42: Starting A Business? Your Most Important Partner Might Be at Home: Ben Chestnut, MailChimp

 
Ben Chestnut started a digital greetings company after getting laid off from a web design job; then, he started MailChimp.

Ben Chestnut started a digital greetings company after getting laid off from a web design job; then, he started MailChimp.

Seventeen years ago, life gave Ben Chestnut the push to start the company that became MailChimp. 

He was in web design. He got laid off. His employer offered him another job, but he knew – this was his chance to build his own thing.  

Today if you run a small business or you're into marketing, you've probably heard of MailChimp. For everyone else – it's the way a lot of people reach their customers' email inboxes. Newsletters, offers for special sales, you name it – MailChimp is in the tricky game of helping companies reach the people who actually want to be reached. 

Now, Ben Chestnut's team has more than 14 million users, and had more than $400 million in sales last year. Ben himself is an introvert – a soft-spoken guy who has perfected the art of capitalizing on the wrong answer and getting to the right one. 

The fateful moment when Chestnut decided to strike out on his own? He and his would-be cofounder scheduled a dinner out, and invited Chestnut's wife.

"She knew that deep down inside, I needed to start a business one day in my life. And so when I was laid off, and my cofounder and I really wanted to start a business, I said 'I've got to get my wife's permission first,'" Chestnut recalls. "And so we all went out to dinner one day, and I remember asking her, and to her it was a no-big-deal kind of thing. She just said, 'Yeah, do it. You need to do it." And that's all I needed to hear."

Even so, the road wasn't easy. First, the young company focused on web design. After a while, it became clear that what the small businesses really needed was a way to keep in touch with their customers. Eventually, MailChimp was born.