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Yash Nelapati
Founding Engineer, Pinterest

Hi there, I am Yash, First full-time hire at Pinterest. I was hired when Pinterest was just an idea in an apartment with 3 people thinking about it and Ben (founder, Pinterest) was looking for a product engineer. From going to 3 users to 70M users and 1 employee to 500+ employees, it has been one interesting journey. Before that I worked briefly at Symantec and a Design studio. AskmeAnything about my career journey!

How many hours a week did you work when you started at Pinterest?

I worked all the time. You put in everything and don' t track time. First 6 months were a bit relaxed, because we didnt know what we were doing. Ben was busy riasing some money. He said I will just raise some money so that I can pay you, and I said okay I will just build something. We knew we wanted to build collections but we didnt knew what the product should be like. Me and Evin did a lot of iterations and spent lots of latenights brainstorming. Evin used to work at Facebook and I would work all day. Then he would come back in the evening and we would go on crazy with design iterations in the remaining time. All this brainstorming led to this product we called Pinterest. So yeah, first 6 months were little bit relaxed because it was all brainstorming.

In the early days how did you encourage users to install “Pin it” button and use it regularly. Was it solely on the ‘Pin it forward program’?

It is extremely hard for startups to gain the first momentum and make user create content on their networks. It is Chicken- -and-eggs problem. Some startup I know even pay someone to write the content on their platform.

 

In the early days the first set of users were our friends and family. All of the user base graciously volunteered to use the product and provide feedback. Upon registration we congrtulated the user and encouraged the user to install the bookmarklet. Apart from that I dont remember doing anything special to promote the bookmarket. Once in few weeks I ran some numbers comparing the pins created via bookmarklet to repins and uploaded pins. The numbers were small but healthy. Ben reached out to every user personally and got feedback. People loved the product, we got lucky. Pin it forward was a major campaign that brought a new set of users that we did not know directly. Yes this user base created a lot of pins since the product fit into their life style. We gave 5 invites to every user to invite people that that had taste in a field. Things naturally evolved. Very true. Its extremely hard. We suffered the same for about 8-9 months. Things were slow. The campaign was a game changer for us. The campaign brought the right set of users to our doors. Ben made a very smart call to go after the demographic that would fetch us power users. Every startup needs to figure out how to reach their target demographic. You can use Facebook ads and target your reach to the right audience but it costs $$$. Some startups pay and create initial content. Which works too. "Fake it till you make it. Nothing wrong". Its hard but has to be done. Its slow and frustrating but once you persevere you made history.

Hi what did you study in order to get to this point? I am an incoming freshman in college majoring in computer Science.

I studied Computer Science during my bachelors and Software Engineering for my masters. The degrees and course work did try to teach some computer related stuff but, I dont think I learned a lot. I did my bachelors in India where the emphasis was ...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

Does Ben Silberman (Co-founder/CEO Pinterest) know how to code? Any specific examples of he was involved with the early prototype/product (e.g. Was he designing the frontend, Engage in user acquisition, something else)?

Ben Silbermann does not know how to code. But he knows how a good product looks like and works like. He is a product guy with a laser sharp vision. Ben and Evan (co-founder and design lead) brain stormed a lot about how the product worked. When Ev...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

How long was the development cycle for the initial launch of Pinterest?

Right from start date to website up and running, it took about 60 days. But over the next one year we were adding features and making the product better in every sense. Evan and I perfected the grid and added infinite scroll which made the experie...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

How did Pinterest get their early pinners?

All the first few thousands of users are friends and their friends. We had an invite system which was very personal and every user gets 5 invites each. We encouraged users to invite their friends who has great taste in a niche you are interested i...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

I am guessing it was quite a leap of faith joining as a first employee. What sold you on the idea? Was it the founder’s passion or your personal intuition about the concept?

Yes it is. When I heard the idea it was pretty raw. Its hard to judge the idea. But the way I looked at it was "What is the problem we are solving?". I used delicious and magnolia to bookmark stuff and tag webpages. I used to tag a lot of blog pos...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

Where do you see Pinterest 5 years down the line.

Super hard to predict because Pinterest has consistently blew my imaginations and predictions every single year. But I will take a chance to hit my wild guess. Pinterest will be the default place to collect. I am hoping a lot of people will use Pi...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

Can you talk about the earlier design iterations and the process at Pinterest before they arrived at the visually appealing which got the most customer traction. What advice would you give to startups on balancing the visual appeal and time to market/more features/more investment.

Evan, co-founder of Pinterest is the designer who worked on all the early prototypes. Right from version 1 the grid was always there. He spent a lot of times in getting the design aesthetics right. Its like the 80-20 rule. He got the grid pretty s...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

How were the first 6-12 months @Pinterest? What are some memories about those times?

The first year at Pinterest is kinda a weird year since we were trying out things that we had no idea about. We knew we were attempting a good problem. We were heads down focussed on building the product. 2010, we were 3 guys working out of a apar...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

How did you get hired at Pinterest? Whats the story?

In 2010 I was working for another startup about a team of 60 people. Things were pretty slow. Kind of a stable job but nothing was really exciting. Monotonous tasks, slow pace and what not. I used to spend a lot of time working on open source proj...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
What was the hardest moment while working at Pinterst?
I dont think there was any hardest moment, but I guess the fund raising in the early days was a hard moment. I could see Ben going out and meeting a lot of VC's but things were not happening. Every morning I would see Ben go out super pumped but c...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free
#AskYash As am immigrant, what kind of visa issues did you face and how did you deal with them?
#AskYash what is your best life hack, which helps you keep up with the hardships of a startup lifestyle?
Not a question, but a compliment about how much Pinterest has improved. Thank you! #AskYash
How did you grow from 1000 to 10000 users and onto 10000? In early days how did you test with users other than coffee shop? #askyash
#AskYash how did you know which technologies to use?
What's the ONE marketing technique (other than using Pinterest :) that you would recommend everyone of us to use? #askyash
At what point do you really need to worry about scalability? #AskYash @askmeanything50
What was your biggest technical mistake at Pinterest and how did you solve it? #AskYash
Why did you not become a co-founder? Were you offered equity and did you believe in equity during the early days? #askyash
How many times did you want to quit and did not quit? Why did you not quit? What were the reasons for quitting #askyash
How imp is hacking? As an engineer / dev how much you should know and how much shud you hack? Is it necessary to be master of all? #askyash
Any advice for scaling and dealing with migrating legacy startup code to become more robust & manageable? How did Pinterest do it? #AskYash
#AskYash what's your advice to engineers working for startups
How did you convince your biz owners (aka biz) how difficult a feature is to implement when they feel it could be done in 1 hour #askyash
How important is the UI in the initial stages of the product and how do you decide when to roll off a version of the Ui? #askyash
What was the most important feature you created that drove users to repeatedly return to Pinterest and invest their time? #AskYash
#AskYash how is the background color picked for each card on Pinterest
#AskYash Did you have to work like crazy number of hours in the early days?
#AskYash How much traffic is considered good to validate an idea to be sustainable?
Did you apply the principles of growth hacking? Which worked and which didnt in early stages? Any insights for building userbase? #askyash
What technology choices you made when you needed to scale up? Did you gave up on anything from previous stack and why? #askyash
How did Ben find u?Were u searchin 4 a startup or was it an spntaneous oportunity? #AskYash @askmeanything50 @PinterestEng @Pinterest @yashh

@yashh Hi Yash, what is a "momentum changer" for newbies on Pinterest?  #AskYash @askmeanything50

"What would need to change to draw more men to Pinterest?" #AskYash @askmeanything50 @PinterestEng @Pinterest @yashh
@yashh Hi Yash, When pinning, what time(s) of the day is/are the best for traction? #AskYash @askmeanything50
At what point should we hire a UI Ninja to convert the site from 'okay' looking to awesome looking? Did you have the required skills in the beginning to make Pinterest what it looks like today?

How did you manage to decide on the starting point or solving the problem that Pinterest currently solves? From bootstrapping to scaling up, did you have a Product Manager? I am interested in knowing about the process you used to narrow down to the one use case you perfected and built the product ground up.

What are some of your fav books, blog post, interviews, videos, movies etc that has significantly changed the way you think?