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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.

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Lessons Learnt

7 Cannabis Industry Millionaires Making It Big In The Marijuana Business

These entrepreneurs have capitalised on a new market set to continue to grow rapidly as more countries legalise marijuana across the world.

Catherine Bristow

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1. Brendan Kennedy

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Brendan Kennedy worked on job sites as a carpenter to pay his way through university, with his eyes set firmly on becoming an architect, until the allure of Silicon Valley changed the course of his direction. While working at technology start-ups Kennedy began thinking about the possibilities that medical marijuana provided.

“I was really sceptical of medical cannabis,” he says. “It took a year of having conversations with patients and physicians and hearing the same story, repackaged but essentially the same, over and over and over again, where my scepticism eroded and I became a believer.”

In 2013, Kennedy and his partners applied for a licence from Health Canada and launched Lafitte Ventures, which was later renamed Tilray. Today, the company is a global leader in medical cannabis research, cultivation, processing and distribution.

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Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt

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You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:

Leadership

The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.

Infrastructure

The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.

People

It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.

Strategy

It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.

Finance

Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks

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When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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