Unlike social media platforms like Twitter that capture the here and now, Pinterest is for dreaming of what’s ahead, says CEO Ben Silbermann. As he told editor Robert Safian and an audience at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored conference Wednesday in San Francisco, “People use Pinterest every day to get ready for and excited about something in their future—what they’re going to make for dinner, what they’re going to teach their classroom of students. If we can create a set of connections between things that they’re interested in, we can help them plan for that future.”
For his rapidly growing company’s own future, Silbermann wants the tech community and new users to realize that beyond a social network or scrapbooking site, Pinterest is actually an enormous discovery universe (not to mention one of the greatest selling engines ever devised), one ultimately more like Google than Facebook. “We work really hard to make the site feel really simple, but behind the interface are tens of billions of objects, linked by real people who have similar interests and aspirations.”
With the goal of “building a service that billions of people will use,” Silbermann says that “getting bigger isn’t about becoming a big company—the more people use the service, the more interests they represent, the more people we’ll be able to match you with who share your interests.” And in that way, Pinterest—which in just three and a half years has reportedly amassed more than 70 million users—can become more like a search engine to lead people to unanticipated results.
“The magic moment for a lot of people who use Pinterest is they see something they really like and that’s an entry point where they find things they didn’t know what they were looking for.” He gave the example of looking for a lamp, finding something you like, and then being pulled to the Pinterest board of a user with an entire living room set up that sparks your own design imagination.
As for going public? Not anytime soon.
“We want to be a sustainable company that can write its own destiny and stand on its own two feet, and provide value back to businesses and a service to people on a really grand scale,” he says. “I don’t know if going public would make that harder. I’ve never been in that transition, but we’re a long way away from that.”
For now, Silbermann is focused on one constant question: “What are we doing for people who use the service, and if people aren’t using it, why not? If we remain completely focused on that and we’re really honest with ourselves on what we’re doing right and not, the rest will take care of itself. I know that sounds like crazy idealistic California talk, but in our case I think it’s true.”