(from the latest issue of the Indie Hackers newsletter)
This is one of the largest exits for a bootstrapped company in history:
Email marketing company Mailchimp has been acquired by TurboTax maker Intuit for $12B in cash and stock. This is one of the largest exits by a bootstrapped company in history.
The background: Mailchimp launched in 2001 as a web design agency called the Rocket Science Group. The Atlanta-based company pivoted until it built the small business email marketing service that we know today, and all without raising venture capital. Mailchimp grew by listening to customers’ yearning for “look pro and grow” products, adding features like digital ads, a CRM, shoppable landing pages, postcards, websites, and automation tools. Ben Chestnut, CEO and cofounder of Mailchimp, had this to say:
Over the past two decades, we’ve vastly expanded and evolved Mailchimp’s platform to help millions of small businesses around the world start and grow. By joining forces with Intuit, we’ll take our offerings to the next level, leveraging Intuit’s AI-driven expert platform to deliver even better products and services to small businesses. This is an exciting new chapter for Mailchimp, our 1.2K+ dedicated employees, and customers.
Why Intuit? Intuit, which makes popular tax and accounting software like TurboTax and QuickBooks, seems like an odd buyer for an email marketing company. But Intuit wants to help Mailchimp accelerate its goals of becoming the “center of small business growth” and “disrupting the small business mid-market.”
Mailchimp and QuickBooks: Intuit is keen to combine QuickBooks and Mailchimp, harnessing the power of Mailchimp's 13M users globally, 70B contacts, 250 partner integrations, and robust AI automation. QuickBooks serves about 7M small- and mid-market businesses around the world. Intuit CEO, Sasan Goodarzi, said:
Together, Mailchimp and QuickBooks will help solve small and mid-market businesses’ biggest barriers to growth, getting and retaining customers. Adding Mailchimp furthers our vision to provide an end-to-end customer growth platform to help our customers grow and run their businesses, putting the power of data in their hands to thrive.
Mailchimp reported $800M in revenue in 2020, a 20% YoY increase. About half of that total comes from outside the US.
Why it matters: Mailchimp’s exit is the largest ever by a bootstrapped firm in the internet age, according to Axios. While it’s extremely rare and incredibly difficult, Mailchimp serves as an important example to bootstrappers everywhere that you can build a wildly successful business without venture capital.
Critiques: Mailchimp offered its employees profit-sharing instead of stock-based compensation, a choice that’s now drawing criticism as the company welcomes a multibillion-dollar check. While its 1.2K+ employees might not be enjoying the same windfall as its founders, Mailchimp’s agreement with Intuit includes about $300M in Mailchimp employee bonuses that will be issued in the form of restricted stock units (RSUs) over three years. If split evenly, that’s more than $230K in RSUs per employee over the next 36 months.
Profit-sharing: Ben defended the company’s profit-sharing model, noting that Mailchimp initially had no intent to sell for many years to come. What’s more, he added that employees will also receive undisclosed cash bonuses from Mailchimp.
A-town down? Another criticism of the sale is that Atlanta’s startup community won’t benefit from the massive exit. In some cases, a startup selling for billions would create hundreds of new millionaires that could reinvest their newfound dough into the community.
Why criticize? Other commenters noted that it is rare for equity options to pay off for employees. Many also highlighted the fact that employees knew that Mailchimp offered profit-sharing instead of equity, and still decided to work for the company.
What’s next: Intuit expects the acquisition to officially close in mid-2022, presuming that the White House’s revved-up antitrust regulators are okay with the deal. Mailchimp said that it will retain its brand, products, and tools, as well as its 24/7 customer support.
What do you think about Mailchimp’s sale? Share your thoughts below!
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Can you "fake it 'till you make it" in software? It turns out that you can. "Fake it 'till you make it" in SaaS comes in the form of "fake it 'till you build it."
I've analyzed all 400+ Indie Hackers interviews and found plenty of interesting examples of founders who were able to fake it with a landing page until they built software. Here's how they did it!
Anatomonics ($800 MRR) is an audio system that helps people memorize the human anatomy. To validate demand for the idea, the company used the "minimum viable test" principle:
To validate the idea, I decided to create a true MVP. In fact, I called it an MVT: Minimum viable test. The original site was a plain text one-page website with a simple logo and a few iStock images. There was no product to order, so I added an Aweber opt-in box with this text: To start your order, simply fill in your email below.
Those that filled out their email got this message: Unfortunately we are upgrading Anatomonics right now, so it is unavailable for order. We will email you shortly once the system has relaunched.
Did this work? You judge:
I drove traffic through a handful of cold emails and Adwords. Out of 200 visitors, eight people submitted their email addresses to my test form. This meant that 1 in 25 people were interested in a product I hadn't even built yet. Needless to say, I felt pretty good about moving forward with the idea.
No product. No engineers. Just a simple one-page website with a fake "start your order" form.
There are plenty of ways to "fake" a product besides using a sleek landing page. One way is using wireframes, a layout of a web page that demonstrates what interface elements will exist on key pages.
Ghost ($62K MRR) is an open source web publishing platform that used this wireframe approach to validate the product:
[Here's] an idea of how basic the MVP was that we took to Kickstarter: A good 50% of what we showed in the video was faked. It was a real, working Node.js application, but the majority of it was missing. Huge parts of the UI were simply screenshots of UI mockups with loading animations. We knew we could code this if we needed to, but it didn't make sense to put in all that work just to make a video that might flop. So we did the minimum!
SQRL ($1K MRR) is an app that helps improve your wellbeing. Coding an app to track fitness and other health metrics takes time. How do you test if people would like it (and use it)? By pretending to be the software:
My first attempt to validate this idea involved running a one month test. I pestered about 40 acquaintances for a screenshot of their steps every evening, and the next day I would pretend to be SQRL, texting all sorts of motivation first thing in the morning with a phone number they didn't know I had.
If people really need to experience your product before deciding to buy it, can you hack a clunky alpha version and show it? That's what GifShare ($10K MRR), a GIF editor for Instagram, did. The platform had a free, clunky alpha version that converted GIFs to watermarked videos. This took about a week to set up.
Here's how the team made a nice, clean-code final v1 of the app:
My hope was users would pay for a fake in-app purchase that removed a "Made with GifShare" watermark I attached to each free video. Here I was, hoping for only two or three paying users. I got five.
I'd finally reached a point where there was no validation left to do besides actually launching the app.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to fake it 'till you build it. I'll be covering more approaches next week, so stay tuned.
Would you adopt one of these methods? Share in the comments.
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Write them down. Reframe them into questions and answers.
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I started working remotely in 2015, before it was cool. A few years later, as I was searching for my next remote position, I realized how limited WFH opportunities were (and how many companies were doing it wrong).
I founded Remote Work Prep in 2018 as a side hustle to help companies create an effective, positive remote work environment. The company exploded in 2020 due to COVID-19.
My background is in software engineering and product management. I'm the creator behind the Remotely Interesting newsletter, and the instructor behind the Mastering Remote Leadership course. I'm also an elected official.
Even though I'm a huge introvert, I started sharing online in 2020 after receiving too many requests to make 1:1s practical. I grew my Twitter following from 150 to 6.5K in the past year.
Some things you might find interesting:
I'm an avid reader, an excessive planner, and on a constant mission to create a perfectly-optimized home.
Not at all! In 2020, everyone went remote overnight, had no clue what they were doing, and went looking for answers.
I'm surprised that it hasn't slowed down by now, but I think that's due to a couple of factors:
I think it's important to first define what "full-time" means. Personally, I prefer full-time roles that are output-based, instead of time-based. It makes the workload much easier to handle because I'm a fast worker, and there's less of a chance of burning myself out.
Also, going for roles that allow for more flexibility is critical. Running my business alongside my traditional job was doable because I had complete control over my schedule, so I was never double-booked.
Be transparent and go into it with positive intentions. I've written more about this topic here.
I think people believe that the remote work fight is about location, office vs. WFH. But it's not. It's about agency.
With remote work, the individual chooses where, when, and how they work. With traditional office work, the company decides. So, the question isn't "where will we work?" It's "who will decide?"
Personally, I think we'll see even higher levels of remote when the world returns to normal. In the past year, most people have only experienced "pandemic remote," which showcases a very limited view of what's possible. Yet, even with that limited view, most people are saying that they want this continued flexibility.
High-achievers are always going to appreciate autonomy. Parents are always going to appreciate adaptability for when their kids are in school. And everyone is always going to appreciate having more time to do what they want.
I'm excited to see the feedback when a majority of people actually experience the full benefits of remote, instead of the slight taste that we've been getting this past year.
In everything that I do, I have a strong desire to help people live their best lives. This also goes for my local office position. I've loved city planning for as long as I can remember, and I'm as fascinated by the future of living as I am by the future of work.
With that said, I will say I haven't had the best experience being in local office, and feel like I could be making a bigger difference from the outside.
As for the campaign, I had a unique experience because my campaign happened during strict lockdown in spring 2020. I had to think outside of the box since I couldn't host traditional events in the community. This is where having a product background made a big difference.
I talked with residents (users), found their pain points (research), and tried out different ways of addressing them (prototypes). At one point, I realized that there was no singular resource to find out local candidate information online, so I built and released it in a single day. I think efforts like these spoke louder than any marketing that I could have done, and led to me being elected, despite being the newest (and the youngest, by far) candidate.
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Special thanks to Jay Avery for editing this issue, to Nathalie Zwimpfer for the illustrations, and to Bobby Burch, Priyanka Vazirani, Darko, Harry Dry, and Marissa Goldberg for contributing posts. —Channing