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Four questions with Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann

Sept. 21, 2016

On Sept. 8 and 9, the School of Informatics and Computing held its Research Horizons event, which included discussions about how research in the field is driving innovation across sectors. Among the presenters was Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of social media site Pinterest.

Inside IU sat down with him to chat about his entrepreneurial success and advice for those thinking about becoming an entrepreneur themselves.

Pinterest CEO speaking

Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of social media site Pinterest, spoke at the School of Informatics and Computing's Research Horizons event. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU COMMUNICATIONS

Q: You left a job with Google to branch out on your own into somewhat unknown territory. What was that decision process like for you?

Well, it was a little bit scary. But it had been something I had been talking about for so long, and I reached a point where I realized if I didn’t just pull the trigger on it I would regret it.

Q: That decision seems to have paid off. Last year you made Forbes’ “America’s Richest Entrepreneurs Under 40” list. What are your thoughts on your success so far and where you have been able to take your company?

I definitely did not ever see myself getting to where I am now, but I feel really lucky. At first, we were just excited that anyone was using it. Now, we are just trying to figure out how Pinterest can fulfill its full potential and have a purpose. We are always focused on figuring out the next step, and I think we always will be. 

Q: What’s your advice for those interested in starting their own company, whether it be tech related or something else?

I would tell them to start with figuring out a problem they want to address and how they think they can solve it. Start with that and sort of follow that along, versus focusing on the company so much.

I hope that my talk gave them a baseline and a better understanding of what we are building and why we are building it. I also hope that hearing a story about how something this big started from something so small gets them excited about starting something of their own or gets them excited to do research in their own fields that could aid in innovative projects.

Q: What are your tips for how educators can use Pinterest in the classroom?

We see two groups who use it a lot. Teachers use it already to gather materials on how to teach things, and I think right now that demographic is mostly primary and secondary teachers. This makes sense, because Pinterest is a good place to find activities. I think this could equally apply to higher ed, because professors are always looking for new ways to teach things. 

Secondly, all the major museums have a Pinterest page with curated collections. That could be a good thing to look at for educators. What’s great about those pages is that museums obviously know how to do curation really well, so their pages are really amazing. All the Smithsonian museums have amazing Pinterest boards.

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