Before breaking up with Shopify, Mailchimp quietly acqui-hired LemonStand, a Shopify competitor

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Here’s an interesting twist on the story from last week about the break-up between Shopify and Mailchimp, after the two said they were at odds over how customer data was shared between the two companies. It turns out that before it parted ways with Shopify, Mailchimp had quietly made an acquisition of LemonStand, one of the e-commerce platform’s smaller competitors, to bring more integrated e-commerce features into its platform.

After news broke of the rift between Mailchimp and Shopify, rumors started to circulate among people in the world of e-commerce about Mailchimp buying Vancouver-based LemonStand, which had announced on March 5 that it was shutting down its service in 90 days, on June 5, without much of an explanation why.

We were tipped off on those rumors, so we contacted Ross Paul, LemonStand’s VP of growth and an investor in the startup, who suggested we contact Mailchimp. (Paul now lists Mailchimp as his employer on his LinkedIn profile.) Mailchimp confirmed the deal, describing it as an acqui-hire, with the team now woking on light e-commerce functionality.

“Mailchimp acqui-hired the team behind LemonStand at the end of February,” Mailchimp said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. It did not provide any financial terms for the deal.

Mailchimp — which is privately held and based in Atlanta — said it made the acquisition to provide more features to its customers, specifically those in e-commerce.

“Mailchimp helps small businesses grow, and our e-commerce customers have been asking us to add more functionality to our platform to help them market more effectively,” the company said in a statement. “The LemonStand team is helping us build out our e-commerce light functionality.”

But Mailchimp is clear to say that its acqui-hire was not related to ending its relationship with Shopify.

“Our decision to discontinue our partnership with Shopify last week is unrelated to LemonStand,” Mailchimp said. “Shopify knew we were working on e-commerce features long before we hired the LemonStand team. In fact, we launched Shoppable Landing Pages last fall in partnership with Square, and Shopify chose not to partner with us on the launch.”

But even if the LemonStand deal is not related to its rift with Shopify, the acquisition of one and the breakup with the other both point to the same thing: the growing role of Mailchimp’s e-commerce business.

The company — which provides email marketing and other marketing services to business — has been slowly building a revenue stream in e-commerce by integrating a number of features into its platform to let its customers, for example, sell items as part of the marketing process. These are less about building full check-out experiences or commerce backends, but for offering, say, one-off sale items as part of a particular promotion or campaign.

Last year, when Mailchimp launched those new shoppable landing pages with Square, it said that 50 percent of its revenues were now coming from e-commerce, with its customers selling more than $22 billion worth of products in the first half of 2018. Mailchimp made some $600 million in revenue in 2018, which — if its 50 percent e-commerce figure remained consistent — meant that it made $300 million last year just from e-commerce-related services.

The Square partnership is instructive in light of this acquisition. While Mailchimp is indeed building some native e-commerce features for its platform, it will continue to work with third parties (if not Shopify, the biggest of them all) to provide other functionality.

“We believe small businesses are best served when they can choose which technology they use to run their businesses, which is why we integrate with more than 150 different apps and platforms including e-commerce platforms,” Mailchimp said in its statement to TechCrunch.

“We’re not trying to become an e-commerce platform or compete directly with companies like Shopify,” it added, “and we think that adding e-commerce features in Mailchimp will help our e-commerce partners. Companies will be able to start their businesses with Mailchimp and have a seamless experience, and eventually use Mailchimp along with one of our e-commerce partners.”

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