If you’ve ever “pinned” something on Pinterest, you can thank Ben Silbermann. He’s a cofounder and the current CEO of the social media site Pinterest, which allows users to collect and share images on digital pinboards. People use Pinterest for a variety of reasons: Some use it to interact with people who share their interests. Others use it to plan events like weddings and home renovating. And still others use it to sell products and services to potential customers.
Ben Silbermann took an unlikely path to Internet fame. Unlike many techpreneurs, he didn’t have a computer science degree. Instead, he earned a degree in political science from Yale University. After graduating in 2003, Silbermann worked at an IT consulting firm in Washington, D.C., but felt restless. He was inspired by the Web 2.0 movement, which encouraged users to interact online. Silbermann quit his job, moved to California, and landed a job with Google.
At Google, Silbermann found that people talked about technology like some people talked about sports. But he felt that he’d never get far at Google because he lacked a technical background. So he began thinking of ideas for a start-up of his own.
Silbermann loved collecting things as a boy—especially insects. He began thinking about how much people love sharing collections. In November 2009, Silbermann, Evan Sharp, and Paul Sciarra began working on a website that would allow people to share their collections on the Internet. His fiancée (now wife) Divya came up with the catchy name for the site.
Pinterest launched in March 2010—and not much happened. Within four months of launch, Pinterest only had a few hundred users. But Silbermann and his cofounders worked 24/7 to build interest in the site. The site began to catch on with users. The number of users—especially women—grew by 40 to 50 percent a month.
Today, Pinterest fever is sweeping the Internet. The site has more than 72.8 million users (about 68% of its daily users are women), and it was recently valued at $11 billion.
Rumors are the firm might be seeking an IPO in 2015. But Silbermann has said that it’s still too early for an IPO and that, in any case, an initial public offering might not be in the cards for Pinterest.
Still, most industry observers believe that an IPO of the last big social media site (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have all gone public) will happen. It’s just a matter of when. Which means it’s likely that Silbermann’s boyhood love of collecting insects will soon make him a very wealthy man.
The above was adapted from the Vault Career Guide to the Internet and Social Media. The full guide can be purchased and downloaded here.
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