MailChimp’s Ben Chestnut on bootstrapping a startup to $700M in revenue

The well-known tech startup routine of coming up with an idea, raising money from VCs in increasing rounds as valuations continue to rise, and then eventually going public or getting acquired has been around for as long as the myth of Silicon Valley itself. But the evolution of MailChimp — a notable, bootstrapped outlier out of Atlanta, Georgia, that provides email and other marketing services to small businesses — tells a very different story of tech startup success.

As the company closes in on $700 million in annual revenues for 2019, it has no intention of letting up, or selling out: No outside funding, no plans for an IPO, and no to all the companies that have tried to acquire it. As it has grown, it has been profitable from day one.

This week, the company is unveiling what is probably its biggest product update since first starting to sell email marketing services 20 years ago: It’s launching a new marketing platform that features social media management, ad retargeting, AI-based business intelligence, domain sales, web development templates and more.

I took the opportunity to speak with its co-founder and CEO, Ben Chestnut — who started Mailchimp as a side project with two friends, Mark Armstrong and Dan Kurzius, in the trough of the first dot-com bust — on Mailchimp’s origins and plans for what comes next. The startup’s story is a firm example of how there is definitely more than one route to success in tech.


Ingrid Lunden: You’re launching a new marketing platform today, but I want to walk back a little first. This isn’t your first move away from email. We discovered back in March that you quietly acquired a Canadian e-commerce startup, LemonStand, just as you were parting ways with Shopify.

Ben Chestnut: We wanted to have a tool to help small business marketers do their initial selling. The focus is not multiple products. Just one. We’re not interested in setting up full-blown e-commerce carts. This is about helping companies sell one product in an Instagram ad with a buy button, and we felt that the people at LemonStand could help us with that.

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