Does give me total control of my money? I put their emails to the test

Does give me total control of my money? I put their emails to the test


Hey there. We are on

YNAB is a budgeting app that I signed up for about 3 months ago when I came back from Southeast Asia and said, "Well, not everything is going to be $3, so I better get my butt into gear and figure out exactly where my money is going."

A little bit of background about me, and budgeting...

I hate it.

I was on Mint for years. It was a terrible user experience. I never really got that far, and I didn't really like telling myself every single month that I only had a set amount of money to budget for happy hour, or clothes, or what have you because every month was different.

Some months I didn't buy clothes, some months I bought clothes, and regardless, Mint didn't necessarily accommodate for those times in life where you aren't necessarily spending the same amount of money every single month.

So, heard about YNAB for a month. Tried it on trial last year, and then never really got into it.

So I tried it again and this is the results.

That is a lot of emails. We're looking at about 18 to 19, which makes sense. If you go [to the website] it says, "Try YNAB free for 34 days."

I don't know where they got 34 down. Maybe that's the cohort analysis they did when they decided that that's how many days it takes for someone to be onboarded properly onto, but we don't know.

Based on these emails, which look like they're coming from Intercom, they are scheduled to send every two days.

So, we're just going to spend a little bit of time breaking down what works in these emails, what could be better, and if that is actually going to make an impact on how I budget.

So, we have some stuff right here. 

"You need a budget, and your email needs confirmation."

So, it's just basically what happened when I signed up, and then basically I think this is the welcome email right here.

"To succeed with YNAB, you just need to..." 

So it says, "To succeed with YNAB you need to just read our quick start guide. You'll be budgeting in minutes, and I do mean quick you'll be budgeting in minutes." [Messaging is] a little repetitive, but that's okay.

"Did you know YNAB isn't a budget tool, it's a method?"

I think there is another welcome email that comes after this. This seemed to just give the quick start guide, which I believe is just the document storage for all their help docs and trying to figure out the process.

I remember reading through this and feeling like I was put into another process similar to that feeling that I had when I first signed up for, which is fine.

Budgets only work if you follow a process or someone else's process, but this is better than what the option was, which is or an Excel spreadsheet that I had to redo and have to do again.

This is probably fine.

"Need a little coaching as you get started with YNAB?"

Quick start. There's a lot of CTA's in this email. Take a class, read a guide, add a question. A lot of stuff going on here.

It doesn't really make me ... It makes me glad that everything is documented for everything to see and that I can access things, but remind me of why I signed up for YNAB in the first place.

It says, "Routine," talking about budgets.

Jeff Walker likes to talk about how you're not necessarily buying a budgeting tool or any type of tool, you're buying a transformation, and I don't really see that in these emails.

It could be that there's a lot of different types of people that are going for the budget. I usually work with B2B startups. 

YNAB is definitely B2C in some ways.

I think of it as B2B because I run a business and budgeting is a pretty big part of that, but I really wish this email talked a little bit more about outcomes and transformations, what budgeting is going to allow me to do.

I know that can vary for a lot of people, and we can talk about that later on as we go through some more of these emails, but that's my first impression here.

"How to start when you don't know where to start"

You'll notice these emails will come on very strong...

 The sender will vary between Todd, who I think is the co-founder and then Jesse Mecham, who is the founder. These emails about these stories that they start off, and they're trying a lot of storytelling here.

They're talking, and I think the big thing for me is that they keep making similes and metaphors to situations that I understand, but are kind of tangentially related to the issue at hand, which is, this is regarding a budget.

So, they are talking about the essentials about when you pack for a vacation, and how it's compared to budgeting for your electric bill and roof over your head.

It talks about going to check your budget, make sure your dollars have jobs, and then go spend some of that money.

Know it's doing the right job, and then basically gives you a link to talk with Sherri, and sign up for a workshop and then that's about it. So, this email didn't necessarily resonate with me.

If I remember correctly when I signed up for YNAB, and I think I did it on a Wednesday or something like that, I'd have to look at the dates to be sure, but I don't think I sat down with my partner to do it until the weekend.

And we had to go through this whole six-hour ordeal to decide where is it that we wanted our money to go because they're talking about giving every dollar a job, and we didn't necessarily know what jobs.

We had an idea. We know we had to pay for electric bill, roof over our head, for car insurance, and then in the business case we have to pay for other parts of it like certain subscriptions to different tools, but we had to have that important conversation first about what jobs needed to be done and how money could help advance those jobs forward.

So, that might be different for somebody else, but I wish this email would talk a little bit about how to create jobs for your dollars, like different categories, and when you log into the interface, which I will in a little bit here, they'll give you a certain amount of categories that people are most commonly using.

It's kind of a big Excel spreadsheet, and it didn't necessarily help me because it's still that really uncomfortable conversation. This is a problem with most SaaS tools.

You don't want to write an email saying, "Have a 3 hour conversation with your spouse about what jobs your dollars should be having."

It's crucial but to sign up for a tool and be told to do that, that's a hard proposition.

So, it's not necessarily that this email is bad or wrong, it just takes a little bit more digging down to find those barriers and trying to expose them because I feel like that conversation is really essential before you even go through the process of starting a budget, and maybe that's different if you're a solopreneur and you're single and you don't have other people relying on you.

But in this case, it's just me and my partner, and we had to have that conversation about what jobs go where, and whether or not we should budget for a vacation or for holiday plans, or for the fact that we both have elderly parents and that might be a problem someday. Interesting email.

They're really pushing these workshops. I always say that if they're doing it, it must work to some extent.

So, if they're getting conversions and getting people to transition from free trials to paid accounts based on these workshops good for them, if not, then maybe this email could do a bit of more heavy lifting.

So we'll go back [to the inbox].

There are so many emails in here that I'm losing track of what I'm clicking on. So, don't mind me if I click a couple of times.

This next one is "Zero my hero." 

Todd talks a little bit about giving every dollar a job, and then there's a little bit of uncertainty. You've got to pile money no matter how big or small it is, it lacks purpose.

It creates uncertainty and worry. Will there be enough for the bills I'm facing next week? It isn't just close to the edge, bill paying, and finances that creates this anxiety. Without a budget you know if you can afford that family vacation you already booked.

So, this is an email that is encouraging people to get back into the app, which should be the goal of a trial. Maybe the webinar helps advance that goal.

People are more likely to sign up for a webinar than to get back into the app and be overwhelmed with creating a budget, but I understand the anxiety that Todd is trying to convey in this email, but I'm not exactly sure that's my anxiety, and that's what's really ...

When you have $5M in annual recurring revenue, there's bound to be various reasons and different personas of people that sign up for a budgeting tool.

So, for me, in particular, I don't have that anxiety about my money necessarily.

Not because I am a trust fund kid and I can do whatever I want and there are no repercussions, but the reason that people go on to YNAB I suspect is to pay off debt in some way.

They have credit card debt, a car payment, not necessarily a mortgage but maybe even student loan payments.

So, being able to kind of budget that money away or be hit with the bill that is unexpected like a car repair bill, that's kind of what YNAB, what I understand and have been marketed to in the last couple years, that's what I ...

But for me, I'm an entrepreneur. My goal is to have six months of savings, and I feel that if YNAB had spent the time on sign up to say, "What is your goal?"

And kind of break down the four goals, then it might have been an easier thing as opposed to just speaking generally to the population.

Again, this isn't bad or good but the more specific you can make that conversation, the more impactful it will be and the more impact means the more likely you're going to get a conversion out of this because I write, I read emails all the time, I didn't reference one of these emails when I was going through the YNAB process, it was just a process that me and my partner kept going through because we were particularly motivated in order to make this work for us. 

But for someone who's kind of on the fence and who's like, "Budgets are hard," there's so many beliefs that people have about money that could prevent them from being able to create the budget that they need in order to free themselves from the debt that they have that it could be difficult to overcome this just through emails.

So, might involve some research. Don't necessarily know. Don't have the data to look at it, but we're going to move on.

Let's skip forward a little bit because ... Yeah. Let's see. They're talking about saving accounts in here, again.

Having a savings account isn't necessarily saving

Todd's using that simile or do you know why you have those savings accounts? Talking about goals. Talk to your partners when you answered it. Think about it. Head to your budget. Add categories as you need them.

So again, Todd is going into, encouraging people to go back into the app, but then the secondary CTA right here is to write us back at support or check out our saving workshop or read about Gubbins. I don't know what that is. Let's click.

I think that's a blog post. It doesn't matter. So, again, lots of CTAs going on here.

What's the goal here? Are you trying to get someone back on the app or is your goal to get people to go on the webinars? If I remember correctly, let's just pick back and see if there's anything that's going on.

Jesse is suggesting that people go over to the support forum. He's also suggesting that you fire up the app. It might be better for people to just know what email is coming from who.

So maybe Todd is only sending emails that are encouraging people to go back into the app. Jesse is kind of being that coach and saying, "Hey, are you having trouble with this? Here's a webinar, here's a blog post. Contact support." That sort of thing.

There's not really any rhythm or reason that I am seeing in here and just based on the cadence, you have April 15th, 17th, 18th, 19th. 

I don't know how much behavioral stuff is going on in here. It looks like it's predominately time-based in some way. That might not be true. Inner com does not reveal itself. Only to the people that are building it can see that stuff.

So, it's not really clear what the goal is and none of this email is necessarily resonating with my particular needs about having a budget.

So we'll go to the next one. 

"Find" $600 in two months"

That's a really good subject line because I love ... Who doesn't like finding money? When you find $20 in a pocket of jeans before you throw them in the washing machines is the best feeling in the world.

So obviously Jesse knows a little something about copywriting, about writing compelling subject lines because that's one that I think is pretty phenomenal, but in this case, he is talking about two weeks with his trial.

We hope have had some victories, which in this case he's making a shot in the dark to say, "We hope you've had some victories."

From an onboarding perspective, you don't want to hope that people have already had victories. You want to know exactly what steps people are taking and understand what their victories points are.

They call this the "'Aha!' moment" in SaaS. Maybe there is one that's internally documented at YNAB, but based on this email I should know what constitutes a victory beyond the fact that I just created a budget, which at this point on April 28th, I'm pretty sure that I had.

I signed up on April 17th, I built something, and then I went ahead and if I remember correctly I redid it at the beginning of May, and I probably will have to redo it at the beginning of June because 1), I just started creating categories and then just adding money and trying to get the balance down to zero in the app, and then I had to go back and redo it again because I was like, "This really doesn't account for the six months of expenses that I want bookmarked as part of owning a business," and then I have to go back and do it again, which is to say I should just budget it every month and then have a category ...

Again, I'm speaking in terms that are relevant to my experiences in budgeting, but the point is none of this is specific enough to what I'm feeling right now, and maybe I am not the key persona that YNAB is targeting.

I feel like they should talk about debt, or I feel like they should talk about people that have some sort of maybe there was a story that's behind it as opposed to just making guesses about why people want to stick with budgets for the long haul because there are so many different types of people out there who have different motivates about why they want a budget to work.

So, in this case, he's asking you to go back in the app.

I think he's asking you to go back in the app again, but he's kind of just giving you a reminder to say, "You're two weeks into your trial, we hope you've had some victories," whereas I would argue, you should know what your victories are and you should create an in-app email messaging that is in accordance with those victories.

I don't remember if YNAB is using in-app messaging. I don't think so. I've been using it on iPad mostly, and I don't log in to the desktop that often, so that might be a reason why I'm not seeing in-app messaging, which is kind of interesting, but either way, I just wish that there was a little bit more clarity on why I should have victory.

Define what victory is for me when it comes to YNAB. See the best budgets overspend. That's a good one because I believe that, I think that I overspend in one of my budgets. Something silly that wasn't super important. I think it was interior decorating and furniture was the budget that I spent on because I bought a lamp, which I love that he kind of says that.

I wish that was told earlier in the month because people don't stress out because when you sign in, you add in a budget, and you feel like you're putting things in stone, and in this case it would have been really great to have someone reassure me to say, "It's okay if nothing is set in stone at this point."

All right. So, we have gone through a handful of emails, probably about half of these, and again, the messaging is about the same.

Kind of taking these stories and ideas and trying to either do some comparison to motivate the person to go in and start a budget, or challenging a belief that people have about budgets, which is a pretty good tactic.

It's something that takes a lot of skill to do. So obviously the team at YNAB knows how to do that, but what's really missing here is not copywriting. It is the understanding about what that moment of victory is.

It's one week left to gain total control of my money

Again, it says this here. "You have one week left. If you're reading to subscribe, you can do so here. You can ask questions. Check out the release notes, if you want."

This is probably a really good chance to go through my CopyHackers article and read it all from top to bottom about free trial emails.

This is what this email is, and it's not really pushing for the sale. It's just saying, "You know what? If you want to do it, that's cool. If you don't, that's okay too."

But in this case, I should have a certain feeling about using this SaaS tool for my budgeting at this point, and this isn't really selling it to me. I sold it to myself by being able to have good conversations about money with my spouse, knowing where my money is, and then having that regular check in to say, "This has to be marked here, this has to be marked there. Should we go out to dinner this week because we haven't budgeted?"

Those are the types of outcomes that we want, and in none of these emails, we have seen anything related to it. We didn't go through all of them. Happy to go through them one-by-one if need be, but in this case, there's nothing that's really clear cut about YNAB, even though I love the tool.

I'm using it. I upgraded. I paid for it. I don't know if I paid for it [based] on this email. I think I waited til the last minute because I'm like that.

Despite writing the emails that try to convince people to do this, but I'm just really wishing for something else. Something that shows off YNAB's personality as well as gets people to that victorious win faster. So, let's see.

"Quick! Budget! Quick budget!"

This is a feature email. This is the first email that I saw that has to do with features. So I understand why they're doing that. You can't really access features like quick budget if you don't have the regular budget set in stone.

So, maybe this is behavioral or they made the assumption that 20 days later people are ready to use the quick budget because they already have something set in stone, but in this case we should have some sort of email or in-app message, or tooltip, or something in order to walk somebody through the process of setting a goal, and then being able to create the budget that's best for them, which can ... maybe that's why they have the workshops.

Maybe the workshops will educate you on that process. I don't know. I didn't sign up for one. So, that's maybe just a part of onboarding process that works for them, but we don't actually know. So this is the email that got me to move because it's using urgency.

"Your YNAB trial has one day left!"

One day, and 24 hours left. 

"Please do write us back even in last minute buzzer beater questions."

It's really interesting because they have such a great personality, but I feel like some of these emails are just a lot longer than they should be. You want to be a human being. You want to connect. You want to look like you're just writing an email, but we know this is automated.

There's an unsubscribe from our emails button right here. But I just really wish that he spent more time connecting to me as opposed to just talking about things that are about budgets.

Don't talk about budgets, talk about me. Talk about my pains. Talk about my solutions, and talk about my dreams that I want to have with my money, and it's even more than just a vacation.

So, one of my goals is to pay off my mortgage in five years.

I'm not saying that he should write an email that says that, but the things that he's talking about I've already achieved those goals.

I already have money bookmarked for my vacation. I have six months of expenses backed up, but there's nothing that speaks to me in this way, and maybe 75% of the population is just making sure that they have enough savings to go on vacation.

I totally understand, but then there's a way to segment that traffic by asking right on sign up, what is that you're here to do?

Are you here to pay off debt? Are you an entrepreneur, and you just want to make sure that you have enough money in case your consulting jobs dry out? What is it that you signed up here to do because you're looking for a specific outcome, and voice that outcome otherwise.

At this point, I was going to log in and show you my YNAB dashboard, but I'm pretty apprehensive to do this.

So, there are account numbers on there. I prefer not to show them to you as much as I love you guys, but it is kind of interesting.

I mean, think about this when you are, if you're interested in onboarding or you see onboarding emails from SaaS apps that you sign up, think about what outcome you are looking for because it's not about the tool that you sign up for.

You didn't sign up for Dropbox because you needed file storage. Maybe you did, but you're looking for ease of finding documents on the cloud, or if you signed up for a business and business intelligence software, you're not necessarily looking for a dashboard, you're looking for a way to take data that you have and transform it into insight so that you can make better decisions about your business.

Think about that. It'll be so much easier to write onboarding emails, and if you haven't done so already sign up for my 5-day crash course in onboarding, and it will help you from not meandering and writing some emails about budgeting or what have you.

Again, this is a great example of a tool that has a great following in spite of email, which says that they've done their research in the market, they've achieved product-market fit, so this could use a little bit of optimization.

I don't know what their metrics are. I'd be curious to find out, but other than that, I hope that this was helpful to you and I will talk to you next week.

Thanks so much, 

~Sophia :) 

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