What Has Craig Newmark Been Up To?
Craig Newmark seems pretty content with his business, the hugely successful craigslist.org. He hasn't accepted any outside funding, has declined offers to buy the site, and he doesn't have any big plans to change its formats or features.
So why was Newmark one of the keynote speakers this morning at the Southeast Venture Capital Conference in Tysons Corner?
"I'm a curiosity," he said, sounding somewhat baffled by the attention he's gotten since launching the site in 1995. The product hasn't changed much. He still lists free classified ads from all over the world, charging only for job listings in 11 major markets and for apartment listings in New York City.
Asked whether he planned to incorporate social networking functionality to the site, he said he didn't see the need for that. Asked whether he'd try to go head-to-head with Google in the local search market, where he is well-positioned, he said that just "didn't seem to be a right fit for us."
"We do one thing pretty well, so we don't want to screw it up," he said. "To say we have business plans or roadmaps is laughable. We make it up as we go along."
But Newmark certainly hasn't been idle. The site launched multiple language capabilities in November, starting with Spanish. He said he's working on improving the multi-city search feature and trying to reduce spam. Personally, he's gotten involved in social causes and organizations, including Sunlight Foundation, which encourages transparency in Congress, FactCheck.org, which verifies claims made by the presidential candidates, and VotoLatino, which encourages the Latino population to vote.
Craigslist.com has given away half a billion ads, Newmark said. A typical newspaper classified ad costs $40. If you do the math, that's about $20 billion of what he calls "in-kind" contributions to society. "I've met Bill Gates once, but I intend to compare sizes," he joked.
He was asked why he chooses not to charge a small fee for ads, now that the site has amassed a large following, and then give the proceeds to some of the causes he for which he advocates. Newmark said being charged with donating a large sum of money is actually quite difficult. He added that "instead of giving away the money you make, it's better to let people keep it."
Perhaps that's the secret to his success. He's turned down big money offered for craigslist.com. Would he ever consider selling?
"Death is my exit strategy," he said.
February 28, 2008; 1:54 PM ET
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