I just updated my LinkedIn profile so I thought I had better get a post up on the blog!
After two and a half years I am leaving Home Depot this Friday to be the Director of Ecommerce for www.astralbrands.com.
So who is Astral Brands?
” Astral Brands is an innovator in the creation and management of consumer lifestyle brands with a business offering that is focused on two core sectors: Astral Health and Beauty and Astral Foods (featuring gourmet food items and large-scale perishable shipping). The Company was established in 1978 and operated as a public company until it was acquired and privatized in 1999 by Christie and Robert Cohen. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Astral Brands has 350 employees in North America”
I am going to be heading up the Ecommerce operations for the Health and Beauty division:
I started using Craigslist when I was in Burlington but had limited success in buying/selling as the community was pretty small. You had a lot of college students using it so the apartment and furniture threads were pretty active but that was about it.
When I moved to Atlanta I quickly realized that the size of the Craigslist community here is HUGE. I have had great success in selling stuff on the Atlanta Craiglsist board and have actually found myself using it a lot more that Ebay. There is something to be said for how simple they keep things. It is easy to post, does not cost anything, no shipping to deal with, and people pay you in cash! Compare that with the hassles of Ebay and you can quickly see why Craigslist has taken off. I still use Ebay for niche items that don’t have mass market appeal but for most items it’s Craiglist!
Following up on my WaMu review I wanted to take a minute and review a new money management tool called Mint.com. Mint is an account aggregation service. The concept of financial account aggregation is not a new concept as Yodlee has been offering this service to banks for a number of years. As a basic concept Mint.com is not all that different. They even use the Yodlee service to run the back end of their application.
What makes Mint.com interesting is the customer experience they deliver. I do user experience for a living and can tell Mint has invested heavily in this area. I signed up for an account and was up and running in less than 5 minutes. From sign up to seeing 7 accounts aggregated in one screen took 5 minutes! Now granted, I am an advanced user who already had all my online accounts setup, but still 5 minutes is impressive. I do need to run this through the “Mom” test and see how long it would take my mom to go through and sign up.
Mint’s business model is an interesting one: they sell space to financial institutions that make offers to help you save money. They know the interest rate on your accounts and will make offers from competing banks that offer you a lower interest rate. Since I carry no consumer debt and already have a high yield savings account this feature has no value to me but for some it might be useful. I just hope they can make this model profitable.
Right now Mint only has bank accounts and credit cards included in the aggregation service but they claim to be adding mortgages and others soons. Brokerages and mortgaes would be a great addition!
Categorization is a key concept in all money management software. You want to be able to quickly see at the end of the month where all your money went. They have a super simple interface for categorizing transactions and even putting rules in place so that the same transaction next time is automatically categorized.Â However, they have one fundamental flaw that really reduces the usefulness of mint: you can’t create custom categories!Â Hopefully they will add this soon, because after playing with my accounts for 10 minutes I quickly ran into problems with the pre set categories.
Mint also has a simple budgeting system where you can set your budget each month and then track your spending against it. I do my simple budgeting in Excel but I will have to see how usefull this aspect of the service is.
Overall I am impressed so far.Â I think with a few changes this will really become a great little web app for managing your money.
Back in 2000 I started banking with a little known startup called Lighthouse Bank out of Waltham MA. They were one of the first banks to offer no fee checking, online banking, and ATM reimbursement fees. They had fantastic customer service and were great to work with but they started putting minimums in place. When I moved to Vermont I decided to leave lighthouse and join a local bank (Citizens) that also had online banking. At the same time, I also discovered the new found world of high yield online savings accounts and opened an account with Emigrant Direct. This setup worked great as I had local ATM’s, a free checking and an online savings account earning 5%. The only downside was I had a 3 day delay between transfers.
When I moved to Atlanta it was time to look for a new bank. Here are the key things I look for:
Free checking with no minimum and no fee’s unless I do something stupid like bounce a check.
Outstanding online interface to manage all my accounts. I have never balanced a check book and don’t plan on starting any time soon!
Plenty of local ATM’s and ideally a branch close to home.
High yield online savings account.
Free checks is a nice bonus although I write about 5 a year
Free online bill pay
Great customer service with short wait times in the branch or on the phone.
When I started looking around I found that Washington Mutual met all of my criteria. Could a bank really do everything I was looking for??? After 2 years the answer is a resounding YES! WaMu is fantastic! I can’t recommend them enough! I have had nothing but a great experience with them and encourage everybody to sign up for accounts. Make sure you sign up online as they only offer the high yield Savings Account online. There is also a branch right across the street so that makes them super convenient as well!