from, February 25, 2004 Interview with Craig Newmark
by Nate Kaiser

Craig grew Craigslist from a small email list to a profitable community site serving more than 30 different cities.

nPost: Can you give us an overview of Craigslist?

Craig: We are a very simple site where people can address everyday needs such as finding a place to live, a job, selling their stuff, to finding a date. We are not about the fancy stuff, and instead focus on everyday life.

nPost: How did you grow this community?

Craig: We started off as an email list and became more complex over time. When I originally founded the site, I learned that I could code which turned emails into web pages. We had instant web publishing.

nPost: What do you see as the main driver of your growth?

Craig: We address everyday human needs, and do a great job of it. People find the site very useful, and promote the site to their friends and family via word of mouth. When someone has a positive experience on the site, they tend to bring in those around them as well. We have never done any advertising and our growth via word of mouth has allowed us to be very successful. Also, we have seen the press be very kind to us.

nPost: How did you grow the site from a simple email list to what it is today?

Craig: I ran the site as a hobby for a few years, and in 1998 brought on some volunteers who ran things for a year or so. Unfortunately they weren't too successful, and I decided to run the company in 1999. I saw that we needed to get serious and run it as an actual company. I created a non-profit/for-profit hybrid company and began charging for Job Postings in the San Francisco area. Luckily, that was enough to pay the bills.

nPost: How have you been able to sustain the company?

Craig: We have a really good CEO, Jim Buckmaster who is really good at running the company pretty lean. He complements my capabilities, by being an excellent manager. I was a good manager, but not good enough for where we needed to be.

nPost: How is your site user driven?

Craig: We really rely on our users for their feedback, which enables us to determine what new services to offer and what cities to expand to. We don't expand to new cities with any scientific process. We review requests for new cities in our feedback forum and other mechanisms. If we figure that a particular city has a high broadband penetration, and it if looks like it will help people in those cities, then we will put it up.

nPost: Is there a critical mass that you are looking for?

Craig: Not really, we really rely on intuition and that has worked pretty well.

nPost: Do different cities grow faster that others?

Craig: At some point we start to experience the network effect where enough people are telling enough people that it starts growing. There is no consistency in the growth rates between cities. Some cities start slow and stay slow. Some cities pick up right away. One city that has grown dramatically is Las Vegas. It is one of our newest cities, and has grown to over 2 million page views. Our Las Vegas section receives more page views than either Austin or Atlanta, which have both been around significantly longer.

nPost: How do you balance your for-profit and non-profit endeavors?

Craig: We made a decision about our values. At that point, when we were completely free Microsoft Sidewalk approached us with the offer for advertising. They offered to run banner ads on our site at market rates, which would have allowed me to live off that one customer. At that point I didn't need the money because I still had my day job and was not focusing completely on the site. I decided that we would not run banner ads on the site, and still do not.

nPost: I would expect that your decision helped contribute to the success of the site; simple, direct, and it loads quickly. Craig: It works out very well for everyone. The site loads quickly regardless of the users Internet connection. Our focus is to keep it simple, and provide services that help people.

nPost: Where do you see this community model going?

Craig: We see an incremental evolution. One example is a new image hosting service that we will be launching. We have found that pictures help with many of our different categories, and will begin allowing people to post pictures on our items for sale section, dating section, etc. We focus on incremental improvements. Another example is that we try to automate certain areas of the site, which improves the efficiency of the site for our users.

nPost: What do you think are some of the most interesting stories that have come from your users?

Craig: We receive so many, and we actually have someone who works on this do the overall numbers. My favorite stories have to do when people happen to locate a lost pet through the site. I think that is simply due to the fact that I need a pet. We see something like that happen every few months.

nPost: There have been a number of groups that have developed and grown through your site.

Craig: I was actually in New York recently and spoke at two lunch club events (The NYC Lunch Club). We have seen a lot of this type of evolvement, where people are making new contacts, have a great time, and becoming more involved. This is another great aspect of our site.

nPost: Have negative postings been an issue for the site?

Craig: We have a good culture of trust on our site. People expect other people to be ok, and in the majority of cases that is completely true. Considering our current size we have very few problems. We have a number of mechanisms that help us identify each issue, and we handle every issue directly.

nPost: Can size be a detriment for community-based sites?

Craig: Definitely. The challenge is to stay small while becoming large. Part of the solution is to have independent sites for different cities. This breaks down the site into manageable increments for our users. We keep it personal, and we have seen a lot of our users help other users directly. The site has a personality in addition to the culture of trust.

nPost: You have the users and the brand recognition to compete with the social networking sites such as Friendster, LinkedIn, Ryze, etc. Do you plan to move into this area?

Craig: We do not have plans to move in that direction. Instead we will continue to focus on incremental improvements that provide better service for our users. Also, we are getting more and more requests for a site focusing Madrid and Paris in addition to our current London site.

nPost: What are the site's key strengths?

Craig: Our site has a genuine personality, which is an aggregate of all our users. Our culture of trust in incremental to our success. If our users did not have that trust, they would not use the site as frequently as they do. Our personality and our trust have led to our success.