How Pinterest Became ‘the World’s Catalog of Ideas’

Pinterest on iPad

With 150 million monthly users, there’s a good chance you’ve used Pinterest. Whether you’re looking for an easy recipe for dinner, fashion trends, craft ideas, wedding inspiration or fun ways to pay it forward, Pinterest is there to help.

In January, The Economic Club of Chicago welcomed Pinterest Co-Founder and CEO Ben Silbermann at their third dinner meeting of the 2016-2017 program year. Silbermann discussed growing up in Iowa, where he collected bugs, his time at Google, and the path that led him to creating Pinterest.

“Google was culture shock in the best possible way,” Silbermann says. “It wasn’t just that there was free food. It was that they took every idea, no matter how crazy, and they took it seriously.”

He adds, “At Google, the first question they always asked was, ‘What could go right?'”

Although Silbermann says he will always be thankful for the opportunity to work at Google, it was eventually time for him to quit and become an entrepreneur. And after he met Evan Sharp on a trip to New York for a business plan competition at New York University, the idea for Pinterest began to take shape. Discovering they had both enjoyed collecting items — Sharp collected baseball cards — Silbermann says they asked themselves, “Why isn’t there a tool for collecting all the great things you find on the Internet? What could go right if you built that?”

Pinterest Founders Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann
Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann

As they began to design Pinterest, they modeled it after a pin board you might find at a fashion house or commercial studios. Soon they were ready to share their idea with the world.

“I was so excited. This was like the best thing I had ever built. I emailed it out to all my friends at Google. We emailed all of Evan’s friends back in New York. I really thought I would hit send and confetti would just burst out of my computer. And nothing happened. Nobody had any idea what we were building. It looked so different from all the other services that were online at that time. Those were pretty desperate times.”

Eventually, though, people started using Pinterest.

“Regular people using it for regular things in their life. And we were incredibly excited.”

For Silbermann’s entire story, watch his speech and Q & A session with J.B. Pritzker, or find highlights from the event, on The Economic Club of Chicago website.

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