Sunday, August 5, 2012

Craig Newmark: Know when to get out of the way

Recently I saw a couple of posts on Craigslist.  How Craigslist page has not changed in any major way since its initial launch yet how effective it still is at what it does.  I happen to know this first hand because when I did my last job search, I started out with Craigslist and ended up finding a position.  What kept Craigslist successful over all these years, I began to wonder.

After searching a bit on the web, I found the guy behind Craigslist, Craig Newmark.  He is the founder of Craigslist.  Soon I found out that he's a fairly unassuming guy who values the Golden Rule and knows what things are outside his strength.  Once he realized managing people and running the company was not what he was good at, he went out and hired Jim Buckmaster as CEO.

Here's what I picked up from reading up on Craig Newmark and how Craigslist still is highly effective classified site:

1. Listen to customers and let them shape the product

Craig Newmark still spends time supporting Craigslist customers.  In fact he calls himself as customer support rep at Craigslist.  He understands that Craigslist is a platform and service provided to customers are shaped by customers themselves.  Listening to customers helps him in tune with how customers use Craigslist and helps him determine what is important and what is not.  Newmark had famously turned down Microsoft banner ads earlier to maintain Craigslist's minimalistic text-heavy page.  It would not have been possible without Newmark putting what customer wanted as first priority.

2. Treat others how you would like to be treated and practice that each day every day

Newmark believes in treating everyone as equal part.  In an interview, he talks about how breakdown of communication can occur in larger organization where subordinates are feeding information that higher-up wants to hear.  By practicing Golden Rule, he has been building mutual trust between small group of people who work at Craigslist (about 30 or so employees) and customers.

3. Admit what you suck at and delegate it to a better person

Newmark did not shy away from admitting his weakness.  Opposite to this, he routinely publicly admits how he "suck" at management.  He recognized this early on and brought on a talent whom he can delegate the management task to.

As a user, I see that Craigslist is a very effective site.  There is no clutter, no advertisement that distracts me on the landing page.  It's all about familiar UI and only the listings that I care about organized by location.  I think there are lessons to be had from how Craigslist have been able to maintain its laser focus on its mission.

Craigslist circa 1999
Craigslist circa 2011;
A little has changed other than additional listings

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