Pinterest raises $150M at a $12.3B valuation as it makes a full press into visual search

Pinterest said today that the company has raised $150 million in additional capital at a valuation of $12.3 billion as it makes a further full-court press on its visual recognition and search pitch to investors and advertisers — and perhaps one day Wall Street.

Pinterest last raised $367 million in additional financing at an $11 billion valuation in 2015. In recent years, the company has started to tout its image recognition technology and products built on top of that — like Lens, its visual search engine built into your camera. All this is a pitch to advertisers that Pinterest can get products in front of users in different ways than Facebook and Google and eventually convert them to buyers. For example, Pinterest said its ads would soon be powered by its visual search technology at TechCrunch Disrupt New York earlier this year.

So, where is this smaller-than-you-might-expect bump for a company with 175 million users coming from? It may come from some reset expectations from the round that set Pinterest’s valuation originally at 2015 — and the predictions that were baked into that. According to leaked documents circulated around that time, Pinterest may have missed some earlier leaked projections from around that time on user growth and revenue growth. Those targets were very ambitious, but that Pinterest’s valuation hasn’t fallen south is also a sign that investors aren’t entirely displeased with the company’s performance.

A Pinterest representative said the valuation is based on increased shares from current investors. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the company is on a downward trajectory, as its user base is still growing and hit 175 million monthly active users earlier this year. A network with that many users and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue is far from a dead network, though its pitch may have altered over time as it starts to push more on its specialization in image recognition and visual search.

Pinterest also has to work to expand internationally, which sometimes means figuring out the different kinds of cultural quirks and behavior that come with new markets. The company says 60% of its users are outside the U.S. It also earlier today said it launched its first ad campaign in the U.S. as it looks to continue to expand its user base — which means dipping into markets and communities that might not just discover the service on their own or through typical channels.

For advertisers, Pinterest represents a unique spot on the Internet where users come to intentionally flip through products and discover new ideas. Pinterest is able to catch users at the very moment that they discover something new — like a pair of shoes — and follow them (and potentially push them) through the whole buying life cycle. It can help advertisers reach them when they have some kind of intent and are searching for products, saving them, and eventually acting on them through something like a purchase or a download.

Google, too, recently built an image recognition tool for smartphone cameras (also called Lens, believe it or not) that it unveiled last month. Many companies are making a big push into image recognition in an effort to collapse that distance between reality and discovery on the web, which may eventually help push a user to eventually act on some kind of idea like a recipe or buy a product.

Snap, too, may have provided a sort of check-in on the new advertising ecosystem. The company missed its first earnings expectations, which temporarily sent the stock off a cliff. Snap is still well above its original IPO price, but it means that over time investors are still tuning their expectations for these kinds of advertising purchases outside of Facebook and Google — which advertisers have come to rely on for their digital spend outside of traditional media.

But that kind of full-stack visibility into user behavior, and the opportunity to get well ahead of a customer’s potential final purchase, is something that the company is hoping will attract advertisers beyond just simple curiosity or experimental budgets. While brands can devote the majority of their spend to Facebook or Google, companies like Pinterest and Snap have had to show that they are able to have some kind of a different ad product to make that jump to a billion dollars in revenue or more like Facebook was able to do.