Pinterest today scored two notable new hires with the acquisition of a small, two-person startup known as Hike Labs, which had been developing a mobile publishing application called Drafty. But Pinterest says this was not a technology deal – rather, the company was interested in gaining the expertise of Hike Labs’ co-founders Jason Shellen and Mike Demers.
Shellen, you may recall, was a founding team member at Blogger and Google Reader as well as a co-founder at Thing Labs, acquired by AOL in 2010*. Meanwhile, Demers previously founded app development platform 9Astronauts and was the CTO at a Q&A startup YouSaidIt. There, he developed a visual blogging site and an app-building service for people to build their own communities around interests, notes Pinterest.
Demers also worked at other startups including Captureproof, Mixbook, Yobongo, and more, as well as at Amazon. And Shellen spent time at AOL as VP of Product, AIM and Messaging before leaving to co-found mobile email app Boxer before starting Hike Labs.
The two will now bring their experience in developing content and community tools to the Pinterest product and engineering teams, the company says.
Pinterest isn’t yet revealing what specifically the new hires will work on, but Shellen, who was CEO at Hike Labs, will be joining the popular social bookmarking service as a product manager and Demers, previously head of engineering, will join Pinterest as an engineer. Their general focus area going forward will be on working to improve upon Pinterest’s core vision of building a discovery engine.
Shellen says Pinterest approached Hike Labs while they were working on their blogging app Drafty, and they decided to listen.
“The more we talked about their vision of building a discovery engine, the more aligned we seemed to be,” he explains. “However, I was even more impressed with the people at Pinterest. I know a handful of Xooglers who work there and they are all working hard building great products and a company culture with values I could stand behind,” adds Shellen.
Working on Pinterest’s discovery engine is something the founders can lend their experience to, having both built communication and community products in the past. The insights they’ve gained over the years by doing so will be useful to Pinterest as it works to improve its products focused on helping users discover new Pins to save and take action upon.
Today, Pinterest users find new Pins on the site in a number of ways, including by browsing their Home Feed or diving into various categories, following users who share their interests, and searching using the main Pinterest search bar, which also became more search engine-like last year through the launch of guided search on the web.
And more recently, as Pinterest has been ramping up its efforts with its advertisers, the company has been working to better position its site not as the time-waster that some of its users think it is today, but one that’s able to reach consumers at that moment when their online browsing is about to transition from being in the inspiration or planning phases, and shifts to become shopping. The idea to be a discovery engine is about capturing users intent to purchase, and then getting the right brands in front of those users at just the right time.
Pinterest’s potential to understand users’ intent is what may make it a challenging competitor to Google’s search engine, which has been selling ads against users’ queries (their intent) for years. Pinterest just comes in earlier – connecting with users around ideas and plans. And when the users are ready to buy, Pinterest’s rumored plans to unveil a “buy” button this year could have ramifications for Amazon as well.
That’s why developing a solid team around the discovery engine is now key for Pinterest, whose most recent round valued the company at $11 billion.
As for the Drafty app the Hike Labs team was working on, the app was first released in private beta in the fall then updated this February. The app was going to offer users a new way to blog from their iPhone, which would have made it a competitor to things like Tumblr or Medium. However, Shellen says there are no plans to shutter the app now, as he’s exploring what to do with it in the future.
“We built it because we thought it should exist in the world and I would love to see someone take it over so I can keep using it,” he says.
Deal terms are not being revealed, but we understand that Hike Labs had a small amount of angel funding from friends, and the founders and investors are happy with the deal.
This is now Pinterest’s seventh acquisition to date, following Punchfork, Livestar, Hackermeter, Visual Graph, Icebergs and Kosei. In many cases, including most recently with Icebergs, whose team just pushed out the updated Pin It button this week, Pinterest’s acquisitions have been about bringing in new talent. But in other cases, as with Visual Graph, for example, it’s just as much about gaining access to technology that can make improvements to Pinterest’s underlying infrastructure itself.
* Disclosure: AOL is TechCrunch’s parent company.