Thursday, January 13, 2005
Craig Newmark, 52, wears pajamas when he works. No joke. There are pictures.
A native of Morristown, New Jersey, he now lives in Cole Valley, a pleasant, somewhat leafy San Francisco neighborhood tucked below a ridge, above the rabble of the city. His place sits conveniently beside a popular boulangerie—a particularly tasty French bakery—which may explain why his nutritionist has assigned him a pedometer, a device that measures how far he walks.
Newmark could be a very rich man but chooses not to be very rich. Instead, as founder of the versatile and ever growing online bulletin board known as Craig’s List, he chooses, as he says, to do the right thing. And to him, that means launching a Craig’s List site for Monterey, alongside sites for New York, London and Paris. And Fresno.
If you know about Craig’s List already, you know just what it is. Recall the corkboard at your post office where your neighbors posted various announcements—notices of lost cats, available living space above the garage, or invitations to a block party. Then clip out the classified advertisements from the local newspaper and tack them on the board too. In one corner, tape on the personals ads, the solicitations for dates and fun and illicit sex. And then throw in the conversations people are having around town, mostly the conversations you’re not invited to but somehow can eavesdrop on. When someone says something worthwhile, throw in your two cents.
Now take all that and put it into electronic form on the Internet and spread it all around the world so you can see if there are any flats for rent in Paris or lonely beauties in Manhattan or Mustangs for sale in Tulsa or a guy in Carmel Valley with extra Rose Bowl tickets. Then, thereabouts, you have Craig’s List.
“The way I picture it is just a site where you can get everyday stuff done,” Newmark says.
Newmark was a computer programmer for IBM for 17 years. In 1994, he was working in technology security for Charles Schwab, the brokerage firm based in San Francisco. It was the dawn of the Internet and Newmark was its prophet. He evangelized the technology.
“I went around and told people ‘This is the Internet. We’re going to be using it to do business someday,’” he says.
In early 1995, he began a simple electronic mailing list of “cool events,” mostly for friends. More and more people wanted to be included. Then, when the dot-com fever took, living space in San Francisco got rare and expensive. He asked friends to let him know about available apartments so he could add the dwindling commodity to the mailing list.
“It just kept going from there,” he says.
The list needed a name. His friends were already calling it Craig’s List and it stuck.
Today, a company of 18 people runs 75 identically-formatted Web sites around the world from an old house—near a different bakery—in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood.
The first Craig’s List officially launched in San Francisco in 1995. The next one came five years later in Boston. That year, 2000, it got heavy. Craig’s List popped up in Seattle, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, Washington DC, and Sacramento. It first went overseas, to London, in April 2003. New sites are added based on local requests and Internet volume. Monterey was added late in 2004, along with Albany, Amsterdam, Omaha, Paris, San Antonio, Tokyo, Tucson and Tulsa.
Newmark says the Monterey site is thriving, with 30,000 visits a day, or nearly a million a month. (For perspective, Los Angeles gets about 150 million visits a month.)
“We kind of grow slowly,” he says. “When we try to grow, we try to grow in areas of greatest need first.
“We try to operate on instinct and experience and not anything scientific. The scientific stuff usually doesn’t work that well anyway.”
The only thing Craig’s List charges for is job listings in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Everything else is free. Thought to be a nonprofit by many, it actually makes a fair chunk of cash.
“It’s been speculated in the press that we make $10 million a year and we have not disputed that,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of suitors. The speculation in the press is that the sale of Craig’s List would net $100 million, but we’re not interested. How much money do you need to make? I have every gadget I need and I need to get rid of some of them.”
Newspapers are not necessarily fans of Craig’s List because his free classifieds cut into the advertising that people pay for in print. But unless something drastic changes, Monterey’s Craig’s List won’t even make any money. He says he’s just trying to help.
“We want to provide a Craig’s List anywhere that people need them,” he says.