I had the opportunity to see Craig Newmark speak at the brand new AT&T Center over here in Austin, TX., and it was an interesting speech. He is the “Craig” of Craigslist.org….one of the largest and most heavily trafficked sites on the planet (roughly 22 billion page views per month).
Most CEO speeches I’ve seen say “Work as hard as you can and you might make it to the top” …something like that. However Craig ended up founder of one of the worlds largest websites through a slightly different…some would say “lucky” story.
Directly from his speech:
- In 1994 he was doing IT for the financial firm Charles Schwab, nothing big.
- 1995 he started regularly sending out an email to about 12 of his friends with a bunch of events around the San Francisco Bay Area.
- His friends would forward the email to their friends, and then their friends etc…
- Eventually he had 100+ people on the email list, and people would also send him notifications of events they heard about.
- It started building some momentum, but he never thought of it as a big deal. Lots of people on the list said, “You should make this into a website.”
- Since he was a programmer, he made an easy tool that would convert the emails into webpage format and post them on a website.
- He was going to call the website “San Francisco Events” or something along those lines, but many people suggested he keep his name in the title to make it personable. So “Craigslist” was born.
- The site was hosted on some cheap server, and when it hit 240 users, it broke….so using his own personal funds he got some better web hosting (still very cheap).
- Around this time the housing market in San Fran was going through some bad times, so people using Craigslist thought it would be nice to help each other out with apartment listings. So after everyone pushed him to do it, couch potato Craig (his own words) got around to making an apartment listings section.
- After this new section, people wanted more sections. So requests for a dating section came in, then more like “For Sale” and “Free Stuff”
- Through organic growth and word of mouth the site started getting 1,000,000 page views per month. Not bad!
- Microsoft approached him about placing banner ads on the site which would make him money. He didn’t like banner ads, and they didn’t add to the user experience, so he declined.
- In 1998 people wanted to start running the site on a volunteer basis. He let several volunteers take over the site, and the plan failed miserably.
- In 1999 he made Craigslist into a real company by incorporating it.
- The site is 99.99% free, but in a select few cities people posting job ads must pay $25 per listing. This makes Craigslist plenty of money to keep the rest of the site free, and also eliminates lots of spam and scams in the job listings sections. They are starting to do this in more cities because it increases quality of the postings and brings in needed revenue to keep up with Craigslists massive infrastructure demands. They are also starting to charge on some of the housing sections of certain cities.
- He eventually hired Jim Buckmaster to be CEO and run the show, and Craig now only does customer support. He works as a normal customer support representative.
Some interesting facts I picked up from the speech and Q&A:
- Craigslist has only 25 employees, and they are looking to hire (just FYI).
- When asked about Craigslist’s relationship with eBay (They took money from eBay at one point), he simply responded, “You can go on the Craigslist blog and lookup the post called Tainted Love.” You can view that post here. He wouldn’t comment further.
- Server wise, he said they have several co-locations in different server facilities….and he doesn’t even know where they are since he doesn’t handle those network aspects. He said, “I know we have several co-location facilities, with about 200 servers in each one.”
- He said the idea behind Craigslist is , “Giving people a break, people giving other people a break, people helping each other out and treating people well.”
- He frequently gets invitations to weddings from people who met their spouse through Craigslist.
So the really unique thing about Craig is his ideology of keeping Craigslist mostly free. He said, “Once I made more than enough money to satisfy my current and future needs, I didn’t want anymore.” Not something you usually hear from the founder of a big company.
Usually companies try to keep expanding their profits, but Craigslist tries to keep them flat.
So anyhow, before and after the speech I got some pictures with him. I made a “Free Stuff” sign signifying my favorite section on Craigslist: