A Q&A with Pinfluencer co-founder and CEO Sharad Verma. The San Mateo, California–based company was founded in early 2012 and raised $1.4 million in Seed funding at the end of July. Investors include Freestyle Capital and Baseline Ventures; as well as Angel investors Jesse Engle, former CEO and co-founder of CoTweet, and Mark Ghermezian, owner of Mall of America.
SUB: Please describe Pinfluencer, and the value proposition you offer to businesses and brands utilizing Pinterest.
Verma: Pinfluencer is an advanced Pinterest analytics solution that makes it really easy to identify and connect with influential brand advocates, get actionable insights into trending pins and boards, and measure key virality metrics to quantify brand engagement on Pinterest. Companies such as GNC, Piperlime, 1800Flowers, Minted, HauteLook, Wikihow and Gemvara amongst others are using Pinfluencer to reach out to their brand advocates and identify content that resonates on Pinterest.
SUB: Who are your target users?
Verma: Our target users are retailers, ecommerce companies, agencies, visual publishers and large brands. Pinfluencer is serving the mid-size and large enterprise market.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Verma: Our real competition is a few incumbents such as: Widlfire or Hootsuite which may eventually extend their offering of contests and analytics to Pinterest. Because Pinterest does not have a firehose API yet, the crawl technology Pinfluencer created gives us a massive first mover advantage.
While other start-ups such as Pinerly, Pinreach, Curalate, Pinpuff and Pinleague are aiming for a similar offering as Pinfluencer, our vision is big and unique. Pinfluencer is about monetizing social networks and using the behavioral intelligence to drive ecommerce and CRM decision making. Our goal is to apply the shopping intent of Pinterest to generate real revenue and change the way ecommerce is distributed and discovered.
SUB: What differentiates Pinfluencer from the competition?
Verma: Pinfluencer is a big-data company providing very deep and granular insights into Pinterest. Our competition is merely skimming the surface. To give you an example, Pinfluencer is the only analytics solution that offers deep competitive and content research insights. A brand has full access to all its competitor’s data—its engaged pinners, influential pinners, their popular pins and boards. That is powerful ammunition to have on your side when deciding a brand’s content strategy. We are also the only company that tracks the category based popular pins, popular pinners and popular boards, solving the cold-start problem that many brands face when starting out their presence on Pinterest.
Pinfluencer is also the first analytics solution to map the path from pin to purchase. Our deep integration with Google Analytics allows a brand to see how much revenue, purchases, visits and page views were generated from a particular pin. We track 25+ KPIs such as Revenue/Pin, Repins/Pin, Visits/Pinner, etc., that helps marketing executives stay on top of their brand’s Pinterest performance.
Pinfluencer is a visual CRM of a brand’s most influential brand advocates. Influence is key. None of our competitors compute or track influence. Pinfluencer tracks brand specific influence. Influence score indicates the viral potential of the user when that use pins brand’s content, making it very specific and relevant.
And finally Pinfluencer tracks the organic pins from your website—not just the boards—and connects them to a retailer’s catalog. Our technology crawls landing pages and extracts ecommerce categories offering retailers and brands a macro, category level view of data trends. Eventually, we will power analytics such as, ‘red dresses under $300 are really popular on social networks’ and the merchandising teams will use that intelligence to proactively fill the inventory.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Verma: Pinfluencer was founded in mid-February of 2012. It started as an experiment—we were able to pull a rock-star team together within three months of inception and start the process of customer development. We got lot of early positive feedback on our product from a few customers which helped us craft a unique solution that the market really needed. Once we were confident in our long term vision of applying social shopping intent to drive ROI, it was time to hit the fund raising trail. I had known a partner, Dave Samuel, at Freestyle from my previous startups. Dave and I connected immediately on the vision. We then got Steve Anderson from Baseline to relay his conviction and confidence in our market approach and the team. We added some more strategic Angels and closed our $1.4m round.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Pinfluencer? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Verma: Until February this year, we were working on ‘eventsTonight’—a mobile app to ‘discover real-time casual entertainment near you’—and were experimenting with Pinterest to see if people liked to pin events. My advisors urged me to build Pinterest for men. I was never sold on that but it put Pinterest on my radar and we started playing more with it. What we noticed was intense amount of resharing via repins, which I hadn’t seen happen on Twitter or Facebook. That was our ‘aha’ moment. I personally hacked a consumer-facing product to help Pinterest users discover their biggest fans, similar to Klout for Pinterest with more emphasis on fan discovery and less on score.
However we gradually started to notice a humongous amount of product sharing on Pinterest. That’s when it became clear that Pinterest is a database of shopping intent—it’s another home for a retailer’s catalog. We got really excited about its potential to transform the way ecommerce is distributed and discovered. The new team came together in March and April and we built the brand facing analytics platform in just under four months.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Verma: I woke up one morning in January, unhappy with our Pinterest experiments for events and it just occurred to me that there is no Klout for Pinterest. I immediately went to DreamHost and my mind just came up with the name Pinfluencer, which was available. At that time Pinlytics, etc., were also available, but little did I know that we would eventually be building a B2B analytics company.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Verma: I’d say the biggest one has been that Pinterest is still in the very early stage and brands and retailers don’t understand its full power yet. What worked for the first generation networks such as Facebook and Twitter, does not necessarily work on Pinterest. A big part of our work is educating the marketing teams and doing consultative product development and sales.
SUB: You just raised $1.4 million in Seed funding. Why was this a good time to raise this round, and how do you plan to use the new funds?
Verma: It was not easy but certainly a great time to raise the round. I always say capital chases shifts and Pinfluencer takes advantage of a new trend of ecommerce discovery via Pinterest. We also had great customer stories, stunning product, early traction and PhDs on the team. That helped us close the round efficiently.
We plan to use the funds in hiring in engineering, sales, marketing and design. We might also invest in ecommerce and other data partnerships.
SUB: Do you plan to raise additional funds in the near future?
Verma: We have a good runway with our initial raise and we are currently focused on hitting our milestones. It’s too early to say exactly when we do a Series A.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Verma: Pinfluencer is in pilot phase. We have several customers and agencies using the product. We are determining what the value drivers are and will accordingly put a price on the product. It will very likely be a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service)-based monthly pricing model.
SUB: What are your goals for Pinfluencer over the next year or so?
Verma: On the business side our number one goal is customer acquisition, as well as agency and partner development. On the product side we want to roll out a new advertising model to allow brands generate traffic and engag
ement by offering perks and rewards to their most loyal and influential users. We will also expand to Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter to give brands a full view of what their most active brand advocates are saying or Pinning.
Pinfluencer is a product and technology company. We believe that everything stems from the product. Our sales and marketing hires are also product savvy professionals who love solving customer problems. If we keep the focus on the product and customers, we believe we will grow to be a very large company.
Pinfluencer – www.pinfluencer.com