While recently perusing status updates from friends and family members on Facebook, I realized that my wife hadn’t signed in for the past four days. When I asked her what she’d been doing with all her online time instead, she said she’d joined this fun new site called Pinterest. And apparently she had something to say to the other social networks; in a fairly good impression of Donald Trump she declared, “They’re fired!” As a scrapbook enthusiast, she’s always looking for online inspiration to enhance both her digital and static books of family memories, and Pinterest seemed the perfect source for that.
Having never heard of the site, I quickly put my internet researching skills to use. In the process I learned that Pinterest is really high in demand right now, and not just by housewives and teenage girls.
Businesses are using Pinterest to boost sales and encourage word-of-mouth advertising. For instance, one company offers access to a special percent-off coupon when one of their pins reaches a certain amount of shares. Sound confusing? I was confused at first, too.
From Bookmarks to Pinboards
As a child in Des Moines, Iowa during the mid-80s and early 1990s, Ben Silbermann loved to collect things. It was his passion. Whether it was a postage stamp steamed from a piece of mail or a unique insect that landed in the back yard, he was always adding something to one of his collections. In his mind, what a person collects says a lot about who they are, deep down inside. Here’s an overview of Silbermann’s career starting from his graduation from college until now.
- Post-Graduation – An engineer at heart, Silbermann graduated from Yale with a major in political science in 2003 and took a job with a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Little did he know that while he was reading about the development of sites like Digg and TechCrunch that he’d go on to co-found one of the biggest social networking sites of 2012.
- Google – Designing products like display ads, Silbermann recalls that he cajoled his way into Google. He saw his fellow employees as smart, and their jobs interesting. Being part of that kind of team made him feel very lucky. While there, he learned to think outside the box and his exposure to people behind some of the most amazing features and products the internet has ever known was priceless.
- iPhone apps – After resigning from Google, Silbermann took a few months to redefine his goals. Paul Sciarra, a friend from college, reconnected with him and the two used their personal savings to create iPhone apps. While the apps didn’t garner much success, the experience of working on them and dealing with expensive contract developers taught Pinterest’s co-founders a lot of useful things they would need when later developing the social networking site.
- Pinterest – In the beginning, the future of Pinterest seemed no more stable than those early iPhone apps. In one interview, Silbermann said, “I sent Pinterest to 200 of my friends and I think 100 of them opened the email. It was catastrophically small numbers.” He credits the initial success to the few people who began using Pinterest regularly in the way the co-founders had intended for it to be used.
What kept Silbermann going? His biggest reason for not giving up was fear of failure. He hated the idea of telling everyone who’d heard him sing the praises of Pinterest that it was not the huge success that they’d hoped. And besides, he thought, Google probably wouldn’t take him back a second time around. In his words, “They barely hired me the first time!”
Why Tweet When You Can Pin?
Pinterest was catching on with regularity by June 2011 and it now has more than 20 million users. It is one of the top social network sites, following behind Facebook and one other while coming in far ahead of professional sites like LinkedIn.
But it’s not just people like my wife who are pinning recipes and projects for holiday crafts. Businesses are catching on and pinning links to their websites as a way to showcase items, offer discounts, and a way to advertise their company without breaking their advertising budget. While the growth has been as stressful for Silbermann and his co-founders as it has been exciting, they’re only looking ahead.