Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Craig Newmark of Craigslist.org. If you didn’t know, Craigslist is currently in 50 countries, over 580 cities, and receives 12 billion hits per month.
Craig comes across as a very laid back, nerdy, entrepreneur. His self-proclaimed nerdiness comes from his admission that he actually wore a plastic pocket protector in high school. Craig asserts that his success comes from doing what feels right and following through with ideas.
Around 1994, Craig noticed that the Internet was rapidly progressing and people were using Usenet newsgroups to keep up with each other and ongoing events. In 1995, he started a “cc list ” on “Pine” software to share events and happenings in the San Francisco area. Mid ’95 he branded the name Craigslist, and by the end of 1997, his website was up to a million pages per month. He formed the company in 1999, which continues to be successful today.
Now Craig mainly does customer service work instead of dealing with the day to day operations of the business. He attributes his work as more of a cultural trust by giving customers what they want, and not just lip service. Craig also enjoys working as a community organizer, helping other businesses and non-profit organizations via boot camps on pitching themselves and building websites for them. He also serves on the board of other “grass roots” organizations such as Voto Latino , Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America , The Sunlight Foundation, and The Consumer’s Union.
The classified ad site he started many years ago has changed over the years into more of a flea market or online marketplace. During Hurricane Katrina the site transformed as people began using it to let their friends and family know where they were, and where they were going. Later people were going to the site offering places to live, and eventually to offer jobs to those who had been displaced.
One thing that has not changed is the design of the Website. Craig wants it to stay the same and the majority of users say they don’t care what it looks like. The most important thing to users is to get to the point fast. Unlike many marketers, he’s not even interested in the Website’s analytics and isn’t concerned much with all the numbers.
During the question and answer session, Craig revealed one of his scariest moments. In the early days, when he was writing code for the site Craig accidentally introduced a bug that sent out over 5,000 emails to everyone on his list.
Craigslist does not make huge profits, but for Craig he “just wanted to pay the bills, be secure in the future, and wasn’t really interested in making a lot of money.”
So, what’s the future for Craigslist? He plans to increase the amount of security and spam defenses, work on adding RSS feeds, enhancing search, and increasing his staff.
I came away from this lecture and discussion with the feeling that Craig is a regular guy. He started a small business the way many others start out, with little money and big ideas. His philosophy of helping others, doing what’s right, and following through will go a long way in his continued success. My hat’s off to you Craig Newmark, you have done well.