from Oakland Tribune, July 10, 2000
Popular Craig's List refuses to sell out
By Francine Brevetti
More than once the Prince of Darkness has offered Craig Newmark all the world's riches in exchange for his client base. But the creator of the much-loved Craig's List won't budge.
Newmark is committed to keeping his much visited Web site (http://www.craigslist.org/) a tool to serve the community regardless of the offers he receives to commercialize the site.
When Newmark and his employees moved his non-profit business from his living room to a small office in San Francisco's Inner Sunset district in June, it marked a rite of passage for a Web site that gets 9 million hits a month and assiduously avoids making pots of money.
"The numbers are increasing frighteningly. I think we'll see 11 million (in June)," said Newmark. He also thinks they'll have to move again to bigger digs to accommodate his staff of 20, which is growing.
Probably the Bay Area's most visited online community, the site started out as a list from New mark to his friends of available apartments, jobs, used futons and the like -- all information he casually happened to come by. In five years, it has become a crossroads for the local scene -- GenXers and Baby Boomers alike. Newmark is now helping parties in Boston, Australia, Canada and Europe to mimic the success of Craig's List.
The puckish, 47-year-old Newmark, whose straight-laced demeanor betrays a kind of suppressed, hilarity has turned down offers from investors to buy Craig's List. An offer to sell what is obviously entree to 11 million pairs of eyes, both consumers and local businesses, "would have destroyed the spirit that we have," Newmark said.
"We can't see ourselves selling out. Of course, the Internet is a pretty surprising place," he acknowledged, leaving open a door for -- what?
"A few years ago, Microsoft's Sidewalk (online city guides) made me an offer to run banner ads. At the rates I could have gotten, I could have retired right then. But I told myself, 'Hey, I'm an overpaid contract programmer.'
'I don't need it. It doesn't feel right.' So I said no."
But he does not necessarily say no when groups from other cities ask for his help creating a list in their communities. He screens them to make sure they have a "similar community vision ... and can get the job done."
Not a typical franchise arrangement, each agreement is tailored to the people involved, their talents and needs. Craig's List may supply some financial support and infrastructure. In some cases, It's a joint venture.
He has firm arrangements in Boston, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, to erect Craig's List clones. After a recent tour of Europe and Canada, he's in negotiations with groups in New York, Seattle, Montreal and Washington, D.C., Southern California, Dublin, Ireland, Amsterdam and Berlin.
How did such an obscure venture grow so powerful?
On a surprisingly modest budget. Craig's List posts 8,000 available jobs through ads paid by employers for $45 a month. Forrester Research Inc. recently called it the most efficient online job site, outranking the largest job boards with hundreds of thousands of listings such as CareerBuilder, Monster.com, Hot jobs.com, Headhunter.net and CareerMosaic.
Newmark said his site was the most efficient because it was the cheapest. But he said he's reconsidering. He said human resource professionals and recruiters "told us they are almost embarrassed to pay that little. Recruiters say they search our free resume data base and place people (from it) making $20,000 to $30,000."
But he won't predict whether he and his colleagues will revise the $45 fee.
Newmark has divorced himself as much as possible from the role of chief, delegating authority over personnel and compensation issues, for example. He won't discuss salaries except to say his colleagues and he receive less than but close to "market rates" under terms set by a board of directors.
He likes to remain free to do the customer service and community work that he enjoys. Be sides listing volunteering opportunities, Craig's List has helped find free Web hosting and graphics design for non-profits such as Oakland Readers (http://www.oaklandreaders.org/).
Newmark also yearns to wrest as much time as he can to do the programming he loves.
"It's been over a year since I've done any Java," he said.
The site is introducing new features such as matchmaking postings and soon a baby-sitting clearance service.
"Working parents need a break -- single moms in particular who never get a break," observed the bachelor. A more powerful search engine and expanded discussion rooms are also planned.
"We're making money, and we're getting better every day helping people out with everyday needs. We don't need another way to get stock quotes. But people do need help getting a job, a place to live and a way to unload a futon," he said.