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4 Success Lessons From The Entrepreneur Who Quietly Grew Pinterest Into A $12 Billion Company

Ben Silberman left a safe and lucrative job at Google to start a company. When it failed, he started another one that succeeded big time.

John Boitnott

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When Ben Silbermann, CEO and creator of Pinterest speaks at an event, the audience hangs on his every word. Soft-spoken and introverted, Silbermann launched the visual idea sharing service in 2010. Since then it has exploded. It’s currently estimated to be worth more than $12 billion and has more than 200 million users logging in at least once a month.

People who don’t use the platform much often assume Pinterest is, like Twitter or Facebook, a social media service for people to share with their friends what they’re doing. That’s not the case.

Pinterest has morphed into much more of a place for people to find ideas for their life, while brands can insert themselves into that process in a less intrusive way than they do on a Facebook wall. This different approach is proving successful – the company made almost half a billion dollars last year.

Just how did Silbermann become the private holder of one of the most successful social media channels in existence? He has more or less shared his life story over the years, and here’s some of what we can learn from that.

1. Completely commit, even to the unknown, because passion is paramount

ben-silbermann-ceo-and-creator-of-pinterestBefore Silberman went to college, he intended to be a doctor. He studied at MIT’s Research Science Institute, before pursuing a degree in political science. After graduation, Google hired him to produce online advertising.

Related: 6 Essential Criteria Your Pinterest Pins Should Meet

As he worked with his friend, Paul Sciarra, at Google designing iPhone apps, his mind went back to when he was a child. He loved collecting, categorising and organising things. The two partnered with Evan Sharp to use that as inspiration for an online pinboard.

Ben’s girlfriend and later wife encouraged him to go all in. He decided to quit his job at Google and devote himself to building the startup. He said at first it was nerve-wracking to give up Google’s resources and the promise of predictable income for a future that was wholly unknown.

At first, Silbermann and Sciarra raised funds for Tote, a shopping app that never took off. While developing the app, Silbermann noticed people saved photos of items they wanted to purchase so they could return to them later. He connected that idea with his love of collecting.

2. Keep learning, even if you’re the boss

Silbermann tells audiences he reads continually to stay on trend. Every weekend he soaks up information from a book about business, technology or marketing and uses that knowledge to offer added value.

He recommends learning from mistakes too. The Tote app was a failure, but as is so often the case, that failure proved to be a blessing. The creation experience led to the germination of a successful idea.

The entrepreneurs that rise to the top are often the ones who refuse to quit when people tell them “no.” Instead, they patiently listen and sift through situations to find what knowledge they can glean to create a more positive outcome in the future.

If you’re in a situation like this right now with a struggling business, what are the biggest lessons you can learn from it?

3. Surround yourself with talent, even if you don’t quite know their role yet

pinterest-user-experiencePinterest started as an invite-only community. The first users were design bloggers Silbermann recruited. He advised these invitees to only extend admission to people they knew with unique ideas and creative minds. The exclusive community grew slowly until 2012 when the site removed the invitation requirement.

Related: How Your Pinterest Descriptions Can Attract Customers

In the early days of Pinterest’s explosive growth, the company’s CEO hired people for their strengths, even if he didn’t have an immediate role for them. It was more about who they are than completing a specific set of tasks. Those key hires infused the company with innovative thinking and repeatedly found solutions to problems that seemed unsolvable.

4. Prioritise customer experience, even if the metrics don’t agree

Instead of focusing soley on page views and other metrics, Pinterest seeks to enhance the user experience. While the number of clicks or the time each user spends on page provides insight, it doesn’t always give an accurate measure of user engagement.

Pinterest was one of the earliest websites to incorporate infinite scrolling so users could view thousands of ideas without having to navigate to a different page. He stopped caring so much about clicks and ad loads, and concentrated more on what would cause people to fall further in love with the experience he offered.

Silbermann says what users want is always changing. This year users are pinning things like tattoo images, woodworking ideas and classic car photos, subjects that weren’t as popular a year ago. He recently incorporated (AI) to enhance that experience, with people being served up more of what they like after they express preferences.

Silbermann points out how competitors like Amazon are copying successful features Pinterest has been using for a long time and says his success is largely due to offering users a way to pursue their passions.

It looks like Silbermann’s success will continue into the future, especially with talk of an IPO in the coming years. Many of the lessons he has shared are timeless. Applying them to any career or company will probably help yield success.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

Lessons Learnt

(Podcast) ‘Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern: ‘I’m Addicted To The Hustle’

How this week’s ‘How Success Happens’ guest overcame personal struggles and built an empire.

Dan Bova

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I didn’t know what to expect when we scheduled an interview over breakfast with today’s guest Andrew Zimmern. As you may know, the chef, writer, restaurateur and TV personality made a name for himself traveling the world and eating some, well, bizarre foods on his hit travel/food show, Bizarre Foods.

Turns out our breakfast was pretty normal – we didn’t dig into a fresh plate of scrambled brains or anything – but the conversation was anything but typical.

Over the past couple of years, Zimmern has built a true empire around his name with books, TV shows, restaurants (including his new Twin Cities joint Lucky Cricket), and a production company, but as he very candidly told me, the road to success has not been easy. He has gone through a lot of personal pain on his journey, and he says it is a daily endeavour to keep himself moving on the right track.

As Zimmern explained, over the course of his life, he’s had problems with substance abuse, depression – even homelessness – and he was very open about sharing the lessons he’s learned along the way about coping and finding redemption. We also spoke about his dear friend, Anthony Bourdain, and about the struggles of feeling overwhelmed that most of us face.

Related: Gareth Cliff Shares His Tips For Starting Your Very Own Podcast

But don’t get me wrong, he’s really funny, too! There’s nothing “normal” about Andrew Zimmern. Hope you’ll enjoy our conversation, thanks for listening.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

How BrightRock Is Disrupting The Insurance Industry With These 2 Pivotal Strategies

Developments in technology, and clear communication are positioning BrightRock to disrupt their industry and transform the consumer experience.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Sean Hanlon, Leopold Malan, Schalk Malan, Suzanne Stevens
  • Company: BrightRock
  • Est: 2011
  • Visit: www.brightrock.co.za

BrightRock was started around a dining room table in 2011 by four people with years of industry experience and — importantly — a diverse set of complementary skills.  They wanted to make changes to an industry with an age-old methodology by allowing customers to co-create a solution that precisely meets their individual needs, and adjusts as those needs change. Today, BrightRock is the fastest-growing insurer in the intermediated individual life risk market. It also provides underwriting management services to funeral parlour businesses and, more recently, has entered the group risk insurance market, offering its needs-matched approach to employees.

The founders of BrightRock, established in 2011, knew the life insurance industry all too well, and they found its methodology wanting. “Traditional life insurance lumps all the individual’s needs into one policy,” says CEO Schalk Malan.

“It’s a methodology that has been around for centuries. We started afresh and looked at how we could design life insurance based on individual requirements. Our cover is designed to exactly match each specific financial need. Because there is no waste, it’s more cost efficient and sustainable. And if circumstances change and our customer needs more cover, it’s easy to get it because needs-matched design enables the policy to change in line with changing needs.”

1. Embracing digital technology to provide needs-matched insurance

Suzanne Stevens, marketing executive director at BrightRock, points out that this type of innovation achieves efficiency (cost savings) and effectiveness (higher returns). “By harnessing digital technology, we have made our operations more efficient, and aggressively lowered costs by up to 30% for our customers. Every rand they spend with us works harder for them. That’s the benefit of a solution designed around the customer.”

BrightRock’s founders took a similar approach. ‘We ditched legacy thinking in favour of creating a product that is intuitive and easy to navigate. An enormous amount of time and effort went into writing and designing that system, and creating the optimal customer journey.”

Related: How BrightRock Is Rocking The (Industry) Boat In Only 5 Years Since Launch

Unlike clunky legacy systems, BrightRock’s platform is modularised, and was built according to the agile principle of rapid delivery cycles. The result is a technology stack with longevity, that is also flexible enough to be tweaked when needed.

“The advantage of the technology available today is that you can plug things in and pull them out as required,” says Suzanne. “That’s one of the enablers of a truly disruptive mindset. To step away from accepted norms and find new solutions requires curiosity and creativity, as well as a lot of courage to go up against large incumbents in the market. There is always resistance to new technology, although we are fortunate in this country to have one of the most innovative insurance sectors in the world.”

2. Effective communication is critical

These disruptors have set themselves above the rest through one surprisingly simple tactic —  effective communication. They agree that it simply doesn’t matter how world-changing your product or service is if you don’t communicate it to the right audience at the right time. New companies that fail to communicate their remarkable new development will quickly be pushed aside by other disruptors. Without a clear communication strategy that reaches the audience in the industry you’re trying to disrupt, you’ll set yourself up for failure. A key question to ask when you are developing your communication strategy is simply whether people understand what you do.

“Because the premise for our product was fundamentally different from anything on the market, communication and clear messaging were critical to convincing our clients to put their trust in us,” says Schalk.

“It was especially important to educate insurance advisors so they would understand what we were doing, why we were doing it, and how it was better than the other options available. That was key to disrupting the individual life market.”

Currently, BrightRock employs 380 staff, has experienced 40% year-on-year growth, and has an annualised premium income of more than R1,3 billion. The company has recently entered the group risk environment with a similar offering that addresses many of the same shortcomings of traditional group risk products. “The inefficiencies of the structuring of group products has meant that, to remain competitive, insurers have cut the benefits offered to employees, undermining their sense of financial security. Change is needed, and we believe our needs-matched philosophy positions us to change the group risk market too.”

‘We ditched legacy thinking in favour of creating a product that is intuitive and easy to navigate. An enormous amount of time and effort went into writing and designing that system, and creating the optimal customer journey.”

Unlike clunky legacy systems, the BrightRock’s platform is modularised, and was built according to the agile principle of rapid delivery cycles. The result is a technology stack with longevity, that is also flexible enough to be tweaked when needed.

Related: BrightRock’s 5 Entrepreneurial Tips For Start-ups

This iterative, modular approach typically begins with defining the strategy and programme plan upfront, delivering a core capability fast so it can provide benefits immediately, and then continuously improving with regular, incremental capability improvements to achieve the objectives of the strategy. It’s an approach that fosters closer collaboration between stakeholders, improved transparency, earlier delivery, greater allowance for change and more focus on the business outcomes.

“The advantage of the technology available today is that you can plug things in and pull them out as required,” says Suzanne. “That’s one of the enablers of a truly disruptive mindset. To step away from accepted norms and find new solutions requires curiosity and creativity, as well as a lot of courage to go up against large incumbents in the market. There is always resistance to new technology, although we are fortunate in this country to have one of the most innovative insurance sectors in the world.”

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Lessons Learnt

The 9 Obsessions You Need To Have To Become A Self-Made Millionaire

Here’s how to stay focused on your millionaire goals.

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elon-musk

The ones who succeed weren’t handed a golden ticket; it wasn’t chance that helped them cultivate their fortune. To reach millionaire status, you must be driven to reach your dreams. You must be obsessed in order to be successful.

These are the nine obsessions that give every self-made millionaire an edge in creating success and wealth.

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