How a Massachusetts angel investor wound up putting money into Pinterest, the latest social media success in Silicon Valley
And there's just one person in Massachusetts who was smart enough to invest in Pinterest's very first round of angel funding, back in 2009.
Jit Saxena is a serial entrepreneur who started database companies like Netezza and Applix, and these days mainly makes angel investments. Most of the checks he writes are to Boston-area software companies like ParElastic and CloudSwitch.
But in 2009, Saxena was out in Palo Alto for a family wedding. "I had nothing to do in the morning, and Ed [Zander] has suggested I go meet this guy Ben Silbermann," he explains. Silbermann had previously worked at Google, and at the time he was working on something called Cold Brew Labs, a "social commerce" incubator that eventually spawned Pinterest. (Saxena had worked with Zander, formerly a top executive at Motorola and Sun Microsystems, at Massachusetts minicomputer-maker Data General back in the day.)
"I went and had lunch with the guy" at the Four Seasons in Palo Alto, Saxena says. "I didn't understand completely what he was trying to do. But I invest in people. To me, that is everything. I think understanding the space is overrated. It just creates biases." Afterward, Saxena e-mailed and talked with other members of the Pinterest team, but Silbermann remained the only one he'd met in person. "I don't think you need to make investing very complicated," he says. "You just get a gut feel that the person is great."
Saxena decided to invest, and so did Zander. All told, the fledgling company raised $500,000 from investors at that point, in a first round of funding that also included legendary Silicon Valley angel Ron Conway and Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder and CEO of Yelp.
Since then, Pinterest's user base and valuation have grown like a beanstalk. But Saxena says that he doesn't have a Pinterest account of his own. "I'm not a user," he admits, "though I've looked at the site a lot to see what's new."
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About Scott Kirsner Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
May 22: MIT Sloan CIO Symposium
Chief information officers from Guess, Haemonetics, Intel and other companies talk discuss "architecting the enterprise of the future."
June 3: MITX Innovation Awards
Economist & blogger Jodi Beggs hosts at the Westin Copley.
June 25: TEDxBoston
The oldest and biggest of the locally-organized TED events is back, at the Seaport World Trade Center. Tickets are free, but tough to get. Also streams on the web and airs on WBUR.