“Many would give me the same pitch as the last guy, still a semi-threatening pitch,” Chestnut said on a Zoom call. “Like an insurance salesman: ‘You’re going to die.’ It was always catastrophic scenarios.
As some of his peers turned to venture capital, Chestnut, 47, wondered if he was doing something wrong by not following the path of the well-mapped entrepreneur. But he felt that potential investors did not seem to understand his vision of supporting small business growth. Instead of listening to the dire predictions, he finally took them as a provocation: “Like, do you think I’m not going to make it?
After nearly two decades of resistance to outside investors for their Atlanta-based company, Chestnut and his co-founder Dan Kurzius, 49, sold the marketing automation platform to the software company for $ 12 billion. Intuit Inc., the developer of TurboTax and QuickBooks.
Chestnut said it’s not just about cashing it out, but the start of a new chapter, which will take advantage of the QuickBooks accounting platform that helps small businesses run. He and Kurzius are paid in shares of Intuit, each giving them a fortune of around $ 5 billion (about as much as Intuit co-founder Scott Cook).
“I’m going to do what I’ve always done – sit here with my computer and create a great tool,” said Chestnut, who will continue to lead the Mailchimp team. “I don’t see this as an exit at all. It is an in-flight refueling of a fighter plane.
Chestnut grew up near Augusta, Georgia, and spent time as a child helping her mother in her barbershop that she shunned from the family kitchen. He studied physics at the University of Georgia, then transferred to the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he focused on web design.
Kurzius, meanwhile, worked as a DJ and skateboarder before setting up a web design agency called Rocket Science Group with Chestnut. They used severance pay from their dotcom jobs to get started, Chestnut said. But the co-founders soon discovered that their customers had difficulty sending their newsletters by email. They took the code from a failed digital greeting card product they made and tweaked it to launch Mailchimp in 2001.
The side project gained momentum and they began to test pricing strategies, such as prepaid credits, before moving to monthly plans that made their earnings more predictable. Subscriptions now account for the bulk of their $ 800 million revenue.
The company now sends a billion emails every day of the week. As the business has evolved, so has its monkey-themed brand. Its mascot, Freddie, gives users a high five when they send out a marketing campaign, and knitted monkey hats have been used as loot at company parties.
Jeffrey Cornwall, professor of entrepreneurship at Belmont University, said the founders of Mailchimp were able to keep control of their business by not relying on venture capital money, but also gave themselves the time to be nimble in the early stages when testing their business model.
“There are a lot of companies that assume they need to raise money,” Cornwall said. “Maybe they don’t.”
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