Craigslist's laid-back approach to success

CEO Jim Buckmaster tells media executives what makes the online classifieds site such a hit around the world.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
NEW YORK--Online classified-ad site Craigslist isn't your typical Internet company, and CEO Jim Buckmaster isn't your average media mogul.

While other CEOs in the fast-paced technology market are driven by growing revenue and guard their turf against competitors with their lives, Buckmaster espouses a laid-back approach to revenue growth and competition.

Jim Buckmaster
Jim Buckmaster

"I don't really lose much sleep over it," he told a group of online media executives attending the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) 2006 summit here on Wednesday. "Our traffic growth in the past 12 months was about 200 percent. If it slows to 100 percent, I don't think that's the end of the world."

A soft-spoken San Franciscan dressed in a black fleece pullover and jeans, Buckmaster revealed the secrets to Craigslist's success during a one-on-one public interview with Fortune technology editor David Kirkpatrick.

Craigslist, launched in 1995, is a bare-bones classifieds site for people looking for almost anything--from apartments to jobs to dates to baseball tickets. Since its founding, the site has created a flourishing network of online buyers and sellers while maintaining a simple look and feel free from banner ads.

Today, 11 years after Craigslist was established, the site operates in roughly 190 cities across the U.S. and abroad. And it generates roughly 3 billion page views from about 10 million unique users every month, making it the seventh most popular site on the Internet in terms of page views.

The site, which only charges for job postings in certain cities, has put a heavy dent in career and real estate advertisement and classified sales at newspapers, costing them millions of dollars.

And despite the success of Craigslist, the approach of Buckmaster and the site's founder Craig Newmark, who is still with the company and often refers to his role simply as customer support, is to remain decidedly anti-corporate.

Currently, Craigslist only charges employers to list job postings advertised in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, though it's looking to expand this list. It also plans to charge apartment brokers in New York a $10 fee for listing rentals on the site. For a company that doesn't seem to care much about maximizing revenue, it's doing considerably well. A recent article in Fortune magazine estimated that it had revenue of roughly $20 million last year.

Craigslist's success hasn't gone unnoticed, and the company will likely face more competition in the coming years as companies like Google, Microsoft and News Corp.'s MySpace.com plan to launch their own classified-style advertising sites.

Still, Buckmaster seems unfazed by the possible competition, and rejects conventional strategies to head off rivals. For example, he quickly denied rumors that eBay, which already owns a 25 percent stake in the company, would be allowed to increase its share of the business.

And unlike other Internet companies that look for additional funding to expand their workforce once they reach a certain level of success, Buckmaster said Craigslist will likely stay small. Today the site employs only 19 people, half of whom are technical staff. Built almost entirely with open-source software, the company is able to keep costs low, Buckmaster said.

"Larger companies tend to be focused on maximizing revenue, so they need big sales teams and business development," he said. "We don't try to do that, so we don't really need all those people. If you focus exclusively on meeting users' needs and blot out everything else, that's the best strategy."