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What Startups Can Learn From Pinterest

You likely don’t need to be reminded about Pinterest’s astounding growth. They’re not an overnight success and there doesn’t appear to be any magic to Pinterest. There’s no special technology that gives it an advantage & no new revolutionary marketing strategy (to my knowledge). What they do have is a combination of important principles. They don’t sacrifice one for the other, they get it all.

These principles are advantageous for any large company or startup to learn from or be reminded of. Let’s cut to the chase, and go through them now:

1. It’s Visually Appealing

pinterest is visually appealing

Go on Pinterest and one of the first things you’ll look at are images. You can browse the site quickly due to the minimal amount of reading. There’s no work needed for the first time visitor.


Don’t clutter your site with images or words. Try to keep it simple and let people look. If they want more information, make it easily accessible with text or video.

Check out any page on Apple and you’ll see organized images along with short descriptions. Rarely will you see paragraphs of text to read. Apple usually has videos to explain a complex product, instead of endless amounts of text. Think about taking a cue from Apple and implementing something similar on your site.

Finally, keep in mind the different personas when designing or redesigning your website.

2. It’s Easy to Use

Pinterest isn’t loaded with thousands of features. It’s a simple, easy-to-use product; and despite it still being a request only site, the entire signup process is very easy. There aren’t many people who need a tour to learn how to navigate the site. The majority of users learn about how it works via word of mouth.


76% of consumers say the most important thing in a website is making sure it’s easy to use. Making your site intuitive and visually appealing is difficult, but it pays off. Simplicity can be a competitive advantage. Dropbox is known for its ease of use. Indeed, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston placed an emphasis on simplicity from the beginning. Houston says that some of the principles of design at Dropbox are making sure the site is fast and that everything should “just work”.

As Steve Jobs said:

Steven Jobs Headshot

“It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Experiment and see what works with your users.

3. It’s Social

People love to express themselves, share with others & meet people with similar interests. Pinterest helps facilitate this for the user. It’s the sharing of boards and pins that creates the word of mouth that also helps spread Pinterest.


Not all products are meant to be social. Some B2B products are better if there’s no sharing or communication between the users. Pinterest is inherently social.

Like Pinterest, much of Facebook is also sharing. Over 200 million photos are uploaded and shared on Facebook every day. Many of the world’s top sites all have some kind of sharing or social platform built in.

Think about YouTube, the third most visited site in the world. It’s not a product that has to be social, but they’ve implemented social aspects into it. Comments, profiles, subscriptions all help users interact with one another. Is the site more popular because it has these social features in it?

Clearly, there are successful sites that have no social functionality built in. Craigslist and Drudge Report are a couple of these. What these two do have, however, is ease of use. Think if Drudge were to add comments to stories, would this increase traffic and engagement? Or if Craigslist were to have profiles of sellers and the ability to review sellers, would this make the site more trustworthy?

Make valuable products and users will enjoy it. Ease of use and making sure your site is fast will avoid frustration for the user, thus adding to their enjoyment of your product.

4. It’s Useful

Visit Pinterest and you’ll see lots of helpful pins. Whole Foods will post recipes, Nordstrom will give fashion tips, Chobani will pin basic strength movements, Etsy will post handmade items and many others will share things that they find helpful.

whole foods pinterest recipe

Here’s how Pinterest can be simultaneously useful AND fun for users and brands.


Some things that contribute to usefulness are:

  • Ease Of Use – What good is it if it takes the user a long time to just learn how to navigate your site?
  • Speed – If your site isn’t fast, people may go back to what they were doing before you attempted to solve their problem, or worse, switch to a competitor. Don’t underestimate speed.
  • Solves A Problem – Making something people want is key. Pinterest shifts from searching to discovering things. People discover great recipes, designs, clothing everyday without searching for anything.
  • Makes The Users Lives Easier – If you’re not solving a problem than you’re going to have a really hard time getting traction.

5. It’s Viral

pinterest alexa ranking

What good would pinning on your board be if nobody saw it? Pinterest allows users to follow, favorite, comment and repin. Though less popular, users can also Like and/or Tweet any image or video they like.


Your product should have some sharing features in it. Like and Tweet buttons are a couple of good options. Also consider giving people an incentive to tell friends. With Dropbox, users get more space if they tell their friends (their friend also gets more space than if he or she signed up without a referral).

According to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, 35% of daily signups are through the referral system, and 20% of daily signups are from folder sharing. It doesn’t hurt that Dropbox’s signup is really easy. All you need is first and last name, email and password.

6. It’s Targeted

Pinterest is primarily used by women. Women are referred to it by other women, who then go to the site and see images that women like. There’s no filtering or searching for what they like, it’s all right there.


This certainly won’t work for everyone and if you already have a popular product it may be best to avoid alienating users. But if you’re starting a content site you may want to see if it’s possible to serve niches. Break Media CEO Keith Richman attributes their success to being able to serve a young male demographic.

As you can see, Pinterest grew from basic principles. That doesn’t, however, mean that they are lucky. Think about all the times where you’ve been at someone’s house or shopping, and you hear people say “I love that desk” or “I love this kitchen”. Pinterest helps people collect and share these types of things that they love. They’ve served a need that people had.

About the Author: Zach Bulygo is a guest blogger for KISSmetrics, you can find him on Twitter here. You can also follow him on Google+.

  1. Harleena Singh Apr 05, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Informative post!

    Pininterest sure is addictive like no other social media I think, because of the wonderful visuals it has. It does get tough to get away from it once you are at it, so it works best if you schedule a time to visit Pinterest. :)

    It works best if you choose unique images or posts to pin, which go viral instantly and that is something I really love, as you are able to connect with so many people instantly. I guess it works best if you have a few selected boards catering to people in your niche, though have some others outside your niche as well- a combination works best.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. While Pinterest seems pretty cool, I find YouTube much more addictive and can spend 10x more time on YouTube (yes, and socializing via comments, likes, etc) than Pinterest. Maybe ’cause I’m a guy but who know’s. I would still plan on integrating my websites with Pinterest tho’

    • Rob,
      Pinterest seems to be dominated by women. There are many new sites that are Pinterest for guys. Here’s a popular one:

  3. thank you, really informative, easy reading and usefull

  4. Richard Silvester Jul 05, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Well presented, brings us back to the essential key values!! Would love to create an infographic on this subject and combine it with some key research facts to back it up.

  5. Making something people want is key. Pinterest shifts from searching to discovering things.

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