Side Hustles

Billion dollar company Mailchimp started as a side gig – here's what the founder would do now to make extra money

Kimberly White

Losing your job is scary. Ben Chestnut has been there. He co-founded now multibillion-dollar marketing platform Mailchimp after being laid off from his web design job in 2000 as the dotcom bubble burst.

In fact, the email marketing service was his side gig for seven years. But that was then — in 2019, Mailchimp brought in $700 million in revenue, according to TechCrunch.

So what would Chestnut do if he had to start a side hustle to make extra money today? 

"I would spend my time freelancing," Chestnut tells CNBC Make It, "[and] helping small brick and mortar stores pivot their businesses online."

"I could help these businesses tell their stories, stay connected with their customers and sell their stuff online by designing beautiful, shoppable websites, logos and other design assets, and by helping them with their digital marketing," he says.

"Many beloved brick and mortar businesses are having to create an online presence for the first time, so this is one way I could leverage my design and marketing skills to help these businesses."

Indeed, as consumers stayed home to contain the spread of Covid-19, online shopping surged: From the beginning of March through mid-April, e-commerce spending was up more than 30% compared with the same period last year, according to market research firm Rakuten Intelligence.

And this type of work is in high demand, experts from freelancer platforms Fiverr and Upwork recently told CNBC Make It. You can earn anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands building a website, for example.

Plus, marketing and design are skills anyone can learn.

"I actually taught myself web design on the side during college by making projects for myself and offering my services to companies I'd meet at A/V club," he says. (Chestnut got a degree in industrial design from the Georgia Institute of Technology.)

Chestnut says supporting small businesses is in his "DNA." "My mom ran a hair salon out of our kitchen – so it would probably always have to be some part of what I do.

"Otherwise," he says, "I've always liked the idea of selling pickaxes to gold miners."

But "as you might be able to tell, I'm more interested in being useful than chasing gold." 

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