Pinterest Shareholders Deserve a Better CEO

November 1, 2019 by Douglas A. McIntyre

Pinterest Inc. (NYSE: PINS) shares were wrecked after an earnings report that shook even the company’s most faithful followers. CEO Ben Silbermann tried to make the numbers out to be a solid improvement in the business. Wall Street sold the shares down to an all-time low. Silbermann is one of Pinterest’s founders, which gives him leverage to hold his job. The company’s stockholders deserve better.

While Pinterest’s revenue rose 47% in the most recent quarter to $280 million, it managed to lose $125 million, compared to a loss of $19 million in the same quarter last year. Monthly active users rose 28% to 322 million. Even though the increase seems substantial, it was a disappointment to shareholders. One reason was that most of the growth was international, while the U.S. improvement was modest, up 39% to $251 million. Astonishingly, Pinterest had a market capitalization of $13 billion just before earnings were announced.

Pinterest went public on April 19 of this year. That day, its share price rocketed 28% to $23.75. After the earnings announcement, it fell to just above $20. It had hit $36.83 shortly after the IPO, based on the belief that Silbermann had built one of the few social media businesses that had a bright future.

In early October, Pinterest’s lock-up period expired. This means 81% of the company’s shares became available to trade. Many investors stuck with Silbermann, which turned out to be a mistake.

Silbermann violated the cardinal rule of internet company IPOs. He was unable to grow his company fast enough. That, combined with incredible losses, throws Pinterest into the club of failed unicorns, the promise of which disappeared just as the company sold shares to the public. Silbermann has made out fine, because his shares, like those of early investors, are still solidly in the black.

While Silbermann’s post-IPO investors have been badly damaged financially, he has not. The one thing he needed to deliver, ongoing hyper-rapid growth, is where he was wanting.