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How Failure Is a Part of Mailchimp’s DNA

A sign that says, "Take Mistakes".

At Mailchimp, we’re big fans of storytelling as a learning tool. As a marketing automation platform for small businesses, we encourage our customers to share their challenges and successes with other users through our What’s in Store newsletter. Likewise, we challenge our employees to tell their own stories about work and life. While our customer stories motivate millions of folks who are struggling every day to build their businesses, our employee stories can help motivate our coworkers as they manage their careers.

We offer employees the chance to improve their speaking skills through workshops with public speaking coach Bill Smartt. I am privileged in my role as Director of Talent Strategy to get to occasionally watch and critique my colleagues’ talks as part of this program. Early on, I noticed a common theme amongst the Mailchimp speakers network: failure. Folks here seem quite comfortable sharing their oops/uh-oh/OMG moments as a learning and development moment.

Which is great! I love that my coworkers can get really vulnerable with the intent to encourage others through tough situations. It’s deep, and it’s Mailchimp. Our company motto is “Listen Hard, Change Fast.” We’ve learned that you can’t change fast without making mistakes along the way. Being okay with failure is part of our DNA.

This was all happening at the same time as our successful marketing campaign that included a silly product called FailChips (crushed potato chips). At the time, I made a little sticky note that said “FailTips?” and stuck it on my monitor. A friend and colleague from our Marketing team stopped by my office to chat and noticed the note. I sheepishly explained my idea, and he encouraged me to pursue it.

I asked some folks that had recently been through public speaking workshops if they would be willing to talk about personal and professional failure in front of, gulp, hundreds of their peers. The enthusiastic response was both rapid and unanimous. And so our FailTips lunch and learn series was born.

What does a FailTips session look like? Imagine most of the company—both in person and livestreaming at desks—watching 6 employees bravely talk about topics like fainting on the first day of their first job to failing the 10th grade. It can be someone talking about a failed small business venture that led them to Mailchimp. Or the time our VP of Engineering temporarily “killed” a feature impacting hundreds of thousands of Mailchimp users and was sure he would lose his job? Or even the fail that led to our much-loved GIPHY library.

But the best part about a FailTips session is the support and enthusiasm the speakers receive from the audience: the wild applause, the comments in chat rooms, the high-fives and kind words at the lunch afterwards. It’s all so warm and fuzzy and awesome. And best of all, it encourages all of us to embrace our failure.

Sharing stories like these reinforces one of our core values: humility. When we hear our peers and leaders talk about their scariest moments in life, we find a new level of respect and empathy and hopefully feel empowered to take calculated risks. I’m so proud to work for an organization that encourages this type of conversation in the workplace.

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