A following of 200 million people worldwide hasn’t kept Pinterest founders Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp from seeking insights from the individual. In an effort to gather feedback from users firsthand, the duo—who founded the image-driven lifestyle app in 2010—frequently leaves behind their San Francisco headquarters to meet one-on-one with select “pinners” from all over the globe. Their most recent stop was our very own Baltimore.
“Sometimes in San Francisco, we have celebrities come to the office, and it’s fun,” Sharp said. “But I think for Ben and me, it's also really meaningful to meet a girl in her 20s who just moved out of her parents’ house. Her experience on Pinterest is just as worthy of attention and understanding for the company as someone who’s famous.”
While here for the day on Wednesday, Silbermann and Sharp attended a luncheon with several local female business owners and lifestyle bloggers including Tia Newton from Four One Oh!, Sara Barnes from Brown Paper Bag, and Brianne Izzo from Cupcakes & Kale Chips. They also met with Joe Ram, a father who uses Pinterest for home renovation and recipe ideas, and Sarah Juanita Dorsey, a jeweler who teaches classes at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Their goal was to learn how each pinner uses the service differently and how they can translate that feedback into company updates.
“We have a big research team that does this kind of work, but I don’t think there’s any substitute for talking to people directly—it’s very different from reading a report,” Silbermann said. “You also get the context of their lives,” added Sharp. “We can see a million people click that button from San Francisco, but it’s really hard to know what specific role Pinterest is playing in their lives.”
Silbermann and Sharp keep the meetings private so that pinners feel comfortable opening up, and once they collect all the insights to bring back home, they brainstorm with their team. Amongst the most recent pinner-driven requests that were implemented on the site include skin-tone filters (which help users find the most fitting hair and makeup tutorials) and board sections (which help organize boards into sub-categories). The crew is currently working on providing more reliable click-through links.
“A lot of the product design philosophy is giving people whatever they want, and making it really useful,” Silbermann said. “I think there are a lot of ways to kill time on your phone, so we want Pinterest to be fun, but also, we want people to look back on it and be like, ‘Oh, that was time well spent.’”
Just before coming to Baltimore, the duo visited Sharp’s hometown in York, Pennsylvania to visit family and collect a more rural-focused consumer report. Growing up just over an hour away from Baltimore, Sharp vividly remembers visiting the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards as a kid during Cal Ripken Jr.’s era. The co-founders have a trip to Iowa scheduled later in the year to get in touch with pinners in Silbermann’s hometown, along with some international excursions planned in the near future (considering over 50 percent of users are outside of the U.S.).
“One thing we find is that, even around the world, people have a lot more commonalities than they do differences,” Sharp said. “It’s been really fun to see the patterns of what people gravitate towards as you meet more and more people and talk to them about the same things.”
Silbermann and Sharp don’t characterize Pinterest as a social network, but instead as a “visual discovery engine” that’s focused on the individual pinner’s imagination. They strive to make Pinterest a place where people can discover the best versions of themselves—whether through recipes, home decor, workout routines, or fashion—and, in turn, live out those inspirations beyond the screen.
“For me, it’s been easier than ever to stay in touch with family, friends, and the news, but I didn’t realize up until recently how important it is to stay in touch with myself,” Sharp said. “So, it’s really helpful in all aspects of life to spend a little bit of time finding new ideas, doing something creative, and trying something new, even if you’re terrible at it.”