The CEO of multibillion-dollar Pinterest recruited his first employees from Friday-night neighbourhood barbecues

Pinterest cofounder and CEO Ben Silbermann. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
  • In the early days of Pinterest, cofounder and CEOBen Silbermann would recruit employees at weekly barbecues.
  • One of his biggest challenges was finding the right people to work for Pinterest.
  • When recruiting, Silbermann was extremely transparent about the challenges of working at a startup and looked for people who were eager to take on those challenges.

In the early days of Pinterest, an image-browsing site with 250 million active users, employees worked out of a two-bedroom apartment and attended Friday night neighbourhood barbecues hosted by cofounder and CEO Ben Silbermann.

“We ended up actually recruiting a lot of people from those barbecues,” Silbermann said on an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success.”

“They’d come three, or four, or five weeks in a row. They’d say, ‘It looks like all of you are having a really good time. We love the product. Let us know when you have any openings,'” he said.

Several early employees were hired from attending Silbermann’s barbecues. But as Pinterest grew in scale, Silbermann stopped recruiting people through weekly outings.

“I remember when we were recruiting early on. There were these people that were at great jobs, and I would almost feel guilty pulling them out of this great job,” Silbermann said. “We didn’t have a cool office. It was bring your own computer. They were going to take these massive salary cuts. I would almost feel guilty about saying you should leave this amazing job at a Google or a Facebook and come work for us.”

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Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann explains how he’s built a multibillion-dollar company that reaches 250 million people

In time, Silbermann realised early Pinterest recruits were “really great people” and felt motivated by the challenges a startup brings.

“If you just embrace that, if you don’t try to cover up all of the company’s warts and challenges and say, ‘Here are the big challenges we have. It’s going to be risky, but it’s going to be a big adventure.’ The best people will self-select into that,” he said.

Once Silbermann understood that, he felt he could recruit honestly and with extreme transparency. He was looking for that “special breed of person” that wants adventure in a career and the chance to make an impact.

“I think the biggest challenge I’ve overcome is being able to recruit people to come and work with me that have very, very different skillsets,” he said.

Silbermann compared finding the right people for Pinterest to a superpower. It took him a while to figure out how to do it well, but said it is one of the most rewarding parts of building a company and team.

Listen to the full episode and subscribe to “This Is Success” on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.