The Role of Firms in the Economy: From Pinterest's Retention Wins to Economic Planning


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Sep 07, 2023

4 min read


The Role of Firms in the Economy: From Pinterest's Retention Wins to Economic Planning


In the ever-evolving landscape of business and economics, understanding the role of firms and their impact on the economy is crucial. This article explores the nature of firms, drawing insights from Casey Winters' experience at Pinterest and the economic theories presented in "The Nature of the Firm." By examining the connection between Pinterest's retention strategy and the allocation of resources within a firm, we gain valuable insights into why firms exist and how they contribute to economic planning.

Pinterest's Unique Approach to Retention:

Pinterest stands out among social platforms as a personal tool rather than a social one, where users connect with content and ideas. Casey Winters, a growth leader at Pinterest, emphasizes the importance of aligning core mission metrics with business goals. For Pinterest, the key metric is the "Save," which not only signifies user engagement but also serves as a signal for growth and content quality. By focusing on a metric that aligns with fulfilling their mission, Pinterest demonstrates a mission-oriented approach to business.

Mission-Oriented vs. Business-Oriented Companies:

Winters highlights the difference between mission-oriented and business-oriented companies when determining the right retention strategy. Mission-oriented companies prioritize metrics that align with fulfilling their mission, while business-oriented companies aim for metrics that generate long-term revenue. Pinterest's retention strategy focuses on increasing the frequency of saves, while still considering the normal frequency of user behavior. This approach allows for experimentation and the potential to change the frequency metric over time.

The Importance of Experimentation and Unique Insights:

Winters emphasizes the significance of experimentation and divergent experiments, even if they contradict industry "best practices." Often, the biggest growth wins come from numerous small experiments, some of which may yield unexpected positive results. For example, Pinterest's experiment of replacing the default scrolling action with a "Sign up to see more of this content" banner improved conversion rates significantly. These unique insights challenge the conventional wisdom of industry norms and highlight the value of testing new experiences.

Bridging the Gap between Economic Theory and Firms:

"The Nature of the Firm" provides a theoretical framework for understanding why firms emerge in a specialized exchange economy. The primary reason for establishing a firm is the cost of using the price mechanism. Organizing production through the price mechanism incurs costs in discovering relevant prices, negotiating contracts, and making long-term commitments. Firms emerge as a way to reduce marketing costs and overcome the limitations of the price mechanism.

Uncertainty and the Role of the Entrepreneur:

Uncertainty plays a crucial role in the existence of firms. The entrepreneur, as the decision-maker, forecasts future wants and directs the activities of others. The firm provides a structure for coordinating resources and reducing waste through centralization. The presence of uncertainty necessitates the role of the entrepreneur in deciding what to do and how to do it. Firms emerge as a response to uncertainty and the need for responsible management and control.

Factors Influencing Firm Size:

Various factors influence the size of a firm, including the costs of organizing transactions within the firm, the likelihood of making mistakes, and the supply price of factors of production. As firms expand, the costs of internal organization may rise, and the entrepreneur's ability to make optimal use of resources may decrease. Additionally, the advantages of a small firm, such as lower marketing costs, can lead to a decrease in the supply price of factors of production. These factors determine the optimal size of a firm.


Understanding the nature of firms and their role in the economy is essential for growth leaders and economists alike. By examining the unique insights from Pinterest's retention wins and the economic theories presented in "The Nature of the Firm," we gain a comprehensive understanding of why firms exist and how they contribute to economic planning. To leverage this knowledge, here are three actionable pieces of advice for growth leaders:

  • 1. Focus on metrics that align with your company's core mission to drive growth and user engagement.
  • 2. Embrace experimentation and be open to divergent experiments that challenge industry "best practices."
  • 3. Consider the costs of using the price mechanism and the role of uncertainty when determining the optimal size and structure of your firm.

By incorporating these insights into your growth strategy, you can improve retention, optimize resource allocation, and drive long-term business success.

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