Pinterest said on Wednesday that it has surpassed 100 million monthly active members, in a milestone for the digital scrapbooking start-up, which has faced scrutiny over whether the size of its user base and business growth can justify its huge valuation.
The company, based in San Francisco, has grown rapidly in the last five years, amassing a war chest from top venture capital investors and strategic partners, and gaining a valuation of $11 billion in the process. Pinterest's highly visual interface—it is akin to a digital corkboard for saving pictures of places to visit and recipes to try—has influenced many other companies to make similar design decisions and rethink the importance of photos over text.
Early comparisons pitted Pinterest against social networking companies like Facebook and Twitter. But Pinterest sees itself as more of an existential competitor to Google, a way for people to discover things they want to do in the real world rather than a social avenue.
A newly engaged couple, for example, might search for "wedding gifts" on Pinterest and see thousands of photos of items like flatware, linens or gravy boats. The couple can "pin," or save for later, the things they're interested in or want their wedding guests to eventually buy for them.
"People are planning out really core and important parts of their lives on Pinterest," Ben Silbermann, Pinterest's chief executive and a co-founder, said in an interview.
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Pinterest has faced questions about whether it is worth $11 billion. Like many Silicon Valley companies, the start-up deferred building its business in its early years and instead focused on refining its product and expanding its user base.
Only in the last year or so has Pinterest deepened its push into advertising, pitching itself to big brands and marketers as an avenue to promote their products. Pinterest has said its ads—called "promoted pins"—are less intrusive than those of other companies, as people are frequently saving items that they specifically wish to buy at a later date.
Pinterest has not disclosed user numbers in the past. In a February report, eMarketer posited that Pinterest's user base in the United States would be 47.1 million monthly active users this year, rising to 59.3 million by 2019.
Even so, Pinterest's 100 million users are dwarfed by the user bases of some digital contemporaries it competes with for ad dollars. It is one-third the size of Instagram and Twitter, for instance, and it is an even smaller fraction of the nearly one billion users of WhatsApp and the more than one billion members of Facebook.
To live up to its $11 billion valuation, Pinterest must continue to expand its user base beyond 100 million, while proving that it can grow into a robust and viable business.
Pinterest said it had plenty of room for advertising growth. Mr. Silbermann said more than 70 percent of Pinterest's regular users are either pinning items they have found on the service for later, or clicking links inside pins to learn more about the items. A pinned photo of lasagna, for instance, could include a link to a website with a step-by-step recipe for the dish.
"When you take someone's money, you say you're hoping to return multiples on the investment, and you say here's how we're going to do it," Mr. Silbermann said of Pinterest's most recent round of venture financing.
"The reason I think that's possible is because discovery is still a huge problem," he said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this NYT article described incorrectly eMarketer's prediction that Pinterest's user base would rise to 47.1 million monthly active users this year and 59.3 million by 2019. Those figure applied only to the United States; they are not worldwide estimates.