Ben Silbermann



Ben Silbermann was born in Des Maines, Iowa in 1982. Growing up, Ben always assumed that he would be a doctor because both his parents and his two sisters were doctors. As a child, he took an interest in entrepreneurship, looking up to renowned entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Walt Disney however he always felt that he could never identify with them.

He went on with his plan to study medicine, choosing to go on the pre-med track at Yale University. It wasn’t until his junior year where Ben realized that he wasn’t interested in what he was doing and he ended up switching to a business major. He got his first job as an consultant, and then later ended up working in the firm’s IT department. After realizing that wanted to work in technology, he moved to California and ended up getting a job at Google in customer support. This job, however, wasn’t that much different from his previous consulting job, he was analyzing data and making lots of product design recommendations and spreadsheets. Soon enough, Ben got bored with job because he wanted to build products and Google wouldn’t let him. He ended up quitting his job at Google and went on his way to build something of his own.


Growing up, Ben had an keen interest in science and nature. In fact, he credits his childhood bug collection as 'Pinterest 1.0'.


It wasn't until his late college years that he realized he had a passion for the internet and decided to make the move to Silicon Valley to be surround by like-minded individuals.

"I realized that this [the internet] was the story of our time, and I was in the wrong place," - Ben Silbermann on moving to California in 2004.

MVP 1: Cold Brew Labs/Tote

After quitting his job at Google, Silbermann got together with co-founder Paul Scairra, to start building their company Cold Brew Labs, and their first product, Tote. Tote was an an online shopping app for the iPhone. It pulled data from online product catlogs to create one big catalogue for shoppers on the go.

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Customer Problem:

At the time, there weren't that many e-commerce apps in the app store, which had just recently launched. Online shopping was a pain and customers were tired of shifting through online catalogues to find the items they were looking for.

Customer Segment:

Tote's target was women aged 24-54, looking for a more personalized shopping experience. At the time, they restricted Tote's target demographic to women because the retailers they included were primarily for women's fashion. They also sought to appeal to women by creating a 'beautiful personalized shopping experience.'

Value Proposition:

There weren’t that many mobile e-commerce catalogues in the app store before this. Tote allowed customers to browse, shop, save and favorite items from different retailers on one sole mobile shopping app.

Customer Development

The app wasn't gaining that much traction, getting investors was a struggle and a lot of what Silbermann and his co-founder were doing was hands on. They would go door-to-door to retailers and take their data, and then hand categorize all of that data to fit onto a phone.

It was during this time that Silbermann also noticed a trend in Tote's users - people weren't necessarily using the app for shopping purposes but rather for saving and organizing their favourite items. After talking to customers, he realized that a lot of people were saving/screenshotting the items on the app sharing them with their friends.


After a while, Ben and Paul pivoted away from Tote to what would eventually become Pinterest. "I'd always thought that the things you collect say so much about who you are," says Ben on the early days of Pinterest.

Ben Silbermann's first Pin on Pinterest.

Customer Problem:

People needed/wanted an space to browse/organize/showcase the things they love online.

Customer Segment:

Pinterest initally sought out women aged 18-35 who were active on social media and were interested in crafts, fashion and decor. . They came up with this demographic after identifying the potential to steal page clickers from Facebook. They noticed that on social media platforms like Facebook, female users were repeatedly sharing and commenting on images like wedding dresses, hand-made crafts and other event-related images. After identifying their target market, they went out of their way to physically and psychologically appeal to that market. The sleek interface of Pinterest was designed to appeal to specifically those users. The site's heavy emphasis on photos is what attracted women, who then took over the site with pictures of food fashion and crafts. To this day, 81 per cent of Pinterest users are women.

The evolution of Pinterest, in regards to design.

Value Proposition:

Customer Development:

At first, Pinterest could only be accessed through an invitation and the early users were a small group of friends and family who liked the app. Silbermann personally wrote to the first 5000-7000 users of the website to ask them what they thought about it.