone from investors to engineers, young and old, and I do it pretty much the same way: Here's the problem in the market place, here's how we solve it, and here's how we make money.
Most people don't know what they spend in every single area, but they know they have a problem in particular areas.
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.