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Q&A with Jim Buckmaster of Craigslist


Craigslist is one of the most powerful forces on the Internet, but CEO Jim Buckmaster says the 25-employee company is not about the money. Buckmaster spoke to Amy S. Choi about staying small, how to find a Celtic fiddler, and why he'd never want a business named after him.

Q: How did you get started at Craigslist?

A: I put my résumé on Craigslist in 1999. Craig [Newmark, Craigslist's founder] hired me as lead engineer. Now, when it comes to business decisions—corporate structure, financial, legal, risk management—it's me.

Q: What do you wish you had known before you started with Craigslist?

A: I wish I had started here sooner. Then I could have avoided the less fun work that I did instead. I worked at a number of large companies. It can be kind of soul-deadening and dull.

Q: How are you able to keep the company so small?

A: Our history as a company has been to successfully get out of the way of users. If you look at larger Internet companies, most of the staff are involved in trying to maximize revenue. Since maximizing revenue isn't one of our goals, we don't need any of that staff.

Q: So how do you measure success?

A: User satisfaction. We get e-mails from people thanking us, people who have found their job, spouse, home, furnishings, car, pet, friends, social activities, all on Craigslist, for free. They've literally assembled every important aspect of their life on our site without spending a penny. It's a pretty powerful thing.

Q: What other companies do you really admire? Why?

A: SmugMug is a fun site that's family-run and espouses many of the same values we have in not being primarily about making money and chasing market share. And given the pressures that they're under and the size they've achieved, I'm still impressed with the founders of Google. They've stuck to their original ethos.

Q: How much turnover do you have?

A: We've never had a member of our tech team quit, and most of our workers are techies. Working here, people feel like they're making a difference in the world. We don't do things that techies don't like to do. We don't have meetings. We don't have cubicles. We don't have overhead flourescent lights. We're in a converted Victorian house, and people get to set their own hours. What's not to like?

Q: Do you still use the site?

A: Sure. My partner, Susan, hosts a Burns' Night Supper every year in celebration of the poet Robert Burns, with haggis and Scottish entertainment. This year our musician canceled at the last minute, and we found a Celtic fiddler on 18 hours' notice through the site.

Q: What's next? Ever want a Jimslist?

A: I'll stick with it here. I wouldn't choose to name a company after me. Craig gets a lot of unwanted personal attention by having his name in the name of the company.

Back to BWSmallBiz April/May 2008 Table of Contents

a href="mailto:Amy_Choi@businessweek.com"Choi/a is a staff writer for BusinessWeek SmallBiz in New York.

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