Philadelphia — At 26, Thomas Smyth and Daniel Petkevich are millennials whose startup speaks to what they say is a truth about their age group:
“Most millennials would rather sit on the couch and play ‘Pokemon Go’ than deal with any aspect of their financial lives,” Smyth said.
Actually, it’s not that different for most demographics, he said: “Personal finance is such a pain, and people do their best to avoid tackling any challenges.”
In those observations, Smyth and Petkevich — friends since their freshman year at Yale University — saw entrepreneurial opportunity. They launched Trim (asktrim.com) last September in San Francisco as an alert, of sorts, to financial laziness or sloppiness.
The online service finds and cancels unwanted subscriptions on clients’ credit cards.
In many instances, those charges are automatically renewing — for things subscribers forgot about or didn’t want but just didn’t have the drive to make the calls or send the emails or letters necessary to cancel.
Trim takes care of it, distinguishing itself from competitors such as Mint, Credit Karma and NerdWallet, which “are great at telling you what you should do,” said Smyth, Trim’s CEO. “We are great at doing things for you.”
The subscription-cancellation service is free unless a phone call or certified mail is required. The fee for that is $6, and has been paid by 500-600 Trim users, he said.
The ultimate goal is to do more than cancel subscriptions, such as alert clients when a bill is due or a late fee is about to be assessed.
“This is the first step on the way to building a fully fledged financial assistant, which we’ll offer as a premium service,” Smyth said. That cost has not yet been determined, but it will likely be 10 percent to 20 percent of the savings accomplished, he said.
In Philadelphia, Trim has more than 1,000 clients, and has averaged $180 a year in subscription cancellations per household, Smyth said.
Nationwide, Trim has more than 50,000 users and is responsible for more than $6 million in cancellations, he said.
In Philadelphia, Trim’s top three cancellations are Planet Fitness, the New York Times, and Audible. Nationally, they are American Greetings, Consumer Reports and Experian Credit Report.
“It’s not pocket change,” said Wendell Potter, 65, a writer and former health-insurance executive from Philly, who estimated that his Trim-triggered savings were at least $500 a year, and possibly double that.
That he didn’t know for sure is very much the point about such services.
“I had two subscriptions to the New York Times; I had a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, and Hulu was another. I had signed up and never used it,” Potter said. “National Geographic was another.”
As a former journalist, Potter appreciates newspapers. But nobody needs two subscriptions to the same one. His two subscriptions for the New York Times were for different levels of access — and resulted from Potter’s forgetting to cancel the first after starting another.
“It’s not a huge fortune,” he said of what he is now not spending on some publications and video-on-demand services. “I equate it to leakage: It’s money going out the door for something you don’t need.”
Which is precisely what Smyth and Petkevich discovered about themselves while working in California — Petkevich building satellite-imagery products for farmers, Smyth employed by a venture-capital fund focused on financial technology.
The common approach of personal-finance software developers, Smyth said, was to “show you pie charts to show you how much you spent on coffee last month.”
“Our thought was, ‘Could we build an assistant, a kind of AI (artificial intelligence) that would sit in the background, watch your bills and paychecks, and figure out ways to save you money?’”
In their own credit-card statements, Smyth and Petkevich discovered the sort of inattentive spending that Trim has been finding among its users.
“It was kind of in the back of my mind to cancel that Hoover subscription,” Smyth recalled of his personal situation, which involved having forgotten his password on that account. “So I kicked the can down the road. That kind of thinking leads you to repeat it the next month.”
Trim communicates with its subscribers through text messages and Facebook Messenger. Not yet profitable, the company of five employees has raised $2.2 million in capital from several investors, including Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures.
In Philadelphia, Potter said online shopping has made financial-oversight services even more vital.
“It’s so easy now to sign up for stuff,” he said. “With one click, you can obligate for something you think you need.”