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The founders of MailChimp didn’t set out to build the world’s leading email marketing platform.

They didn’t start by asking, “How do we build a product that can be used by millions of businesses for sending billions of emails each day?”

Instead, when co-founders Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius launched MailChimp back in 2001, they were simply trying to help their customers.

At the time, the pair were running a web design business. When some of their customers started asking for a way to send emails, Chestnut dug up some old code he had written for an earlier project (a failed digital greeting card product). That code became the jumping-off point for the MailChimp email marketing service.

For years, the service remained a side project. But in 2007, Chestnut and Kurzius decided to shut down their web design operation and go all-in on MailChimp.


Because in launching MailChimp, the pair realized that web design really wasn’t their passion. As the New York Times reported, “What Mr. Chestnut and Mr. Kurzius were passionate about was helping small businesses grow.”

Email marketing, however, wasn’t necessarily the best game to be getting into for helping small businesses grow … at least not in 2007.

For starters, spam was reaching unprecedented heights, and people were becoming increasingly annoyed. (One study found that 95% of all emails sent in 2007 were spam emails.)

But perhaps even more discouragingly, better-funded companies (e.g. Constant Contact, which raised $107 million in its IPO in October 2007) were already dominating the email marketing landscape.

Still, Chestnut and Kurzius saw email as a cost-effective marketing channel — perfect for cash-strapped small businesses that were trying to reach their target audiences.

What’s more, the MailChimp co-founders had a secret weapon for taking out the competition.

“A Proximity to Its Customers”

Chestnut told the New York Times that MailChimp’s success stems from that fact that it had “a proximity to its customers that its competitors lacked.”

And he elaborated that because MailChimp “was itself a small business, it understood what those businesses wanted out of their marketing tools. Its offerings were cheaper, it added features more quickly, and it allowed greater customizations to fit customers’ needs.”

In other words, MailChimp won by getting closer to their customers than the competition.

And as you hear us say all the time here at Drift, “Whoever get closest to the customer wins.”

Flash forward to today, and it’s clear that MailChimp’s customer-driven approach has paid off in a big way: They now have more than 14 million users, and are anticipating $400 million+ in revenue for 2016.

But how, exactly, was MailChimp able to get closer to their customers than their competitors?

At Drift, we’ve identified three key areas where MailChimp was able to gain an advantage.

1) A Lovable Brand

There’s no denying that mailchimp has one of the most memorable and adorable mascots in the business: Freddie (full name: Frederick von Chimpenheimer IV).

But as MailChimp marketing director Mark DiCristina once said, “having a mascot is not a substitute for having a marketing strategy.”

Ultimately, the reason why Freddie works for MailChimp as a piece of its brand identity is because Freddie is an honest representation of the MailChimp brand.

As DiCristina explained, their cartoonish mascot “represents some ideas that the whole company stands behind: making work fun, creativity, and independence.”

And MailChimp’s wordmark — with its hand-written, schoolhouselook — echoes these ideas as well.

But to reiterate: MailChimp didn’t create this fun brand identity for the heck of it. Their branding grew naturally out of the fun experiences they were already delivering to customers.

For starters, MailChimp was a pioneer in the world of witty and informal product copy. Years before Slack started dazzling us with its friendly tone, MailChimp was preaching that they could make sending great content “easier than eating a banana.”

MailChimp also wasn’t afraid of sharing a GIF when they felt the moment called for it.

Getting ready to send out an email campaign? MailChimp would show you this animation of a hand sweating over a big “send” button.

And then once you sent a campaign, guess what? MailChimp gave you a high five.

Instead of making email marketing feel like a chore, MailChimp managed to make the experience fun. And that experience they delivered — not their primatemascot — is really what set their brand apart.

Of course, the strengthening of MailChimp’s brand didn’t happen by accident. They’ve clearly put a lot of thought into nailing down their voice and tone, and setting guidelines for how their brand assets should be used.

One of my favorite examples of how MailChimp has codified the language they use comes from their content style guide . It’s a list of what the MailChimp voice is, and what it isn’t.

As you can see, there’s a fine line to walk. Get too informal, and customers start viewing you as unprofessional. But for MailChimp, walking that line, and striking that perfect balance between fun and professional, paid off.

As a result of their brand-building efforts, MailChimp was able to change the way people felt about email marketing software.

The experience MailChimp delivered was warm and friendly, as if their customers were trusted friends — not entries in a CRM.

Other email marketing solutions on the market, by comparison, felt cold and robotic.

There was only one thing holding MailChimp back from conquering the world of email marketing:

Not enough people were getting the full MailChimp experience.

In order to grow, MailChimp needed a strategy for getting potential customers to see, first-hand, what being a MailChimp customer would feel like.

Luckily, they had a plan …

2) Freemium

In September of 2009, MailChimp announced they were going freemium.

Now, I could summarize the reasons why MailChimp made that decision, but considering their announcement post was just a few-hundred-words long, you might as well read it yourself:

In true MailChimp fashion, the post (written by co-founder and CEO Ben Chestnut) opens with a tongue-and-cheek commentary on how MailChimp had “wasted all this time” building a profitable company and an “awesome product” that had amassed a user base of 100,000 people.

Chestnut’s point here is that MailChimp was successful well before it chose to go the freemium route.

This wasn’t some lucky gamble — it was a calculated move.

As Chestnut wrote in 2010:

Ultimately, the MailChimp team had the benefit of being able to study all of this data they had amassed (presumably) since they launched in 2001.

And the conclusion that they came to was that offering a free forever version of MailChimp was the best strategy for driving growth.

For Chestnut, however, the underlying inspiration for going freemium grew out of an experience he had at a Ben Jerry’s. When a friend took him there for the first time, and he got to try all of the free samples, he was hooked.

Catch that last line? The “little monkeys in their footer”?

That actually proved to be one of the most brilliant tactics MailChimp deployed as part of launching their “free forever” plan: All of the emails sent by MailChimp’s free users were stamped with a hyperlinked image of Freddie, which would send folks to

This helped drive product virality, as recipients would click on the friendly face of MailChimp’s mascot and end up learning more about the company and their software.

The free users who were sending those emails, meanwhile, would earn “MonkeyRewards Credits” every time a person they referred through their MailChimp footer badge ended up becoming a paying customer. Free users could then put those credits toward MailChimp services like inbox inspections or even future bills if they decided to upgrade.

One year after adopting this new, freemium model, MailChimp shared some data on their blog:

According to Chestnut, that extraordinary growth in profit was primarily a result of their customer acquisition cost (CAC) dropping. At the time — September 2010 — Chestnut reported that MailChimp’s CAC was less than $100.

Jump aheadto February 2012, and MailChimp’s user base had grown from 450,00 to 1.2 million. On average, they were adding 5,000 new users every single day.

Clearly, MailChimp’s freemium sales model, coupled with its already well-established and lovablebrand, helped take the company’s growth to the next level.

But in order to sustain that growth, and to prevent churn from creeping in, MailChimp had another trick up its sleeve.

3) Surprise Delight

Whether it’s sending customers t-shirts, stuffed animals, or monkey hats for their cats ( Charlene Womens Ballet Flats Geox 4vhyBXe2
), MailChimp is renowned for its “weird swag.” Or at least that’s whata 2012 article from calledit.

In that same article,MailChimp marketing director Mark DiCristina explained that MailChimp creates and shares this “weird swag” because it makes people happy. There’s no other angle. They don’t have a dedicated swag data scientist crunching numbers behind the scenes.

They’re not measuring monkey hat conversion rates.

Instead, MailChimp simply thinks of them as gifts.

To quote DiCristina:

For MailChimp, the quality of the gifts they give to their customers is more important than the cost.

And while MailChimp employees don’t spend time trying to quantify the effects of their gift-giving, they do spend time testing out gifts to make sure they’re top quality.

As reported, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see MailChimp employees, “testing the softness of a stuffed chimp’s belly.”

It might sound a little cooky, but the attention MailChimp pays to these tiny details is what helps set their customer experience apart from the competition’s.

As DiCristina explained:

The broader takeaway here isn’t that you should start putting more budget toward t-shirts and stuffed animals, it’s that you should look for ways that you can surprise and delight your own customers based on what you know about them.

For MailChimp, it made sense to pursue a customer delight strategy that was silly and lighthearted because that’s the experience they were known for delivering — that’s what was already resonating with their customers.

But, as a hypothetical, if you’re an internet security company that’s built a brand around being trusted and taking responsibilities super-seriously, sending a bunch of stuffed animals to your customers might not play so well.

(Alternatively, a free security audit and/or free access to a new product feature might be better options.)

Ultimately, the specific tactics you use for surprising and delighting your customers should be an honest reflection of brand.

Final Thought: Stay Tuned for More

At Drift, we have a list of companies that we look to as role models.

MailChimp, as you’ve probably figured out by now, is one of them.

In the months to follow, we’ll continue to showcase companies that have achieved extraordinary growth through getting closer to their customers.

In the meantime, you can check out some of our earlier stories about companies we love:

Click here to learn more about how Drift can help your sales team convert more leads and close more deals.

A lovable brand

A subsequent study examined the ability of psychopaths to distinguish ‘moral’ transgressions from ‘conventional’ transgressions ( Blair, 1995 ). In this study, ‘moral’ transgressions were defined as acts that violate the welfare of others (e.g. a child hitting another child), whereas ‘conventional’ transgressions were defined as acts that violate rules or social convention but do not directly affect the welfare of others (e.g. a male child wearing a skirt). Non-psychopaths rated the moral transgressions as significantly less permissible, significantly more serious and significantly less dependent on authority than the conventional transgressions. Psychopaths, on the other hand, failed to distinguish between moral and conventional transgressions on any of these ratings. However, this effect was driven by the psychopaths’ abnormally severe judgments of the conventional transgressions; psychopaths rated the moral transgressions normally.

In more recent years, a moral decision-making test that distinguishes between ‘personal’ and ‘impersonal’ harms ( Greene et al ., 2001 , 2004 ) has been used to explore the psychological and neurobiological processes underlying moral judgment. In this test, the subject decides whether or not it is hypothetically appropriate to commit some type of harm or violation in order to achieve a particular favorable outcome. The ‘personal’ harms involve direct, intimate, physical contact (e.g. pushing one person off a bridge to stop a runaway train car from hitting five people), whereas ‘impersonal’ harms involve more indirect or remote actions (e.g. pulling a switch to divert a runaway train car from hitting five people) or rule violations (i.e. lying on income taxes to save money). A subset of the personal scenarios feature the choice of whether or not to commit a direct physical harm to a single individual in order to preserve the welfare of a larger number of individuals. For these ‘high-conflict’ scenarios, the choice to sacrifice one for the greater welfare of others is considered a ‘utilitarian’ response, reflecting greater concern for the mathematically rational ends than the emotionally aversive means ( Greene et al ., 2004 , 2008 ; Koenigs et al ., 2007 ). Dilemmas of this nature have been used to demonstrate abnormally utilitarian moral judgment in clinical populations with known deficits in social/emotional processing, such as patients with lesions involving ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) ( Ciaramelli et al ., 2007 ; Koenigs et al ., 2007 ; Moretto et al ., 2010 ) and patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) ( Mendez et al ., 2005 ). The utilitarian response pattern in these clinical populations thus appears to reflect the reduced influence of affective processes that serve to qualify the more ‘rational’ aspect of moral decision-making ( Greene, 2007 ; Koenigs et al ., 2007 ). Given the striking social/emotional deficits observed in psychopaths, one might expect to find similarly utilitarian patterns of moral judgment. However, a recent study testing this hypothesis found no differences in utilitarian moral judgment between psychopaths and non-psychopaths ( Cima et al ., 2010 ).

because my rule got followed heard, understood, and given the time and space

For many of us, the feeling that we are empathizing or showing understanding make us feel we’re being too soft.

we’re being too soft.

We worry the kids will not have grit, gumption, or the ability to stand up when under pressure. We think (or worry, obsess, and agonize) that by being firm, expressionless, or slightly cold that we are better teaching our children to follow our rules, but that isn’t really true.

Because we can be kind, loving, and nurturing while still expecting our children to keep our boundaries.

In fact, that’s the jackpot of parenting!

that’s the jackpot of parenting!

I’m certainly not saying it’s easy, but it is possible. You can be right there with your kids emotionally while still expecting them to do what you expect them to do.

I like to call this: being kind and firm.

The reality is this… the less you hold tight to your family rules and values. .. the more unhappy you’ll become. Of course we cannot control our children’s every move (how exhausting does that sound?) but we can keep our family rules without having to justify ourselves.

How can you not?

You want your kids to do chores… they don’t care.

You don’t like the fighting… and they’re always hitting each other.

You tell them to stay in their rooms… they always come out.

And on and on… pretty soon, you’re a temper ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

a temper ticking time bomb

Related Posts On Obedience And Holding Boundaries:

By recognizing you can both be a kind loving and empathetic mother AND keep all the family boundaries and rules, you free yourself.

you free yourself.

You’re not wrong for having rules.

You’re not “soft” for showing empathy and understanding.

In fact, children will be far more willing to obey your rules if you can show a little understanding. It won’t make them skip happily to their chores necessarily, but it’ll cut down on the frequency and duration of power battles.

You don’t need to justify your rules all the time it’s not okay You can empathize and understand and walk away The more clear your boundaries are, the happier everyone will be

If you want some go to phrases to help you show understanding and empathy while keeping your rules, download this cheat sheet and read it until they’ve become second nature.

Here’s a sneak peak.

Want to learn your ?

Each of us have our own personality, temperament, and giftings. And, the truth is, instead of against them. Take this assessment so you can work to your strengths, and for yourself and your children.

New to this community? Start here , friend.

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Computing Gradients

Now let’s use Theano for a slightly more sophisticated task: create a function which computes the derivative of some expression y with respect to its parameter x . To do this we will use the macro T.grad . For instance, we can compute the gradient of with respect to . Note that: .

Here is the code to compute this gradient:

In this example, we can see from pp(gy) that we are computing the correct symbolic gradient. fill((x ** 2), 1.0) means to make a matrix of the same shape as x ** 2 and fill it with 1.0 .

The optimizer simplifies the symbolic gradient expression. You can see this by digging inside the internal properties of the compiled function.

After optimization there is only one Apply node left in the graph, which doubles the input.

We can also compute the gradient of complex expressions such as the logistic function defined above. It turns out that the derivative of the logistic is: .

A plot of the gradient of the logistic function, with on the x-axis and on the y-axis.

In general, for any scalar expression s , T.grad(s, w) provides the Theano expression for computing . In this way Theano can be used for doing efficient symbolic differentiation (as the expression returned by T.grad will be optimized during compilation), even for function with many inputs. (see automatic differentiation for a description of symbolic differentiation).

scalar efficient


The second argument of can be a list, in which case the output is also a list. The order in both lists is important: element of the output list is the gradient of the first argument of with respect to the -th element of the list given as second argument. The first argument of has to be a scalar (a tensor of size 1). For more information on the semantics of the arguments of and details about the implementation, see this section of the library.

Additional information on the inner workings of differentiation may also be found in the more advanced tutorial Extending Theano .

In Theano’s parlance, the term Jacobian designates the tensor comprising the first partial derivatives of the output of a function with respect to its inputs. (This is a generalization of to the so-called Jacobian matrix in Mathematics.) Theano implements the Statement Clutch Red Shoe by VIDA VIDA vUTutTLq
macro that does all that is needed to compute the Jacobian. The following text explains how to do it manually.

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