Pinterest is one of the industry’s most fascinating companies — going from a simple digital collage to one of the leaders in image recognition and visual search, of all things. That feeds into the company’s hope of helping its users — more than 175 million strong — discover things they didn’t realize they were interested in and finally decide to do something new.
That’s thanks a lot to CEO Ben Silbermann, whose flexibility and business acumen has turned an internal moonlight project into one of Pinterest’s — and the Web’s — biggest technological success stories. From plugging into advertising to looking up objects you find in real life, Pinterest has become the home of what the company calls “visual search.” That term is pretty much literal: searching for things on the Web with your eyes, and not with words.
So we’re super stoked that Silbermann will be joining us on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017 in September. Over the course of three days, we’ll be hitting a wide range of topics. From basketball stars going into investing to the omnipresence of AI in everything you touch — or, in Pinterest’s case, see — Disrupt SF will feature some of the top minds in the industry.
Silbermann is certainly one of them. The Yale graduate started Pinterest in 2009 after tinkering with a number of iPhone apps. Originally a virtual pinboard, Pinterest quickly found that it hit the sweet spot for wedding planning, home improvement and other major life events. And users weren’t just pinning their own ideas and photos onto those pinboards — they were aggressively searching for new ideas. Pinterest, over time, has blossomed into a product that users flock to for inspiration (and, of course, buying products at the end of the cycle).
Prior to Pinterest and those experimental projects, Silbermann was a product specialist at Google working on the advertising side. Pinterest originally drew comparisons to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but over time has sought to distance itself from that and pitch itself to advertisers as a completely different home for a completely different kind of user. Most of Pinterest’s users are also in countries outside the U.S., which has presented Silbermann and his team with the unique challenge of figuring out how to make sure the product matches up with a wide variety of different cultural norms.
Pinterest’s methodical (sometimes frustratingly slow) rollout of the company’s advertising could also be attributed to Silbermann. The startup rigorously tests each product with partners and experiments before an ad finally ends up in a user’s feed. Because Pinterest users come to the site for very different reasons, it requires a very different advertising approach. Earlier this year, Pinterest president Tim Kendall said it would even start using its visual search technology to power those ads, essentially bringing the technology full circle into its advertising products in the hopes that they don’t impede the core experience of the average user.
All this, taken together, has turned Pinterest into a company worth more than $12 billion. Silbermann, however, is no stranger to quite a few snags in the growth process. It has missed a couple of targets it set early in its life, and it’s had to contend with Snap’s failure on Wall Street as it pitches advertisers on a different kind of product than Facebook and Google have to offer.
Will Pinterest, in the end, be able to grow into a huge business like Facebook (and even Snap)? We’ll find out more at Disrupt in September. General admission tickets and sponsorship packages are now available.