Commentary

Pinterest, Zoom Take Their Stories Public

Pinterest, the social media platform that’s in conscious self-denial, will start trading on the New York Stock Exchange this morning under the label PINS. It priced its shares at at $19 yesterday, which was above expectations, valuing it at about $12.7 billion. 

“Pinterest operates in a crowded digital marketing space, where Google and Facebook Inc. get the lion’s share of advertising dollars, and a smattering of smaller platforms like Twitter Inc. and Snap Inc. get the rest,” write Olivia Zaleski and Selina Wang for Bloomberg. “The San Francisco-based start-up, which serves as a sort of digital bulletin board for pictures and ideas for furniture, fashion, weddings, recipes and more, has a direct line to millions of people who are online looking for specific things to buy. That gives it an edge in making money from its user base compared with some of its peers.”

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Indeed, “Pinterest calls itself a ‘visual discovery’ platform for people to get ideas for different aspects of their lives, whether that’s curating a wardrobe, planning a vacation or wedding, or furnishing a new home,” Zaleski and Wang add.

Or folks looking for their lost gloves, hats, scarfs, shoes and toilet seats.

“Founded in 2010 by Ben Silbermann, a former Google employee, and Evan Sharp, who was previously a designer at Facebook, Pinterest has grown to 265 million monthly users. The company burst into the mainstream in 2012 with rapid growth, but expansion has since cooled due in part to a work culture that many employees describe as slow when it comes to making decisions,” writes CNBC’s Salvador Rodriguez.

“When Pinterest started to talk to investors about its I.P.O., it set a conservative price range that valued it at below $12 billion, the private valuation it has had since 2015. The strategy may stave off a frenzied spike and immediate drop like Lyft’s. The conservative pricing was typical of Pinterest’s avoidance of hype. … [CEO] Silbermann, is an introvert who has built Pinterest slowly and rarely brags,” Erin Griffith writes for the New York Times.

“While many start-up founders use their IPO prospectus as an opportunity to wax poetic about their companies’ grandiose missions, the founder’s letter from Pinterest was short. It noted that ‘sometimes what is essential is invisible to the eye,’ and thanked investors for considering the company,” Griffin continues.

But for all the lack of bluster, don’t underestimate the folks at Pinterest.

“When Apple's design chief, Jony Ive, was asked in 2018 who he thinks will make a ‘measurable impact on our future,’ he didn't point to a Nobel laureate, inspirational speaker or even fellow Englishman and celebrated vacuum designer James Dyson,” writes Ian Sherr for CNET, analyzing its appeal.

“Ive, whose dulcet British accent is as synonymous with Apple as the iPhone he helps design, told Wired magazine it would be Evan Sharp, head of product at Pinterest.

“Sharp, Ive said, ‘understands that complex problems can be simplified and often resolved visually.’ Translation: The site is easy to use and nice to look at, and that's helped it become a place you can mold to be a digital whiteboard filled with all sorts of ideas.”

Zoom, the video-conferencing app, is also going public this morning, selling shares of its Nasdaq stock, ZM, at $36 apiece.

“The company initially planned to price its shares at between $28 and $32 per share, but following big demand for a piece of a profitable tech business, Zoom increased expectations, announcing plans to sell shares at between $33 and $35 apiece,” writes  Kate Clark for TechCrunch.

“You probably haven’t heard of Zoom unless you’re a white-collar business professional. It’s an enterprise company. Pinterest, on the other hand, has 250 million monthly active users,” writes Theodore Schleifer for Recode.

“That explains why companies like Pinterest get a lot more media coverage than companies like Zoom. Even though they’ve now built similarly valued companies, it’s consumer-facing startups whose CEOs land on magazine covers, become so iconic that their names grow into verbs, and, more broadly, define a wave of Silicon Valley innovation,” Schleifer continues.

“And why that matters is because they also disproportionately drive the narrative of how an IPO market is doing. IPO markets -- like a piece of fiction or a well-written speech -- have a narrative: Do public market investors these days value growth or profits? What megacompany is the forced analogy du jour? Is the tech IPO market ‘open’ or ‘closed’?”

Sometimes, alas, narratives come to an untimely conclusion.

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