How did Pinterest Become Valued Over $12B+? Stories Revealed from its Founding Engineer

Highlights from Yash Nelapati’s Q&A

The founding engineer of Pinterest, Yash Nelapati, spoke in front of a group of people at a Meetup sponsored by Crunchyroll. He answered questions from twitter with the hashtag #AskYash and through his AskMeAnything forum. I very much enjoyed his laid back posture and his passion for engineering and product development. Yash has a bachelor degree in Computer Science and a master degree in Software Engineering.

Yash Nelapati was present for the growth of Pinterest from idea to execution as one of the most popular social platforms of all time. This humble man and the co- founders of Pinterest had no idea that their product would grow to have over 100 million users and be worth more than 12 billion dollars!

How It All Started

In 2010, Yash was working as an engineer for a startup of about 60 people. It was a boring job with little activity. It didn’t seem like an environment that would challenge his desire to learn new things.

During this time FriendFeed, a real-time feed aggregator that collected updated content from social media, blog, and social book-marketing websites, was inherited by Facebook and was powered by Tornado, a scalalable non-blocking web server. Interested in this new web server, Yash decided to attend a Meetup about Tornado hosted by Bret Taylor.

That’s where he meet the co-founder of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann. He was there looking to hire innovate engineers for his new product idea and Yash was exactly the person he was looking for. Ben admired the questions he asked during the meeting and approached him about working with him on his idea. Nelapati respected his interest but wasn’t quite sure about the hiring. He met Ben two more times, and he was still asked about the position. He was impressed by his passion.

I was sold on the founder’s passion. I liked Ben’s gut. I felt the emotion in his story. I saw he is passionate about a few things, but he has a deep passion for them. He pursued me pretty hard, so I knew that once he likes something he will push hard.

Four weeks later, Yas agreed to work with Ben on Pinetrest.

The Other Players to the Team

Since Yash joined Ben and Evan Sharp as the founding members of Pinterest, they needed to figure out the roles that each person would execute.

The first co-founder of Pinterest, Ben, didn’t know how to code put he had strong product sense and a clear vision of how he wants his business to operate. He was in charge of raising money and capital so he could pay his employees and afford to run tests. Yash acknowledges this as one of the hardest jobs in the beginning.

I could see Ben going out and meeting a lot of VC’s but things were not happening. Every morning I would see Ben go out super pumped but coming back kinda a little disappointed. It was hard to see that.

Ben used a lot of his personal savings to keep up with expenses. Besides raising money, he was also in charge of hiring and growth. As Pinterest became more popular, he saw jobs that was over exceeding its capacity. So he hired a specialist to focus on it. Yash credits this as to why their business started to grow so fast while keeping a professional and respectful work culture.

The other co-founder and design lead was Evan Sharp. He worked on all the early prototypes and focused on the visual appeal of Pinterest. A former employee of Facebook, Evan worked with Yash on brainstorming product ideas and design iterations. He would create about a hundred versions of a design in order to get the perfect one. Him and Yash would pick up elements from each version to create a final version.

He spent a lot of times in getting the design aesthetics right. Its like the 80–20 rule. He got the grid pretty soon but spent 80% of the time tweaking things in the grid to get it right. The team spent all of 2010 on the visual appeal and getting the product right.

Early Stages

Yash describes the first year of developing Pinterest as super stressful but really fun. The three men team were busy brainstorming design ideas and finding funding for their new product out of a apartment in California Avenue, Palo Alto.

Every morning at 9:30, we would have meetings where Ben would share his stories and I would share my adventures about new databases I was trying out.

A good moment that he remembered was on a Friday evening where Ben came to them disappointed from the struggles of fundraising. They have already met with about 10+ investors at that point and there was still no solid deal. Yash told him to forget about all that stress.

I was like forget that shit. Check out this new cool feature I built! I was trying to pump up energy. From then on we decided that we were gonna celebrate Friday afternoons playing tennis and drinking beer.

This traditions still lives on today, it’s called Friday Happy Hour. The entire company meets in an area and drink beer while Ben answers questions about the company, it’s vision, and culture.

The Quest for New Users

In order to develop Pinterest as a successful content sharing platform, it needed to get new users. The first “pinners” of the website were the creators’ family and friends. They happily volunteered to use the product and provide useful feedback. Every time a new user signed up, they were encouraged to install the product’s bookmarklet.

Once in a few weeks I ran some numbers comparing the pins created via bookmarkelet to repins and upload pins. The numbers were small but healthy.

Ben reached out to every user personalty and asked about their thoughts on the product. Their answer? They loved it!


Looking to the Future

On AskMeAnything, Yash was asked where does he sees Pinterest in the next 5 years. His answer? He’s not sure. The future of Pinerest is hard to predict because its growth have over exceeded his expectations. But he predicts that the platform will be the new default place to collect and hopes that a lot of people will use it to decide what to buy or where to shop rather than Google.

Websites that do a good job on SEO, usually ends up on Google page #1, but a pin that is genuinely pinned a bunch of times will meet your taste. I am hoping there will be a lot of apps that might build on the Pinterest platform to explore and recommend buying decisions and trends.
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