pinterest founder

Pinterest Was An Accident by A Bug Collector

A bug collector has created a pinboard that became worth $1.5 billion today. An unassuming Ben Silbermann just raised $100 million for his giant online pinboard, Pinterest, valuing the company at $1.5 billion – and it was by accident…

Have you ever wondered if you need to be brash and pushy to create a billion dollar company, or whether you could be understated, under-the-radar and still be equally successful? Ever wondered if sometimes Clarke Kent deserves to be Superman more than shiny-pants Superman does?

If so, this story is for you. It’s how accidents occur and – when they happen enough times – you realise perhaps its no accident…


As a child, one of Ben Silbermann’s hobbies was entomology – That’s the fancy word for collecting bugs. Living in Iowa, he said “I collected insects maniacally.” Growing up, Ben never saw himself as an entrepreneur: “As a kid, I always idolized entrepreneurs. I thought they were cool people in the way that I thought basketball players were cool people. It’s cool that some people get paid to dunk basketballs, but I’m not one of those people.”

He got a job making charts for a consulting firm, which led to a job at Google making charts for the advertising department. Two years ago, he left Google and with a group of friends, he decided to start a site to help himself, and his friends, organise their collections. Ben’s wife came up with the name for the site: Pinterest. They spent months building 50 versions of the home screen. When they launched in March 2010, no one came. “It was like stealth without us trying to be stealth,” he said.


After a year, few people were using the site. As Ben says, “It was like catastrophically small numbers…” Why didn’t he just give up then? “The idea of telling everyone that we blew it was just so embarrassing. I was like, Google barely hired me the first time, I’m never going to get back in.”

Ben kept at it, and then, as the mood of the Internet changed from creating content to curating content, membership numbers began to grow. Pinterest grew to 1 million users a year ago, and by January this year it had become the fastest growing site in history to hit 10 million users. It now has over 20 million users and rising.


Three weeks ago Ben went to Tokyo and met with Rakuten, Japan’s largest e-commerce site. They wanted to see if they could use Pinterest for their shoppers to pin the things they wanted to buy. When Ben met Rakuten CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, he offered Ben $50 million for a piece of Pinterest that would value the company at $1.5 billion.

Ben went back to his investors (who bought in at a $200 million valuation just 6 months ago) to see what they thought. They added in another $50 million and within three weeks of meeting Hiroshi, Ben had an extra $100 million cash and a $1.5 billion business.

How did the news break? A press conference, right? No. Hiroshi posted a pin about the investment on Pinterest. Ben’s mum, Jane, then repinned it. Jane just happens to be the most followed person in the world on Pinterest (That’s right, Ben’s mum). The rest of the world picked up the news from there…


Are you getting the feeling all these accidents aren’t an accident? No strategies in the world can beat the perseverance of doing what you love – and doing it on the right wave. Ben picked his passion for collecting as the ‘surfboard’ he wanted to hold on to.

He then picked the wave he wanted to surf – paddling to the wave by travelling to Google, and travelling to Tokyo. He has sensed the new wave of people connecting their collecting and explains why he picked this wave: “It felt like this was the story of my time, and I just wanted to be close to it.”

Every great surfer will tell you their best rides materialised in the moment. That’s the thrill of the ride – Awesome by accident. The best surfers just happen to be the ones who combine the magic more often.

What’s your surfboard and what’s your wave? Stick with your passion and ride your wave. We may not all catch the billion dollar waves like Ben or my recent stories of Kevin Systrom at Instagram or Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, but there are many, many million dollar waves rising and rolling around us every day.

Hold on to your passion and purpose, let go of the details and let the flow of events guide you. As long as you keep surfing, there’s always another accident waiting to happen. No shiny pants required.