The following is my rough outline from the 11AM SXSWi session featuring Pinterest Co-Founder and CEO Ben Silbermann. There was lots of great advice on monetization, design, building a successful business, and social communities. And I felt like sharing a few of those things with you today.
The questions covered everything from his job history, to early challenges at Pinterest. There are lots of great learnings here as well.
- Started in sales support for Google, working specifically with Adsense.
- Quit Google to develop iOS applications, before starting Pinterest.
- The idea came from visiting people’s homes, and seeing “collections” of people’s lives that needed to be shared online
- Wanted a person’s “board” or collection on Pinterest to be more beautiful as a whole than each image could be individually.
- Quality was the most important aspect, with meticulous testing done on layouts, contrast, colors, fonts, and how the site would work in different people’s devices.
- Ben liked to go to bookstores and look at lifestyle magazines, to gauge interest in certain verticals.
- In a world were buzz dies after 24-48 hours, the Pinterest boards have a timeless elements.
- For the first 9 months Pinterest had 10,000 users.
- Growth happened much slower than they had hoped.
- Ben personally emailed the first 5,000 users thanking them for signing up, and opening ongoing communication.
- Up until the middle of last year it was only 5 people working in his apartment.
- Each day people find a use for Pinterest that they would have never thought people would use it for
- Lot’s of museums have joined lately, to share their art with the world.
- Travel boards are also new, and people create elaborate travel guides to cities all over the world.
- Clones have always happened, now they just happen faster and faster with the low barrier to entry of technology.
- Most of your focus shouldn’t be racing against competition, but against making the greatest product possible.
- The competition doesn’t come from similar design, layouts, or code, it’s all about the people.
- As a company they care about that issue, overall it is part of their culture, and giving value back to each of the users.
- The mission of the site isn’t to keep people on the site forever; it’s driving traffic out in the world, and driving real actions to build their content.
- Long-term monetization will have to be something that speaks to the heart of the product itself.
- Helping people discover things they wouldn’t have found on their own.
- They have a lot of work to go on the discovery process before they continue with monetization.
- Redesigning the profiles on Pinterest, to make your profile very different from what you have on Facebook and Twitter.
- A visual snapshot of what you are about, and to make it easier to discover new people based on pins
- Expanding the number of things you can pin to include Vimeo and Netflix.
- Platform expansion with a common and stable API framework for developers.
- We have to invest in social norms the same way we invest into infrastructure and technology.
- Getting the right kind of behavior in a social site is important to growing the community in the right direction.
- Early on they personally reached out to users, to make sure they were cultivating the community correctly and encouraging the right behaviors.
- They character different kinds of users, because each has it’s purpose in the overall growth of the website.
- New ways to share are simply new ways to connect with other people; we are always actively seeking out ways to connect in new ways.
Launching a Successful Business
- Most people generalize whatever they did, and act like that was the strategy that made things work.
- People will say great founding teams have a certain look and feel, but every company cuts it’s own path.
- Every company is under a lot of pressure to look and act like the last company that was successful.
- Be good to the people that you build relationships with along the way. It will become part of your DNA.
- Identify those people that are passionate about your products from the start, which will be immensely valuable as feedback.
- Sometimes they overthought problems, as long as you can see failure as one more option that’s off the table; you’re in a good place.
- Do not be paralyzed by so many options, the best way to find out is to ship, the worst thing that users and customers can say is no.
- It’s important to have people outside your business that you have good relationships with, don’t get tunnel vision in the way you think about your company.
- Pinterest is still small, 20 team members, 10 joined in the last four months.
- The team culture is the core of their business; rather than have a figurehead, they want to grow as a team.
Ultimately, I felt like Ben shared things in this session that he probably will not share as much of as CEO of Pinterest as they grow in the future. So, I hope to capture some of that here in case one day they find themselves a much larger company, prepared to IPO or get acquired.