“It can take a long time to build things that are worthwhile.”
For anyone who uses Pinterest, the above statement by Pinterest founder, Ben Silberman, during a Y Combinator event perhaps reflects the patience and delicate approach required to create a pinboard worth sharing with friends and over 478 million active users (as of 2021) on the platform.
The same is true for the growth and success Pinterest has enjoyed as a company.
Founded in 2010, the idea of Pinterest centered on Ben’s love for collecting (insects, in particular), organizing, and creating things. "I'd always thought that the things you collect say so much about who you are." Ben says, much like his childhood bug collection, which he tagged “Pinterest 1.0.”
Before starting his own company, Ben worked for Google in customer support, collecting consumer behavior data and sending it to other departments for analysis. But he wanted to do more than just collect data—he wanted to create products.
It wasn’t until his girlfriend advised him to stop complaining about his frustrations at work and pursue his dreams that he quit his job and teamed up with his friends, Paul Sciarra and Evan Sharp, to develop his idea and passion in 2009.
However, in his words, “four months into leaving his job in 2008 and risking it all to start a company] and 3000 accounts for a consumer startup”, compared to meteoric successes enjoyed by for example Instagram and Facebook when they launched, “is not very good.”
With the platform experiencing slow growth, Ben’s decision to let go of his long-term plan to become a doctor like his parents and instead become an entrepreneur came under scrutiny. At the time, “a lot of people weren’t just grasping it,” Ben said in an interview with Startup Grind.
Despite the low numbers (moving from 5000 accounts later to 9000 accounts in 2011), Ben and his co-founders didn’t lose hope in their vision or the product, until a user set the platform alight with her creative post.
The “pin it forward” chain letter posted on the platform by a user named Victoria allowed bloggers to start and share pinboards on diverse topics of interest, and that sparked Pinterest into life. According to Business Insider, “it was an inflection point.” This was followed by the first Pinterest event, organized by Victoria Smith, where users and bloggers were invited to create and share their pinboards about themselves and invite their friends to do the same.
In 2011, Pinterest received $10 million Series A funding from Bessemer Venture Partners, followed by $27 million funding from Andreessen Horowitz. It shot the company’s value up to $200 million.
As of 2021, Pinterest had a market value of $49.13 billion, 5 billion pinboards, and 240 billion pins saved by users. Pinterest’s influence on people’s choice of ideas and purchases has become a global phenomenon as more than 80% of active users on Pinterest say they have made purchases on the platform based on the company’s pinboards more than 80% of active users on Pinterest say they have made purchases on the platform based on the company’s pinboards on the site.
From his experiences building one of the most important social media platforms in the world, Ben acknowledges ”that uncertainty [embarking on an entrepreneurial journey], the fact that every single day, you are dealing with a lot of choices and you don’t have a lot of perfect information is for me the hardest lesson to learn and continues to be a real challenge in startups today.”