Liveblogging Our Interview With Ben Silbermann, Founder of Pinterest

The crowd is filtering in and shortly we'll be liveblogging the conversation.  Get ready to hit the reload button.

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And awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay we go.

Derek's talking about future events.  You can click on the locations at the top of this page for the event schedule.

Something new.  Tommy Huynh, the CEO of is going to tell us what his company does and then the audience will tell him what he should do with his company.

PurpleMenu is a gourmet food shop.  Artisan producers will connected to consumers in one central place.

"Scoop" is their social network.  It lets producers and consumers grow a trusting relation.

There's a community photo gallery of what you're eating.

Mobile commerce enabled.

A Facebook app is being built.

Over 40 producers currently signed up, over 100 in the next month or so.

Q: What's the social integration plan? A: General social apps like FB, but encourage foodies to use their own accounts to integrate into Scoop.

Q:Local to SF?  A: Nationwide.  It ships directly to consumer?

Q: Business Model? A:They sell as retail.

Distribution ideas?  App store.  Go after specific categories like meat or coffee.  A lady can't get signed up on her iPhone (she's been trying RIGHT NOW).  Attach yourself to a blogging community.  Turn pictures into widgets.  A Pinterest board.  Add an education feature about the products.

VCs look for active repeating behavior/customers.

Launched yesterday, already 300 customers.

Find a great B-list celebrity and let him tweet it.

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Ben's background:

Ben's from Des Moines, Ia.  Both parents and sisters are doctors.  Not a techie family.  His dad likes his VCR just fine.

He thought he'd be a doctor.  He was into nature and science as a kid.  Collected leaves and insects.  Around his junior/senior year at Yale, he decided maybe he didn't want to be a doctor.  He was a pre-med also taking political science courses.

First job out of school was a consulting job in D.C. in the tech group.  Corp. B2B disaster recovery plans.  Web 2.0 was just happening.  He thought "Tech Crunch" was a ridiculous name when he found the blog, but thought he needed to get out to California and something big was going to happen.

He went to Google and worked in OSO (customer support).  He thinks people who complain about Google and Facebook have never worked anywhere else.  He'd never been to a company that thought that big before.  People wouldn't think of ideas as too far-fetched, they'd just start breaking down the problem.  He found Google very philosophical.

He was on the ads group, working on display advertising products.  Pricing models on purchases and simpler interfaces for users.

He was glad they took a flier on him.  He thinks he was totally unqualified to work there and is grateful for the opportunity.

He says it was very hard to work at Google without an engineering background.

His then girlfriend/now wife called him out about wanting to do a start-up.  "Do it or just stop talking about it."  He needed someone to give him a push.

He just left Google in 2008.  He worked on a few things at Stanford, including a return to the bio lab.  Then he worked on an iPhone app.  Left Google without a concrete plan in mind.

The idea for Pinterest started as he was working on the iPhone app and flying back and forth from New York.  Hooked up with his friend Evan and decided to make a run at a collections-based site.

Ben's not a coder, so he worked with a lot of people and he didn't have any funding.  He met with EVERYONE he could a funding meeting with -- all he had was a prototype.  He was too embarrassed to ask for his old job back after a few months, and that helped him stick with it.

Everyone initially passed on Pinterest.  "Investing is hard.  You're looking for all these vague signs and nobody has good data" (yet).  He's not sure if it was his communication or the concept just didn't resonate.  Plus it wasn't a technical founder team.  He doesn't blame investors.

In 2008, his wife came up with the name over Thanksgiving and they started out sending out private invites in January '09.

They were stealth... but not on purpose.

The founders all liked the project, so they kept going.  It didn't pop in California for a year and a half.

~200 users four months in.  Two initial groups were friends from the Midwest and another from a creative group in Utah of interior designers.

Derek just referred to the early adopters as "Iowans and Mormons."  Ben isn't correcting him.

Ben doesn't think products need to be gated through Silicon Valley anymore.  The distribution channels are wider now.  Facebook, the iphone, these are wide distribution networks.

The site grew by the same % each month for a long time, it just started small.  A bunch of bloggers (Victoria Smith of SF and friends) started doing posts about it and it started growing.  Ben and the founders really don't like doing press.

Credits word of mouth for growing the site.

The basic architecture is intact, but the details have been refined.  They were a very early grid-based site.

They're still updating the screen.  They decided to "overinvest in something people think is important."

Did an initial seed round that wasn't Silicon Valley-centric, then an angel round that was more SV.  Ben was inspired when Valley VCs who had succeeded on their own invested in him.

He feels Silicon Valley is the easiest place to build a struggling start-up.  People will congratulate you when don't have a job anymore (said sarcastically).  There are a lot of people who understand what you're going through.

The monthly growth % was 40-50%... they just started with a small user base.  They could always see the growth.

Evan spent some time working at Facebook as they were building the company.  They were in a house where one of Ben's friends lived (and would occasionally show up in a towel, just having woken up).

Derek tells the story of discovering his wife was using Pinterest for 4 hours every night.  (He's a dead man.)

Ben LOVES Facebook - it helps him feel close to friends and family.  He likes interfacing Pinterest with Facebook.

They were obsessive about the copy on the site, which boards to start a person out with, he personally wrote the first 5-7K users about what they thought of the site.  They just wanted to build something useful.

He see two types of startups.  Those that want to disrupt market.  Those that just see something in the world that they want to have. Pinterest is in the second category.

He's focused on the emotional response to Pinterest and he thinks he's a long way from where he wants to be.  He wants it to load faster on devices.  He likes having "the North Star to point to."

Derek: What's it like to work there right now?

Ben: A combination of being really excited and scary.  He's envious when seeing interviews with confident founders.  He feels "genuinely grateful" to work with his team.  Google was all engineering, but he was looking for a different process and started his own culture.

For Pinterest they're trying to build three things, a world class engineering and design departments and also the community.

They just crossed the 20 employee line.

Ben recently realized he could no longer get hired at his own company AND HE LIKED IT.

Hey look, Video:

When hiring early on, Ben says you need to share a vision and trust the person.

Derek: how important is mobile?

Ben: Incredibly important.  Between phones and tablets, its dominant.  THE most important platform right now.

Audience Qs

Q: Who were the early competitors?

A: Sites that were visual (image-based); bookmarking sites.

Q:When did they start thinking of monetization and affiliate models?

A: Growth is important, but so is monetization.  They haven't focused on it at all.  They're looking at the core tenant of "helping you discover what you love" in terms of monetization.

Q: Will marketers trying to use the site interfere with the site and the revenue?

A: The goal is you should see what you love when you log in.  Relates the problem to people circumventing Google.

Aaand that's a wrap.