The funny story of how Pinterest hired its founding engineer

Screen Shot 2015 07 18 at 11.56.57 AMScreenshot / YouTubeYash Nelapati presenting at Surge Conference

Yash Nelapati never would have been hired as Pinterest’s founding engineer if it weren’t for a meet-up and Ben Silbermann’s dogged persistence.

Back in late 2009, Nelapati worked as a developer at a 60-person marketing startup in Silicon Valley. His job wasn’t particularly exciting, but it was stable and left him time to work on open source projects on the side.

One web application framework that interested him was Tornado, which became open-source after Facebook acquired FriendFeed, the company that developed it.

Nelapati decided to attend a Meet-up where FriendFeed’s cofounder, Bret Taylor, would talk about the web server. He found himself enthralled by the talk, and asked a lot of questions about Tornado.

YashMeetupA comment that Nelapati left after the meet-up

It was Nelapati’s questions that interested Silbermann.

After the talk, Silbermann approached Nelapati about an idea he had for a new way to let people collect stuff on the web that used “boards” as the motif for their accumulations. He was looking to hire smart engineers to help turn this glimmer of an idea into a reality.

Nelapati wasn’t immediately sold, but he gave Silbermann his information.

Then, not long after the meet-up, Nelapati fell seriously sick for about two weeks, bedridden and completely unable to talk.

Meanwhile, he kept getting phone call after phone call from Silbermann. Even though Nelapati never answered — he had no voice, after all — he started thinking about what it might be like to leave his larger team to work on something so brand new. At that point, only two guys, Silbermann and cofounder Ethan Sharp, were hustling away in an apartment.

Through all the radio silence from Nelapati, Silbermann refused to give up his campaign to hire him. After he finally recovered, Nelapati agreed to meet up with him again to hear more about the fledgling Pinterest and ask some questions.

Nelapati confesses that Silbermann’s answers weren’t exactly mind blowing. He had a good enough vision, but what really impressed Nelapati was Silbermann himself.

“I liked him and I liked his persistence,” Nelapati told Business Insider. “I took the position because I saw the potential in the idea and I liked his passion. I thought, it might be cool, it might be worthless, but it’s worth a shot.”

Fast forward five years, and it looks like it was the right shot to take. Pinterest now has more than 200 engineers and more than 500 employees total. More than 70 million people use Pinterest every month, according to comScore, and the site processes 50 terabytes of data everyday. Silberma
nn, Sharp, and Nelapati all still work there. The company
scored an $US11 billion valuation for its last Series G fundraise.

“Once way later, I asked again ‘Dude why did you pursue me so hard?'” Nelapati says.

“There were only two people who I felt like asked a lot of smart questions, Silbermann responded. One was a Facebook guy that I didn’t think I could recruit, and the other was you. I had a better chance with you so I pursued you like crazy,” Nelapati recounts.

To this day, Nelapati — who describes himself on LinkedIn as Pinterest’s “garbage collector” — is grateful for Silbermann’s persistence and the “blind leap of faith” that made him decide to join the company.

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