"People are smart, good and surprise me with the way they use our site." Craig Newmark.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Craig Newmark was maybe a little naïve, exuding a level of trust that simply does not seem befitting in a business age dominated by MBA-style approaches to business transactions and ruled by the very litigious nature of US culture. Against all odds, his iconic creation Craigslist remains one of the most heavily trafficked sites on the Internet and a very profitable venture.
The Craigslist set up reflects the "nerdy" approach loved by Newmark. His company has only 30 employees, all working out of a Victorian-era house in his beloved San Francisco. While they hold financials very close to their chest, it is estimated that the company is on track to make $100 million this year, despite the vast majority of its advertising services being free to users. Others reckon the company is worth a cool $1b.
Craigslist began as a small e-mail communications network between interested parties in the San Francisco area. "I started a simple list of what I thought were cool events, arts and technology stuff." Newmark was working as a computer programmer back then for Charles Schwab, dutifully using the master’s degree in computer science that he achieved from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. While many would classify his decision to launch Craigslist full-time in 1999 as a considerable leap of faith, the then 46-year-old did not see any real problems ahead, had no delusions of grandeur or financial mastery and simply chose to employ his dormant marketing skills to create something of value for the community. Legend has it that the company’s CEO, Jim Buckmaster got his job by posting his resume on Craigslist itself. Newmark credits Buckmaster with the company’s success.
Craigslist has a rather simple mantra and Newmark, with a typically simplistic view, just applies himself to customer service tasks to further the company’s goals. He sees the whole company as a social network, where users self publish ads and self police as well. This rather unusual approach seems to work very well as the level of fraudulent activity and infiltration of scammers is kept to a minimum.
"We believe that we should treat people like we want to be treated and that applies to employees as well as customers," observes Newmark, who credits this approach to the company’s undoubted success. It is rumored that 1% of all profits are given to charities and he sees philanthropy as part of his daily calling. He is involved in numerous watchdog and social groups, championing veterans rights and worrying about Mideast peace.
As might be expected, Craigslist has had its own fair share of suiters and an amount of controversy. Auction giant eBay is currently in dispute with the company, alleging unfair practices and a concerted effort by Newmark and Buckmaster to demote a stake made by eBay to the role of nonvoting investor. Craigslist counters that eBay was really only interested in the company to get inside information to help eBay found rival classified site Kijiji and this complex two-way saga is playing out in a Delaware courtroom in early December. "This is a mistake. eBay bad and robotic, Craig’s List human and good. And now on the way to selling out," Newmark is quoted as saying.
Despite such dramas, Newmark firmly believes in the future of Craigslist and the very culture that it has done much to create. After all, "this feels particularly good, it reaffirms the confidence I have in people."