A Pencil Inspired This 19-Year-Old To Quit Pinterest And Start His Own Company

Sahil Lavingia left Pinterest, one of the hottest startups in San Francisco, to start a payment company called Gumroad.

Gumroad lets people sell directly to their followers on Twitter and Facebook.

It takes less than a minute to sign up for a Gumroad account. After a link is displayed on social networks, people can enter their credit card details to purchase the content.

Just a few weeks after launch, some artists with modest Twitter followings have already made thousands of dollars selling their work on Gumroad. In just two weeks, Gumroad's traffic is already where Pinterest's was in January 2011 (10 months after launch). Lavingia tells us there's a spike particularly in Japan, where Gumroad has been listed as one of the top 2,000 sites.

The decision to leave Pinterest wasn't easy. But he felt that as an iOS developer, it just made sense for him to do the riskier thing and start his own company.

He's not alone in this thinking. If you're an engineer, he said, people ask: "Why make an app for someone else, when you can just make your own apps?"

Lavignia joined Pinterest after founder Ben Silbermann saw some of his blog posts, which he did during his freshman year at USC in 2010.

Silbermann drove from Palo Alto to Berkeley to meet Lavingia, who was in town for a USC-Cal football game. They sat at a coffee shop after the game and talked about Pinterest. Lavingia decided to drop out that semester so he could join the three-person team.

Lavingia designed and built the first Pinterest app.

But before long, he began to feel the urge to design again.

Late one Friday night in April of last year, Lavingia was working on Photoshop, designing a pencil until it looked realistic.

When he was done, he thought, "I wish I had this four hours ago. I said, 'wait a second, I follow designers. Why don't I sell this icon to them?' That's when I realized it is really hard to make money on the Internet. I envisioned a link service like bit.ly, with a credit card form in-between," Lavingia said.

Lavingia tweeted about the idea early Monday morning. But he was still at Pinterest, so Gumroad continued to be a side project.

As Pinterest started growing, his role shifted from design to more engineering. "I wanted to do product design. When I left, I thought in my head, if Pinterest becomes a $10 billion company, will I regret leaving?"

But leaving Pinterest while everyone was salivating over it actually worked to his benefit. Investors knew if he was willing to walk away from Pinterest while it was hot, then he was probably onto something big. Lavingia raised a seed round of $1.1 million earlier this month from Accel Partners, Chris Sacca, Max Levchin, Ron Conway's SV Angel, Josh Kopelman, and Seth Goldstein.

Like most curious founders, Lavingia actively uses his own product. He's selling that iconic pencil on Gumroad for $1, and has already made hundreds of dollars from it.

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