Pinterest is giving their community tools to engage in commerce, not to interact more online but to get out and discover the world around them. In this episode, we interview Jeremy King, the SVP of Engineering at Pinterest and former CTO of, to discover how they're using advanced machine vision and context to power the catalogs and commerce experiences both on-and-off-platform.

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Main Takeaways:

  • Jeremy King, SVP of Technology at Pinterest, joins Brian and Phillip on today's episode.
  • Is the open-source format the "secret sauce" to being successful when developing advancements in technology?
  • Inspiration engines like Pinterest are fostering real-world interactions and building communities.  
  • Customization through personalization sometimes leads to repetitive product recommendations, but there are ways to battle this using big data.

Jeremy King: A Brief Professional History:

  • Jeremy has been at Pinterest for only 4 months, but previously spent 8 years at Walmart running Walmart Labs and helped them go through their digital transformation.
  • Brian heard Jeremy's talk at NRF and asks Brian how he ended up at Walmart and to talk a bit about his journey with the company.
  • Eight years ago, Walmart did not have a very large presence online, but throughout his tenure at the company, they vastly expanded their eCommerce entity.

Technology Leadership: What is the Secret Sauce?:

  • Phillip harkens back months ago to when Wayfair was on the show and comments on how open-source adoption can change the image of your brand.
  • Leadership from a technology perspective is a monumental task in regards to advancement in technologies for brands.
  • Jeremy talks about the difficulties that corporations such as Walmart face in technology that simply does not scale to the massive size of the corporation itself.
  • Open-source contributions and a healthy approach to technology selection are the "secret sauce" that Jeremy attributes to success in technological leadership.
  • "Most companies these days have to have a new respect for how much technology plays in their success or failure".

Open-Source Technology: The Power of the Community:

  • If you are using technologies that are not open-source, you are typically beholden to the direction and decisions of a single organization as opposed to the community of open-source technology.
  • Try things in house first, and then look for other solutions that don't already lie within your team.
  • Pick the places where you want to be innovative and insource those things then outsource everything else to save you time and effort.
  • What parts of your business do you outsource and where are you trying to innovate in-house?

Social Media versus Discovery: How to Make Something Shoppable:

  • With over 300 million visitors a month, Pinterest was going to be a unique opportunity for Jeremy to scale the team and build technology for a product that people already love.
  • How do you make a discovery platform like Pinterest more shoppable?
  • As a discovery engine, people go to Pinterest with a positive mentality so making shopping more accessible is the goal as opposed to interrupting social media behaviors.
  • Pinterest is also a great platform for team collaboration as it allows a positive and creative environment to share ideas and feedback.

The Shift Towards Commerce: The Evolution of Purchasing:

  • The number one request from Pinners is to have a clear and easy way to purchase items that they have fallen in love with while using the platform.
  • Retailers are often surprised that their catalogs are largely already in Pinterest due to people pinning their favorite products.
  • Brian and Phillip also refer to their most recent episode and bring up how discovery platforms are replacing traditional department store experiences.
  • People are coming to Pinterest to build inspiration, something that was traditionally accomplished with physical catalogs and in-store experiences.

Room For All: Discovery for Both Big and Small:

  • Hundreds of millions of pins as catalog items are helping small companies with discovery as 97% of Pinterest's top 1000 searches are unbranded.
  • Companies can use Pinterest to introduce themselves to prospective shoppers and reach people they never would be able to reach otherwise.
  • Brian identifies this as a great example of passive shopping and Phillip expands on the concept in specific reference to Pinterest.
  • Any other shopping experience would rely on the conversion at the moment of product consideration, but with Pinterest, people are looking to be inspired along their entire retail journey.

The Secret Sauce: How to Succeed in Technology:

  • Phillip asks Jeremy to give the listeners some about on criteria about decisions regarding technology and how to outfit a team.
  • Jeremy recalls how he brought the startup mentality to Walmart and created the world's largest startup with Walmart labs.
  • Access to data on a company-wide basis is paramount for your team to be able to use that data to solve problems.
  • There are also some basic company culture choices that Jeremy recommends such as engineers sitting with your business team to expedite business decisions and processes.

The Digital Community: Fostering Relationships Offline:

  • Brian asks Jeremy how he sees technology either bringing communities together and then how commerce relates to the building of a digital community.
  • Pinterest's goal is to help you find inspiration so that you can bring your ideas to life in the real world, and when ideas overlap, they create real-world relationships.
  • The team at Pinterest wants you to get out there and go do things, and the communities you find of like-minded individuals are natural by-products of this.
  • Brian gets some visions of shared Pinterest workshops in the future, and Phillip sees it as the antidote to the digital wellness movement.

Jeremy's Predictions: The Landscape of the Next Five Years:

  • Phillip asks Jeremy to talk about his predictions for the next five years from a technology and commerce perspective.
  • Jeremy says that machine learning technology is what makes Pinterest so great, and hundreds of calculations a second tailor your Pinterest home page.
  • Where will machine learning technology be in five years and how do you think machine learning engines like Pinterest can use that technology to provide the best experience for their users?
  • According to Jeremy, machine learning development will contribute greatly to the beautification and personalization of discovery platforms over the next few years.

Quantifying Serendipity: Overcoming the Issues of Customization Through Personalization:

  • Brian brings up how customization through personalization can lead consumers to only seeing the same type of products and asks Jeremy to talk about how Pinterest is tackling this issue.
  • With its use of boards as a method of categorization, Pinterest can tailor the machine learning model to find out what people are inspired by.
  • If you can quantify the moment of inspiration (coined Serendipity by Jeremy) you will be able to calculate the most effective times to break the mold of recommended products and boards.
  • Knowing what your customers need and what they want can only be found by actually communicating with your customers.

Brands Mentioned in this Episode:

As always: We want to hear what our listeners think! Is the open-source format of technology building something you would implement for your brand?

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Retail Tech is moving fast, but Future Commerce is moving faster.

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