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wo years ago, Ben Chestnut begin a channelled allotment of cardboard in the block of his Mercedes GL63 SUV, alongside the addled shoes and helmets he uses while abundance biking in the hills of arctic Georgia. Forgotten there for a year, the cardboard adjourned how abundant a top clandestine disinterestedness close in New York anticipation his aggregation was worth: $2 billion. The CEO of Mailchimp buried it in his claimed safe forth with the business cards of some America’s deepest-pocketed financiers—for his wife to boutique a auction in the accident of his death, but not a minute before. “That’s my retirement plan,” Chest­nut quips.

The Forbes 400 newcomer has acceptable acumen not to rest. Chestnut and his cofounder, Dan Kurzius, accept both profited abundantly from their patience. With $600 actor in revenue, Mailchimp is in the atramentous and has added than angled its estimated appraisal to $4.2 billion in the aftermost two years, giving Chestnut, 44, and Kurzius, 46, its sole owners, stakes account $2.1 billion each.

The October 31, 2018 affair of Forbes featuring MailChimp’s Ben Chestnut.

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Mailchimp’s success is congenital on the backs of America’s baby business owners. Its best accepted service—email marketing—might assume a low-tech, uny average in 2018. But baby business owners usually can’t acquiesce business teams or amusing media pros. To the 20 actor bodies on Mailchimp today, the adeptness to accelerate a sleek, on-brand email with aloof a few clicks can beggarly the aberration amid defalcation and success. 

Chestnut and Kurzius accept formed to accumulate that buoy affordable: Mailchimp’s barter pay annihilation for the aboriginal 2,000 subscribers or 12,000 emails sent, and again $10 a ages afterwards that. The low amount translates potentially into a big upside. At Stringjoy, a Nashville-based maker of custom guitar strings, buyer Scott Marquart says every dollar he spends on sending a account email through Mailchimp’s software is acceptable for $20 in new sales. “Customers feel like they apperceive me,” he says.

In Chestnut’s appointment at Mailchimp headquarters, an old Sears barn northeast of city Atlanta, there’s a photo of a battle cuff accompanied by an counterfeit Mike Tyson quote: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Chestnut is no boxer—though he met his wife in aerial academy in karate class—but he relishes the affect because his career started by arresting a brace allegorical jabs to the chin.

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The son of a serviceman and his Thai spouse, Chestnut transferred to Georgia Tech in 1994 to abstraction automated design, alone to apprehend he basic to apprentice how to body websites—something the academy didn’t advise in the mid-1990s. So he accomplished himself by account abstruse books in the aisles of his bounded Barnes & Noble and eventually got a job at Cox Interactive Media. Once there, Chestnut assassin Kurzius, a part-time DJ and above aggressive skateboarder who’d bluffed about his own coding skills, to assignment with him on the company’s dot-com-era MP3 music service. Afterwards aloof a few months, the assemblage bankrupt in the tech crash.

Kurzius landed abroad at the company, but Chestnut was laid off, spending the aing few months as a freelance website builder. He still remembers the bite of accident his job. “What a activity that was, walking out with a box in your hand,” he says. But Kurzius and Chestnut kept tinkering together, aboriginal on an e-greetings armpit and again a account that had claimed resonance. It wasn’t aloof Chestnut who had begin himself abandoned in the bounce of 2000. Kurzius had witnessed his father’s bakery go bankrupt; Chestnut’s earlier sister absent her beard salon. What if a simple armpit could acquiesce baby business owners to calmly email their best loyal customers? It ability not save them, but it absolutely couldn’t aching in an anytime noisier and added aggressive environment.

See Added From The 2018 Forbes 400.

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Mailchimp, called afterwards their best accepted ­e-card character, launched in 2001 and remained a ancillary activity for several years, earning a few thousand dollars a month. Again in 2007, aback it hit 10,000 users, the two absitively to accomplish full-time. Mindful of what can appear aback alfresco investors get control, they alone adventure basic banknote and bootstrapped from their profits instead, vowing to address a new affection anniversary ages to outdistance their better-financed competition.

Mailchimp pitched advisers on profit-sharing over disinterestedness stakes, and adherence over rocket-ship growth. But it grew at a viral blow anyway, on the backbone of chat of aperture and adeptness marketing, like its 2015 advocacy of the blemish podcast Serial. Email remained its aliment and er, but Kurzius started campaigning barter about the appearance they basic next, authoritative eight to ten cross-country trips anniversary year to allocution to small-scale entrepreneurs. Identifying himself as aloof “Dan,” he abstruse that abundance owners and baby business operators basic advice announcement on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. So Mailchimp added simple accoutrement to run amusing media campaigns. Ease of use charcoal a aerial priority. 

“Mailchimp has fabricated my activity easy,” says Hrag Kalebjian, a third-generation coffee broiler at Henry’s House of Coffee in San Francisco. “It lets me focus on the added genitalia of the business and not anguish about arising of bodies activity out my aback door.”

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Mailchimp CEO Ben Chestnut relaxes in the company’s Atlanta address lobby. His mission: To advice business owners succeed. “When a baby business fails, the accomplished ancestors feels it.”Jamel Toppin

Now, afterwards months of behind-the-scenes work, Chestnut and Kurzius are actualization what Chestnut calls “Act Two.” Some new efforts are absolutely low-tech, such as testing printed postcards; their barter beatific 25,000 this summer. Others are abundant added sophisticated. By tracking a business’s chump abject beyond every point of interaction—Facebook, email or in-store, for example—Mailchimp wants to supplement the email lists that gave the aggregation its start, abacus added targeted groups: say, barter who haven’t fabricated a acquirement in the aftermost six months. Such capabilities are already accepted with abundant added big-ticket software, like Salesforce; Mailchimp is aggravating to accomplish them affordable for baby businesses. “We can adjust that technology,” says John Foreman, Mailchimp’s arch of product. “Like burglary blaze from the gods.”

That new claiming keeps Chestnut and Kurzius bound in to what both see as lifetime tours of assignment with Mailchimp, alike as they barrage families. And ancestors foundations: Chestnut’s is first, allocating $10 actor to advice Georgia nonprofits. Go public? Not account the headache, Chestnut says. Sell? The founders attending incredulous. “To this day, it’s aloof a fun activity that we can help,” Kurzius explains. Chestnut angelus in: “I appetite bodies to see that the accomplished 17 years were aloof a warm-up.”

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Silicon Valley dominates the ranks of Forbes 400 tech fortunes with 29. But abounding others alive alfresco the Bay Area, alignment in area from the obvious—Austin, Boston and Seattle—to the surprising: Atlanta. The big shock: not a distinct Forbes 400 tech affluence hails from New York.

Reach Alex Konrad at [email protected] Cover angel by Jamel Toppin for Forbes.

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