Coastal Investors Marvel at Pinterest’s Target Market: ‘Regular People’ in Flyover Country

A site for people who "aren't that interesting" to show off their taste?

via LinkedIn

Pinterest, the only hockey-stick startup with the distinction of being embraced by women and Mormons, gets the full New York Times treatment today with a profile by Jenna Wortham, well-timed to the clusterfuck hullabaloo currently underway in Austin. While other startups clamor over themselves to preach to the choir and woo early-adopters, Pinterest user base began in Des Moines, Iowa, where cofounder Ben Silbermann grew up.

While the startup’s hearting-the-heartland approach has caused “some headscratching” at SXSW, its also infected investors with a wicked case of envy. “It defies the mold that you have to build something for New York and San Francisco and then spread it out from there,” Chris Dixon, who is slated to interview Mr. Silbermann on stage tomorrow, told the Times, adding, “Everyone’s envious. I’m envious. I wish I was an investor. I wish I’d created the site.”

One investor who may be immune? New York Angels founder Brian Cohen, who also has the distinction of being Pinterest’s very first investor.Mr. Cohen tells Mashable how he met Mr. Silbermann and cofounder Evan Sharp when the two were just “a couple of young guys from NYU” at a business plan competition. (Mr. Silbermann’s LinkedIn profile, however, lists him as alma mater as Yale.)

According to Mr. Cohen, what distinguished Pinterest, which went through 30 to 40 iterations, was the founders’ ability to listen:

That listening started with a different product Silbermann was working on at Cold Brew Labs — an app called Tote. The idea was the first woman’s fashion catalog on the iPhone. Cohen told me Silbermann watched user behavior on Tote. “As the app was being used, he recognized that women were grabbing, tagging specific items that they were able to view later when they got home,” said Cohen. What Silbermann saw was that huge numbers of people were grabbing items and sharing them with friends. “He recognized that these women were sharing their tastes.”

Betabeat has mentioned before how Pinterest’s boards and aspirational/consumerist bent look to us more like the next-generation of those snail-mail catalogs, except one you in create yourself. The Times likens it more to scrapbooking.

In search of Mr. Silbermann’s New York University connections, we came across this video of a speech he gave at NYU-Stern in 2010, where he discussed the idea of collecting, something he used to do with bugs and stamps as a young boy in Iowa. Moving that impulse online, he said, is “fundamentally changing the way regular people discover the things around them“:

Why is collection so basic to who we are? I think the answer lies in self-expression. If you walk around Brooklyn and ask people how they express themselves. Everyone’s a musician or an artist or a filmmaker. But most of us aren’t that interesting. Most of us are just consumers of that. And when we collect things and when we share those collections with people that’s how we show who we are in the world. That’s how we express our taste to the people around us.”

Not that Pinterest, which boasts $40 million in financing, needs our help with the pitch. But we might stick with “regular” folks and leave out the less interesting part going forward . . .

Coastal Investors Marvel at Pinterest’s Target Market: ‘Regular People’ in Flyover Country