Guest post by Tom Jones
In just 3 years, Pinterest has become the fourth largest source of traffic on the internet. Along the way it has created a different vision of what social networking can be.
One of the interesting things about Pinterest success, is that unlike many other online companies, such as Google and Facebook, the founders do not have a programming background. Founders Ben Silbermann studied medicine and political science at Yale and Evan Silver was an architecture student when he began designing Pinterest. The unique nature of their backgrounds has lead to a company that has broken many of the conventional rules about how to be successful with an online business.
To help understand how Silver and Silbermann have created such a massively successful company in such a short space of time, here are the top 8 business lessons from Pinterest.
Solve a Massive Problem
Pinterest has been such a huge success because it has solved a massive problem. That problem is how to discover new products when you don’t know exactly what you are looking for.
In the past if you were looking for a Father’s Day gift but you only had a vague idea of what your dad would like trying to find ideas online was difficult. In contrast, if you were shopping offline in a mall, as you walk around you can browse and come across unexpected finds.
Online the same kind of serendipity rarely occurs. Pinterest users perform this function by curating products from all over the internet and then organizing them by a particular theme.
If you want to have a huge success on the scale of Pinterest then you need to solve a similarly massive problem.
When Others Zig You Zag
Until Pinterest the prevailing orthodoxy for web design was that websites should display their content in chronological order from top to bottom. Examples of this can be seen on sites such as Facebook and YouTube.
Pinterest decided to invert this and allow uses to display multiple images at the same time. These images were centered around a theme rather than in order of how recently it was put up. If you want to stand out and create something original you need to test the underlying assumptions about what is the right way to do things.
Pinterest’s ideas have been further validated by the number of sites that now seek to copy the Pinterest grid style design. Recently Quora has introduced its own topic boards.
There Is No Failure
While Pinterest is one of the fastest growing websites of all time, it is far from an overnight success. In fact, the first app that Silbermann and Silver designed was a failure.
This early failure was a shopping app called Tote. While people rarely made purchases with the app they did like to photograph products so that they could look at them later at home. This was the genesis of the idea that people liked to collect and display photos of products.
One of the key traits of successful entrepreneur is seeing events in terms of feedback rather than failure. Whenever something doesn’t work out the way we planned, there are still things we can learn from it and use to push our business forward.
Create Something Beautiful
When Silbermann was designing the layout for Pinterest he coded 50 different variations of the site. He wanted something that would look perfect. Pinterest is popular with its users because the pinboards that they create look like works of art. If the site was not so attractive, it wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is. This demonstrates how design can be crucial to the success of a site.
Make It Intrinsically Addictive
One of the interesting design aspects of Pinterest is the “Infinite Scroll”. You can scroll down the page essentially forever viewing new images. This infinite scroll means that you rarely need to click the mouse in order to navigate the site.
It also means that it is very easy to get caught up the world of Pinterest and spend hours looking at images. The “Infinite Scroll” makes for a more pleasant user experience but it also makes the site more addictive.
This illustrates the importance of making sure that your web design supports the idea of people spending a lot of time on your site.
It’s OK To Take A Job
Some people have a view of entrepreneurship that it is like a religion. Either you are start your own business or you are destined to work for someone else forever and that there can be no compromise between the two.
When Silbermann decided he wanted to join the social digital boom, he headed to San Francisco. However, he didn’t start a business straight away, instead he went to work for Google for two years doing customer support. The other co-founder Evan Sharp even took a job at Facebook just as Pinterest was launching.
When many people start a site one of their goals is to get as many users as possible in order to achieve critical mass. However, Pinterest wanted to make sure that it was creating a real community and attracting the right people. So it opted for controlled growth.
At first, Silbermann and Silver aimed to attract designers to the site. These early users could then choose to invite other people to join. In this way the site grew along peoples existing networks. Silbermann also stated that the purpose of the early users wasn’t simply to spread the word. They also act as models of the way that people should use the site. Pinterest demonstrates the value of questioning whether growth for growth’s sake is always good.
People Are Tired Of Oversharing
One of the assumptions of social networks is that people want to share their personal details and that other people are interested in hearing about them. Pinterest turns this idea on its head and takes the attention away from the person and onto the things that have found that they like.
It has created a new way for people to connect not necessarily based on their social network, but instead on the things that they are interested. Again this shows how questioning the prevailing wisdom of what people actually want can lead to a huge amount of success.