How Toronto’s Pinerly Pivoted a Bloated, Failed Startup into a Lean Industry Leader

Posted by Rick Newkirk

Pinerly is the world’s leader in Pinterest marketing, counting a 65,000-user waitlist and more than 13,000 beta testers. The Plug and Play Accelerator Canada company is proving a market where literally none existed less than a year ago.

But just four months ago, they had nothing. Pinerly is what rose from another failed business called setNight.

In November 2010, Toronto natives Vlad Barshai and Rick Kats created setNight as a solution to organizing your night life online. They even dreamed up this amazing video, a shot-for-shot reimagining of the Social Network trailer decked out with setNight founders as the main players.

But soon they realized setNight was doomed. Their product—itself a pivot of a deal-a-day company—was too bulky and lacked the essence of a “set night.” Their team was too big and they had too few users. In fact, they didn’t even think a problem existed in the first place. “We’re trying to fix this thing that I don’t even have a problem with because I don’t go out that much,” Barshai said. “It’s annoying because you’re in an industry you didn’t even care about and you don’t even like.”

“One of the mistakes we made with setNight was we built the whole product, which took us like eight months,” Kats said. “And we realized by the time we finished there was no market for it. We made a lot of mistakes.

Luckily one of those pieces they built had promise. Photo/lifestyle sharing site Pinterest came on the scene in 2010, and it took off in popularity in the past 12 months. Yesterday, Shareaholic reported that Pinterest is now beating Twitter, StumbleUpon, Bing and even Google’s non-organic search products in referral traffic.

And yet earlier this year no one had figured out how to analyze Pinterest traffic. “It’s really hard to market anything onto social media sites,” Barshai said. “And Pinterest was exploding.”

Despite no API release from Pinterest, the setNight guys found a way to build an analytics tool for the site—fortunately for them, because Pinerly became the entire business. It’s known as a “zoom-in pivot” in Eric Ries’ Lean Startup terminology, and it’s also been done by Steve Jobs at NeXtPayPal, and the Beastie Boys. You take a small portion of your business that works, and get rid of everything else.

The pair came across the Ries philosophy about that time and realized they didn’t have to build out the entire end-product before launch. With setNight, they had focused on marketing the product without producing the market. Not anymore.

“You can discover everything you need just from a landing page,” Barshai said. “Which is what we did with Pinerly. Everything can be figured out with a cover . . . When you walk around in stores, you look at packaging and you’re like, ‘Wow. I really want that.’ You don’t even know how it works, but you have a vision for how it works.”

On March 2 Barshai and Kats created their “Minimum Viable Product”: a landing page for Pinerly, hoping for about 2,000 hits by the end of the month. They had that in three days. Two weeks later they had 36,000 on their waitlist, and by the time they launched the product on March 27, a full 46,000 had signed on.

Today Pinerly is one of 16 companies at Plug and Play Startup Camp in Silicon Valley, with 65,000 would-be users on a waitlist and more than 13,000 beta testers. The plan is to roll out premium features soon and begin testing and validating one new feature a week. The company gains 300 users a day, without any active marketing from the team.

All after launching too late and landing on a landing page.

Company:
setNight
Website:
http://www.setnight.com
Location:
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Finding venues, events and things to do at night is extremely painful and unintuitive. Information for nightlife is scattered across the Internet with emphasis on either restaurants or clubs & pubs. Venue directories are good for finding venues, but provide logos and lots of text making it difficult to find things efficiently. Review sites are good for real user ratings but lack user interaction and offer... more

Company:
Pinerly
Website:
http://www.pinerly.com
Location:
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

When a group of passionate, hard-working, and ambitious people come together, beautiful things happen. We founded Pinerly because using Pinterest gave us a huge boost in traffic (at some point over 30%) and we wanted to empower brands and users by helping them do the same. The team takes criticism positively (so reach out), loves to learn (so challenge us!), and acknowledges that our goal is to create products... more


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Rick Newkirk

Rick Newkirk

Rick Newkirk is an MBA student at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. He is currently an intern at Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., working primarily on startup narratives. Before business school Rick was a journalist for seven years, working on the Sports desk at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., and serving as Editor-in-Chief at the Indiana Daily Student.... more



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