Mint Team Spotlight – David Michaels

The Minterview
David Michaels
VP Engineering
BS in Computer Science from NJIT, and a MS in Computer Science from Stanford.
Current Financial Strategy:
Work really hard now so I won’t have to worry about tracking my money later.
Worst Financial Move:
Thinking I could win back my online [Texas] hold’em losses more quickly if I moved up to a higher-limit table. Then repeating that again.
Best Financial Advice:
If you must play [Texas] hold’em, do it in person. It’s less convenient so you’ll do it less often. And all that time the dealer spends shuffling cards the old-fashioned way is time that you’re not losing any money!
How Do You Keep Spending in Check?
I almost had an answer for this, but I realize it’s mostly wrong. I don’t really keep my spending in check very well! However, by working typical startup hours, I limit my idle time when I would be inclined towards tracking my money.
Who Taught You About Finance?
I’m mostly self-taught.
How Many Credit Cards Do You Have?
Right now I have 4, but I never carry a balance on them. I collect frequent-flier miles on two of them and use them for international travel — there were lucrative bonus miles offers upon sign-up worth over 60,000 miles.
Where Did You Work Before Mint?
I was building encryption-related security products for PGP Corporation.
What Difference Do You See Going From A Large Company to a Start-up?
I tend to join startups very early on, and stay with them as they grow into bigger companies, so I have gotten accustomed to the differences and don’t really focus on them anymore. At Mint in particular, we all wear our titles lightly — everyone contributes in multiple ways. No job is too small to be done by a VP here.
What Drew You to Mint?
Every start-up has at least one reason they think they’re going to win — why they are better than existing solutions. The problem is that the future is hard to predict and one reason might not pan out. Although I am willing to take certain risks and join very small companies, Mint is not the first company I joined that had only 3 employees. So, I am very conservative when it comes to choosing one reason. Mint had at least eight distinct kinds of competitive advantages: 

  • Effortless – Thanks to account aggregation and accurate automatic categorization, we can provide lots of value with little user input.
  • Simple – We make usability a primary focus, and emphasize simplicity over feature-bloat.
  • Accessible from Anywhere – Unlike desktop personal finance software, we are not tied to a particular computer.
  • Save & Make Money – Mint can apply intelligence to make you offers that improve upon what you’re doing now — and we quantify our suggestions.
  • Always-On, & Notification – Being server-based, we can constantly monitor your personal situation as well as the marketplace. PC-based software can only act while you’re running it. We can reach out to you and alert you in real-time when necessary.
  • Collaboration – We can enable users to work together in pursuit of their financial objectives. This can be limited to husband and wife, roommates & friends, or a broader community. This can be structured or unstructured, but the former is better.
  • Aggregate Knowledge – Mint is in a position to learn from other users, and can apply that information to benefit you.

The sheer multiplicity of these opportunities was very rare in the business plans I’ve seen — and I was sold.

How Will You Help Mint Grow?
Web businesses thrive on technology, and it’s exciting to be in a role which has such a direct impact on the company’s success. In particular, Mint’s security has to be absolutely airtight for us to earn and keep users’ trust. If we architect our system smartly, we can ensure that we maintain uncompromising security while having the high feature velocity essential for an Internet startup.
What are Your Typical Hours?
To say I’m not a morning person is a colossal understatement, so I come in well after rush hour, but usually before noon. As for when I go home, that’s usually before noon too, but typically on the next day. 🙂
What’s your Favorite Things About Mint?
Working with such a motivated and talented team in pursuit of solving a real need.
What Has Been the Weirdest or Funniest Moment at Mint?
Telling someone on my team to install “ant on bomber1” and then finally understanding why they broke out laughing. “Anton” happens to be the name of our VP of Business Development, and that sentence can be parsed as “Install Anton bomber 1”, which conjures up a pretty funny mental image. (“Ant” is a java build tool that we use to compile our code, and “bomber1” is a load-generating server in our performance testing lab.) Anton is a perfectly likable fellow who should not be bombed by anything.
What Do You Do At Mint that You Never Thought You’d Be Doing?
I can’t think of anything. This is exactly what I always wanted to do.
What Do You Look Forward to Every Day?
Watching how quickly our product gets better and realizing all the dreams we have for it. There’s so much left to do.

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