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The founders of MailChimp didn’t set out to build the world’s leading email marketing platform.

They didn’t start by asking, “How do we build a product that can be used by millions of businesses for sending billions of emails each day?”

Instead, when co-founders Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius launched MailChimp back in 2001, they were simply trying to help their customers.

At the time, the pair were running a web design business. When some of their customers started asking for a way to send emails, Chestnut dug up some old code he had written for an earlier project (a failed digital greeting card product). That code became the jumping-off point for the MailChimp email marketing service.

For years, the service remained a side project. But in 2007, Chestnut and Kurzius decided to shut down their web design operation and go all-in on MailChimp.


Because in launching MailChimp, the pair realized that web design really wasn’t their passion. As the New York Times reported, “What Mr. Chestnut and Mr. Kurzius were passionate about was helping small businesses grow.”

Email marketing, however, wasn’t necessarily the best game to be getting into for helping small businesses grow … at least not in 2007.

For starters, spam was reaching unprecedented heights, and people were becoming increasingly annoyed. (One study found that 95% of all emails sent in 2007 were spam emails.)

But perhaps even more discouragingly, better-funded companies (e.g. Constant Contact, which raised $107 million in its IPO in October 2007) were already dominating the email marketing landscape.

Still, Chestnut and Kurzius saw email as a cost-effective marketing channel — perfect for cash-strapped small businesses that were trying to reach their target audiences.

What’s more, the MailChimp co-founders had a secret weapon for taking out the competition.

“A Proximity to Its Customers”

Chestnut told the New York Times that MailChimp’s success stems from that fact that it had “a proximity to its customers that its competitors lacked.”

And he elaborated that because MailChimp “was itself a small business, it understood what those businesses wanted out of their marketing tools. Its offerings were cheaper, it added features more quickly, and it allowed greater customizations to fit customers’ needs.”

In other words, MailChimp won by getting closer to their customers than the competition.

And as you hear us say all the time here at Drift, “Whoever get closest to the customer wins.”

Flash forward to today, and it’s clear that MailChimp’s customer-driven approach has paid off in a big way: They now have more than 14 million users, and are anticipating $400 million+ in revenue for 2016.

But how, exactly, was MailChimp able to get closer to their customers than their competitors?

At Drift, we’ve identified three key areas where MailChimp was able to gain an advantage.

1) A Lovable Brand

There’s no denying that mailchimp has one of the most memorable and adorable mascots in the business: Freddie (full name: Frederick von Chimpenheimer IV).

But as MailChimp marketing director Mark DiCristina once said, “having a mascot is not a substitute for having a marketing strategy.”

Ultimately, the reason why Freddie works for MailChimp as a piece of its brand identity is because Freddie is an honest representation of the MailChimp brand.

As DiCristina explained, their cartoonish mascot “represents some ideas that the whole company stands behind: making work fun, creativity, and independence.”

And MailChimp’s wordmark — with its hand-written, schoolhouselook — echoes these ideas as well.

But to reiterate: MailChimp didn’t create this fun brand identity for the heck of it. Their branding grew naturally out of the fun experiences they were already delivering to customers.

For starters, MailChimp was a pioneer in the world of witty and informal product copy. Years before Slack started dazzling us with its friendly tone, MailChimp was preaching that they could make sending great content “easier than eating a banana.”

MailChimp also wasn’t afraid of sharing a GIF when they felt the moment called for it.

Getting ready to send out an email campaign? MailChimp would show you this animation of a hand sweating over a big “send” button.

And then once you sent a campaign, guess what? MailChimp gave you a high five.

Instead of making email marketing feel like a chore, MailChimp managed to make the experience fun. And that experience they delivered — not their primatemascot — is really what set their brand apart.

Of course, the strengthening of MailChimp’s brand didn’t happen by accident. They’ve clearly put a lot of thought into nailing down their voice and tone, and setting guidelines for how their brand assets should be used.

One of my favorite examples of how MailChimp has codified the language they use comes from their content style guide . It’s a list of what the MailChimp voice is, and what it isn’t.

As you can see, there’s a fine line to walk. Get too informal, and customers start viewing you as unprofessional. But for MailChimp, walking that line, and striking that perfect balance between fun and professional, paid off.

As a result of their brand-building efforts, MailChimp was able to change the way people felt about email marketing software.

The experience MailChimp delivered was warm and friendly, as if their customers were trusted friends — not entries in a CRM.

Other email marketing solutions on the market, by comparison, felt cold and robotic.

There was only one thing holding MailChimp back from conquering the world of email marketing:

Not enough people were getting the full MailChimp experience.

In order to grow, MailChimp needed a strategy for getting potential customers to see, first-hand, what being a MailChimp customer would feel like.

Luckily, they had a plan …

2) Freemium

In September of 2009, MailChimp announced they were going freemium.

Now, I could summarize the reasons why MailChimp made that decision, but considering their announcement post was just a few-hundred-words long, you might as well read it yourself:

In true MailChimp fashion, the post (written by co-founder and CEO Ben Chestnut) opens with a tongue-and-cheek commentary on how MailChimp had “wasted all this time” building a profitable company and an “awesome product” that had amassed a user base of 100,000 people.

Chestnut’s point here is that MailChimp was successful well before it chose to go the freemium route.

This wasn’t some lucky gamble — it was a calculated move.

As Chestnut wrote in 2010:

Ultimately, the MailChimp team had the benefit of being able to study all of this data they had amassed (presumably) since they launched in 2001.

And the conclusion that they came to was that offering a free forever version of MailChimp was the best strategy for driving growth.

For Chestnut, however, the underlying inspiration for going freemium grew out of an experience he had at a Ben Jerry’s. When a friend took him there for the first time, and he got to try all of the free samples, he was hooked.

Catch that last line? The “little monkeys in their footer”?

That actually proved to be one of the most brilliant tactics MailChimp deployed as part of launching their “free forever” plan: All of the emails sent by MailChimp’s free users were stamped with a hyperlinked image of Freddie, which would send folks to

This helped drive product virality, as recipients would click on the friendly face of MailChimp’s mascot and end up learning more about the company and their software.

The free users who were sending those emails, meanwhile, would earn “MonkeyRewards Credits” every time a person they referred through their MailChimp footer badge ended up becoming a paying customer. Free users could then put those credits toward MailChimp services like inbox inspections or even future bills if they decided to upgrade.

One year after adopting this new, freemium model, MailChimp shared some data on their blog:

According to Chestnut, that extraordinary growth in profit was primarily a result of their customer acquisition cost (CAC) dropping. At the time — September 2010 — Chestnut reported that MailChimp’s CAC was less than $100.

Jump aheadto February 2012, and MailChimp’s user base had grown from 450,00 to 1.2 million. On average, they were adding 5,000 new users every single day.

Clearly, MailChimp’s freemium sales model, coupled with its already well-established and lovablebrand, helped take the company’s growth to the next level.

But in order to sustain that growth, and to prevent churn from creeping in, MailChimp had another trick up its sleeve.

3) Surprise Delight

Whether it’s sending customers t-shirts, stuffed animals, or monkey hats for their cats ( yes, seriously ), MailChimp is renowned for its “weird swag.” Or at least that’s whata 2012 article from calledit.

In that same article,MailChimp marketing director Mark DiCristina explained that MailChimp creates and shares this “weird swag” because it makes people happy. There’s no other angle. They don’t have a dedicated swag data scientist crunching numbers behind the scenes.

They’re not measuring monkey hat conversion rates.

Instead, MailChimp simply thinks of them as gifts.

To quote DiCristina:

For MailChimp, the quality of the gifts they give to their customers is more important than the cost.

And while MailChimp employees don’t spend time trying to quantify the effects of their gift-giving, they do spend time testing out gifts to make sure they’re top quality.

As reported, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see MailChimp employees, “testing the softness of a stuffed chimp’s belly.”

It might sound a little cooky, but the attention MailChimp pays to these tiny details is what helps set their customer experience apart from the competition’s.

As DiCristina explained:

The broader takeaway here isn’t that you should start putting more budget toward t-shirts and stuffed animals, it’s that you should look for ways that you can surprise and delight your own customers based on what you know about them.

For MailChimp, it made sense to pursue a customer delight strategy that was silly and lighthearted because that’s the experience they were known for delivering — that’s what was already resonating with their customers.

But, as a hypothetical, if you’re an internet security company that’s built a brand around being trusted and taking responsibilities super-seriously, sending a bunch of stuffed animals to your customers might not play so well.

(Alternatively, a free security audit and/or free access to a new product feature might be better options.)

Ultimately, the specific tactics you use for surprising and delighting your customers should be an honest reflection of brand.

Final Thought: Stay Tuned for More

At Drift, we have a list of companies that we look to as role models.

MailChimp, as you’ve probably figured out by now, is one of them.

In the months to follow, we’ll continue to showcase companies that have achieved extraordinary growth through getting closer to their customers.

In the meantime, you can check out some of our earlier stories about companies we love:

Click here to learn more about how Drift can help your sales team convert more leads and close more deals.

A lovable brand
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“Blood, sweat and tears” appears on many a weight room motivational poster, but isn’t quite as applicable to esports as it is to more traditional sports. There are certainly tears , after wins and losses, and Mens Am02Cuoi HiTop Trainers Blackstone ZS3xxxkw
as pros get older. Curious, we reached out to esports competitors in all sorts of games to ask a simple, burning question: Where’s the sweat at?

The Injuries That Are Ending eSports Careers

They may be sat behind a desk instead of being out on a field or court smashing into other humans,…

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There’s no comparison, of course, between running 26.2 miles and firing off a hadoken in Street Fighter , or between being tackled by a 330-pound lineman and getting killed in Dota 2 . Still, a combination of nerves, hot studio lights, and the constant contact against surfaces like controllers, fightsticks, and keyboards does result in some perspiration.

Most of the players interviewed were loath to admit to sweating themselves. Many were happy to incriminate others, however, whether naming names or just saying they “know a guy.”

Cody Sun, from Immortals’ League of Legends squad, was willing to own up to his sweat. “I do often sweat during games, especially in very important matches or if the games are really close,” Sun told us. “I don’t really have a problem with hand sweat.”

Teammate Eugene “Pobelter” Park raised a different concern: he gets a bit chilly at times.

“On stage, the air conditioning has to be pumping really high to keep all the PCs and lights cool, so cold hands are pretty common,” said Park. “And that can be difficult because you’ll more frequently make mistakes in clicking the right key if your fingers are stiff.”

Verros “MaybeNextTime” Apostolos, of the independent Dota 2 team formerly known as Ad Finem, was happy to indict others. “I never had an issue with sweaty hands or something like that, even though I know a lot of people who get that,” he said.

League of Legends and Dota 2 doesn’t have the same kind of constant-contact as other games, however, so we talked to some controller junkies as well. Smash 4 player Jason “ANTi” Bates says he does not sweat, though he does get nervous, but was happy to point us in the direction of a heavy sweater: fellow Smash 4 player Eric “Tyrant” Legesse.

“Sometimes when I try to play him, he’ll tell me that he cannot right now,” Bates told us. “I’d ask him why and he’d respond with, ‘I don’t want to ruin my shirt.’”

Interview: AynRand , March 1964

An emotion as such tells you nothing about reality, beyond the fact that something makes you feel something. Without a ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection—to the conceptual identification of your inner states—you will not discover what you feel, what arouses the feeling, and whether your feeling is an appropriate response to the facts of reality, or a mistaken response, or a vicious illusion produced by years of self-deception ....

In the field of introspection, the two guiding questions are: “ do I feel?” and “ do I feel it?”

“Philosophical Detection,” , 17

There can be no causeless love or any sort of causeless emotion. An emotion is a response to a fact of reality, an estimate dictated by your standards.

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, 147

Man has no choice about his capacity to feel that something is good for him or evil, but he will consider good or evil, what will give him joy or pain, what he will love or hate, desire or fear, depends on his standard of value. If he chooses irrational values, he switches his emotional mechanism from the role of his guardian to the role of his destroyer. The irrational is the impossible; it is that which contradicts the facts of reality; facts cannot be altered by a wish, but they destroy the wisher. If a man desires and pursues contradictions—if he wants to have his cake and eat it, too—he disintegrates his consciousness; he turns his inner life into a civil war of blind forces engaged in dark, incoherent, pointless, meaningless conflicts (which, incidentally, is the inner state of most people today).

“The Objectivist Ethics,” , 28

An emotion that clashes with your reason, an emotion that you cannot explain or control, is only the carcass of that stale thinking which you forbade your mind to revise.

Galt’s Speech, , 151

The quality of a computer’s output is determined by the quality of its input. If your subconscious is programmed by chance, its output will have a corresponding character. You have probably heard the computer operators’ eloquent term “gigo”—which means: “Garbage in, garbage out.” The same formula applies to the relationship between a man’s thinking and his emotions.

A man who is run by emotions is like a man who is run by a computer whose print-outs he cannot read. He does not know whether its programming is true or false, right or wrong, whether it’s set to lead him to success or destruction, whether it serves his goals or those of some evil, unknowable power. He is blind on two fronts: blind to the world around him and to his own inner world, unable to grasp reality or his own motives, and he is in chronic terror of both.

“Philosophy: Who Needs It,” , 6

This brief experiment in definitional tinkering may not have produced a new definition of tinkering, but it has certainly given me some new ideas. And the experiment doesn’t seem over: I’m particularly mindful of today’s fresh interpretation of tinkering that underscores the value of collaboration and learning from others. So how would you define tinkering?

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8 thoughts on “Tinkering Towards a Definition of Tinkering”

March 1, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Nice joint you have here! I think you pulled out a great deal of what amounts to tinkering. I might add: thinking with fingers and stuff communication with materials

Also very worth emphasizing is the iterative nature of tinkering and how it builds a sense of a material’s or system’s capabilities and potential. In my experience early tinkering seems to be about the starting goods/ ingredients… just poking a probing and considering and watching removed from any agenda/design problem. While late stage tinkering is when I start folding in other, external things I know like: What glues might work on this material or Where I can work in clothespins – (one of my go to ingredients) How could I store it Where else (new) might it come in handy etc..

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March 5, 2013 at 5:42 am

Thanks for the comment! I love the phrase, tinkering with fingers and stuff. And I totally agree about the iterative nature of tinkering. I like your thoughts about early and late stage tinkering. It does seem like there’s an importnat difference there. Your comment also makes me think about what a capacious concept tinkering is, in terms of the range of drivers of the behavior. For example, as you point out, you can tinker in a sense aimlessly with a pile of provocative materials. But you can also tinker with a very clear goal in mind, such as when you’re tinkering with something in order to fix it or make it work better.

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“THINKING with fingers and stuff.” I should have said “concrete thinking with fingers and stuff” I’m glad i came back… I have a larger point to make so I’ll start another comment.

March 5, 2013 at 11:06 pm

I thought that Nassim Taleb in his Google Talk ( ) provided a pretty relevant definition of Tinkering (in the context of his theory of anti fragility) – I thought this was relevant not only for creativity, but also for new paradigm of learning- more bottom up, more experiential.


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