Back in 1994, Newmark thought he would contribute to his community by offering a mailing list with local events in his home of San Francisco. According to Newmark, the idea “took off from there” and he was soon posting the events online and taking suggestions from other members of the community on how to improve the site. Slowly but surely the site began to evolve. Job ads, housing listings, for sale items and personal ads were included next, and Craigslist became a useful resource and networking tool for those in the Bay Area. Seeing his brainchild continue to gain momentum, Newmark realized he was onto something and made a decision to work on the project full-time. There was more to his site than just offering users a chance to find the perfect internship or score a deal on a really great couch. Newmark was helping his community help each other. “I felt a sense of commitment to follow through on what I had started and a sense that we were helping out a lot of people,” he says adding, “We provide a useful service, helping people with everyday stuff like jobs and housing and we do it in this culture of trust that seems to relate to a value system where the core values are treating people like you want to be treated.”
While Craigslist is a non-profit, Newmark realized he still had to turn some kind of profit to pay the bills and stay afloat and managed to do so by charging for the job listings employers posted on his site. A mere $25-$75 (costs differ depending on what city you live in) per
ad has been sufficient enough for business to keep booming. Getting a staff to run the site, though, was slightly more challenging. Newmark explains that while he tried to manage his business with only volunteer employees, he now has a regular staff of about 25 employees. One such employee includes CEO, Jim Buckmaster, who began with Craigslist in 2000. Since Newmark wishes to stay true to his community roots and prefers to monitor the site’s discussion boards, Buckmaster has been a helpful addition when it comes to managing the business end of the site. “As a manager, I’m not very good. I don’t have the skills or temperament,” says Newmark.
Buckmaster has also added a Craigslist blog, which is a favorite among users since it is a roundup of the “Best of Craigslist” and includes the wackiest, most ridiculous postings that have come through the site. “Someone posted a job ad to take the CPA ethics test for them,” laughs Newmark, admitting that while there is a flagging system whereby users may note if a post is spam or of an inappropriate nature, creative or humorous posts are still widely appreciated.
An even greater addition to the Craigslist family is Newmark’s Craigslist Foundation, which helps other non-profits get the tools necessary to succeed through training boot camps and online resources. “It’s function is to help other nonprofits do better at helping people and become more effective,” says Newmark. In true Craigslist fashion, the foundation doesn’t promote one business over another but instead hopes to be a “community catalyst” that will “help leaders contribute real impact on our community.”
Going global, turning a profit, launching a foundation is all well and good, but for Newmark, improving his community is really what it’s all about. “We run a community service,” he says. “And that’s what we focus on.”
By Jillian Gordon
Photo by Gene Hwang