Ben Silbermann: A social network for shoppers and doers

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Pinterest was originally billed as a visual “catalogue of ideas”, designed to allow people to discover and share what they found on the Internet. In practice, the social platform enabled us to organise and share not just ideas, but also the products that we found.

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Shopping has always been a social activity. We like to have people around us to provide feedback and to help us make future purchasing decisions. That’s why it’s relatively rare to find lone shoppers wandering around the local shopping mall. Similarly, when we visit each others’ homes, we admire what they have, and use what we see as an inspiration for our own future purchases. Ben Silbermann recognised this, and combined the idea of social shopping with an increasingly consumer-friendly Internet.

Today, Silbermann has a personal net worth of over $1.5 billion, and his company, Pinterest, is valued at $12.3 billion. Pinterest has 291 million active users, and generates more than $1.5 billion dollars in revenue per year.

Early career

Silbermann attended MIT and Yale before launching his career at Google’s online advertising group. While the experience he gained there was important, he moved on relatively quickly in pursuit of his own entrepreneurial ambitions. He, along with his friend and co-founder Paul Sciarra, began developing iPhone apps. Their first attempt, Tote, failed to gain traction, leading them to design a pinboard app in 2009.

Developing Pinterest

Like Tote, Pinterest also failed to catch a significant amount of user interest. However, Silbermann reportedly felt too embarrassed to admit defeat again, and decided to continue working on it. In March 2010, the site launched as a closed beta, building up a user base of just 10,000 people within the first 9 months. In hopes of improving the app, Silbermann personally got into contact with over 5,000 of these users, going so far as to share his personal phone number, and sometimes arranging personal face-to-face meetings. In the end, his efforts paid off.

In 2011, Pinterest launched for iPad and non-Apple mobile users, and began to grow in earnest. By the end of the year, it was already one of the world’s top 10 social networks, with more than 11 million visits per week. In 2012, the social network began accepting new users without an invitation, and began to grow explosively.

A social network designed to be monetised

Pinterest isn’t just a platform for sharing products, but it certainly is a platform that’s uniquely well adapted for monetisation. Users might also share DIY projects, travel aspirations, information, recipes, and other ideas with each other, but many of these are directly related to consumer products. Sponsored pins fit seamlessly into regular product content, and other advertisements can provide products that perfectly complement other content, such as DIY projects. Unlike most other businesses, Pinterest can incorporate ads in a way that doesn’t disrupt the user’s experience, but rather adds value.

Building an optimised user base

Approximately two-thirds of Pinterest’s user base is made up of women, and more than 90 per cent of all pins are made by women. It’s unclear whether this was Silbermann and his co-founders’ intention from the start, but the business has leaned into this aspect of its business since. As it turns out, a female-dominated user base is a feature, not a bug. Studies show that women make approximately 70-80 per cent of all consumer purchasing decisions. In light of this, a platform that disproportionately appeals to female users can expect significantly more referral traffic to advertisers. Combined with the presentation of those ads, it’s no surprise that Pinterest is one of the most successful advertising platforms on the web today.

What we can learn

While Silbermann and his cofounders started with a relatively simple pinboard, the product they ultimately created optimises both the experience of users, and utility for the advertisers who provide their revenues. It’s the combination of both that has made Pinterest so successful. Silbermann didn’t just blunder into a billion-dollar idea, though.

The value of persistence

The key to achieving this success was not just blind luck, but Silbermann’s relentless effort to improve the product. Instead of expecting his original idea to make him successful, Silbermann listened and incorporated the ideas of thousands of users over the course of years. Silbermann’s willingness to reexamine and improve his app, together with his unwillingness to give up, ultimately allowed him to turn it into a household name. The difference between only moderately successful startups, and fast-growing giants like Pinterest can often be traced to something as simple as a business owner’s persistence in creating something perfect.

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  • Anti-Spam Policy

    What is spam?
    In the context of electronic messaging, spam refers to unsolicited, bulk or indiscriminate messages, typically sent for commercial purposes. “Electronic messaging” covers emails, instant messaging, SMS and other mobile phone messaging, but does not cover normal voice-to-voice communication by telephone.

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  • Terms and Conditions

    Fifo Capital understands time is critical when it comes to managing your cash flow – so our process is aimed to be as simple as possible.
    A Fifo Capital facility approval typically takes around 24 hours to set-up and depending on the required information supplied by customers, transfer of funds can take place in as little as four hours.

    The following covers the terms and conditions required for a four hour funds transfer to take place;

    1. Fifo Capital will tell the proposed client if the application is successful to receive funding. We can accept or reject the application at our sole and absolute discretion. If we accept the application the cash flow finance services will be provided solely in accordance with the documents we agree with the proposed client.
    2. Fifo Capital reserves the right to reject previously approved applications without notice and/or consultation.
    3. Fifo Capital’s application consists of a number of forms, however, not limited to fully completed and signed; Application, Receivables Finance Facility Terms and Conditions, Guarantee, Offer to Sell, and Privacy Consent forms
    4. To be eligible for a four hour funds transfer in relation to an approved application, the proposed customer must request or apply to Fifo Capital in writing before 12noon on the same business day. Such a request doesn’t guarantee the transfer will take place or funds cleared in the customer’s bank account within the four hour period.
    5. Should a four hour funding transfer request be approved, such a transfer can only be facilitated on a business day. A transfer request is not available on public or bank holidays, or weekends.
    6. Four hour funding transfers may incur a fee as detailed within the application.
    7. Fifo Capital’s aligned banks or financial institutions have the right to reject a four hour funding transfer request. Fifo Capital and its aligned banks are not liable for any loss or damages resulting from a funding transfer request not taking place or funds being cleared within a four hour period.
    8. Fifo Capital is a franchise business operation. Fifo Capital Ireland Ltd is the master franchisee and is therefore not responsible for the actions or inactions of its franchisees in relation to any funds transfer timing.
    9. Fifo Capital is not responsible for any loss or damages incurred or to be incurred by the would be or existing customer should a transfer not take place within or cleared funds not be received within a four hour period.

    To find out more about the full terms and conditions relating to our 4 hour funds transfer please contact Fifo Capital on (1) 443 4473.