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Lessons Learnt

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.

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Lessons Learnt

Founder of Five-Star Wes Boshoff Weighs In On Becoming An Entrepreneur

Here are Wes Boshoff’s seven lessons in building a brand that matters, offering your clients something of worth, and always following your passions.

Nadine Todd

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A lot of starting a business is just winging it. Call it the hustle, faking it ‘till you make it or biting off more than you can chew (and then chewing like hell), the reality is the same: Doing what you can, when you can to get yourself and your business out there so that you can build a brand with longevity.

As a start-up, does your vision push the boundaries? Are you putting everything you have into achieving something great? Here are seven lessons to help you (and your business) reach full potential.

1. Seize the day

Wes began his career in the people development industry. He was involved in high-impact training and developmental coaching, and entrepreneurship couldn’t have been further from his mind. “I had no appetite for going solo,” he recalls.

Related: Failure Is Not An Option – Or Is It? Your How To On How To

“I was employed but doing some part-time coaching on the side, and while this may have seemed like a springboard into entrepreneurship, I’ve always viewed start-ups as requiring three key things: Timing, opportunity and experience. Experience in particular was a stumbling block for me. I was young. I didn’t feel like I’d earned real credibility or had enough life experience to offer real value to others. Who would listen to me? I was just Wes.”

And then an opportunity presented itself and Wes decided to take the plunge anyway. “After becoming an expert in behaviour and personality profiling, I was asked to join a project management company. About a year into joining them they shut down.”

Facing unemployment, Wes decided to take the plunge and never work for a boss again. Instead, he seized the opportunity to launch his own business and brand.

And so, Five-Star was born, a brand that sought to help businesses improve their customer service by first focusing on their employees. Wes decided to cut his teeth in the hospitality arena, where customer service is the life-blood of the industry.

The lesson: There is no perfect time to start a business. There will always be excuses to put it off. You will never be 100% ready. And yet, until you’ve taken that first step, you can’t start testing your model in the market, tweaking and adjusting your offering to suit your audience. If your dream is to become an entrepreneur, don’t look for all the reasons why you shouldn’t take the plunge, but focus on the one reason why you should.

2. Don’t wait for business to find you

When Wes launched Five-Star, he had no savings to invest in the business and no assets. He had himself and his experiences. “I didn’t spend time on a business plan or money on getting a website up and running — that would all come later. I spent what I could afford on business cards, and hit the streets. I believed I could tell my story better than a website could, and so I focused on getting myself in front of the people I needed to sell my services to.”

Wes’ first call was to the GM of one of the fastest growing hotel groups in the country. “I introduced myself as Wes from Five-Star, told him I’d heard a lot about how good his hotel was, and that I’d love to take him out for coffee to discuss what would take them to a ten. I didn’t sell anything over the phone — I wanted a face-to-face meeting, and the opportunity to share real value. I wanted him to see why we should work together, rather than make a hard sell.”

Wes is an expert in hospitality, training and customer service. But he was also winging it. During the coffee meeting he was asked to do a mystery guest assessment, to uncover which areas could be improved upon. “I asked him if he’d like me to use their report or mine, and thank goodness he said theirs, since I didn’t have one.” Nine years later, that hotel group is Wes’ longest-standing client.

This is the tactic Wes has used to build his business and brand ever since: He focuses on face-to-face meetings, sharing his story, who he is and what he’s learnt, and really listening to his clients’ challenges so that he can offer advice and add value — even if they don’t end up doing business together.

The lesson: Entrepreneurs make things happen for themselves. Wes personally does not like cold calls, and so he’s found a sales strategy that works for him. How you sell isn’t as important as the fact that you are out there, selling yourself, your business and the solutions you can offer. If you aren’t out there selling, you’ll never build a sustainable start-up.

3. Make the most of tools

wes-boshoff-five-star

The report that the hotel gave Wes for his first mystery guest assessment became the template for a report he built for himself. Over the years he has developed numerous tools, building on his experience with Discus and other methodologies to create frameworks for his motivational talks, training and coaching programmes.

“In the early days I couldn’t afford to purchase tools, so I had to really listen to my clients and develop what they needed. There are so many resources available to us today. You just need to do your research, know your industry and be constantly tweaking your offering based on what works best.”

In Wes’ own words, he’s not a book smarts guy, but a street smarts guy. “It’s why a business plan didn’t work for me — I needed to be out there, testing my model and my theories, and tweaking and adjusting my offering. I paid my school fees, and used those learnings to develop the tools I needed to deliver results.

Related: The Journey Of Entrepreneurship: How The Tough Get Going

“I love developing models. Applied knowledge is power. But don’t overcomplicate things. There’s a simple process to learning and development: The stages of knowledge start with a revelation, new knowledge, followed by realisation — making it real — and finally a revolution, which leads to purpose and progress. That’s what I help people to do — create perspectives, interrogate the perspective, and then affect real change in their lives and businesses.”

The lesson: The more open you are to learning and adjusting your solutions, the more you’ll be able to offer to your clients. Any tools you can develop to add to the overall experience are value-adds that benefit yourself and your clients.

4. Add value before you add an invoice

Wes is a born networker. He loves meeting new people, sharing his story, and finding out more about the people he’s networking with. He’s also very good at uncovering the challenges they face and offering solutions, even if those solutions aren’t one of the products he offers.

“When you increase your network, you increase your net worth. I believe in being the go-to guy for my clients. I want them to feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking my advice on anything. I believe great businesses and brands are built when you add value before you add an invoice.”

This has been Wes’ motto throughout his career, long before he launched his own business. “I’ve always put my hand up when a new challenge or task has presented itself. I don’t believe in constantly looking for what’s wrong in what’s right. Face the reality, and determine the best way to get the opportunity out of the obstacle. You need to choose to be opportunistic. I’m a realist, but that doesn’t mean I want to live in a negative environment.

“I’ve brought this attitude to everything I do, including how I view my clients’ businesses. It’s not about what I can get from them, but what I can add to them. Some of this I can charge for, but valuable advice should be freely given. I believe in cultivating an opportunistic mindset; and I want to help my clients and their employees to do the same.”

The lesson: As an entrepreneur, you need to walk the talk. If you truly care about your customers, add real value without always expecting something in return. You’ll build long-term relationships built on trust and mutual respect.

5. Don’t lose Focus

It’s a common problem amongst start-up entrepreneurs. Early wins leave you feeling overly confident and eager for more. It’s at this stage that many business owners start looking for new challenges, and where else they can divest their energy for new and exciting wins.

For Wes, this diversion was cars. “I’d been accepted into the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship, but instead of focusing on Five-Star, I was looking for a way to combine my passion for cars with business.”

Related: 8 Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice For When The Going Gets Tough

What Wes found was Plastic Dip, a US-based product used to wrap cars. “I stopped focusing on Five-Star and launched Plastispray,” he recalls. “I had this massive vision, with not much support. I forgot the cardinal rule that I’d learnt in Samuel Chand’s book, Who’s Holding Your Ladder, and that’s the importance of support. We might be the sole founders of our businesses, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need support systems. Who is holding your ladder? Who won’t get bored and walk away?

“I ended up in a situation where my focus was completely scattered, I wasn’t managing my personal life, and the business I was trying to build just didn’t have legs. I even landed this incredible project, building a Mini Cooper for the launch of Virgin Mobile. We turned it into a photo-booth and broke a world record for the most people squeezed into a Mini — which was 25.

“I thought, that’s it, after this project, the business will just take off. And nothing happened. It opened no doors.”

It was a hard lesson to learn, and one that took its toll on Wes emotionally. “2013 was the lowest year of my life,” he says. “I started seeing a psychologist, and spent 2014 rebuilding myself. I realised I needed to work on my attitude, my fears and my business. I also needed to learn how to focus again. We can’t achieve anything in life if we aren’t focused.

“I failed hard, but it also gave me perspective. When you learn you win — which means that failure isn’t actually losing. It’s important to understand that, and it’s what pushed me through the tough times. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

Once Wes regrouped and renewed his focus on Five-Star, the business started taking off. “People outside of the hospitality industry started asking me for help. I was invited to speak at international leadership conferences, and work with businesses on turnaround strategies. From there the business has just grown from strength to strength.”

The lesson: Focus is essential. It’s easy to get distracted and chase the next trend or hot idea, but real success takes time to build, and sticking to anything long-term takes focus. The more focused you are, the higher your chances of success.

6. Understand your brand

For nine years Wes has operated the business under the Five-Star name. The longer he’s been in the industry however, the clearer it’s become that his brand isn’t the business, it’s himself, and his ideas.

“I’m always, unapologetically, ‘just Wes’,” he says. “You’ll never be everything to everyone. The best thing you can be is authentic. Some people will love you, others won’t. That’s okay. Just be true to yourself. I’m not a suits guy. I arrive how I am, share my story, my lessons, and give the best advice I can. I share tools and tips to become the best version of you. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t completely myself when I work with my clients.”

It’s for this reason that Wes has recently rebranded the business to ‘Wes’, with the tagline, Imagine Thinking. It’s an ideal closely linked with his talks, his philosophy, and his name in the market. “I’m becoming a thought leader, and that comes with risks,” he says. “When you put yourself out there, you need to have enough confidence for people to disagree with you, because that’s hard. Not everyone will like what you’re saying or agree with you on a particular issue. You put yourself out there in the public domain and if you aren’t sure of who you are and what you stand for, insecurities can come to haunt you.

“I tell everyone I speak to, ‘disagree with everything I say…’ I can’t change the way people think, or what they think — I just want to challenge them to think for a change. I want you to consider your opinions and question them. Imagine thinking. Thinking is a verb. You have to do something — you need to disagree to set your own thoughts in motion. Be brave; share your thoughts so that we all benefit together.

“I used to take myself seriously; I don’t anymore. I don’t want to offend, but I’m okay if you don’t agree with me.”

The lesson: Your personal and business brands tell a story. They let your customers know who you are, what you stand for, and what your values are. People do business with people, not companies, so don’t be afraid to authentically share your story.

Related: How To Start A Business With (Almost) No Money

7. Have a vision that scares you

For Wes, too many organisations have a vision that’s external and designed for clients. But he believes vision is an internal thing. “As an entrepreneur, your vision should be for you and your employees. It should be your guiding light. It’s your future, and it should consistently grow.

“If you don’t achieve your vision, it’s because you don’t have an appetite for the mission. If you’re only looking two to five years into the future, that’s a goal, not a vision. Your vision should scare you. It should wake you up and keep you up. It should drive you.”

“The mission is how you achieve the vision. You need to know what it will take to get there, and this usually includes a lot of hard work, stress, fear, and living on the edge. But that’s okay, because we’re designed to stretch ourselves. That’s when we discover our full potential.”

The lesson: Don’t ever be too scared to think big. Thinking small isn’t what entrepreneurs are built for. Big hairy audacious goals (or BHAGs) are the foundation of successful, game changing businesses — and successful, fulfilled entrepreneurs.

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Lessons Learnt

Successful People Always Chase the Impossible – Here’s Why

Achieving perfection may never happen, but the attempt can lead to results you never imagined.

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Vince Lombardi said it best: “We will chase perfection, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”


Successful people are always in the chase for perfection. As Lombardi knew, however, and as I’ve discovered more than once myself, what we chase is often very different from what we catch.

Early in my career, I planned on being a pharmacist, then making partner at a PR firm. Both goals were within reach, but I never caught them — as they came close I found myself rethinking my ambitions, then changing direction. I had to let go of the goals that had motivated me for years, and find different ones, chasing perfection in new and often unexpected ways.

If you are looking to catch the best in excellence, while not letting yourself get boxed in by chasing perfection, it is important to remember a few key guidelines.

Changing your path isn’t failing

Successful people – and entrepreneurs especially – are driven by their goals. It’s a fine line, though, between goals that inspire and goals that trap. The best stories about entrepreneurs are full of fresh starts and unexpected detours. If you find yourself disliking what you’re doing, or feeling frustrated even when things are going well, think about making a new plan.

Changing your path isn’t bad or wrong or failing – it’s simply a new choice, and often the right one.

Related: 7 Rules To Master Your Start-Up Success This Year

Never perceive anything as a setback

Circumstances can spiral out of control – plans tank, products fail, companies come apart. When something is running off the road you can be consumed by it, or you can realise that what you took to heart before isn’t your reality anymore, and the seeming chaos around you disguises a new reality. Don’t beat yourself up about it, don’t mourn the wasted time and the discarded mission. Negative experiences aren’t a setback, they’re a chance to make new decisions that are right for you.

However bad the situation, there’s always an angle

bad-situationWhen things get rough, take five minutes and give free rein to let it all out. Find a private place, get mad or cry, let whatever’s struggling inside you get out. Then get to work finding the angle. There’s always an angle, and a path forward to success. Usually, it involves getting over yourself. Whatever your emotions, stop thinking it’s about you.

Recognise that you’re in service to something larger than yourself – your company, your staff, the people who depend on you. That’s where you’ll find the angle you need, beyond your emotions, and outside of yourself.

Related: Elon Musk’s Formula For Successfully Growing Companies Faster

Success looks different to different people

We can all relate to the true believer who challenges conventional wisdom and beats the odds. When we make these challenges, our parents, bosses, society at large – insert appropriate authority figure – sometimes just won’t see it our way. But often it’s our own internal schoolmaster that’s the barrier we need to overcome. We persist in judging ourselves by standards that once seemed essential, but have outlived their usefulness. In fact, there are many different ways to succeed. The important thing is being comfortable with knowing there is more than one right answer.

It’s a never-ending experience

Is it ever time to stop chasing perfection? No. Chasing perfection is the opposite of a hamster wheel or rat race. It’s about your never-ending pursuit of happiness. The sooner in life that we master the flexible mindset needed for continuous evolution, the better.

My career has had enough twists and turns all ready to make a running back proud. At those times when I had no control over my external situation, I could see that the one path I thought I would take wasn’t the only path – or even the right path.

Related: To Be Successful Stay Far Away From These 7 Types of Toxic People

I’ve never come close to attaining perfection, but Mr. Lombardi was right. By chasing it, from my days studying to be a pharmacist to my current role as VP of Marketing and Communications at Intel, I’ve caught excellence again and again along the way.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Why Grit Is The True Determining Factor Of Success

How grit and determination helped Bertus Albertse take control of his destiny and build an award-winning franchise brand.

Body20 franchise

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Vital Stats

  • Player:Bertus Albertse
  • Company: Body20
  • Established:2014
  • Contact:+27 (0)872310359
  • Visit: body20.co.za

What does it take to open a successful business, franchise it, and then take it global? In many instances, the answer is grit, determination and the ability to get back up when life knocks you down.

In fact, Angela Lee Duckworth, an academic and psychologist based at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies concepts such as self-control and grit to determine how they might predict academic and professional success, believes that the single biggest predictor of success isn’t social intelligence, good looks, physical health or even IQ.

The single biggest predictor of success is grit.

According to Duckworth, grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. It’s having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week or the month, but for

Years. It’s about working hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Related: The Wolf Within Bertus Albertse: Body20’s CEO

Finding self-worth

To find the epitome of grit, we need look no further than Bertus Albertse, the founder and CEO of Body20 Global, a local franchise that is now making international waves.

As a youngster, Bertus was used to living in the unpredictable. His parents divorced when he was just nine months old and his mother, walking with both him and his sister on her hips, moved from house to house whenever his alcoholic grandfather took to the rod.

He realised early in his life that material things come and go as his mother had to return worn clothes and used toys not long after they have been purchased.

In fact, it happened so often that at some point even Bertus and his sister had to return items at retail stores at a young age in order to have money for food or petrol.

“To this day I’ve never forgotten where I come from and how retailers looked at me and my sister with pity and shame in their eyes,” he recalls.

Going the distance

Instead of letting the experience bow him down, Bertus learnt to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, taking control and responsibility over his own life. As an excelling young sportsman, he soon realised how he could control his own destiny by consistently putting in huge effort.

One of his favourite quotes is “You are what you repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act but rather a habit.”

It’s a mantra he lives by. Through pure grit and determination, he went from a small, skinny kid from the ‘platteland’ in the West Coast to be the first Head Boy of both the school and boy’s residents at the prestigious high school, Jan van Riebeeck, situated in the heart of Cape Town.

Related: From Body20 Member To Franchisee Of The Year 2017

Stay hungry and make a real impact

Bertus also has numerous sports achievements, including national and international Body Building and Fitness titles. With his passionate and optimistic outlook on life, he soon realised that people are drawn to the ideas and things that inspire him and this has given him a flair for business, enabling him to share that passion with his community.

He started his first business in his second year of University in Stellenbosch with a R20 000 loan from his father, which he subsequently paid back three months later.

Today, Bertus is the founder and CEO of the award-winning global fitness franchise network, Body20. He strives to impact those around him by inspiring them to take control of their lives and encourages people to believe in the impossible, but to always remember to take consistent, daily actions to make it possible.

“A rabbit will always outrun the fox, because while the fox runs for its lunch the rabbit runs for its life.” He likes to be reminded of how hungry you have to be to truly make an impact in the world.

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