It’s rare to see a product that is offered that truly has the customers’ best interest in mind. We strive for that every day at Ascend, and it has been refreshing to see that Jeff has accomplished this with building undebt.it.
We had the fun chance to sit down with Jeff recently where we really wanted to get to know the man behind a product that has helped thousands and thousands of people. Check it out.
Where did your passion for undebt.it begin?
Jeff: I had a lot of credit card and other debt on my own, and found that I needed a way to get out of debt. First, I started by using an excel spreadsheet which worked fine, but I liked the idea of having a network or web based that I could access on my phone or anywhere as needed.
There were online calculators back in 2010, but it didn’t have the functionality such as a running history or the ability to store data. I decided to make my own without the intention of what it is today. It came together pretty quickly once I got started and within a few months I decided to make undebt.it public. This was in early in 2012 and I started to add features – some based on personal needs and some based on user requests. I wanted to make the product free to as many people as possible and then create some premium content with the bells and whistles for folks who wanted more.
The project also was a programming project. My background is in IT Management and system administration, so I really wanted to utilize a new skill set.
How did you come up with the name? Was there an original name?
I came up with it by using a name generator. It was the kind where you plug in a few keywords and it spits out some random names. You could say it’s random how I came up with it. I thought it was a fun name though, and it stuck. Nice and short which I liked. Haha, the original name was actually Debt Phobia.
So, did undebt.it help you get out of debt?
I finally paid off my consumer debt around 6 months or so ago. There’s so much relief not worrying about how much money is getting wasted on interest. It’s given my family a lot more financial flexibility. My wife is able to go part time and we’re able to travel more.
I know that Ascend has changed quite a bit since inception. Was the idea that you initially had for Undebt.it what it is currently? How did it change over time?
I found that the social aspect has become more attractive, and people are getting more excited about sharing their progress, and how their debt is going. They like the graphs and things that show their progress.
I like seeing an early blog post asking users for features as it shows your customer focused mentality. Do you continue to do this or do people reach out to you?
I want to have a lot of it focused on the users. People come up with their ideas, and it’s great that they share their ideas. Most people will reach out to me through the contact form on the site or email. I also interact a lot on Facebook and Twitter.
Undebt.it has created lots of value for customers. How does it feel to produce value for someone?
It really feels great. It makes me happy to help people get out of debt. There are a lot of companies out there that try and make money off of people in a bad situation.
It’s hard to get the word out when you’re first beginning. How did you get new users?
Facebook was probably the most helpful early on. I would post something, and then people would organically share. I don’t really do much formal marketing or ad campaigns. There’s a group of power users that also really help spread the word.
What’s been your biggest surprise with undebt.it?
It’s been interesting to see the steady growth over time. It’s also nice to see that it has so many users and that people will share the details in a group or on a new blog. I’m also seeing a lot of younger people dealing with student loan early on. I think it’s great to see the younger generation seeing that debt does nothing but hold you back.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced with your product?
The biggest challenge is time management. There will be something that breaks or that the site slows down for whatever reason. I have a day job so I can’t always fix things right away. I want to fix problems right away but time does always permit.
Another challenge is where to focus my energy. I try and break up my time and work on new and improved features but I also have to work on site performance to make things faster or more efficient.
It’s amazing how many folks you’ve helped. Nearly 90,000 active users. What’s been your most fun customer story?
I love getting emails out of the blue from people thanking me for making the site and telling me how much of a difference it has made in their lives. It’s been fun to see how the site has really helped people.
You built a great product that is used by so many people. How do you stay humble?
I like to keep a low profile, and not make too much of the success of the product. My wife and I talk about it, but I usually just let her know when someone lets me know how it’s helped them. She’s amazed by how well the product has done.
What’s the biggest feature that you built that you thought would be a hit and ended up not being so?
The debt blaster part was really original in that it allows you to automatically adjust your budget up a certain percentage every month, but I don’t hear much about people using it. My favorite features to develop are the ones that nobody has done before.
What was the feature that you built that you didn’t think would work but was a huge hit?
People are really enjoying the payoff snapshots that show images that they can post to their instagram about their debt payoff product. It is really popular and it was a nice little surprise. I like to see those pop up on Instagram.
What’s next for undebt.it?
I’m still working on new ideas for the site. I want to continue to roll our new features that I have on the backburner that are short term, medium term, and long term projects.
Ascend is about helping folks who cannot use undebt.it because the debt is absolutely unaffordable. We want our product to be as customer focused as undebt.it. What would you recommend for us?
I would recommend to remove as many barriers of usability from your product as you can. It’s very important to keep things simple for your users. For example, on my site there is a free 30-day trial for the premium content. I made it as easy as a click of a single button to turn it on. The user doesn’t have to enter their credit card info and worry about getting charged at the end of the 30 days.
Another thing to keep in mind is giving the user plenty of options. Not too long ago, I created an “easy mode” option. It’s a single-page interface designed for people who just want to keep in simple.