Pinterest CEO and Co-founder Ben Silbermann
|David Senra||Feb 23, 2019|
We started Pinterest for ourselves. I always wanted a tool where you could collect all the things you found inspiring in one place. Our first users weren’t in New York or Silicon Valley. They were just people using it to get inspiration for real life.
When we were thinking about building a product it felt natural to make the collection visual. A visual collection of all the cool things you found on the internet. My co-founder and I are both visual thinkers. We wanted to see the collection. Not just a list or a text document.
Both my parents are doctors. My sisters are doctors. I was pre-med in college. The Internet changed my life. I decided that being part of the story of the Internet would be really exciting. I felt it was amazing that everyone has access to information at the same time, all over the world.
I decided to work at Google because it was the number one Internet company at the time. I just wanted to be closer to the place where products for the Internet were being built.
It doesn’t matter if you think of your company as a design company. Or if you think of your company as a technology company. Customers are at the center of every business. I think companies succeed or fail based on how close they can be to the needs of the people using the product.
When we started Pinterest, I would put my cell phone number on every customer service email. I wanted people to know there was a real person on the other end. Not just a robot. A real person to answer their questions.
A challenge for technology companies is you have customers all over the world. You don't get to see your customers in person. You don't get to interact with them. We take this issue seriously. We have a value called put pinners first. It is a reminder that everything we do is not in pursuit of technology. It is not in pursuit of competition. Everything we do is in service of real people.
I have lunch every week with people who use the product. I talk to people who love the product and those that don’t like the product. I learn what issues they have. I ask what could make it better. One thing I hear a lot is that they don’t know how they are supposed to use Pinterest.
Everyone tries to make their product simple. But you don’t know if your product is simple if you don’t talk to the people who use the product. We would go to local coffee shops, buy people coffee, and ask them to use the product. We’d watch them use it. If they needed help that was a sign the product wasn’t designed the right way.
How do you think about growth? We don’t keep score by the number of people using the product. We keep score by making sure the product is playing a positive role in the user’s life. A lot of technology companies are grappling with the tension between growth at all cost and the negative ways their technology is used.
There is a clear alignment between what people are using Pinterest for [to get inspiration and new ideas], and what businesses want from an advertising product. Advertisers want to inspire people to use their products. If we maintain that alignment we can build a really healthy business.
The camera will be the next keyboard. As technology advances, it tends to feel more intuitive over time. We went from command lines to graphical interfaces. From keyboards to touch. Now voice. The next big frontier is vision.
When you first started hiring what values did you want? We wanted people obsessed with customers. People who saw technology as a tool to make people’s lives better. People who loved the product. People who love Pinterest tend to value things like inspiration and creativity.
Scott Belsky [author of The Messy Middle] describes Ben as comfortable being misunderstood and underestimated.
In technology, people are very fast to declare something a winner or loser. They describe things as either this will take over the world, or this will never work. The truth is always somewhere in between.