Episode 5: Finitary is ... paused, frozen, almost pushing up the daisies?

Season 1, Finitary - Personal Finance Application

It is not easy to admit defeat, but I cannot build it. Finitary is indefinitely paused after three pre-sales and many "interesting, but would need to see more" feedbacks. That's it. Maybe maybe maybe, but not now.

There is something in the idea, definitely is, but I am no developer so I am stuck; the only way forward would be to employ a product designer and an engineer (or two) to built it. Impossible with freelancers, yep.

Thinking in bets led me to a conclusion that my energy is better spent on other ideas in the coming months.

Below a reflection and my top three lessons about building something. Thanks for reading! And thanks to everyone who supported me on this path so far. You know who you are! 🙏 Validation pitch still accessible via this post.

People and their money

Personal finance management is a beast; it deals with human behaviour and emotion. And both are extremely hard to change. We do objectively stupid things and nothing can prevent it.

None of the solutions that I know is addressing personal finance the way I would want; they focus mostly on budgeting with an occasional commission based "get this shit cheaper here" ads.

Is there an optimal way to manage your money? For sure, and it starts simple: live below your means. Understanding the potential of your means and compounding, however, takes years. And in the meantime everyone wants a piece.

Exceptions aside nobody can sustain precise budgeting for months, let alone years. We usually do it once "to get a feeling" or for a while and then stop it. So I figured: forget budgeting tools, they can never be perfectly automatised and nobody really needs them. I wanted something more; I read over 70 papers on personal finance, psychology of money and similar, and guess what...

100 people will have close to 100 ways of thinking about money.

Regardless of education or social status, most of us are not behaving in an optimal way. We are not getting the most out of our money and often make irrational financial decisions. This is mainly because of procrastination, poor financial literacy or our tendency to prefer something sooner than later. We are also different; some spend easier, while others don't. And everyone plays a different game.

Financial services industry is also not really helping; for every sales guy there are at least a couple back in the office: and they need to eat too! One percent here and a half there does not sound much, but it adds up. It is rarely worth it.

I wanted Finitary to be as close to your individual optimum as possible, based on your preference and profile, but without the need to categorise those five Amazon purchases from last month, or 50 EUR cash spent last weekend. Usually we assign our free cash/extra cost by our gut feeling or an acute need: I wanted to outsource the process, so unexpected income/costs magically get(s) assigned/deducted to/from the right place. Yeah.

Ok, fine, but is this a painkiller? No, it is a nice-to-have with an extremely positive but hard to measure short, mid and long term impact on your life. On top, having extra cash is a sweet worry. Even if we all understand the concept of inflation, a 1000 still appears a 1000 after a couple of years. But it is not.

So how to demonstrate, educate and convince in a simple way? I did a lot of prototyping and thought about click dummies, but then realised nobody on this planet would enjoy looking at other people's numbers. You would be interested in your costs, in your potential and would want to see what you can do, no?

Unfortunately I cannot create something basic for you to play with, plus it is an extremely personal topic. So I would need a top product designer to make it easy & excellent and then engineers to implement it.

And yes, if something is excellent, you need to charge for it, unless you sell your customers or are the commission chap. B2C business has an extremely shitty risk/reward profile, which means you are in a constant battle for customers (a 40% retention rate is excellent).

And now? The only thing left is to make an investor pitch and try to get funded. But there are currently better places for my energy. So as we sometimes did at Daimler: slides into the Schublade for some other time.

Could have I done things differently?

I have invested a lot of time and energy in this venture, and it did not even come further of a landing page. It got paused on powerpoint slides, oh the irony.

Today everything seems so logical: of course it is only a vitamin and no painkiller, what on earth did I even think!? Of course it is almost impossible to start something in tech if you cannot build a prototype yourself! Of course B2C is a f*cking struggle! Of course nobody needs budgeting! Of course it makes no sense to spend days on prototypes if people cannot put their stuff in! Of course. What did I even think?

Did I really need more than five months to come to these easy and logical conclusions? Are there any shortcuts that I have missed?

Probably there was no other way. You can read and read, but until you try yourself you will never know. It is always easier to be a smart ass after the fact.

First time is always the hardest. In books, articles and Twitter threads everything sounds simple and logical: lean startup, zero to one, validation, iteration and bla bla bla. But the real deal is to find a real problem. Ideas are worthless. Once you have a problem, it is only about the execution with the right people.

Great ideas are rare. And at some point you need to admit to yourself that your idea is maybe shit or not a good bet. And then you need to be ruthless. Forget those fairytales of "never give up", "burning for an idea", "you should always believe in yourself" or "live, laugh, love" crap. You should never be beating a dead horse.

Could have I done something more, faster and easier? Sure. Probably it would help if I had 1000 emails instead of 100. But then: why did I only get 100? Because ... it was not really a problem or I did not present it well? I am sure it would help to be better connected and just know more people.

Finitary needed time to become what it is. A great thing that could maybe work. Maybe maybe.

Three most important lessons for building something

My learning curve was really steep and humbling and I could have listed tens of things, but here are three most important.

  1. Validate as fast as possible.

    Dedicate at least two days to think about what and how will you validate your idea. This is probably the biggest time & energy saver, so I would really put all the focus into it. You can also make stuff up in this phase: you can always find solutions afterwards. There are even tools for simple validation pages - you could even spend some money and advertise yourself as an existing business.

  2. Set a price.

    If you are solving something, people will pay for it. Price is a signal, and nobody buying is a signal as well. If you had a chronic pain, how much would you pay so it goes away? If you were a business probably even more? Even if your product is for free: who is paying at the end? Do not be shy. Tell us how much your thing is worth.

  3. People are kind (if you are not an asshole) - and this is double-edged sword.

    You are fortunate because people care about you and your ideas and wish you good luck, but it can really give you wrong signals. Are they saying it is great because it is you or because they really think so? Encourage people to tell you the truth: separate yourself from your idea or your dead horse.

Honourable mentions: it is easier if you are able to build prototypes yourself; don't waste your time on things that make you feel the most comfortable and are easy (eg. spending time deciding if it should be a square or a circle: working can easily be procrastinating!)

When the time comes, be ruthless and move on. Do not pursue romantic dreams on a dead horse.

If you have any questions, suggestions or comments I would be happy to hear from you. Also if you want me to share everything I know about personal finance! Happy to help! 😎

Timeline for posterity

2021-01-03 - "Shit, I need a co-founder, thanks YC"
2021-01-12 - Technical co-founder ad published, hundreds of mails sent
2021-01-18 - Wow, really positive, this is going great
2021-01-19 - Huh, hackernews reality check + phone call with Jakob (Mom test + Zero to One idea)

... reading a lot of papers, thanks Google Scholar

2021-02-07 - First two customer development interviews
2021-02-18 - Last customer development interview (26 in total)
2021-02-19 - Decision to work with Dejan and a first working meeting
2021-03-02 - MVP3.0 what needs to be built memo finished (related)
2021-04-18 - Landing page published
2021-05-17 - Working with Dejan paused
2021-06-01 - First emails out for validation (v1, was shit)
2021-06-23 - Final email out for validation (v2, much better)
2021-07-06 - First paying customer, quickly followed by 2nd and 3rd
2021-07-20 - Decision to pause

Not really related, but I need a picture and I just love this new Dune movie poster. Almost feels like he is looking for a great idea or waiting to ride a worm.