Ben Silbermann’s journey prior to launching Pinterest is full of turning points and unexpected surprises that serve as lessons in resilience, listening to your gut, and having the ability to be able to roll with whatever drastic changes you decide to make in your professional life.
Silbermann chose to act on his curiosities.
Opting out of medical school to pursue business
Ben was born into a family of doctors and aspired to grow up to be just like his parents. He was accepted to Yale and spent his first two years preparing for the MCATs.
It was during his junior year that Silbermann changed direction and abruptly decided he no longer wanted to be a doctor with no clear indication as to why, other than having an interest in business.
Silbermann admits knowing nothing about business at the time and hung around his economics buddies seeking advice. He figured he would become some kind of consultant because “smart people are consultants,” but had no idea exactly what consulting entailed. He managed to land a finance job creating Excel spreadsheets in Washington D.C. after attending a job fair.
There might be something going on in California
Silbermann started to take an interest in the dawn of the Web 2.0 revolution. After stumbling upon numerous tech blogs such as TechCrunch, he started to develop a new way of thinking. Silbermann said, “I had this feeling that this was the story of our time and I’m totally in the wrong place doing the wrong thing.”
After watching the movie, “The Pirates of Silicon Valley,” and hearing a young Bill Gates say, “I think there might be something going on in California,” he decided he wanted to be in California and somehow be a part of the Web 2.0 boom.
Ben’s girlfriend at the time and now current wife, played a key role in motivating him to head to the Golden State. He said, “If you are really lucky in life you have someone in your life that cares enough about you to call you out on your own bullshit.” Ben’s wife would tell him to just stop talking about what you want to do and just do it.
The Google experience
Silbermann ended up landing a customer support job at the granddaddy of technology companies. He was utterly shocked being selected for the job as he answered, “I love the Internet!,” to the question, “Why do you want to work here?” in his interview with Google. Ben said, “I don’t think the interviewer knew what to make of it.” Ultimately, it was Ben’s excitement and enthusiasm that won him the job.
Ben described Google as a special place filled with people who dream really big:
Being surrounded by so many people who were passionate about startups was a really big deal in Silicon Valley. I never thought about really starting a company. Looking back, it was a really important lesson for me. Even if you don’t have really a specific plan of exactly what you are going to do, being close to people that inspire you is a really good first step. If you’re an actor, you should be in L.A., and if you’re in politics, you should be in D.C., and if you’re into finance you should be in New York, not just because there are opportunities there, but the people that you surround yourself with are often doing things you hope to do yourself.
Silbermann’s initial excitement at Google soon began to wane as he wanted to do more than just customer service. He wanted to build something.
Leap of faith: Silbermann leaves Google to venture out on his own
Since Silbermann was unable to penetrate the product development group at Google, he left to venture out on his own. He dabbled with a few different ideas but nothing really took off. Silberman said, “I felt like the kid who was on the high dive and all of your friends are like “Go first we’re right behind you” and all of the sudden you are the only person in the pool.” He considered going back to a “normal” job.
Silbermann instead decided to double down and focus his energy on building something—a virtual online pin board that would blossom into a new addiction for women all over the world.
The birth of Pinterest
Ben turned his love for collecting into Pinterest. He teamed up with Paul Sciarra and Evan Sharp in November of 2009 to create technology that allowed people to collect things of interest and store them in one place. Pinterest launched in March of 2010.
Ben Silberman’s journey is indeed an inspiring one. The fact that he was able to switch gears at the drop of a dime and pursue his interests is an amazing feat.
Let’s not forget that he finished at Yale with a liberal arts degree in political science. He had no technical background and was able to network with the right people to share his vision and create Pinterest.
Silbermann stresses the importance of choosing an environment filled with like-minded inspirational people even if you have no idea what it is you want to do. Just being in the mix and mingling with innovative people can open up a whole new world of ideas.
Photo by Alt Summit