The Power of Focus, Design, and Kindness in Startup Success



Sep 03, 20233 min read


The Power of Focus, Design, and Kindness in Startup Success

In the world of startups, success is often attributed to a combination of factors such as focus, design-centricity, and kindness. Two notable examples that exemplify these qualities are Pinterest and its founder Jeremy Levine, and the observation that mean people tend to fail in the startup world.

Pinterest, the popular visual discovery platform, started as a small team of five employees in a cramped Palo Alto apartment back in 2011. What set Pinterest apart from other startups was their unwavering focus on perfecting the design and user experience. Instead of getting caught up in the attention and distractions of press, they prioritized their product. In fact, they never even announced their fundraise, highlighting the importance of focus and prioritization in achieving success. By staying true to their design-centric approach, Pinterest grew exponentially, reaching roughly 1,800 team members and generating over $750 million in revenue just before their IPO.

Interestingly, Pinterest's success challenges the conventional wisdom that every internet startup should have a technical founder. Ben and Evan, the founders of Pinterest, played to their strengths and stuck with their design-centricity. This decision proved to be a significant factor in their success, as they were able to create a platform that resonated with users and allowed them to seek inspiration for their lives. Design mattered more than technical expertise in this case, showcasing the unique insights and ideas that can drive startup success.

Another interesting observation is that mean people tend to fail in the startup world. While there are exceptions, it is remarkable how few of the most successful people in the industry exhibit mean behavior. Being mean not only affects one's emotional intelligence but also makes them less intelligent overall. Startup success is not achieved through attacking or fighting, but rather by transcending challenges and building something remarkable. Mean founders struggle to attract and retain top talent, as people are naturally drawn to those who exhibit kindness and benevolence. Building great things requires a spirit of benevolence, as those who strive to improve the world have a natural advantage in the startup landscape.

In today's increasingly interconnected world, the games that matter are no longer zero-sum. Winning is not about gaining control of scarce resources but rather about having new ideas and building new things. Startups that focus on creating value for their users and improving the world have a higher chance of achieving long-term success.

To emulate the success of Pinterest and other successful startups, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Prioritize focus and design: Instead of getting caught up in external distractions, prioritize perfecting your product or service. Invest time and effort into creating a design-centric experience that resonates with users.
  • 2. Embrace kindness and benevolence: Foster a culture of kindness within your startup. Treat employees and partners with respect and empathy. This not only attracts top talent but also creates a positive and productive work environment.
  • 3. Innovate and create value: Instead of focusing on competition and scarce resources, shift your mindset towards creating new ideas and building new things. Look for opportunities to improve the world and provide value to your users. Success will follow when you prioritize innovation over rivalry.

In conclusion, the success of startups like Pinterest highlights the power of focus, design-centricity, and kindness in achieving long-term success. By prioritizing these qualities, startups can create remarkable products, attract top talent, and make a positive impact on the world. As the startup landscape continues to evolve, embracing these principles will become increasingly crucial for entrepreneurs seeking to build successful ventures.


  1. "Jeremy Levine's backstory on Pinterest–from Series A to IPO", (Glasp)
  2. "Mean People Fail", (Glasp)

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