Tim Kendall is the President of Pinterest and when I interviewed him at Dmexco in Germany, he announced that Pinterest has just reached 200m monthly users. That’s a big news for them as it means they have overtaken Snapchat (at 173 million), increasing their sign-ups by 40% in twelve months, and I had a chance to ask him how…
Tim believes that central to their success is the executive commitment to create a culture of kind, compassionate people “which is not conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley” he says, “it actually augments your business if people can be warm and compassionate”.
Building on this, and creating his own version of a Silicon Valley leader in t-shirt, Tim wears his with the word ‘Focus’ across his chest. ‘Focus’ is his philosophy about narrowing your attention to “Three things essential to your job and that absolutely must be done. Then take two away.” Focus, in his lexicon, means being brutally honest about saying no and disappointing people, in order to remain focused on the central task — and in doing so, build a successful business. He was illuminating the blind spots in corporate culture — filling the work day with easily accomplished tasks which garner fewer results but give us the impression we are working. This resonated with me as I aim to use a similar approach in my own leadership style. Tim discussed how he is as rigorous with himself as he is with his team. Which brings us to the freezer…
I heard Tim takes a bath every morning filled with ice cubes and he corrected me there — he has since bought himself a freezer which is a more efficient way to jolt the body awake. While you and I are sipping coffee, he spends five minutes in 30 degrees Fahrenheit every morning. Or as he describes it, “A mildly more extreme version of coffee.” One person’s “mildly” is another’s extreme.
As someone who has travelled the world discovering for myself many different kinds of self-actualizing mild/extreme rituals, I wanted to know why a freezer? What was the effect it had on his mind, afterwards? He described it as, “Thank God that’s over.” Tim explained his physical experience needs to mirror his business philosophy. In order to focus on the most demanding task, you will inevitably disappoint people. He’s a self-described pleaser, a ‘golden retriever’ and to be effective in his job requires being impervious. He finds this equanimity in the physical discomfort of a freezer.
I wanted to better understand what impact this has had on the business, in particular what has changed in the last twelve months for Pinterest? They took an axe to the ads they felt were below par. “Compromising there was mortgaging the engagement of the users in the future.” Low quality ads would turn users away and they rolled the dice and evidently made the better decision.
The most attractive quality for marketers wanting to invest in Pinterest? Tim explains most people use a search engine with the brand they are looking for. With Pinterest, 97% of the searches are unbranded. It’s a free-association of what they want. Exploring without brand loyalty is exactly where marketers say they find their new consumers. “We think that whole discovery process is highly visual. Computer vision technology — and we use that to help us recommend products to users.” This however, leaves Pinterest unsure of what the future of a voice-enabled internet will mean for them, the freezer has not yet helped solve that challenge.
As I drink my regular morning coffee, I look forward to following Tim and Pinterest into the future, I wish him and his team of positive pinners every success.
Originally published at medium.com