At a point in time, Ben Silbermann was an IT consultant who used to read a lot of TechCrunch. He would often think that he's at the wrong place as all the great things were being built in the Silicon Valley.
After watching the movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley", he had one key take away -
There might be something going on in California.
This was the time when Ben moved to the Bay Area and took up a customer support job at Google. Although he really enjoyed working at Google, he eventually started to get frustrated for not being able to build products.
The day he quit, it was one day before the global economy crashed in 2008.
Right before Pinterest - Tote
After he quit his job at Google, Ben teamed up with his college friend Paul Sciarra (who quit his job in a New York based VC firm - Radius Ventures).
Together, they started Cold Brew Labs and their first product was called Tote, an app to transform every cell phone into a clothing retail outlet.
Tote created a meta catalogue for users, based on all the data for products being sold in their region. It also allowed users to favourite items that they liked and would send sale alerts to them. Besides this, it had a nice looking interface.
Although Tote was able to raise money from First Mark Capital, in early 2009, it was soon evident that there were two problems -
People were not yet buying stuff via mobile.
The mobile ecosystem lacked an advanced enough technology to enable smooth, on-the-go transactions.
These two reasons eventually lead to the failure of Tote. But Ben wasn't ready to give up just yet.
From Tote to Pinterest
Although Tote was ahead of it's time, it did have quite a few users. When Ben looked closely, he observed that people were mainly using it for saving things they liked and making different collections.
Around this time, it's said that Ben and a small tech team had started iterating on this idea of collecting things. It's said that around this time, Ben met Evan Sharp, who came up with the idea of a grid layout and would go on to become a co-founder.
The new product was ready by the fall 2009 and was named Pinterest, as suggested by Ben's girlfriend.
Once the iteration was complete, Ben started to email everybody he knew telling them about Pinterest. But he soon realised that not many people quite understood what it was really about.
Ben's parents, who were doctors lived in Des Moines and most users were coming from there. The reason was obvious -
I suspect because my Mom was telling all her patients
At this point, although more users were coming everyday, Pinterest wasn't growing like an ideal, viral consumer startup should.
So much so, that in May, they did not qualify for the startups contesting in the TechCrunch Disrupt 2010. But they did manage to score a small booth for showcasing Pinterest after First Mark Capital (who were sponsoring the event) pulled a few strings.
Growth via grass roots marketing and early success
Around the same time - May of 2010 - Pinterest had bloggers try out pinning through a program where a chain letter was sent out for them to share pin-boards about what home meant to them. It was called "Pin-it-Forward".
This really clicked with the blogging community with more and more people starting to use Pinterest for creating different collections.
Ben and his team had now realised that it was community engagement that would take Pinterest ahead more than anything.
In July, the same year, Pinterest organised it's first community meet-up. Here's a photo of that event -
More growth and more funds
In May 2010, Shana Fisher, the M&A lead at IAC, angel invested in Pinterest because she loved using it.
Later in 2010, Pinterest went on to raise more angel money, primarily from then Eventbrite CEO Kevin Hartz, who gave Ben access to the top VC network in the Silicon valley.
Pinterest grew on an average of 50% month on month throughout 2010 and kept growing steadily through early 2011. In May, 2011, Bessemer Partner along with SV Angel invested about $10 million at a $40 million valuation.
All so, while working from a small house -
Pinterest's growth was so stunning between 2011 and 2012 that it had soon started getting everyone's attention. All major media publications were writing about them. Here's a graph that depicts Pinterests's dramatic growth through a few weeks in 2011 (source) -
In October, 2011, Pinterest raised $27 million from Andreessen Horowitz at a whopping $200 million valuation.
In 2012, Pinterest was the biggest thing since Facebook.