In what has been one of the biggest business stories of the past week, email marketing firm Mailchimp announced its upcoming acquisition by Intuit, the company behind QuickBooks and TurboTax, for $ 12 billion. The deal is a huge salary for Mailchimp founders and co-owners Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius, who each own a 50% stake in the company they created in 2001.
Founded on the ashes of the dot-com bust, Mailchimp started as many original startups as it did as a side project of a pair of founders who had tried their hand at many businesses, none of which were sustainable. But Mailchimp stuck, reaching out to a small business clientele and steadily growing its user base until 2009. That year, Chestnut decided to offer the company’s services free of charge to businesses in an area. certain size, essentially putting the success of Mailchimp on the success of its customers, which I hope will become a paid plan.
The strategy paid off. Today, Mailchimp has over 16 million users, reported $ 800 million in revenue last year, and sends over a billion emails per day. By many accounts, the rise of the company and its two co-founders – neither born of wealth – is largely a classic story of bootstrapping Silicon Valley success. But Mailchimp and its founders live in Atlanta, not the Bay Area. And unlike many startups, Chestnut and Kurzius never took any VC money, instead remaining the sole owners and pumping profits into Mailchimp’s continued expansion.
Now we will have two new multi-billionaires to contend with. After taxes, Chestnut and Kurzius will each be worth around $ 5 billion after the sale. At the moment, neither seems ready to quit their day-to-day work at Mailchimp. And the philanthropic profiles of the duo are pretty sparse so far, especially Kurzius. Still, it’s worth taking a look at what these Georgia-based tech winners may prioritize in their donations, with the caveat that there’s definitely more to come, so stay tuned.
Lifetime business partners
Aged 47 and 49 respectively, Chestnut and Kurzius first met when Chestnut was working at Cox Media Group in the late 1990s and needed to hire a coder. Kurzius, then a future DJ working in real estate, learned to code on his own and ended up partnering with Chestnut on a series of businesses until the dot-com bubble ended. Far from being a billionaire at the time, Chestnut depended in part on his wife’s income during Mailchimp’s early years. The two founded the company with Mark Armstrong, which they bought in 2008.
Chestnut and Kurzius both have a certain familiarity with the small business space that Mailchimp has courted as it has grown from step-so-small. On Chestnut’s side, there was a hair salon set up by her Thai mother; for Kurzius, a bakery and grocery store founded by his father in Albuquerque. Both companies eventually closed.
Chestnut, who grew up in Georgia, said he was bullied because of his Asian heritage. Kurzius, on the other hand, doesn’t quite fit the image of a polished executive with his tattoos and affinity for DJing and skateboarding. The two men are married with children and live in the Atlanta area. At the time of the sale, Chestnut was CEO of Mailchimp while Kurzius was the company’s director of clientele.
Small donations, with a focus on Atlanta
While it’s not fair to call these new multi-billionaires a philanthropic blank slate, neither Chestnut nor Kurzius have much of a generous profile, at least not public. Chestnut has set up a donation vehicle: the Chestnut Family Foundation, a small local affair that looks certain to grow now that its founder ranks among the richest in the country.
The foundation started in 2017. Chestnut operates the low-key donor with his wife Teresa Chestnut, a Korean immigrant and former pediatric nurse that Ben Chestnut met in high school. So far, the couple’s donations through the foundation have focused on Georgian children’s access to the arts. A post on the foundation’s website reads: “We seek to partner with non-profit organizations that have been compassionate and creative in improving children’s access and choice in areas of health and the performing arts and ultimately help build children’s confidence. “
The beneficiaries have been small and local. They include Ballethnic Dance Company, Atlanta Music Project, Jessye Norman School of the Arts, and ArtsNow Learning. The foundation also donated $ 100,000 to the Augusta-Fort Gordon Chapter Education Foundation of AFCEA International to create a scholarship for STEM education.
The foundation’s biggest commitment to date appears to be $ 1 million to help nonprofits meet basic needs during COVID-19. The couple made the pledge in March 2020, and more than half of the money had been spent that summer. The most recent donation from the foundation appears to be a $ 231,000 donation in September 2021 to ArtsNow, which will be used to provide 300 laptops and Verizon Hotspot hardware to students in Richmond County, Georgia.
As for Kurzius, there isn’t much to do at this point. He doesn’t appear to have made any big donations so far, although we still need to consider the possibility that a wealthy business owner may give in a way we can’t keep up with. funds advised by donors or others. But for now, Kurzius’ charitable activities appear limited to his involvement in Mailchimp’s corporate citizenship work, which is also focused on the Atlanta area.
Neither Chestnut nor Kurzius have been active political donors. A registered $ 1,000 donation from Chestnut went to Sam Park’s successful 2016 campaign for a place in the Georgia House of Representatives. Park is the first openly gay man elected to the Georgia state legislature and the first Asian American Democrat to enter the Georgia General Assembly. In 2019, the two co-founders signed a message to the US Senate from business leaders calling for “meaningful action” against gun violence.
A case of “stay tuned”
Traditional wisdom has it that Chestnut and Kurzius, both under the age of 50, would spend a number of years devoting themselves to business endeavors before they turned to philanthropy in earnest. The relative scarcity of their philanthropic activity so far makes it a good bet. And yet, traditional wisdom may be less reliable these days, with more tech donors turning to philanthropy at a relatively young age. It really is a case of “stay tuned”.
If any of the co-founders step up their philanthropy, expect them to focus on their home territory, Atlanta. The city and surrounding area is already the focal point of Chestnut’s past donations and the company’s social responsibility portfolio. Donations concentrated in Atlanta from a set of new billionaires could be a big deal for the city. After all, consider how Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, is shaping up in Atlanta as both a businessman and a philanthropist, with a net worth of around $ 7.3 billion. Chestnut and Kurzius now order a lot more from each other.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that Mailchimp – and its sale to Intuit – is far from controversial. Earlier this year, Business Insider reported on long-standing concerns about DCI within Mailchimp’s ranks that have led to a “massive exodus of women and people of color.” The sale also angered employees who never had a chance to acquire shares in the company, even though Chestnut and Kurzius apparently “promised they would never sell.”
Stories have thrown clouds over these tech founders’ entry into the aftermarket world, and DCI’s story in particular makes you wonder if there are any equity-focused donations. on the horizon. Either way, and especially for the city of Atlanta, we expect there is definitely more to come.