Meet Ben Silbermann, CEO and cofounder of Pinterest who's one of the richest millennials and self-made billionaires in the world
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- Ben Silbermann, CEO and cofounder of Pinterest, has a net worth of $1.5 billion, according to Forbes.
- The inspiration-based site has helped Silbermann achieve self-made-billionaire status since it went live on the web in 2010.
- Although he's a billionaire living in San Francisco and working in Silicon Valley, Silbermann has been described as a "modest genius" and a family-oriented, regular guy by The Guardian.
- The tech giant hasn't had the easiest time in the industry. From his early job at Google to failed iPhone apps and relentlessly connecting with Pinterest users, there was a lot to learn before his golden ticket site really took off.
- Here's a look at Silbermann's unconventional rise to the top of the tech world.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Ben Silbermann is a 37-year-old, self-made billionaire.
He currently has a net worth of $1.5 billion, according to Forbes.Advertisement
Silbermann cofounded Pinterest — the online, interactive, inspiration board — in 2010 with Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra.
Before founding the photo-, recipe-, home decor-, inspiration-collecting site, Silbermann was a collector himself — even from an early age he collected things like stamps and insects.Advertisement
"What you collect says so much about who you are," he said during an on-stage interview with Chris Dixon — then-cofounder and CEO of startup Hunch — in 2012.
Silbermann was born in July 1982 to a family of doctors in Iowa — he didn't have a legacy of engineering or product development. His parents Dr. Jane Wang and Dr. Neil Silbermann operated an ophthalmology practice just north of De Moines, Iowa, for 37 years.Advertisement
He got his undergraduate degree from Yale University where he started out studying medicine and then switched to political science.
From Yale, he went on to get a job as a consultant in Washington, D.C.Advertisement
He told Dixon that while he was in D.C., he spent a lot of time reading tech blogs. "I thought, 'What a funny name for a blog — Tech CRUNCH,'" he said. "I would read about things like Digg and Kevin Rose."
After reading about Silicon Valley from afar, Silberman got a job working at Google. He was brought on to design products for the site, including display ads, and said the company "barely hired" him, considering his lack of experience in the area.Advertisement
"I thought Google was the coolest place," Silbermann told Dixon. He said everyone working there was "so smart" and working on really interesting things. "I just felt really lucky to be a part of it," he said.
Silberman said Google was doing things nobody else was even thinking of — like taking pictures of streets and making Google Street View.Advertisement
He said that, while working at the tech giant, he was surrounded by people who were thinking really big, which made him do the same.
Silbermann's head was filled with ideas while at Google, he said, but his job description kept him from building things and experimenting.Advertisement
He left his job at Google to follow his colleagues' leads and think big — really big. But, he didn't land on Pinterest right away. He spent time developing iPhone apps that flopped and products that not too many people really interacted with.
At the time, Silbermann was collaborating with Paul Sciarra, his friend from Yale, and the pair tried out loads of different product ideas.Advertisement
Before Pinterest, they came up with Tote — a shopping app.
The biggest issue with Tote was that people weren't using it to shop — rather, they were using it to find things they liked and then they would send themselves pictures so they could shop later.Advertisement
The app has since shut down, but the way people were using it gave Silbermann the idea for Pinterest — a platform basically designed to save things for later.
Silberman told Dixon that nine months after launch, Pinterest had only generated some 10,000 users, many of whom weren't visiting the site on a daily basis.Advertisement
He and his team kept at it, though. He was known for reaching out to customers directly, asking for feedback, and putting his personal contact information out there so customers could get in touch with him.
His persistence proved to be effective, and the site kept growing.Advertisement
In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, Silbermann called Pinterest a "visual discovery tool" — as in, you can type one thing into the search box and be served tons of versions of it that you didn't even know existed.
And he's right. Even a simple home decor search like "soft carpet" can lead you to things you didn't know were even options, like the puzzle-piece carpet below.Advertisement
Even for something as blasé as re-doing a bathroom, "You don't have to pin photos of your own windowless box," Carole Cadwalladr of The Guardian wrote. "You can pin pictures of the bathroom that you think should define you rather than the one you have." The same is true for any aspect of the home or an aspirational space.
The digital collecting hub went public in April 2019 under the ticker PINS with an initial valuation of $10 billion, according to CNBC.Advertisement
CNBC reported that on the same day, the valuation increased to nearly $13 billion.
Today, nearly six months later, the company is valued at $3.96 billion.Advertisement
Despite the platform's enormous success and Silbermann's net worth, he has been described as a "modest genius" by The Guardian.
"Yeah, I mean my life is pretty … exciting, but I don't know that it's conventionally glamorous," he told The Guardian in 2014. Silbermann has also been described as a family man.Advertisement
He said that he was renting a two-bedroom apartment with his wife Divya Bhaskaran — pictured below — at the time of the interview, and his daily routine involved dropping his son off at daycare before heading to work.
Silbermann's platform exudes the same non-flashy, non-pretentious energy that he does as a person.Advertisement
Cadwalladr wrote that Pinterest users believe the site is more robust than other social networking platforms because it "goes far beyond 'showing how many friends you have or how clever you are.'"
And that seems to be intentional. "Pinterest isn't a social network," Silbermann told CNBC. "We really think about it as a utility" rather than somewhere for chatting with friends and following famous people.Advertisement
" ... We're an inspiration platform," he said. "We don't claim to be a free speech platform or a place that everyone can publish anything." That approach has allowed Silbermann and his team to decide what they do and don't allow to take place on their site.
From dreaming about getting a taste of the history being made in Silicon Valley to actually being one of the biggest names making that history, Silbermann has had quite the rise to the top.Advertisement
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