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Unlikely Success in Innovation

By BTM Institute Staff Writer  |  Posted 2008-07-30 Print this article Print

An interview with Craig Newmark, Founder of Craigslist

When it comes to looking for a job, an apartment, or even a good garage sale, more than 26 million unique visitors each month turn to a Craigslist.com site in one of 450 cities in 50 countries. No one can dispute the cult-like reputation Craigslist, founded by Craig Newmark, has earned. As a company, Craigslist runs pretty frugally, with 25 employees working out of an old Victorian building in San Francisco. However, Craigslist has proven that even a well-meaning, grassroots bunch of nerds can put a big dent in the advertising profits earmarked for 1,000 newspapers. Let's not forget how Craigslist has changed the way many of us live and work.

Craig Newmark has become a leader in the online community by virtue of his efforts at Craigslist over the past 10 years. He's compiled extensive experience evangelizing, leading and building, including work at Bank of America and Charles Schwab. Using a common sense, down-to-earth approach, Craigslist strives to make the Net more personal and authentic, while advocating social responsibility through the promotion of small, nonprofit organizations.

So how did Craigslist, which started as Newmark's idea for a San Francisco events list 12 years ago, come this far? Why would a company that could be making hundreds of millions of dollars each year continue to offer a primarily free service? What drives Craigslist's quirky form of innovation and culture? These are some of the things BTM Institute recently put to Newmark. Here's what he had to say.

Q. What have you learned about the Web?

I've learned more about people than the Web. People are overwhelmingly trustworthy and good. There are few bad guys out there. The problem is that the bad guys make a lot of noise. It sounds like there are more of them than they really are. One reporter says the reason you hear from extremists is that moderates have stuff to do. And that reporter is Jon Stewart.

Q. You folks are a low-budget operation?

Very much so! The deal is that Jim Buckmaster, the fellow who really runs things, makes sure we run lean. I want to point out the important role Jim plays in the company. As a result, we don't owe any venture capitalist firms anything. We have never taken out a loan. We manage to run very well on 25 people, and we do okay.

The BTM Institute (www.btminstitute.org) brings together the academic, corporate, government and thought-leadership communities as a multi-disciplinary research think tank to address the need to integrate business and technology.
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