Mesh and Craigslist

Building a Web Business

Mark Evans talks to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster.

Q: How do you guys operate?

A: we have been in the same place for 7 years, we have 24 employees, 2/3 tech, rest customer service. we don;t try and give any message, the site is all about the users and it is about us getting out of the way as much as possible

Q: any advice to companies looking to establish a brand, when marketing is not a strategic

A: don’t market if you don’t have to. but lots of people do, use a lot of resources on this, WOM is powerful for us, we focus on getting the service right.

Q: Criagslist has maintained it’s status as the online listing service; how does it stay at the top of the pack

A: 100s of companies do online classified. not sure why we are at the top, part of it is that the only thing we work on is things that users are asking for. we try and model site ways the users are trying yo use it. sites driven by revenue and profits do things to maximise this, we focus on what users want.

Q: a few years ago, I interviewed Jim as part of my reporter job. And now I’m embarrassed about it…my piece was about the lack of making money. and now I apologise. But why does it not charge for more of it’s services.

A: we’ve had the luxury of having a healthy and profitable business since 1999. we figure we are making enough money for our needs, we did not want to move away form running the site for our users. It;s more fun doing it our way than worrying about making more and more money. when having outside investors or publicly traded you have less choice in the matter.

Q: there’s a lot of pain in newspaper industry and people point fingers at all sorts of things. Craigslist is been pointed at as well

A: we do get asked that question a lot. Overall, newspaper business overall is still 2x as profitable as the average US company. It’s easy to point fingers when you are doing layoffs, motivated by trying to raise profits to please wall st, they are done to maximise financial performance.

Audience Q&A

A: are you looking at expanding into buying/selling, providing paypal like services etc?

Q: in contrast to ebay, where a lot of transaction take place at a distance. on craigslist, many transactions are local where people meet up. there are no plans to add a payment mechanism as it does not need it.

Q: revenue model and future?

A: we charge for jobs in 7 cities and NYC brokers. 3-5 years, a lot if incremental things, more cities, categories, multi-language support pretty soon; improved search.

Q: we’ve talked a lot about community and trust; what do you think about the future of identity and trust online?

A: trust online – craigslist is a lot about meeting in person; the vast majority of people are well intentioned but some are not. Technologists get to play a role in isolating these less well intentioned people.

Q: how do your serve 90m pages per month

A: underlying is LAMP (where P is for Perl). 3 tier architecture as traditional. we compress pages 10-1 as they are being downloaded, most browsers can uncompress on the fly. we keep trying to maximise our page views per kWh, for green, costs and sanity sake. we keep outgrowing our colo centres. we have 175k page views per kWH, on 200 servers.

Q: what is your take on web2.0 design work.

A: users can be as creative with own pages as they like. we look for page performance, accessibility and usability. as far as web2.0 techs, we stay away from the leading edge, when you add the new stuff you can exclude users, we try and make the site usable for all, old software, text only browser etc.

Q: what is the long term strategy? what functions are users looking for now?

A: we only have one strategy, do what users want. we don;t really hold meetings to discuss strat…we don;t hold meetings! we have not lost a tech person in 12 years. we don;t have business people which could help! and that we are in San Fran. we have absolute flexibility in hours;

Q: what factors influences you to charge?

A: we charged for jobs in 1998 in sanFran, from necessity as costs rose; Craig went to users to ask how to raise money – charge business. In 2003 or so, the job boards were getting out of hand in LA and NY, so we got requests to bring fee to these cities to improve quality. We opened up a discussion board for over a year to discuss what we should do. In the other 4 cities it has been a similar discussion in process. Again in NYC for broker listings, that one category in that one city was 30% of listings, so the fee was to control; our fee of last resort and a lazy mans tool. We can spend a lot of hours technically stopping them flood the list, but the fee stops the substandard listings.

Q: as you grow, will your employees scale at same rate?

A: staffing needs is driven from growth in existing cities rather than new. New are slow to grow unless adjacent to areas where CL well known.

Q: What values drive CL?

A: Craig is a long time tech person, most of us from tech background. money os not that big a concern for us, we have enough to do what we need. most business have pushes in that direction, we are a private company, never needed outside investment money, we do not feel the decisions that we have made are radically different from others would make in the same position

Q: is there a better metric than money

A: the emails I get, explaining how people build there whole life from CL.

Q: video?

A: it’s something we would treat like any other feature – if users ask for it, we will look at it, not too much call for it.

Q: what is the freakiest thing you’ve seen listed.

A: the group looking to form a new bible study; a girl, missed connection ad, to a gentleman..I spilled my grandmother on you! another one was aa lost and found for a carton of live crickets.

Q: does CL fear anyone/thing?

A: as an org, it is a silver lining on focusing on users, not other companies, we don’t to worry about them. Net Neutrality is worrying.

Q: what are your growth drivers?

A: a small number of one off events have driven certain sites…katrina for NO, 9/11 for NYC, it is a site that is useful for basic human needs and when that happens a site can increase

Q: CL is a huge business asset..is there any idea about using the asset to raise money for philanthropic causes?

A: we get that question time to time. if our users ask for it, we would look at it. businesses and people have that money and they can send to the charity, we have no special expertise in collecting and sending on to charity.

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