Ben Silbermann’s contribution to disrupt social media is often undervalued and highly underappreciated.
When we talk of Social-media race, we assume the top contenders to be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and maybe Snapchat. What nobody seems to notice is this dark horse, Pinterest- a platform silently leading the visual content space. Pinterest is one platform that doesn’t get its due for disrupting the content discovery market. One major reason is that its founders are not seen in papers or our newsfeed as much as their peers. This makes their story interesting. Pinterest is able to sustain and lead solely on the basis of how great the platform is and not rely on its founders to sell it. The Brainchild of Ben Silbermann, its story has unconventional lessons to teach about business and life in general.
Ben Silbermann is not a regular name or face on Social media despite being the co-founder of Pinterest- a $15 billion start-up that is eyeing an IPO sometime in the mid of 2019. Unlike his peers at the Silicon-valley start-up scene, Ben prefers a low-key life for himself. Even though he holds the title of the CEO, he identifies himself as a Pure-product guy. His focus has been to simply make an outstanding platform that would be loved and consistently used by the users. Proving so, Pinterest has 250 million plus (and growing) active users.
Pinterest’s growth has been slow but incremental. Pinterest has managed to break the norm that the metrics of success are quick-results, conversions or impressions, and resisted the pressure from its investors in terms of showing returns. It’s a cliché case of the belief in the value one’s platform/service will give and the love it will get in return. Having a cut-throat competition in the visual social media space from Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr, Pinterest stands out and has a loyal fan-base. Pinterest has evolved not just as a sharing but majorly an idea discovering platform– perhaps the only one of its kind. Users love Pinterest for its simplicity as a platform, and a plethora of ideas from like-minded people to draw inspiration from. Advertisers love it because unlike other digital platforms, it doesn’t advertise to users till the point of annoying them. Advertisements are smartly placed to blend with the organic content leading to more valuable conversions. It has developed a unique model which keeps all its stakeholders happy.
The idea of Pinterest occurred to Ben during his days at Google where he used to often reminisce his childhood hobby of collecting various cut-outs of photos and pinning it to his soft board over his study table. Following which he sensed the potential of a digital pin-board of sorts that would help people to not just collect ideas but also share it within their network. Thus, a childhood habit of collecting ideas gave rise to a Unicorn Silicon-Valley start-up- Pinterest. However, it is not like the idea instantly manifested to him, as we see it now. In his own words, letting go of his job and the guaranteed future at Google was extremely difficult. It was only on his wife’s persuasion did he give a chance to his idea. He initially started with Tote, a shopping app that never took off. Not disheartened by failure, he saw an emerging pattern in consumer behaviour. Many people saved photos of the items to come to it later and shop. He connected this behavioural pattern with his childhood habit of also collecting and saving ideas and Voila! Pinterest was born.
Ben believes that the key to success is not talent and luck but learning. This explains why he recruited a lot of potential people for their strengths even though there was not an immediate requirement of them, in the initial days. His stress has always been to see employees for who they are and can be and not for what they do. Ben’s belief in the company’s culture and ability to adapt is critical to Pinterest’s success. Starting as an invite-only platform for creative minds, it gradually opened itself to the mass, realizing the spark of creativity in one and all. Ben personally uses Pinterest but not as a creator, but as a consumer. It’s remarkable that he is not using the platform to promote himself, announce updates or achievements. He is using it to be inspired in his passion for photography, cooking, and parenting and in return, inspire others with his ideas; just what the platform is made for.
This one of the early signs of success in any business- creating a product/service you love to use yourself!
Ben’s patience and vision in growing his company is a valuable lesson to not just budding entrepreneurs but about anyone who measures success only by how quickly the results are achieved. It takes a strong clear vision, years of learning, and most importantly believe in yourself irrespective of the existing norms and circumstances to be able to write a new history. One can also learn from Ben on how to avoid distractions that are not aligned with your vision.
To him, public appearances, interviews, opinions on social media, and other extravaganza is secondary to how to better his platform for a user/advertiser and give them maximum value. People might excuse this because of its introverted nature, but it’s a simple no BS approach to his business.