Jason Knight, CEO of Wesabe, a money-management website that uses the wisdom of the crowd to help people control their finances, answers the company's customer-service line every day from noon until four p.m. Pacific time. Callers sometimes hang up as soon as Knight announces himself, though. "I think they're calling to see if I really pick up the phone," he says. Well, he does. And he'll even put a journalist on hold to answer your call. Perhaps it's this accessibility that helped Wesabe - founded in 2005 by Knight, who'd been a vice president at Asurion Asia Pacific, and by Marc Hedlund, a vice president at a security-software company - nab $700,000 in venture capital from O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures this past January.
How is using Wesabe different from using Quicken or Microsoft Money?
My joke about Quicken is, you load up all your data, and it tells you that you're broke. With us, you load your data, and we immediately suggest tips that are useful to you. We're not showing you where you are; we're helping you figure out where to go next.
Have you changed your own financial behavior because of Wesabe?
I pay off my credit cards every month. I was pretty proud of myself. But after using Wesabe for six months, I saw that I was paying $43 a month in bank fees. That's more than $500 a year. My wife and I consolidated our banking to a single bank. Now our fees are $15 to $20 annually.
How much difference can one small change like that make?
Take that $500 a year and apply compound interest for the next 20 years. If you get rid of things leeching out money, you have a big long-term impact.
What's your advice for new Wesabe users?
Don't be shocked or dismayed - guilt doesn't do you any good. Don't feel bad about what you've done with your money; be proud of how you'll manage it in the future. You can change, because people do. We've seen it.
We tested out Knight's website for ourselves and were pretty impressed.
Here's a step-by-step look at how it works.
The hardest part of getting started on Wesabe is digging up all your online account passwords. But after that, you just follow the step-by-step instructions to upload your bank and credit card accounts.
Next, tag your transactions with keywords. For this you'll have to decipher what CEO Jason Knight calls "bank puke," the gibberish banks use to describe individual transactions (CHECK CRD 02/05 P&R CIT - huh?). Wesabe was able to translate some of my transactions because other members had translated their own deals with the same merchant.
Now, here comes the fun: your tips. They're directly related to your spending habits and choice of retailers. I got advice for using a cell phone abroad on the cheap, for negotiating a less-expensive cable bill, and for filing for a telephone excise-tax refund. I got so excited about that last one, I immediately e-mailed it to my husband, the family tax man. (Some of the tips are less helpful, even strange - e.g., don't drain your bath until the water's cold because the hot water will help heat the room - but you can exclude those by making a favorites list. That way, you can go back to only the ones you like.)
Then, set some goals - here you'll get even more advice, from other people with similar aims - and keep track of your progress using your transaction tags.
Also, all of your information is private. You share your goals and tips, but no one sees your account information but you. So, you benefit from the crowd without inviting them into your bankbook.
Knight promises more new features, about two or three every month, and, eventually, Wesabe will offer a feature-rich premium membership level for a monthly fee. Until then, it's all free. Check it out at www.wesabe.com.