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Sahil Lavingia: ‘Build products to scale yourself.’

Sahil Lavingia helped build Pinterest and Turntable before founding Gumroad, and building was the focus of his talk on Thursday at Big Omaha. 

Sahil Lavingia is a 19-year-old who likes to build things. Apparently big things. The founder of Gumroad, a site that “lets you sell like you share,” Lavingia draws on his background with Pinterest and Turntable to produce more, better, faster. “I build products to scale myself,” the founding Pinterest designer said during his morning talk at KANEKO for Big Omaha 2012. “If you build an app in an hour that could save you five minutes for the rest of your life, that’s valuable.”

Change your surroundings

Moving every three or four years during childhood meant that Lavingia was constantly exposed to something new. “I’d get slapped in the face with something I’d never heard of before.” He added that if you stay in the same place (ahem, say, in the same company) for a long time, you tend to make assumptions about how things are done. Moving around shakes up your perception and makes room for new ideas.

Scale will tell you when it’s time to leave

During the talk’s question and answer session, an audience member asked, “How did you know it was time to move on from Pinterest, from Turntable?” Lavingia answered with his key word: “Scale.” Take a look at where you are. Can you achieve more elsewhere? Can you learn more, do more? Lavingia suggested if so, it’s time to leave.

Surround yourself with people smarter than you

“Surround yourself with people who don’t suck at the things you suck at,” Lavingia said. “I want to learn a lot, so I’ll hire people smarter than me.” The scale of the internet is such that you can surround yourself with experts as easily as reaching out to a like-minded engineer on Twitter.

Talk about what you’re doing

At the ripe age of 18, Lavingia decided, “Hey, I’m an adult, I should get serious about my career.” While admitting he doesn’t know exactly why he needed to do so at 18, he knew that getting serious meant getting vocal. “I had to start talking, not just doing.” He joined forums and started engaging the internet with his goals. Three companies that sat up and took notice were Instagram, Pinterest and Flipboard. 

“Meeting people is pretty free,” Lavingia commented, but early connections have led to a $7 million funding round for Gumroad, which launched last February.

At the end, you should answer ‘So what?’

Why start a business? Why invest in a company? “My English teacher would say, ‘At the end of the essay, always answer So What?’ ” Lavingia recalled. “Money’s exciting but it’s not as exciting as turning that money into something more valuable.” Products, he said, are a way to leave a legacy. “We want to evolve faster. Products allow us to multiply faster.” As has been the case since the dawn of time, Lavingia said, to keep humanity alive, we should create.


For real-time coverage of Big Omaha on Thursday and Friday, including a live stream of all 14 speakers, visit siliconprairienews.com/live.


Credits: Photos by Malone & Company/Big Omaha.

Silicon Prairie News’ coverage of Big Omaha 2012 is presented by CoSentry. For more than a decade, CoSentry has provided startups, web-based enterprises and larger organizations a safe, secure, affordable network of computing and data storage facilities.

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