Quizzle: ‘Cracking the Nut’ of Online Personal Finance in a Down Economy

In its first year of operation, Detroit-based startup Quizzle, one of the many under the sprawling QuickenLoans umbrella, handed out free credit reports as a way to entice users. More than a million people signed up for the site. During Quizzle’s second year of operation, it began offering users products to help clean up their credit and prepare them for home ownership. Now, in year three, CEO Todd Albery has given himself (and his company) a new challenge: How do you take an online personal finance company and make it appeal to the masses? How do you make it great?

Albery says in the world of online personal finance, even the well-known products like Mint and Turbo Tax (both owned by Intuit now) are only pulling in a small percentage of the American population as users. What Quizzle wants to do is create a paradigm shift in the way people interact with their credit scores—Albery cited what Google did to streamline search in a crowded marketplace as his chief inspiration.

“What’s the switch you flip that makes people say, I need a Quizzle account so I can do X?” Albery wonders. “We want to change the behavior of Internet users. Nobody’s been able to crack that nut for personal finance.”

Albery says he and his staff of nine employees are going to spend roughly the next 90 days devoting their energy to making Quizzle better and more useful than the competition. They’re hoping to “demystify” credit scores to the point that those who have suffered the slings and arrows of a down economy aren’t afraid to find out how bad their score has gotten—and won’t hesitate to start repairing the situation because Quizzle has taken the shame out of the endeavor.

Quizzle still offers free credit reports along with budget planning and credit improvement tools, as well as home loan recommendations. The true genius of Quizzle’s business model may lie in the fact that the company is targeting those who are turned down by Quicken for mortgages to then help them fix their credit and turn them into future Quicken clients.

Albery says it’s possible Quizzle will attack the icky feelings people often have about debt and credit scores by creating online support groups—the Weight Watchers model, if you will—where users can encourage one another to not only get their finances in order, but to keep them in order. (Instead of a support group about overeating, for instance, there might be one for people who spend their paychecks at the mall despite a growing pile of bills that needs their attention.)

Albery envisions the new Quizzle to be a sort of “consumerism anonymous” in a world where your credit score is increasingly used, almost like a criminal record, to determine your level of trustworthiness. Albery says you can pretty much assume prospective employers will run your credit. In Michigan, your credit score even affects how much you pay for car insurance. That more people are losing a handle on their credit scores due to unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and medical bills makes the matter all the more urgent, Albery says. The company’s new motto—“Don’t Guess. Know.”—says it all.

“We’re asking people to want to engage in something that has been a point of pain in their life,” Albery says. “So we try to make finances fun. We try to do the math for you. Your data is out there being used for you and against you, and you need to know what that data is.”

Albery claims that Quizzle has grown to what it is now through word-of-mouth and with a “zero-dollar marketing budget.” The site was given an early shout-out by Atlanta-based radio host Clark Howard, who specializes in topics related to consumer protection. “Clark Howard put us on the map,” Albery adds. “He interviewed a guy on the street who mentioned Quizzle. We had 20,000 people hitting our servers at the same time–that shut down the site temporarily, but it made us a brand new company.”

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