Business Lessons You Can Learn From Pinterest

pinWhen Ben Silberman was a kid, he collected bugs. He pinned them to a foam board that was covered in fabric. These dead bugs we part of his collection of childhood treasures.

Ben was in Iowa. His parents were both doctors and both of his sisters became doctors, as well. He was destined for medicine and never thought twice about changing the course. Yet, when Ben was a child, he became fascinated by people like Steve Jobs and Walt Disney. He absorbed their stories and was drawn to their entrepreneurial habits.

Three years into college, Ben quit pre-med school and began a major in business. He was living a life of spreadsheets and felt inspired to move to California to get away from that type of business.

He got a job at Google, but was frustrated the he wasn’t building products and was back to spreadsheets. This Iowa kid complained a lot, and finally his girlfriend called him out on it and said to just go and do something he loved.

A week after Ben quit his job at Google, the entire economy collapsed.

Ben partnered with a friend who was good at finding investors with an idea of an online catalog. While visiting New York, Ben met a friend of a friend named Evan Sharp. Evan and Ben started brainstorming about Ben’s catalog project. First it was going to be an app, but those were taking forever to get approved by Apple. So they decided to build a website.

In January 2010, inspired by his bug collection, Ben pinned his first picture his new website, Pinterest. By August 2010, Pinterest had only 5,000 users. As of January 2015, Pinterest had 70 million users.

How did Ben, a regular guy from Iowa from a family of doctors, launch one of the fastest growing social networks in history? Furthermore, how did he launch a social network of which 80% of users are female, half of whom are moms, and most who are in a buying and dreaming mindset?

 Ben Outsourced His Lack of Skills to Build Pinterest

In starting a new venture, it’s smart to surround yourself with people with skills you don’t have. This can be in a number of areas, such as

  • People with larger audiences than yours
  • People with more experience in a specific skill set, such as creating e-courses or selling
  • People that will push you so that you feel accountability to someone other than yourself
  • People with income streams to invest in your growth
  • People with a specialty and focus stronger than yours

Ben wanted a platform that was about dreaming outside of the Internet. This naturally lead to a number of people that had a mindset beyond just the online world.

Whether you are launching a new social media platform or a new consulting business, you can learn a lot from Ben about outsourcing talent.

Ben made two decisions that changed everything. But before we can talk about one of them, we first have to talk about Gmail.

 The Gmail Effect

Gmail launched in early 2004 to Google employees. Throughout the development, it was always a secret project. Google had a history of launching pranks on April 1, so when it publicly came out on April 1, 2004 announcing 1GB of storage, most thought it was a hoax. At a time when 100 MB was generous;1 GB had to be a joke.

Google gave away only 1,000 accounts because they did not have the infrastructure to handle more. Individuals were eventually allowed to give away only 10 invites. George Harik, who oversaw the Gmail project, told TIME magazine about the limited release, “It was hailed as one of the best marketing decisions in tech history, but it was a little bit unintentional.”

Gmail’s limited resources became a model for new start-ups for a number of reasons:

  • It required less start-up money
  • It gave immediate feedback as to whether people wanted Gmail
  • It created a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) where Gmail was a commodity
  • Buzz was created and free marketing occurred
  • Google could invest as the audience grew

So what does this have to do with Ben from Iowa, who co-created Pinterest?

When Pinterest was ready to grow, users had to be invited by other users. It created an exclusive club. I still remember when my sister invited me. In the same way, I still remember when a friend gave me one of his 10 Gmail invites.

By creating a feeling of exclusivity, it helped build more brand loyalty. Since my friend gave me one of his Gmail invites, I couldn’t stop using Gmail for my Yahoo account!

But even before the Gmail Effect, there was Victoria.

 The Secret of Victoria

In late 2010, a lady named Victoria started a chain email that was sent to bloggers and other influential people asking about their pinboards and about their meaning of home. This was a substantial turning point for Pinterest.

Up until that point, Ben’s mom had been promoting his website to her patients in Des Moines. The strongest user base was in Iowa in the beginning. But it took someone that believed in Pinterest, a user, to start rallying others. She organized the first Pinterest parties and became one of the strongest marketers for the website.

While Pinterest was being run out of a tiny house, she was advocating for the use of the website to bloggers and thought leaders.

 Pinterest Power

There are thousands of articles about the use of Pinterest for business. For my counseling private practice and consulting website, Pinterest is the leading social media referral site. But, we can learn a lot more than just the take away that we need to be on Pinterest.

First, Ben was a guy from Iowa that thought he had a path like his family. He went through school—three years, in fact—then changed. His plan was shaky at best. He quit a job at Google and didn’t go back, even though the economy took a crap on everyone. Ben stopped talking about his frustrations and made changes to live his dream.

Second, that dream didn’t come out of nowhere. He had been reading about entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Walt Disney since childhood. He brought in mentors through books and blogs. Further, he invited in people the knew more than him. He found coattails to ride and did it with grace and persistence.

Third, Ben and his team were smart about their launch. They tapped into society’s fear of missing out. Pinterest because something exclusive that grew strategically and in a fiscally responsible manner. When launching a product, group, or new idea, start with a small group of individuals that will give you rapid feedback.

Lastly, find the Victorias. Not just people that will give feedback, but people that are passionate about your work. It takes time to find and invest in the Victorias of the world, but they are the ones that will take you from a small 5,000 person website, to one of the fastest growing social media platforms in history.

Sometimes it is hard to see how mega-company like Pinterest is just like us. In reality, we all have the potential to be the next Pinterest.

 Photo courtesy of J_O_I_D on flickr



Business Lessons You Can Learn From Pinterest

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC

Joseph Sanok

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC teaches consultants how to become better consultants through his website Joe also helps counselors with growing private practices through his website He also loves sailing and playing with his two daughters.


APA Reference
Sanok, J. (2015). Business Lessons You Can Learn From Pinterest. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 10 Apr 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Apr 2015
Published on All rights reserved.