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Episode 4

Listen Hard, Change Fast with Mailchimp CTO Eric Muntz

Our CEO, Mathilde Collin, sat down with Mailchimp’s CTO, Eric Muntz, to talk about Mailchimp’s COVID response, their transition to working remotely, and the company’s commitment to customer experience.

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Mathilde Collin Hi, everyone, I’m Mathilde Collin, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Front. Over the years, I’ve tried to share my journey as a leader along the way, everything I’ve learned has been by talking to people that are more experienced than me and all wiser than me. And this is what I’ll be doing today. I’m here with Mailchimp Chief Technology Officer Eric Muntz to talk about how MailChimp is adapting during this time. As a company, they’ve implemented a lot of changes in order for their customers to thrive. And today we will talk about what business leaders can do to help support one of the hardest hit sectors of the economy, which is small businesses. So I’m excited to learn as much as possible from Eric today. Eric, thank you so much for jumping in.

Eric Muntz Absolutely. Thanks for having me and thanks for the great intro. I’m not sure I’d say more wise or anything like that, but we’ll see. Hopefully hopefully folks can learn something.  

Mathilde Collin We’ll see at the end of this interview. So maybe for people who don’t know you, we can just start with an introduction of who you are. What do you do at Mailchimp? 

Eric Muntz Yeah, so as you noted I’m the CTO, which means I run all of technology here, so today it’s about three hundred and seventy or so folks in engineering. It also includes corporate it and it runs everything across our technology stocks. So everything deep in the back end, infrastructure wise, all the servers and network and security and all of that to the sort of middle tier of our frameworks and our support for product development. And then our product development team, including back end and front end engineers, mobile engineers and all that. And mostly what I do, everyone says, well, what does that actually mean that you do day to day? And mostly what I’m doing day to day is working with other business leaders to help drive our business forward with the lens of technology. 

Mathilde Collin And the story of us being connected is I actually reach out to Ben Chestnut, who’s the CEO of Mailchimp. And I said, I want to talk about how companies are adapting, how leaders are adapting to this. He said Eric is the best person to go about it so we can jump right in and maybe we can start with the culture of Mailchimp. You have a great culture. People are seemingly are happy to go to work every day. I would love to know what the company has done differently so that despite everything that’s going on, you ensure employees that are happy to go to work every day. 

Eric Muntz I mean, it’s not been easy. I think it hasn’t been easy for anyone in the world. And we had a pretty good starting point.

Eric Muntz We started out with a good culture, a culture of really caring about our people and really listening and deeply understanding what’s going on. We’re also pretty distributed and the majority of that distributed workforce is in engineering. So we have offices in Oakland, Brooklyn, as well as Atlanta where we’re headquartered, where we’re sort of known to be headquartered. And then we have folks all across the country. And so it sort of hit and the pandemic hit and these epicenters in different ways. So the first thing we had to do was learn to meet people where they were and realize that folks in Brooklyn or Oakland were maybe in different places than folks in Atlanta or folks who were already working from home in, say, Colorado or wherever else. We’re in different places and get really good at listening and talking with our employees and understanding what it was they needed. Some of the other things we did was really updated our sick time and made sure we extended benefits and mental health policies and policies and all of that to account for parents who are now colleagues, teachers, caregivers, like everything you can imagine under the sun. But really, it’s all about finding ways to empathize with all the different aspects of employees you’ve got around and really listening and trying to meet people where they are. 

Mathilde Collin Yeah, that makes sense. How have you done it in terms of communication? Have you done anything differently? 

Eric Muntz We haven’t really done too much because we were already pretty heavily Slack based and Zoom based. So we’ve been we’ve been sticking with that. 

Eric Muntz The I’d say the things we’ve been doing mostly differently are and depends on team the teams doing engineering, engineering, leadership team. Someone presented a great idea that hey, maybe and we have a channel called Ins and Outs, which is just like where announcements come out for all the engineering to watch for. Maybe every day someone from this small leadership team, which is about six or seven people, to just post something, just, hey, here’s a thing. Maybe you missed an update from the company. Here’s maybe something going on with the customer. Here’s something, an update with initiative or like, hey, here’s what I’ve dealt with this week just yet. I’ve had a really rough week. I miss going out to eat tacos and my kids are having a hard time with school from home. So we’re we’re buying Legos for the kids and just posting daily updates. And that’s not something that we did prior to the pandemic. And I think at this point now it’s something we will probably do forever because it’s just connected us in a really special and unique way. 

Mathilde Collin That makes sense. Talking about the thing that will stick post-Covid, as you said, I’m sure everyone acknowledges very much right now. 

Mathilde Collin And it’s the same at Front. What’s what part of this new role do you think will remain in the post pandemic world for MailChimp? 

Eric Muntz Yeah, that is a great question and I don’t actually know the answer yet. 

Eric Muntz I think it’s still too new to to really know what’s going to stick and what’s not. You know, we are as I said, engineering’s already pretty distributed. So there’s a lot of things that we will probably just take forward like that announcement and how we do town halls being one hundred percent zoom based. Another fun thing we did there is every time we do a town hall now, we reserved the last few minutes for what we call. Kids and people just go and grab the kids and their dogs or cats or whatever, and we get to just kind of roll around and see everybody’s everybody’s new coworkers at home. I will say the they’re members of the executive team who maybe weren’t as open to work from home or anything like that before they saw it, but they weren’t living it the way technology sort of had to and are like, oh, OK, I can see this, I can see how this works. And so maybe there are some changes. I don’t I don’t expect us to go and shift the pendulum all the way to the other direction. And now we’re one of the the full time, 100 percent remote work from home companies right now. I do think some I do think some things will stick. I think the biggest thing as we were talking about this with the executive team, as I said, that, you know, the the thing that’s really hard is being in the middle. And so if you’re all in the office and you’re all together in a room, that’s one way to have a meeting. And then if you’re all remote and you’re all on Zoomer, hang out or whatever, it’s another way to have a meeting that those two tend to work. Yeah, like subtyping room. And for people on video, right. Is the not really work so well? Yes. And I think people are really feeling that and really internalizing that now today. Yes. Some of that will change. Right. Where maybe even if we’re in the office, we’ll do doing all of the meeting. But everyone’s just in there, in their offices, on their on their laptops. 

Mathilde Collin All right. So one thing that I really wanted to talk about was the customer focus that team has always had and even more during the pandemic. So you can tell us a bit more about what Mailchimp has implemented. But just from reading online, I think you’ve introduced some price relief. You introduce some free accounts to the service, to organizations to providing that kind of free for five years and more so. 

Mathilde Collin So first, can you tell us a bit more about the program that you’re most proud of that you’ve implemented and why you decided to to implement them as fast as you did? 

Eric Muntz Yeah, well, I’m proud of all of them. It’s hard to pick one out specifically. I think the ten million dollar price relief fund that we set up for our customers is probably the thing that I’m most proud of because it really just runs this complete gammut about MailChimp as a business. It shows how much we care about small business, that our our mission is to empower small businesses, why we exist. That’s why we get out of bed in the morning. 

Eric Muntz And also that our founders have done this amazing job of building a highly sustainable business over 20 plus years to where we’re able to do that and not have to ask anyone for permission for it and still be able to be a solid business, really, just as a thing that just makes me feel great about about working here and having worked here for a decade. And, you know, it’s helped to have 17K customers around the world already today. And that feels really good. That’s a lot of small businesses. The other one is we started doing that internally. We called Get Your Business Online, and it was something we were planning for the year before this happened. 

Eric Muntz And then we started to see what was happening with small businesses in this and specifically like service businesses that weren’t necessarily online or at least viewing themselves as online first, like gyms and other types of services like that, and then watching some of those customers trying to get online and struggle with, like getting a domain and getting their website up and getting even just their starter landing pages or starter pages where they say we’re coming soon and watching how our teams just so quickly rallied around that work. 

Eric Muntz And when that happens and you see a team come together fully for the benefit of a customer and not think like, well, I’m an engineer, I’m going to worry about the engineering thing, or I’m a designer and I’m going to worry about designer, but they just get together and go, let’s worry about the customer and build a great thing for the customer. It’s just, you know, it just warms my heart to see folks do that and be able to do it super quickly and have it make huge impact on on our customers. So I’m super proud of those initiatives. 

Mathilde Collin And and do you think can you tell us a bit more about internally whether it was sometimes hard to make these decisions? 

Mathilde Collin Because I assume that it’s always a trade off between the fact that at the end of the day, like every business is impacted or will be impacted and soon cheap as a business is going to suffer from part of it is also going to benefit from part of it. But and then so you want to balance the health of your company and therefore by balancing the health of your company, of your employees and your future customers and customers with being as generous as possible. So how do you think about making this tradeoff and where any decision specifically hard to make? 

Eric Muntz Yeah, I mean, it’s always difficult when you make a decision, say we’re going to give away ten million dollars and you think, well, at the end of the year, when we talk about when we talk about how revenue grew at the end of the year, there’s going to be at least a 10 million dollar gap there. Right. But we also know that because of Covid, there’s likely to be another gap there so that that then adds to it. And you say, OK, well, we got some trade offs to think about, right. As we’re running a business, you have to think about is this going to sustain us this year? But then what impact might it have in future years? And, you know, we it’s tough. 

Eric Muntz There’s a trade off and of course, there’s measured approaches to it. And we try to be measured with with everything that we do. We continue to be wholly focused on small business and the long tail of small business. Right. So then our CEO had a pretty famous or infamous statement a few years ago that he was chasing scale, not whales. And when you think about it that way and you think about, OK, if we’re here for the long term, the long haul, and we’re here for the long haul of small business, how can we keep more small businesses online and outlasting the average lifespan of a small business? 

Eric Muntz Because we’ve been good to them and we’ve got a thriving business where we can actually take a little bit of a hit and then think that, OK, maybe that’s going to increase and make up for itself, maybe later this year, maybe later next year, maybe in two or three years, however long it is, it’s a bit of a risk. But, you know, in business, you got to take risks. Sometimes you just have a lot of conversations about weighing those things. 

Eric Muntz And the majority of what we did was already planned for the year. Some of it we just expedited or moved forward a little bit. Right. So we planned on websites and selling domains and all of that. That was already in the mix. We just expedited it. We didn’t plan on giving away ten million dollars to our customers, but that’s where trade offs come in. 

Mathilde Collin Yeah, it makes sense. I actually I was reading online and I noticed that one of Mailchimp’s mottos is, Listen Hard Change Fast.

Mathilde Collin And you did it really well, I’m curious by listening to your customers and specifically small businesses, what have you heard? Like what what do you think is their state of mind? What do they struggle most with an understanding? That’s when you have such a strong base. And that’s also they very well can also help everyone who is listening to this interview understand what they can do to support them better. 

Eric Muntz Yeah, for sure. Really good question. Listening hard is hard, and especially during a pandemic when really the word of the day is uncertainty. 

Eric Muntz Right. So with small businesses, they’re just super uncertain. Am I going to get help from the government? Are my customers going to continue to be able to pay me? Are they still going to want my service? What of my service are they going to want? So one of the things that’s really been helpful for our customers and us talking with our customers this year is we sort of quietly launched service at the beginning of the year and we didn’t really put a whole lot of marketing fanfare behind it. We just launched it and customers saw them and started using them. And so a lot of it is about advice. And just like what is good old fashioned best practices in marketing. Right. And trying to get customers that have never been online and never done that type of marketing to get online and get going with digital marketing and understand how to do it. And timing worked out fairly well. We acquired a media agency in London called Courier Media, and they’ve been putting out a weekly newsletter that’s best practices for small businesses. And we’ve been really leaning into that and putting out guides. Our support team toward the end of last year, mid last year, started webinars. And we’ve been putting those up on YouTube and getting really great responses from them and teaming up with our. Giant amount of partners we’ve got out there that help our customers and trying to get them in front of customers to help them understand how to go online and really get help with digital marketing. So it really has been like there’s some features to it, but there’s a whole lot of this, like this is how you do marketing. This is how you listen to your customers. And listening to your customers is super, super, super important to say you do it. You’re supposed to do with your some guidance to do it and kind of combine all those things and the best practices. Thanks for doing that. They’re going to do one thing I’d say subscribe to that courier newsletter, because then you have to Google it. It just shows up in their inbox and is like, here’s advice on things you do. 

Mathilde Collin I know we only have a few minutes left. 

Mathilde Collin I have two last questions so the first one is when I was preparing this interview, I was looking at what’s your path like, your career path has been, and you know better than I do. But if I read correctly, you started in in tech support. You did a Q&A, you wrote apps, so you started as an individual contributor and then you climbed the ladder. Now you’re at C level. 

Mathilde Collin And and if you think about getting started again in this economy, do you think that same path would be available? And specifically, what advice would you give either your team or anyone that’s asking you this question about growing in this environment where we know that growth in the next few months, years is going to is not going to look the same as the past few years? 

Eric Muntz So I think part of that is that there is still a huge need for technologists and people who understand technology and people who can build software, we have an apprenticeship program at MailChimp where we take folks from nontraditional backgrounds and bring them into engineering. We actually do it for all disciplines, but it started in engineering and it’s mainly focused on engineering. And we unboarded a class of apprentices during the pandemic. So they started full time work from home, know they got their they got their computers from I.T. at home and all of that. So I do still think nontraditional opportunities are available because I’ve seen them firsthand and I see are still a huge need for for folks in technology. 

Eric Muntz Now, whether that’s available to get to the C suite, I’m not really sure my crystal ball says like or my magic eight ball would say too soon to tell, ask later. But but so much of that. It’s hard for me to say. 

Eric Muntz It would have been hard for me to say that even a year ago, because so much of that is based on timing and a good bit of luck. And having a CEO who was supportive of me learning my way through leadership and growing a team and seeing the value of taking someone who helped grow the business and is and is learning their way into leadership of being on the C suite. Right. So there’s so much mixed up in there that I’m not sure that pandemic really changes it that much. 

Mathilde Collin Do you have one final piece of advice for any leader that’s going through this challenging time and need to rethink about how they are the best leader that they can be? 

Eric Muntz Yeah, I would say it’s probably too easy an answer, but I’m going to steal the Mailchimp motto and say, Listen hard change fast. 

Mathilde Collin So thank you so much for having spend time with me. Good luck with everything that’s going on when they can return the favor any time I want you. You can reach out. Thanks, Eric. 

Eric Muntz Thank you so much for having me. The conversation was real fun. 

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