What Game are You Playing?

A lot of people I know use MailChimp to manage their mailing lists. It’s easy to use and has good tiered subscription options. So, when I heard that the company had been acquired for 12 billion dollars, I read a few of the stories to understand how a seemingly simple company could be worth so much.

Though I’m still not sure about the economics, or what drove them, my research did yield an interesting portrait of one of the company’s founders, Ben Chestnut. I liked in particular how he seemed to know exactly what game he was playing and trying to win each day.

In an article in the Financial Times, he said: “I kind of feel like I had my head down, tweaking things, improving things, and then I looked up and bam, it’s a $12bn company.” Later, he boils it down even more: “I would look at the previous balance, and then I would look at this month’s balance, and I would want to make sure that this month was greater than last month. That’s all I ever did.”

The article also reveals what he (and his partner) didn’t do. Here’s Chestnut reflecting on early investors, which he (and his partner) seemingly swatted away while not taking their money: “It felt like they were more like alien beings from another era trying to tell me how to run my business.”

What the founder and his partner did, what they didn’t do, and last . . . how they know they won: the article focuses finally on an outside voice (Wade Davis of Zapier). Regarding the deal that finally convinced the MailChimp founders to sell, Davis said he was surprised but “there were probably other reasons they felt this was a good outcome for MailChimp, for the customers, and for everyone.”

Most of us will never sell a company for billions of dollars. But all of us can seek to approach our work in ways that draw useful, healthy boundaries around it. The advice is simple:

Know what game you are playing.

Within that scope, define what you do and what you don’t do.

Repeat the doing and the not doing and protect against intrusions that would throw off the patterns, the discipline.

And then, perhaps most important, know how you know you’ve won and that the game is over.

Source: Financial Times (behind paywall).

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