When Pinterest was young: the early years

Steven Loeb · July 29, 2016 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/4694

Pinterest was the second app to come out of Cold Brew Labs, after mobile shopping app Tote

When they were young is a look back at the modest days of startups, what traction they had in their first few years, and how they evolved. In the end, we hope to provide a glimpse into what great startups looked like in their first few years.

Stories like these are always well received because it reminds us that anyone, regardless of pedigree and environment, can rise above the noise and have great influence. They show us the value of being resilient, persistent, and committed. If we can follow their footsteps, maybe we too can have similar success.

My last segment in this series focused on Instagram. This segment is on Pinterest.

Pinterest's First Year ------

Founders (ages at the time): Ben Silbermann (27), Evan Sharp (27) and Paul Sciarra (29).

Initial company description: "If you look at people, very few people are so passionate about one thing that they want to connect with everyone. Most people have a lot of interests, and they want to connect with some people, some of their friends, about some of them, and they want to connect with other people who are very passionate about others," Silbermann said at the L2 Innovation Forum in November 2010.

"We said, 'Let's ignore the really hard, technical problems. Just put up a picture of something you're interested in, have as many collections as you want, take an item from anyone else and add it to your own, as long as you give them credit.' Those were the only ground rules."

Founded: Development of Pinterest begins in November 2009.

The idea comes out of app development company Cold Brew Labs, founded in 2008 by Silbermann and Sciarra. The first idea to come out of Cold Brew is Tote, a woman’s fashion catalog.

“As the app was being used, he recognized that women were grabbing, tagging specific items that they were able to view later when they got home,” according to early investor Brian Cohen.

So Silbermann built a tool on Tote for organizing items and interests, and “That tool became very useful and was the early incarnation of Pinterest."

"That first product wasn't really working, and I decided that I would ignore what was a smart product in terms of making money, or what what the market was saying, and I would just go ahead and build something that I'd always wanted to build," Silbermann said in a speech at the Alt Summit 2012.

"As a kid I was a big collector. I collected insects, and I collected stamps, and after doing all this analysis, all this data, on why the iPhone and shopping were good markets, I decided, 'Maybe I should just build something that I really love.' I always thought that the things you collect, they say so much about who you are. When I go to someone's house I look at the books on their bookshelf. When people go out they pay attention to what clothes you wear. And I felt like none of that was online."

Cold Brew Labs raised institutional funding in early 2009 from First Mark Capital.

Product - at two months: In January of 2010, the first "pin" is posted on Pinterest. It's a Valentine papercut from Etsy. 

Product - at four months: In March 2010, Pinterest launches as a closed beta version on the Web.The founders send invites to 100 of their friends, who each get five invites of their own. 

First funding - at seven months: Pinterest receives $500,000 in angel funding in June 2010 from investors FirstMark Capital, Jeremy Stoppelman, Jack Abraham, Michael Birch, Scott Belsky, Shana Fisher, Kevin Hartz, Cohen, Hank Vigil, Fritz Lanman, and William Lohse.

User numbers - at one year: By November 2010, there were 80,000 collections and a million items shared on Pinterest.

Pinterest's Second Year ------

Product - at one year and four months: Pinterest launches an iPhone app in March 2011.

"It’s very easy to take an existing web experience and quickly port it into a mobile one. But I don’t really believe in that method. After all, you already use your phone very differently from your computer. Usually in small short bursts, with one hand, on a much smaller screen," the company wrote in a blog post.

"I looked at the potential of what Pinterest would look like if it was designed for the phone from day one. And that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t want the mobile experience to feel like a companion app, but rather an independent experience (and maybe even the primary way you use Pinterest)."

Second funding - at one year and six months: In May 2011, Pinterest raises a $10 million round from Bessemer late this spring, giving it a $40 million valuation.

Product - at one year and nine months: Pinterest introduces video pins in August 2011.

The first video pin is a YouTube video called "Mariachi Connecticut Serenades a Beluga Whale," which is pinned to the "Interesting Animals" page by Sharp.

Third funding - at one year and 11 months: In October 2011, Pinterest raises $27 million from Andreessen Horowitz, along with FirstMark Capital and Bessemer Venture Partners. It values the company at $200 million.

Pinterest's Third Year ------

User numbers - at two years and two months: In January 2012, Pinterest reaches 11.7 million unique users, making it the fastest site in history to pass the 10 million unique visitor mark. The average Pinterest user spends 98 minutes per month on the site. 

Pinterest received 21.5 million visits in the last week of January, 30x more than a single week it had in July.

User numbers - at two years and four months: In March 2012, Pinterest had 104 million visits, making it the number three social network, behind only Facebook and Twitter, topping LinkedIn, Tagged and Google+.

Fourth funding - at two years and six months: In May of 2012, Pinterest raises $100 million from Rakuten, along with Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners, FirstMark Capital, and a number of angel investors. It values the company at $1.5 billion.

User numbers - at two years and nine months: In August of 2012, Pinterest reaches 23 million unique users.

Product - at two years and nine months: Pinterest stops requiring a request, or an invitation, to join the site. The company also launches on Android, and on the iPad.

"It may sound funny, but our goal has never been to keep you online. Instead, we want to inspire you to go offline and do things that you love," the company said in a blog post.

"Whether you’re traveling to another city, checking out gadgets in a store, or cooking dinner in your kitchen, you can now take Pinterest with you. Our apps allow you to pin, discover, and access your account from wherever you choose."

User numbers - at two years and 10 months: By September of 2012, 12 percent of the of all U.S. adultsare using Pinterest, with nearly 20 percent of all women in the U.S. on the site. Only 5 percent of online men are on Pinterest.

Product - at two years and 11 months: Pinterest launches business accounts in October 2012, allowing users to convert their existing personal accounts into business accounts.

Pinterest's Fourth Year ------

First acquisition - at three years and two months: In January 2013, Pinterest makes its first acquistion, buying recipe discovery site Punchfork for an undisclosed amount of funding. It immediately shuts it down. 

Fifth funding - at three years and three months: Pinterest raises $200 million at a $2.5 billion valuation in February 2013, from Bessemer Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, and Valiant Capital Partners.

Second acquisition - at three years and two months: Pinterest buys local recommendations startup Livestar for an undisclosed amount in March of 2013, and hires its engineering team. 

Third acquisition - at three years and two months: In October 2013, Pinterest acquires code challenge website Hackermeter for an undisclosed amount, and shuts it down. 

Six funding - at three years and three months: Pinterest raises a $225 million round of funding in October 2013, led by Fidelity Investments. Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners and Valiant Capital Management also participated. The site is valued at $3.8 billoon.

(Image source: blog.pinterest.com

 “As the app was being used, he recognized that women were grabbing, tagging specific items that they were able to view later when they got home,” said Cohen. What Silbermann saw was that huge numbers of people were grabbing items and sharing them with friends. “He recognized that these women were sharing their tastes.”


This led to Silbermann providing Tote users with a tool to organize those items and interests. “That tool became very useful and was the early incarnation of Pinterest,” said Cohen. Tote, however, did not have the concept of boards and pinning.

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