An idea that stuck

Since its founding in March 2010 by UChicago alumnus Evan Sharp (A.B. ‘05) and partners Paul Sciarra and Ben Silbermann, Pinterest has risen to the ranks of sites like Facebook, StumbleUpon, and Tumblr.

Now, after securing $27 million in funding in October 2011 from the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, the 19-month-old start-up is poised for even bigger growth in 2012.

Still, Sharp–who was recently named on the Forbes 30 under 30 list– believes the culture of U of C and his start-up aren’t so far apart.

“[The University] was a crazy place because everybody is so broad intellectually, is so interested in everything,” Sharp said. “Frankly, Pinterest is the same way because it allows people to celebrate interests that they might not be professionals in, but are still passionate about.”

The hugely successful website has humble beginnings. Sharp, former architect and B.A. graduate in History, was inspired by his childhood love of collecting.

“I collected pencils, stickers, everything,” he said. “Pinterest is really about bringing your collections online, allowing you to organize and share the things that inspire you.”

Named by Time magazine as one of the “50 Best Websites of 2011,” Pinterest offers a dynamic new interpretation of online social media, pulling images from across the web to a central site. Users can install a “Pin It” button to their browsers or smart-phones that allows them to tag an image from the web, pin it to one of their “pinboards,” and automatically cite the original link to avoid copyright issues.

A single user can create several personalized pinboards with distinct themes. Unlike Facebook’s statuses or Twitter’s tweets, Pinterest lacks the in-your-face minute-to-minute update culture condoned by other sites and instead fosters a community of creativity, governed by positive attitudes and collective idea sharing.

“Pinterest encourages people to celebrate the beauty of people’s interests. It manifests people’s passions in ways that others find accessible,” said Sharp.  

Pinterest proves that although it may be the new kid on the social media block, it has big potential. The site is already gaining fame with accounts from big names like Paula Deen, The Today Show and Whole Foods.

Sharp’s favorite board showcases the kind of quirky creativity Pinterest users bring to the site. The pinboard, titled  “A Pinboard of Pins,” collects images of animal groups that have interesting names like A Flamboyance of Flamingoes or even better–An Ogle of [Ryan] Goslings.

This “accessible” quality is embodied in the website’s sleek technical and aesthetic presentation. All the images on the infinitely continuing main pinboard meld into each other like puzzle-pieces and many have witty or cute captions a sentence or two long.

Sharp and his team are well-aware of the light and laid-back vibe of the site, and how this sort of atmosphere encourages the Pinterest community to share without care. Users are able to comment on each other’s pins and follow each other’s boards to help personalize image content. But, from comments on architecture to wedding plans, cookies recipes or pictures of Sean Connery’s face, the site’s strict “Pin Etiquette” encourages respectful interaction and prohibits hateful content.

Pinterest provides a space in which everybody is free to explore their and other’s creativity in a positive and inspiring environment that, according to Sharp, is “empowering the individual to discover, create, and share.”  

Story by Ayn Woodward, '13