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Meet Tim Kendall — the exec making sure Pinterest lives up to its $12 billion valuation

Kendall is Pinterest’s money man.

Pinterest President Tim Kendall.

Each morning, Tim Kendall wakes at 5:30 and draws himself a bath.

Then the 40-year-old president of Pinterest dumps in a tray full of ice, uses a rubber duck thermometer to get the water temperature down to precisely 55 degrees, and slides in for a five-minute soak.

Kendall says the baths — popular among Silicon Valley health-hacking types like Tim Ferriss and Kevin Rose — are meant to help your immune system. But they also have another purpose.

“It’s kind of like drinking coffee,” he said. “I get out and I just feel super focused, really energized.”

Kendall carries on the same way at the office. He wears the same T-shirt with the word “Focus” across the chest every day. During meetings, Kendall won’t use a laptop or phone, and forbids others from using theirs. Instead he likes paper printouts detailing the meeting’s agenda.

Kendall may seem like a character from HBO’s satirical “Silicon Valley” series, but lots of people take him very seriously. He’s responsible for all of Pinterest’s money-making endeavors, including ad products, sales and product marketing.

In other words, he’s the one who helped the company grow its revenue from less than $25 million in 2014 to an expected $500 million-plus in 2017. And he’s the one responsible for helping it live up to its new $12 billion valuation.

“This is the year that Pinterest puts huge numbers up on the board ... hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Pinterest investor Ron Conway, co-founder of the VC firm SV Angel. “After that, that’s how the company will be measured. Tim knows that.”

Kendall joined Pinterest in early 2012 after almost five years of building ad products at Facebook. He started as Pinterest’s head of product, where he helped create the company’s first growth team, a group focused exclusively on adding new users; he also built the company’s flagship ad unit, the Promoted Pin.

Kendall took over Pinterest’s monetization efforts entirely in early 2015 and was promoted to the role of president a year later.

Kendall and his teams are credited with building all of Pinterest’s ad products, including Pinterest’s new search ads, buy buttons, video ads and its self-serve ad-buying platform. Since he took the monetization job in 2015, the number of employees working on Pinterest’s business efforts has grown from 100 to 250.

That makes Kendall the company’s most important non-founder, a crucial complement to Pinterest’s product-minded founders, CEO Ben Silbermann and chief product officer Evan Sharp. Kendall is the one who helps sell the company’s long-term vision to investors during fundraising efforts.

To hit his revenue goal for 2017, Kendall is trying to boost the appeal of the company’s Promoted Pin, a sponsored image or video that advertisers can pay to insert into a user’s feed.

Pinterest is also working on new technology to better target those ads. The technology, called “visual discovery,” will allow Pinterest to surface ads featuring products that look similar to images Pinterest users have already clicked on. That means Pinterest will be able to figure out what you like by looking at what you like, not by asking you to type in search terms.

“What’s the most visually similar?” Kendall explained. “That leads to a lot better relevancy than ‘couch’ to ‘couch.’”

That technology is being tested today with just a small portion of Pinterest’s ads. Eventually, Kendall says, he wants every ad on Pinterest to be targeted with the help of image-recognition technology.

That’s also aligned with Pinterest’s broader product strategy — a belief that images, and not text, are the future of internet search. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Snap CEO Evan Spiegel seem to agree, since they think the camera has replaced the keyboard. (Alternate argument: Your voice, not your eyes, will be the most important tool you use to navigate the world. See: Amazon Alexa, Google Home.)

TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 - Day 2
Pinterest’s President Tim Kendall
Noam Galai / Getty Images

In the meantime, Kendall spends lots of time trying to persuade advertisers that Pinterest offers something that other consumer products like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram do not.

Pinterest has been unabashedly vocal that it is not a social network (and thus, not a Facebook competitor). Kendall’s pitch to advertisers is that Pinterest is a place where people plan their future — instead of looking at vacation photos friends are posting, people use Pinterest to plan their own vacation.

Pinterest’s hope is to make it as easy as possible for a user to actually buy something related to those plans. That could be on Pinterest — the company does sell some products directly with buy buttons — or by sending someone to an advertiser’s checkout page.

That sounds good, but it has sounded good for a while. The knock on Pinterest is that the company’s business has moved too slowly. It just started selling video ads in late 2016, for example, years after advertising alternatives like Facebook and Twitter, and even Snapchat.

Some advertisers remain confused as to what Pinterest is best-suited for — brand advertising campaigns like you might find on television, or direct response campaigns intended to deliver a sale right there and then, like Google. Pinterest has offered Buy Buttons for almost two years, but it’s unclear how well that business is doing.

There have also been stumbles, like when Pinterest angered advertisers by announcing that the company would stop servicing advertisers outside of the consumer goods space, claiming it didn’t have the team to support them.

Pinterest defenders aren’t deterred. Board member Jeremy Levine, a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, says that Pinterest’s sweet spot is in the “juicy middle” — not interruptive like a Facebook or TV ad, but less specific than a Google search. Pinterest is for someone who knows they want new shoes, but may not know what brand or color.

“You’re influencing people when they’re asking to be influenced, but haven’t made the final decision,” Levine explained. “Buyers are starting to understand that, but we’re barely even pushing that message yet.”

As Kendall ramps up the revenue line, the company is putting the pieces in place for an eventual IPO, including hiring its first CFO.

“Pinterest is going to be a huge, huge company,” Conway said. “It’s just a question of how huge.”

That will be up to Kendall.

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