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  • Inspiring Startups

Ben Silbermann - The man behind Pinterest

Let's have a look today at the story of Ben Silbermann, a "normal" guy from Iowa with no engineering or coding genius who went to create one of the fastest growing technology start ups.

According to Ben Silberman, Pinterest can be described as a visual discovery tool or a catalog of ideas rather than a social media. Basically, it's a website where you'll find beautiful ideas on a topic of your interest that have been visually bookmarked by others and get inspired to go out and do them for your own project.

Let's say you're thinking of redoing your apartment's interior design or planning your wedding, you can find good ideas that have already been pinned by other users and create your own scrapbook of ideas. On entering a key word like zen living room for example, the site will show up with pictures of beautiful living rooms bathed in sunlight with minimalistic design curated by other users that will inspire you when designing your new living room. You can save these pins on your own board for future reference and organize the pinboards in different themes.

Photography : Business Insider

Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, Ben was following his parents steps who both are doctors and started studying medicine. But that was not his true calling. He figured out that he had to go his own way and decided that he really wanted to be in business instead. In 2004, he got a job as a consultant in Washington and started reading TechCrunch, a technology news website.

As he was learning more about technology, he realized that he had to be in Silicon valley, a hotbed for technology startups, that would provide him with more inspiration, opportunities and connections to create his own venture. He later moved to San francisco and got a job in customer service at google. One of the key lessons he learnt during his time at Google was to dream big. "There aren't companies that ... go take a picture of every street in the world and put it online"

So the next move for Ben was to quit Google to build a startup with a college friend, Paul Sciarra. Recession came shortly after but that did not prevent them from moving forward. They created an iPhone app, Tote, which allowed users to shop from their favourite stores directly from the app. It did not work and was not making money as they had hoped. This was some tough time for Ben but he said two things prevented him from quitting :

1) He felt he could not go back to Google

2) He did not want to let Paul down

So Ben decided to build a new product about something he is really passionate about.

"I'd always thought that the things you collect say so much about who you are." Ben says his childhood bug collection is "Pinterest 1.0."

Eventually, Ben met Evan Sharp, a designer, through a mutual friend in New-york.

Ben pitched him the idea of Pinterest and Evan was excited to try this new adventure. They started pivoting Tote to Pinterest with Paul. This was back in December 2009. The first prototype launched in March 2010 and was made available to a small group of friends and family members.

Evan was key in the signature design of the website, namely the grid design.

One of the reasons of success of Pinterest is that it has been described as a site that has been created by hobbyists for hobbyists.

“But I think that what I really feel is that we've always made Pinterest to use and enjoy, and that was the same when it was a really small community when I knew all 500 users “ Says Ben

As of June 2015, Pinterest had been valued 11 $B and hit the 100 M users mark in September 2015.

Four lessons from Ben Silbermann's story that can inspire us :

1) You may not get to your destination directly but you need to start somewhere. In the case of Ben, his first step was to quit his studies in medicine and work as a consultant. This then led him to getting a job at Google and then starting a app business and then finally pivoting to Pinterest.

2) Do something you're passionate about.

3) You may not have all the skills but if you have a vision and you start to get into action, you'll eventually meet the right people to get your business going.

4) Be in an environment that stimulates you and provide further opportunities. You can easily start by going regularly to the startup cafes in your town and joining local startup meetups.

Learn further about Ben Silbermann from this interesting article at the Guardian.

Watch a 1h keynote presentation from Ben Silberman at Alt Summit on Vimeo explaining how Pinterest started and became the web's next big thing or view a summary deck of the talk from Business Insider.

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