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Pinterest's Ben Silbermann to 'Treps: Make Something Beautiful

Though the popular site may appear to be an overnight success, Pinterest's co-founder describes the company's early trials and offers some advice to other entrepreneurs.
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Ben Silbermann, co-founder of Pinterest, at SXSW says early adopters aren't as key to a product's launch as they used to be. Photo courtesy of Julia Robinson/For American-statesman

Despite the perception that Pinterest users are 90 percent female, the crowd gathering to listen to co-founder Ben Silbermann speak was evenly divided between men and women. Silbermann sat down for a Q&A with blogger/entrepreneur Chris Dixon  at SXSW to talk about the fast-growing social-media service's history and future outlook.

Silbermann, a Des Moines, Iowa native and avid collector of stamps growing up, always envisioned a product that would allow people to share collections of things that were important to them. And he wanted it to look beautiful. The idea of beauty, in fact, is a recurring theme with Silbermann who doesn't have an engineering background but found himself inspired by websites like TechCrunch and Digg.

"We were building [Pinterest] for ourselves," says Silbermann who added that his team spent a lot of time agonizing over the site's five-column layout -- producing almost a dozen fully-coded versions before settling on the one that is live today. 

Silbermann readily admits that Pinterest didn't cater to the Silicon Valley crowd to begin with. The reason? "The concept of the early adopter has changed," he says. Many consumers now have an iPhone and use Facebook, so the way Twitter, for example, exploded amid the early-adopter SXSW crowd in 2007 just doesn’t happen anymore, Silbermann adds. Instead, Pinterest was able to slowly find its niche, especially with women. The ultimate purpose of Pinterest should however hit home with everyone, he says. The goal is to "help people discover things that they didn't know they wanted."

Related: How Pinterest Is Becoming the Next Big Thing in Social Media for Business

As far as future goals go, Silbermann is aiming to redesign the profile page which should go live soon. He also has his eye on platform expansion, and his team of engineers is actively developing an iPad app. He also wants to make the Pinterest API publicly available. According to Silbermann people have already made contact wanting to be the "Zynga of Pinterest."

Though enlightening, the discussion was a bit disappointing, as the company's recent copyright issues weren’t mentioned more. Silbermann did say that honoring copyrights is extremely important to him and that he's reached out to those with concerns. He says that a "no pin" option has rolled out for websites interested in protecting their copyrighted material.

Here are Silbermann's three pieces of advice for entrepreneurs:

  1. Don't accept too much advice. "There's a lot of pressure to look like the last company that was successful," says Silbermann who notes that his conception for Pinterest to look "timeless" was definitely a departure.
  2. Be resilient. Nine months after launching the site, Pinterest had fewer than 10,000 users. Silbermann says he hated the idea of telling people that "he blew it" and was too embarrassed to quit, so he kept going. "It was a tough, but fun, time."
  3. Surround yourself with positivity. Work with people that are "passionate about your product for the right reasons," he says adding: "Have thick skin."

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