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5 things entrepreneurs can learn from MailChimp




MailChimp has brought attention to a product area that is highly commoditised, thanks to its focus on delivering service with a hearty dose of mischief. As Co-founder and CEO Ben Chestnut would urge customers, “You’ve got a business to run; don’t code stuff that you could hire a monkey to do”. The brand lives up to its fun image too; its logo is a monkey in a mailer uniform.

Created by Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius in 2001, Mailchimp is the world’s most popular email marketing platform with a 60 percent market share; more than 16 million people use it to power their email marketing. The company has grown into a $4.2 billion enterprise without bringing in any outside investors, and Ben and Dan each retain 50 percent ownership of the company, which is a unicorn feat in and of itself.  

In fact, Ben and Dan turned down a billion dollars in order to retain full ownership of the company. “A lot more investors came knocking on the door when we got bigger and started to crop up on more radars,” Ben remarked in a recent interview. While flattered, Ben and Dan refused to hand over the keys to their enterprise to anyone else. “I’ve never been afraid of the agony and suffering that comes with establishing a business — that’s simply life,” Ben summarises.

Here are 5 learnings for aspiring entrepreneurs from MailChimp’s relentless rise.

1. Love what you do

“You always hear people saying ‘do what you love,’ and that’s partially true, but if you start a business doing what you love, it will kill you — it will kill your passion,” Ben said in a talk he delivered at CreativeMornings in Atlanta. “I like ‘love what you do’ better … embrace it, love it, and eventually success will find you.”

2. Chaos is good

Ben believes chaos spurs creativity, and that people shouldn’t get so wrapped up in creating big ideas that they stop getting lost in the weeds and actually creating. It’s from those chaotic weeds that creativity can really grow!

3. Thinking outside the box for new hires

Ben says he prefers to staff his team with eccentric people who have a diverse background. He also likes to go beyond the traditional suspects in the sector: “People from outside [the] industry tackle challenges in different ways than you and your conventional competitors,” he noted, valuing the new qualities outsiders bring to the table.

4. The power of collaborative leadership

As a CEO, Ben believes it’s vital to pay close attention to the people around him and really listen to what they have to say. “I’m never a good enough listener, but I try and listen a little harder every day,” he says.

It’s not just about listening — it’s also about involving others in the growth of the company. “I’ve learned to take a step back and let others lead,” he says. “That was a big mindset shift.”

5. Never stop monkeying around

Mailchimp infused mischief into their brand, stressing over the tiny things that excite clients, in keeping with its “mail monkey” persona. It sold toy monkeys, knitted headgear for humans and cats, and a game called “quick fingers,” which you could play after sending out your campaign and high-fiving a monkey paw. Like Mailchimp, your brand too can have a persona, which will help consumers connect and engage with it more meaningfully.