Social Commerce

Pinterest’s Valuation-Justifying Reinvention

In about a week Pinterest will show the world the overhaul it has been brewing up.  The work of over three-dozen designers, the new iOS Pinterest is reportedly a ground-up redesign forged during late nights and weekend work sessions with one goal in mind: make Pinterest sleeker, faster and more monetizable.

CEO Ben Silbermann has been, reportedly, a man on a mission, albeit a mission carried out in the young executive’s notoriously laid-back style. Silbermann’s vision is to transform the firm founded as a digital pinboard into the world’s dominant visual search engine. Easy stuff.

“We’re trying to build a catalog of ideas for the entire world,” he says. “It’s only as good as the diversity of ideas inside it.”

In the United States, 87 million people use the service every month according to comScore, up 61 percent from a year earlier. And that crowd has drawn spend, as U.S. marketers dropped $100 million on advertising on Pinterest in 2015, according to estimates unconfirmed by Pinterest.

But Pinterest is now at a crossroads where it needs to turn those eyeballs and commerce-minded consumers into a monetizable audience that is not so entirely female dominated. In the U.S. home market, 75 percent of the people using it are women and while inroads have been made abroad, Pinterest has had some difficulty taking its show on the road.

“Pinterest was founded for and aimed at Midwestern moms, and that’s been a strong base for them, but it’s not necessarily true that mindset occurs throughout the world,” says eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson. “It remains to be seen whether the idea of pinning and sharing is relevant in many markets.”

Pinterest thus has a growing audience but is still looking for a clear path to the $11 billion VC investors have bet the company will be worth as a business. That’s the valuation they raised funds on, built on a projection that by 2018 the firm would generate $2.8 billion in ad sales. That is possible, but would require aggressive growth in both the service’s user base and monetization pace.

Hence the redesign, and a test if Pinterest can become about general visual search instead of a social media hub for a particular user type.

“We’re trying to build a catalog of ideas for the entire world. It’s only as good as the diversity of ideas inside it,” notes Silbermann.

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