Startup School Recap: Ben Silbermann, Pinterest

Last weekend, I attended Y Combinator’s Startup School at Stanford. To say the least, it was an empowering, informative experience. Not only did I meet many like minded individuals, but sitting in on talks from the leaders of the tech world was just plain awesome. Over the next several days, I’m going to publish short recaps/responses to my favorite presentations of the day.


Ben Silbermann, the co-founder and CEO of Pinterest gave one of my favorite talks of the day. In short, he spoke about tenacity. He described feeling this overwhelming passion to build a great product, one that truly added value to people’s lives. Pinterest, despite all its current success, started extremely slowly. Neither Ben nor his original co-founder are technical wizzes. Many, many investors passed on Pinterest as it struggled to gain traction. People did not understand the product. The challenges seemed endless.

Yet, Ben was very encouraging. He said that we should take advice, even from very accomplished individuals, with a grain of salt. Want proof? look at the returns in the venture capitol industry! The fail:success ratio is not pretty. Instead, trust your gut!

Many entrepreneurs spoke about hard work, disruption, or product integrity. All are valuable. But Ben’s speech stood above the rest for me. His passion for EVERYONE to unabashedly pursue their dreams was very empowering. It made me feel like Pinterest would be an amazing place to work.

Sidenote: The potential business model for Pinterest was extremely intriguing. Not your standard add-based model for a social site (future post coming).

Here’s the video of Ben Silbermann’s talk.




Disruption Abound: The Future is Siloed Excellence

This picture gets my blood racing (NERD ALERT):

Goodbye Conglomerate Service, Hello Siloed Excellence

The above picture breaks down all the services currently competing with Craigslist. However, each of the above firms are only competing with Craigslist in one (maybe two) area(s). Essentially, what’s happening is that for a long time now, Craigslist has provided a very solid platform for personalized transactions online. However, it assumes the same basic format is applicable for all these different types of transactions. That is simply not the case.

An interface optimized for selling homemade crafts is going to be different than one optimized for job posting/searching. The reason for this is quite simple: different transactions/postings require different designs and attract different audiences.

Craigslist has provided a very successful, free, and profitable platform. I’ve used it countless times. However, the core product is too broad. Craigslist’s inability to customize its service for different sectors, along with an outdated and hassle-ridden design could well lead to its downfall. That fact, along with the flattened access and distribution platform of the modern Internet, means that Craigslist is being disrupted by many niche services (check out the linked Dave Mcclure post on the power of niche) which are custom built to excel at delivering a single, narrow product.


The reason this picture “gets my blood racing,” is because LOOK AT ALL THAT OPPORTUNITY. There is so much space for narrow, excellent vision and product execution in todays marketplace. The evolution of the Internet has led our society to a place that is so ripe with opportunity for innovation and disruption. But, what is truly beautiful is that those opportunities will/can be successful because THEY SOLVE A PROBLEM FOR PEOPLE.  They do genuine good because their products help people live more efficiently. They add value to lives. And that is just plain awesome.


If you like what you read, you should follow me 🙂

Update: This was recently published in the NY Times about what could happen to Craigslist. Interesting Read!

Just Another Industry: The End of the Scarcity Model in Music

The following table examines the components of the music business that made it “perfect” for Internet-based disruption, and the state of those components afterward.

Business Component Pre-Disruption (Perfect Industry) Post-Disruption (No Longer Special)
Promotion Magazines pushing Record Companies’ product: Free Most music magazines have become culture based. Do not have nearly the same pull over readers. People do not need recommendations. They can sample and judge for themselves.
Promotion Radio pushing Record Companies’ product: Free Still relevant, but does not have nearly the same pull over listeners as before. Decentralized by emergence of Internet Radio.
Promotion Television: MTV: Free Advertising Now industry must pay for television advertising, like all other industries.
Promotion/ Distribution Physical Distribution. Chains of independent retailers whose focus was selling Record Companies’ product. Now only physical distribution is big box stores (Target, Walmart, etc.) or Mom & Pop indies. Physical is waning anyway. Digital distribution is not monopolized.
Distribution Controlled by Record Companies: Oligopoly. Distribution now flat. Internet is an equal space, any random musician can have worldwide digital distribution without Record Companies.
Listening Technology Records followed by CDs. High Priced. Cheap to produce. Not copyable. Wears out (must be replaced). Digital copies cost nothing or are cheap. They are easily copied. They do not wear out. Unlimited consumption streaming services like Spotify are emerging.
Costs of Production Used to take enormous sums of money to make a commercially viable album. Now solid albums can be created cheaply with virtual instruments and home studios.
Popularity Principle: Reinforcing Just had to get Album into Top 40 charts to create more sales: Consumer rationale “Must be good because it is selling!” World of niches. People can sample for free, will only buy what they personally like.
Cool Factor Music defines people over long periods of time. Still relevant.