blog A Success Story of Engineering + Design

I wake this morning with a sense of disappointment that SXSW interactive is over. After seeing thousands of faces, reading thousands of tweets, and seeing a ton of panels, my brain is full, ready and inspired for action. Yesterday’s panel with Aaron Patzer (@apatzer) and Jason Putorti (@putorti) was one of the most intriguing panels I had the pleasure to attend.

The genius known as Aaron Patzer started, the free personal finance software you probably know and love. It started with Aaron sitting in a room for 7 months crunching out some algorithms. The main purpose of these algorithms was to classify financial transactions. I’ll spare the details of which Aaron excitedly discussed (which goes something like this), but the main accomplishment was the ability to classify up to 85% of transactions when the competitors were only categorizing 45%. He also created a new business model which provides the service for free and uses insight on the data to provide targeted offers to users.

Despite all this brilliance, was hurting in UX . Enter Jason Putorti, the genius behind the design. While this panel seeked to put each other at ends, it was clearly a collaborative relationship between the two. The power of this collaboration of engineering and design is clear: was sold to Intuit for $170M.

Jason came in and implemented user experience testing processes, a new site design, and a complete UX simplification. You can see the UI difference below. is now famous for their 3 step setup. These guys always worked under the principle: “You want the user to do a little work and get a lot of value.

Another SXSurrogate, Todd Black, wrote the key takeaway perfectly. I wanted to complement his post with some additional nuggets:

– Patzer is a believer that companies need to solve a fundamentally challenging technical problem. Putorti disagrees. In either case, they acknowledge the power of the network effect that drove success for eBay, Facebook, and Craiglist.

– Always keep an eye on your net promoter score. This is on a scale from -100 to 100, where 100 is 100/100 users would reach out to their associates telling them to use a product/service. -100, as you can imagine, is 100/100 users reach out to their associates telling them NOT to use the product.

– “Be careful what user advice you follow.” Never implement a change that less than 20% request. Mint spent precious resources building a reconciliation feature. Turns out, only 15% of their user base actually use it.

– “As a startup, realize that your competitor is non-adoption.”

I consider this post under the category of curiosity, as I walked away completely inspired and curious of how I could positively change the world.

Until next year, keep your eyes open, fail fast, and take care of each other. Oh, and keep your curiosity alive with us at

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