April 29, 2009

Founders At Work, Craig Newmark of Craigslist

Craig Newmark is the founder of craigslist, one of the highest trafficked websites on the internet (26th highest according to Alexa.com). Craigslist started as an e-mail list for events going on around the San Francisco Bay area. After growing in popularity, he turned the list into a website. From the beginning of his venture Newmark was dedicated to building a community on the internet, and wanted to keep the site as ad-free as possible (much like this blog :) ). The site has always has held the user experience in high regard, and that’s one of the reasons that the site is so popular. Craigslist is able to operate as a small organization, even though they manage postings from over 300 countries.

Newmark got the idea while working at Charles Schwab in 1994. He was adamant about the transition of equity brokerage to be conducted online. After dedicating the majority of his time to Craigslist, he allowed users to post Web pages automatically. In 1999, this was a breakthrough because web technology was still relatively new and unproven. Newmark claims that the biggest entrepreneurial lesson that he learned was to follow your instincts. He realized that he was not a good manager, so his CEO (and first hire) is a great manager. Newmark mentioned that he primarily does customer service on his site – which is really cool. He spends most of his time dealing with apartment brokers in New York City.

I found this to be very interesting. Newmark, the founder of the company, does primarily customer service. He said that he sometimes uses George Costanza magic when acting as the public figurehead of the site, but the majority of his week is customer service.

The Craigslist community has a culture of trust and goodwill, which makes it unique as far as internet communities go. Craigslist users share the same moral compass of the founder, which I found to be very interesting. Much like a normal community, it is self policing, and Newmark has found that the majority of people want other people to play fair. The reason for the strong community is the relatively slow growth of Craigslist; they’re the tortoise, not the hare. The site grew slowly and has adapted over time, much like a real-life community (Below image courtesy of Hitwise).

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