Recently I stumbled upon an archive of videos from Y Combinator’s Startup School 2012 conference. One of the videos had Ben Silbermann, CEO and co-founder of Pinterest, talking about his experience of being an entrepreneur and wanting to build something from nothing. He shares how Pinterest got started, why it became successful, and what he learned along the way.
Silbermann talks about his journey and starts it off with an analogy:
“When I think about my [startup] experience, it’s more like going on a road trip in a car, that doesn’t have good head lights, and you don’t have very much gas, and you think you are going to Toledo (Ohio) but you find out you’re supposed to be in Miami (Florida) and if you really run out of gas, you might have to buy gas from someone who is going to kick you out of your driver seat.”
1. Commitment—Just do it
Put yourself in a situation where you need to make it work. Silbermann’s girlfriend-now wife-told him bluntly, “You should either do it (build a product/company), or just stop talking about it.” He took it as, “Make it happen or don’t make it happen—just be happy with your choice.” He then quit his job at Google in 2008.
2. Rejections—Don’t give up
Silbermann joked around by saying, “There are lots of ways for investors to say no to you, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all of them.” The four general rejections he heard were:
Call me back in a few months.
Who else is investing?
There is no way…
This is totally crazy!
Don’t let their rejection make you give up.
3. Investors are just people too—They make mistakes
Silbermann admits it was hard to acknowledge, “Even though they have a really good opinion on things, they might be wrong.” Leverage is everything when it comes to getting someone to invest in your company. To better negotiate, you need to make them afraid that they’ll lose the deal of the century. You can also make them believe that your product/company is going to be big. If they don’t invest, they could be making a mistake.
4. The future is unwritten—Don’t take things for face value
Investors think they have all the reasons of why they should or shouldn’t invest in your product/company. They will even tell you why in the form of giving advice. Silbermann points out, “You have to remember something, for all the millions of dollars, certificates on the wall or these little trophies … for all those things, there are things [the investors] passed on. Those are the things that actually burn them up.” You need to be convincing that you are going to make your product/company.
5. Define success—Why do you want out of your own business?
Ask any business owner what they want. They’ll respond with something along the lines of being successful. What is success to you? Silbermann “…[wanted] to go somewhere and see someone [he] don’t know using something that [he] made and have it be kind of useful.” In a nutshell he wanted to help people and impact the world too.
6. Do you love your product—Don’t change it.
Pinterest started off slow. It didn’t have hundreds of thousands or millions of accounts over night. Silbermann found out, “The few people that used [Pinterest], myself amongst them, actually really loved it.” Instead of going back to the drawing board and building something that everyone would love he understood they just had to find more people who would love it.
7. Diversity—Run Your Business The Way That Best Fits Your Business
When it comes to running your company you need to:
Trust your data.
Trust your users.
Trust your instinct.
There are a lot of ways to be successful and they all haven’t been found out. Just because one company had success one way doesn’t mean it’s the only way. Figure out what works best for your company and stick to it.
8. Ownership—Don’t take away someone’s passion and creativity
Silbermann believes in hiring a diverse group of people who are good at different things. He pointed this out why when he said, “If you can find people who want to work with you on something that is bigger than they are … [it] is the best investment you can make. Give them ownership in what you are actually building…” Give them your vision and let them run with it. It may not be what you pictured but that doesn’t mean it isn’t better.
Pinterest has become a respected social media website like Facebook or Twitter. It didn’t blow up like other social media websites but Silbermann believed in it and never gave up. Do you believe in your product/company enough to push through the hard times and never give up?