Craig Newmark Keynote Synopsis – PubCon 2007

MIHMORANDUM NO. 52 | December 10th, 2007Reader Comments (0)

Craig Newmark, the visionary founder of the now ubiquitous local search site Craigslist began the conference with a humble bang, speaking about the history of his company and his plans for the future.

Genesis of Craigslist:
Craig started a CC email list in 1995 to keep San Franciscans informed about “stuff” going on in the City. This initial subscriber base eventually grew to 240 email addresses, spreading entirely via word of mouth and overwhelming his primitive email program, Pine.

Coinciding with the rise of the webpage at about the same time, Craig decided to move things online. He thought about coming up with a new title for his website, but realized that he’d developed a brand completely by accident. People were already calling it “Craig’s List,” which in and of itself is a tremendous lesson in brand evangelism and the role of customers in determining what your company is all about.

The Growth Phase:
By 1997, the site had grown to one million pageviews a month. Microsoft approached Craig and asked to run banner ads to help him monetize the site. Around the same time, he was also approached about taking the site entirely in a non-profit direction. Neither option “felt right” to him, and instead, in 1998 he began to charge for certain job postings, forming an actual company in 1999.

Craig describes himself as a terrible manager, and in 2000 he partnered with Jim Buckmaster to help run the day-to-day operations of the company. They quickly expanded to new cities, including New York, in 2000. Craig poignantly noted that the events of 9/11/01 had a tremendous impact on the growth of their site, as people used CL as a meetup and non-profit organizing tool, among other things.

Present Day Craigslist:
The site has experienced steady growth since then, up to 9 million pageviews a month currently, monetizing itself only through job posting fees in 11 cities and apartment posting fees in New York, which make up less than 1% of the site. Craig proudly cites a backhanded compliment paid by a tech journalist that the site still has “the visual appeal of a pipe wrench.”

Though neither Jim nor Craig holds an MBA, they continue to guide the company by doing “what feels right.” Over 120 servers now process the gigabytes of data required to run the site on a daily basis, but Pine is still the email tool of choice on the desktop machines in the Craigslist offices. Understandably, many companies have approached Craig about investment in or sale of the site, but he plans to continue serving the common good as best he can.

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