Why is Craigslist — one of the most popular Internet sites, where you can find everything — so successful? “Today” national correspondent Jamie Gangel went to its headquarters in San Francisco to find out.
Craigslist began 11 years ago as a community service, not a business. It is now estimated to be worth hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. So we wondered, who was the genius behind the list? Not what you might expect.
Let's face it ... there's nothing fancy about Craigslist. But 10 million people a month say they can't live without it.
Need a house, a job, a date? You can find almost anything, or anyone, on it, including its founder. And yes, his name is Craig.
Jamie Gangel: [writing] Dear Craig, we usually call for interview requests, but in your case this seemed the most appropriate way.
For the record, he really does answer his emails!
Gangel: We got him and he said yes.
But what we found does not exactly fit the image of an Internet mogul.
Gangel: Take a leap with me. If someone had told you that Craigslist would turn into number seven on the Onternet, you would've said...?Craig Newmark:I don't care. Gangel: You are a celebrity now, Craig.Newmark: Somebody who feels I'm a celebrity may need to get out more often.
And he's not just saying that. A bachelor and self-confessed nerd, 52-year-old Craig Newmark still takes the trolley to work every morning ... appears to spend every waking hour responding to customer complaints ... and you'd be hard pressed to find any trappings of success.
Gangel: Is there an expensive car in your life?
Newmark: I really don't like cars.
Gangel: Is there a mansion in your life?Newmark: Only if by mansion you would consider a fancy shack a mansion.Gangel: Is there a designer wardrobe?
Newmark: [laughs] I don't care about the designer thing.Gangel: Is there anything about you that shouts, "Millionaire, successful Internet entrepreneur"?
Newmark: I can't think of anything.
Even the business name is all lower case. Not what you might expect from a man who has been offered hundreds of millions for his site. But that's vintage Craig and, for that matter, craigslist.
Born and raised in Morristown, N.J., Craig says he grew up wearing a plastic pocket protector, thick glasses, and after 17 years working for IBM as a “Dilbert” was determined his company would be different. Corporate headquarters is a cramped Victorian townhouse, total staff is 19, and there's not a power suit to be found.
Gangel: Talk to me about your business model. Newmark: Two-part answer. First, do we have a business model? [Laughter] Second, if you wanna call the following a business model, we're a community service.
He's not kidding. Craigslist makes all its money just by charging for job and real estate listings in a few cities. There are no ads, no pop ups, no banners.
Newmark: Well, the closest thing we have to a motto is an old one. It says, ‘Craigslist, no crap. Well, maybe a little. But it's your crap.’
Users love it ...
Craigslist user: These are a few things we got from Craigslist ... Tiki the bird, Stormy the ferret.
But Craigslist has its critics. Some of what is for sale would make you cringe, though the company says it is aggressive about criminal use and pornography.
And newspapers say Craigslist is a menace to their survival because it has stolen away millions in classified ads.
Newmark: It's mostly mythology. We are having an effect on newspaper classifieds. But newspapers have had some problems for years.
But all agree, the list is growing by the day. The only thing, apparently, that won't change is how Craig does business.
Newmark: The secret is, just treat other people like you wanna be treated.
Gangel: Very old-fashioned.Newmark: We're Web zero point one. [Laughter] Gangel: Word on the business street is you could've taken this company public and been worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Newmark: Well, who needs it? I joke about nerd values, but that's for real.Gangel: Do you have a price, Craig? Is there anything that could make you sell?Newmark: World peace, maybe. [Laughter]