Innovation & Disruption

Want Proof That Patience Pays Off? Ask the Founders of This 17-Year-Old $525 Million Email Empire

Monday, May 21, 2018
Fatou Darboe
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As Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

However, patience is difficult to sustain in a business sphere that is increasingly characterized and sustained by quarterly earnings and quick results.

Indeed, in an age where companies like Instagram and Pinterest have become overnight successes, our expectations of what brands can or cannot do is greatly disconnected from reality.

Brands that have been around for a while need patience to turn them around. Don’t believe us? Ask the team over at MailChimp.

Image credit: Inc

A Case in Patience: MailChimp

“Patience is a virtue.”

That is indeed what we are told from a very early age. However, we are rarely taught how to be patient.

It is not something that is inherent in everyone – it is something that we consciously do. It is like every hard-earned discipline: the more we practice it, the more patient we become.

Ben Chestnut, the co-founder and CEO of MailChimp understands this better than anyone. He is a classic example of the positive impact that patience and perseverance can have on a business.


Caption: Ben Chestnut, co-founder and CEO of MailChimp
Image credit: The New York Times

You may have heard of MailChimp – the marketing platform targeted at small businesses. It allows you to send beautiful and creatively constructed emails to your customers, with reports that help you monitor how well your email campaigns are doing.

Millions of people and businesses use MailChimp today to send over 1 billion emails a day.

So how long did it take MailChimp to become a successful well-known business? 17 years.

That’s right, it took 17 years of ups and downs, learning and perseverance, for MailChimp to

maintain profitability; and to continue growing by more than $120 million per year, with

more than 14,000 customers signing up every single day.


Image credit: Inc

The company was founded in 2001 by Chestnut and Dan Karzius, both web designers. It in fact started off as a side project while they were working at their main web design consultation business, Rocket Science Group.

Chestnut, having grown up in a family of entrepreneurs, and being a small business owner, decided to start a company that helps small business owners to develop emails.

He initially wanted to build it as an email marketing channel for his clients since there was a demand for such software back in the early 2000s. So he set off, together with Karzius, with the idea of Chimpmail; but since the domain name was already taken, they settled for MailChimp.

They continued with working on their web design business before shutting it down in 2007 to pursue MailChimp. Why?

Because they realized that web design was not their true passion. Helping small businesses is.

However, despite their experience, their journey was not easy. Young MailChimp had to overcome many challenges, some of which seemed unbeatable at the time. It is perseverance and patience that made the company what it is today.

One of the key challenges they faced was the danger of being swallowed up by bigger and more powerful companies. Keep in mind that MailChimp did not have much capital and they refused to onboard investors. So email marketing giants like Constant Contact often threatened the existence of their company.

But Chestnut and Karzius persevered to stay in the market and grow.

Their secret weapon against companies like Constant Contact was their extensive knowledge of how small businesses operate and what they need. It was this weapon or knowledge that they used to keep the bigger and more powerful companies at bay and to attract small businesses to MailChimp.

The other key challenge they encountered was the fear that emails would eventually become obsolete. And given that their company was built around the continued use of emails, it was a real fear.

They addressed the problem by diversifying their service offerings to other marketing channels like social media. They found a way to integrate those into their business as value-added services.

MailChimp’s fortunes also began to change when they decided to make the service free to use. This decision tied in well with their passion for helping small businesses, whose early struggles they knew about all too well.

The decision to go Freemium paid off in leaps and bounds as membership grew exponentially.

They now boast $525 million USD in annual revenue.


Image credit: The New York Times

What lessons can we learn from them?

What We Can Learn from MailChimp

Be Patient and Grow with Your Company

A key lesson that Ben Chestnut mentions time and time again, is the importance of growing with your company.

What this means is that growth brings on more responsibility and expectation of customer satisfaction.

Chestnut also highlights the importance of keeping hold of new ideas as they come: writing them down and filing them away as you never know when they will be useful.

Also, never shy away from keeping an eye out on new opportunities by listening to what your customers are asking for as that could present new avenues for growth.

The bottom line, according to Chestnut, is to stick with it: every business faces tough times, but his decade-long wait for business success has definitely paid off.

If you really believe in the value of your business, then you should never give up on pursuing success.

And despite the remarkable success of MailChimp, Chestnut does not feel that they have reached their final goals. He explains that there is still so much to be done – with every milestone that is reached, new targets must be set.

Indeed, a growth mindset is essential for every business. And that undoubtedly requires an arduous exercise in patience.

Be Patient Every Step of the Way

Patience does not mean idly waiting.

Practicing patience is an active state. It means that whilst you understand that some things are not in your control, such as a client’s decision to engage, renew, or retain your services, you continue moving slowly but steadily towards your goals.

If you are only just starting out, impatience is common. You may be in a hurry to realize success, to build your loyal customer base, and to close deals. It is important even in this early stage that you understand that clients often need time, even when time is seemingly of the essence.

Do not get dismayed or discouraged.

You do not want to unduly push a client or pose unreasonable ultimatums, as this can

backfire and damage the reputation of your business. Reasonability and reliability are two

words that you want to be associated with your brand.

Patience Delivers Rewards

The founders of MailChimp are an example that patience delivers results.


Image credit: Inc

Impatience is as much a habit as patience is. When we lack patience, we are not able to delay gratification which results in frustration. And frustration is what drives us to quit.

When we are impatient, we are unable to work towards our business goals in a disciplined and dedicated manner. We quit in order to start over again and the cycle continues.


Image credit: Forbes

So, motivate yourself to develop the habit by thinking about the guaranteed rewards (be it greater sales, positive recognition, more profits, a promotion, increased customer satisfaction, etc.) that will come from developing the habit.

Patience Results in Smart Decision-Making

Patience is one of the best resources you can deploy when it comes to making good decisions. Similar to the decision MailChimp made to offer their email marketing services for free in its early stages.

Many people in business, like Chestnut and Karzius, are looking for an edge over their competition and ways to improve their performance.

But you cannot allow yourself to be disillusioned enough to believe that solid business plans and having the best talent is enough or is a substitute for the virtues you need to guide and direct your business.


Image credit: Business Insider

Patience is one of those virtues. When we are patient, we remove ourselves from the negative stories that more often than not cloud our judgment.

We don’t live in a world of “what-ifs” that is destructive to our capacity to make sound decisions. When we are patient, we are more mindful to stop and focus on the present.

In being in the moment, we can make wiser choices and take both the big and small picture into account.

Patience Builds Reputations

Successful business people usually stay ahead of the pack by mastering skills that are guaranteed to make them successful. And patience is one of those skills.

Patience gives us grit and the ability to work steadily towards our goals. Just ask Chestnut and Karzius.

When we reach said goals, consistently, we begin to build reputations. Indeed, excellent, solid reputations are built through perseverance and not giving up.

And it is when we persevere, despite the odds, that we achieve great success. Any project or task you embark on requires total dedication to a long and difficult effort.

Patience Hones Self-Awareness

Patience gives us direct control over ourselves which is vital for success. When we are patient, we give ourselves valuable time to respond to certain events and developments as opposed to getting emotionally hijacked by our own emotions.

It allows us to stay composed no matter what is happening around us.

We also build trust in our ability to deal with whatever obstacles we encounter.

On the other hand, lack of success or progress in any of our endeavors can usually be attributed to lack of patience. And the primary reason for impatience is a lack of control.

When we don’t have a sense of control, we don’t have understanding or insight. And when we lack those two things, we don’t have the ability to effectively communicate, set realistic expectations and to plan.

However, when we exercise control over those issues, we get to experience the rewards that patience delivers.

That is exactly how Chestnut and Karzius overcame the aforementioned obstacles they encountered.

Patience Makes Us More Tolerant

Patience increases our limit of tolerance. That is because patience enables us to preempt the obstacles on our path and deal with them tactfully. When we foresee challenges, we deal with them with more courage, strength and confidence.

Sure, emotional instability is a characteristic of any challenge and obstacles are part of any business. Again, just ask Chestnut and Karzius.

They’ll tell you that you just have to do the work you need to do and roll with the punches. And the more easily you can roll with the punches and learn to ride the ebbs and flows of the cycles of success, the less anxiety you suffer and the tougher you become.

Patience Brings Hope

Patience provides an enduring belief in the goals that you are trying to achieve. When you have hope, you also have a natural resilience and willingness to keep going until you succeed.

Patience Hones Company Culture

The main focus and goal of any business leader or company is to set the attitude or emotional tone of its culture. If the culture of your company is right, then all of the other components for success will fall into place.

And the development of MailChimp’s culture is a fitting example.

They built an engaging, fun, quirky and witty culture by having a patient devotion to doing just that.


Image credit: Fast Company

Chestnut and Karzius took the time to ensure that their entire team was focused on their core objectives and were all as motivated and dedicated to achieving them as they, the leaders, were.

They recognized the value of a strong team: a strong team is what will take you far in the business world.

They also recognized the importance of patience in building a strong team. When we exercise patience, we treat others around us with decency and respect which in turn increases reciprocity. In addition, we become better people, managers and business leaders.

Patience Helps You to Deal with Competition

Your business will always have competitors, and some may have considerably more

experience than you do.

When it is not possible to outrun your competitors, focus on distinguishing factors and unique selling points of your own business. For MailChimp, the unique selling point was their passion and understanding of small businesses.

They had competition but that didn’t stop them from believing that their business wouldn’t grow. It just meant that they had to exercise patience in seeing the results they wanted.

Patience Results in Excellence

At the heart of every successful business is the belief or awareness of the trials and tribulations of success and the confidence that by being patient and not giving up, something noteworthy will be realized.

In that way, true genius is synonymous with a greater propensity for patience.

Ask any business with a strong brand: building a brand takes time, patience and commitment.

Wrapping Up

The underlying message of Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius’ 18-year devotion to their

company is that perseverance and patience are indeed compatible. Practice both and you will make it.

A good businessperson gets where they are by using patience to make sound decisions that are directed by solid values as opposed to impulse. They also used patience to negotiate, communicate, build strong teams and meet strategic goals.

Indeed, patience serves businesspeople well and also serves us all in life as a whole.

But patience does not come easy. It takes time and conscious effort to master but the alternative is impatience, which leads to our downfall.

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