How Pinterest went from web-only inspiration engine to an app marketing behemoth



When it comes to explosive app growth, few companies have had as much success as Pinterest. Starting out as a web-only product discovery platform, the early days Pinterest employees saw the rise of mobile apps in the tea leaves and repositioned themselves accordingly, devoting resources and teams to the emerging frontier back in 2012.


In an all-out, summer-long blitz, the team quickly hired a cadre of developers to build out and ultimately launch a Pinterest iPad app, an Android app, and version 2 of its iOS app, all at the same time. Pinterest was already seeing huge traffic via web, but within 24 hours of launching the suite of mobile apps, mobile traffic overtook web traffic and has only accelerated since.


“Basically as soon as we turned it on, mobile eclipsed web, and today 80 percent of our usage on Pinterest is on mobile. All of our new features are built on mobile first, we consider everything we do mobile,” said Cat Lee, Pinterest’s Head of Partner Marketing at a recent panel discussion hosted by TMGA.


Women in Wireless’ Kara Dake sat down with Lee for a fireside chat about her instrumental role in making that great successful leap from web to mobile for Pinterest, the decisions that lead up to it and her overall thoughts on mobile growth.


Lee, who started out leading growth at Pinterest, said early app growth was realized by taking a deep dive into its website traffic, at first with a small team of her and one other engineer which ultimately ballooned to dozens, becoming a force unto itself within Pinterest for the next 18 months.


“Our first job was to launch the first version of our mobile apps. We quickly realized we had no understanding of what was truly driving growth,” Lee said.


“In 2013 we decided to start a growth team. We got into the details of instrumenting everything we needed to know about our website. We grew that team from one engineer and one product engineer to 40 engineers, five product managers, and five designers.”


Any growth team will tell you, metrics is a tricky subject. Lee said even the mighty Pinterest struggled to find its bearings early on in those murky metrics waters but eventually got there by once again building teams and examining all aspects of traffic and engagement.


“Early on we struggled to figure out what was the right metric to optimize because there are so many. We started with every team picking their own metric to optimize and found there was a lot of channel conflict. People optimizing for signups weren’t necessarily leading to the engagement the engagement team was looking for, so we took a big step back in the early days and ran a regression analysis to figure out which metrics matter to us in the long run, which user action tied to long-term engagement,” said Lee.


Lee said the company ultimately discovered that repins were the user action that mattered most as it comes to long-term engagement, so they optimized for weekly active repinners.


“The notion is when we talk to users qualitatively it meant they found something of value on Pinterest and thought it was worth saving,” said Lee.


Lee said the acquisition and engagement teams together tracked that metric, enabling seamless experimentation later on across departments and allowed the team to focus on making a truly great product for its users.


“It allowed us to really be on the same page when we run our experiments it’s clear we’re not optimizing for short-term gains, we’re, as a team, thinking about how to prioritize more and more people getting value out of Pinterest.”


Pinterest has grown to household name status. With more than 2 billion searches per month, it’s one of the best-known places on the internet to discover new and interesting products and design inspiration. But since 97 percent of those searches are non-branded, that means a lot of aimless, yet motivated browsers. That means ample opportunity to reach out to those would-be shoppers with demonstrated strong purchase intent. Pinterest recently launched a new search product that enables marketers to target users specifically within search.


“Most people come to Pinterest without knowing exactly what they’re looking for, we say people are ‘searching with their eyes,’” Lee said.


“That means you as an app have an opportunity to really reach those people when they’re pretty open-minded and don’t know exactly what they’re looking for, and you can reach those people in search and take them all the way from inspiration to action.”




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