Computer engineer Craig Newmark is an accidental entrepreneur. He started
Craigslist as a hobby in 1995, when he was living in San Francisco and saw a
lot of people helping each other out over the Internet.
decided that I should give back a little," he recalls, "so I started
a very simple mailing list for events in San Francisco." As people provided suggestions, he
site gradually expanded to include classified ads, discussion forums and community
notices. Today, Craigslist users can find almost anything they want, from
furniture for their home to a date for the evening.
a simple text-based site, and Newmark says that it offers a basic service: it's
the place to go to find a job or a place to live, or to sell your unwanted
items, all in your neighborhood. "It works out kind of like a flea market,
which is to say it's very down to earth and grassroots."
says part of the reason Craigslist is so successful is it eliminates the
middleman and lets its users deal directly with each other.
free service that makes money
For most users, Craigslist is free. The company generates revenue by
charging businesses a fee to post ads for job openings. It also charges New
York housing brokers a fee to post their ads. The prices are a bargain – far
lower than those charged for classified ads in newspapers – and wherever
Craigslist is popular, newspapers lose money.
is privately held and does not discuss its finances, but one industry analyst
estimates its current annual revenues at $80 million. The company, which has
just 25 employees, is housed in a Victorian wood-frame house in San Francisco.
Yet from its inconspicuous office, it has created online communities in more than
500 cities, in 55 countries, from Mexico to Malaysia.
downplays his own skills as a manager, and says the company's chief executive,
Jim Buckmaster, provides the business guidance. Newmark is low-key and
unassuming, and says his main role today is ensuring good customer service.
Craigslist is currently involved in a legal quarrel with business partner
eBay. The giant Internet auction site holds a minority share in Craigslist. The
two companies are doing battle in court in a dispute that could determine the
future direction of Craigslist.
has also had problems with people trying to use its site for fraud or illicit
activities. One user allegedly tried to hire an assassin to kill a romantic
rival. But users can flag questionable postings, and if enough of them do that,
the listing is deleted.
says the site is overseen by those who use it, in keeping with the philosophy
of his company: "Provide a culture of trust, work with people to build and
maintain that, and you can trust people, people can trust each other." He
says that while there are some "bad guys" out there, the site
provides its community with the means of detecting and getting rid of them.
says Internet sites like Craigslist are creating virtual communities and giving
everyone – not just the powerful or influential – a forum in which to express
themselves. "There are people who now have a voice that never had a voice
before, and that helps people out."
Newmark says he is relying on technology to help him expand the reach of
the Craigslist site, allowing users to build new web-based communities in more
and more cities around the world. He says the site is growing in the Middle
East, with a local site now operating in the city of Ramallah, a location
suggested to Newmark by Palestinian friends.
faces competition from Internet rivals such as Kijiji, which eBay introduced to
the U.S. market in 2005. And Wal-Mart,
the world's biggest retailer, now offers free classified ads on its website.
says despite the competition, he and CEO Jim Buckmaster are determined to keep
the site user-based, and have no intention of taking the company public and
becoming billionaires. "We've made a decision based on our values, which
we share with most people," he says, explaining, "Once you've made
enough money to have a comfortable living, and to do a little better than that – maybe
save for retirement – what's the point of making more? It feels better to change
the world a little."
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