Being nice has worked for Pinterest in some ways, and a slower pace of decision-making isn't always a bad thing. The company has avoided the types of scandals around fake news, inappropriate content and abuse of user data that have plagued Facebook, Twitter and Google.
In 2018, the company launched a feature that lets users pick their skin tone so Pinterest can deliver more relevant results when they search skin-care products and cosmetics. Pinterest began developing the feature after users complained that the majority of results were photos of people with light skin, multiple former employees said.
But there was some concern over what Pinterest would do with the skin-tone data it was going to collect from users, an executive who left the company in 2018 said. There was discussion of letting advertisers leverage the information to target users, but an employee on the company's policy team spoke up against that idea, citing concerns about potentially allowing advertisers to target by race. Ultimately, Pinterest settled on a conservative approach and decided against opening up the data for ad targeting, the executive said.
Pinterest's slow and cautious approach has also led it to be fiscally responsible, according to some former employees.
"There's growth," said one of the executives who left the company in 2017. "It's not hyper-growth, but it's consistent and you can rely on it."
Still, the company could face challenges in competing with its larger rivals for share of the digital advertising market.
"On one hand, a more affluent user attracts advertisers, but with only 10 to 20 percent of the audience of Facebook, and the targeting both Facebook and Google can offer, how does Pinterest stay compelling to advertisers?" said Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research, which focuses on digital technology.
Meanwhile, changing long-standing cultural norms is easier said than done, former employees said.
A few weeks after Silbermann's 2017 email calling for people to move faster and forgo consensus building, one employee heeded the CEO's instructions and asked her manager if they could move forward with an important decision for their team.
The manager urged the employee to have more meetings with other departments and ensure she got buy-in from all of them. The employee cited the CEO's email, but it was quickly dismissed. "Yeah, I don't think that really applies to us," the manager said.
"I said at some point, we should be the decider because getting consensus would take too long," the employee said. She added that the process went on for months until she eventually left last year.