@Pinterest: The Overnight Success Four Years In The Making
The hottest small startup in the world right now is Pinterest, a photo-collecting site that is adored by several million American women.
How hot is it?
His colleague, Kara Swisher, replied: “A kajillion.”
Pinterest gets its share of comparisons to Facebook.
This success seems to have come out of nowhere.
If you look at a chart from Google Trends, which measures how often Google users are searching for certain terms, the search term “Pinterest” doesn’t really register until about midway through 2011. Then it spikes.
But Pinterest wasn’t founded in 2011.
Pinterest was started four years ago, right as the recession was really getting underway; in 2008.
It had a different name and a different CEO, then. It had three cofounders. Two of them are no longer around. A third “cofounder” joined just last year.
The truth is just as one source close to a Pinterest investor told us: “Pinterest is an overnight success four years in the making.”
Here’s that story.
In August 2008, Paul Sciarra quit his job at New York venture capital firm Radius Capital. Across the continent, his college friend Ben Silbermann quit his gig at Google.
They started a company called Cold Brew Labs. There was a third cofounder, but he was a student still, and he quit the company after a couple weeks to go back to school.
Silbermann is a small, quiet person with a dark complexion and short dark hair. He’s skinny. He has the demeanor of an artist.
“He’s a very humble guy, and somewhat soft-spoken, but when you take the care to lean in and listen, he’s very thoughtful,” says one of his investors.
Sciarra is bigger in stature and personality. He can look like Don Draper when he wants to, but he usually doesn’t, preferring a “California” look of t-shirt, sneakers, and jeans. There is a “pretty good energy about him.”
Sciarra, thanks to his VC connections, was the CEO – the business guy. His job was to raise money. Also, his home in California would be the company’s first office, though that is a stretch of the word.
“It was kind of a house,” says an early employee. “Paul and his friend Dave lived there, and then we kicked Dave out – and then we kicked Paul out.”
An investor remembering that office says, “There was dirt on the floor. There was no place to sit. It was a really dark, dirty – a really tough place.”
Silbermann, whose job at Google was using data to improve the company’s products, was Cold Brew Labs’ product visionary from the start.
His first vision was called Tote, and it was an app for the iPhone. It pulled data from online product catalogs to create a meta catalogue for shoppers on the go. You could find particular products across retailers, sorted by location.
The app was pretty enough, and the idea interesting enough, that Cold Brew Labs found institutional funding in early 2009 from First Mark Capital in New York.
Months after launching, it was clear that Tote wasn’t going to work.
“The app was a total failure,” says one source close to early employees.
There were two big problems. One was that people weren’t using mobile apps for shopping yet. It was too early. The other was that App