MailChimp And The Future Of Email

Neil Bainton
CoCreator and COO of MailChimp
1hr 17min
June 15, 2023
About the Show

"Our theme was always: make things simple, make things beautiful, make things fun."

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Neil Bainton is the Co-Creator and COO of Mailchimp, and is currently an investor, advisor, and photographer. On this episode of Forward Obsessed, Neil Bainton discusses his unique career journey, starting with learning Russian during the Cold War and actually moving to Russia at the end of the Cold War to work for DuPont. Neil recalls Russia as an “entrepreneurial black slate,” transitioning to work for Pepsi, creating successful (and sometimes fervent) promotional campaigns in Russia. Neil talks about the challenges of doing business in Russia, returning to the US to participate in the dotcom boom, and recalls his early business that led to helping build MailChimp.

Throughout the episode, Bainton highlights the importance of design and innovation in staying ahead of competitors, and how the internet has drastically changed the business landscape. Tune in to this insightful episode as Bainton shares his wisdom and perspective gained from his unique journey. The episode also highlights some of the unique aspects of MailChimp's success, such as their passionate focus on design, their 'Forever Free' offering, their ability to compete with larger companies, and why Neil decided to eventually exit the business to pursue a better personal life

Episode Resources:

Website: ⁠https://www.neilbainton.com/⁠ 

Linkedin: ⁠https://www.linkedin.com/in/nbainton/⁠

Photography: ⁠https://www.neilbainton.photos/

Key Moments

How To Make Email Suck Less

When Neil Bainton walked into the small office that was MailChimp headquarters in 2007, he had one mission - he wanted to find a way to “make email suck less.” Email was gaining a terrible reputation in the marketing world as every inbox in the world was getting filled with unregulated spam with no end in sight.

Neil Bainton on the Forward Obsessed Podcast

These days, MailChimp is a renowned powerhouse in the world of email marketing. They are hailed for their unique blend of innovation, economic principles, and an unrivaled understanding of its target market, particularly for small businesses. They beat out some of the biggest competitors in the business, including Constant Contact with truly innovative tactics, scrappy bootstrapping, and an aggressively entrepreneurial approach to growth. How did they do it? Here are one of our biggest takeaways from Neil's interview on Forward Obsessed:

The biggest marketing budget in the world can’t beat FREE.

One of Neil’s breakthrough strategies at MailChimp was the implementation of a "Freemium" model. While other competitors demanded upfront subscription fees, Neil decided to allow customers to grow their email lists and begin using their service for free. This model is a prime example of how understanding and application of basic economic principles, like consumer behavior and price elasticity, can drive growth. As more and more customers began to sign on, MailChimp found they had a rapidly growing sales funnel and an exponentially growing body of data that could be used to make new, innovative products.

Neil Bainton on the Forward Obsessed Podcast

A marketers most valuable commodity is user data.

Neil’s commitment to making email suck less was all about empowering small businesses and creating robust user experiences by focusing on data analytics and AI technology. His approach whelped the company provide its users with data-backed recommendations and insights for their marketing strategies, a game-changing feature that greatly differentiated MailChimp from other email marketing platforms.

During Neil’s time at MailChimp, their continuous evolution and capacity to incorporate user feedback to innovate its product offerings was a key feature of their growth. Neil’s work in data analytics laid the foundation for an entire marketing ecosystem - In addition to email marketing, it expanded to a full marketing platform, offering landing pages, automation, social media scheduling, and much more. This expansion enabled them to serve their growing customer base better, leading to an impressive 4 billion users.

Neil Bainton on the Forward Obsessed Podcast

In summary, MailChimp's rise to the top can be distilled to these factors:

  • Bootstrapping, which forced innovation and a scrappy, entrepreneurial approach.
  • The Freemium model, which removed the initial cost barrier, attracting a vast number of small businesses.
  • Unique branding practices that distinguished MailChimp from its corporate competitors and engaged users.
  • The use of data analytics and AI to provide users with actionable insights and recommendations.
  • Continuous evolution of product offerings based on user needs and feedback.

These factors, when combined, allowed MailChimp to thrive despite competition from bigger, well-funded companies. By staying true to their mission of empowering small businesses, they've demonstrated the power of innovative entrepreneurial practices coupled with the strategic application of fundamental economic principles. When Neil Bainton exited the company 7 years later, he not only made email suck less - he made it into one of the strongest marketing tools in the world.

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