Treat People Like You Want to be Treated: An Interview with the Founder of Craigslist, Craig Newmark

By Yumiko Higuchi
(A candidate of Master of Science, Integrated Marketing Communications)

There are many successful people in San Francisco; but Craig is my most favorite person because I am a big fan of his website, Craigslist. Before I came to the U.S. three years ago, I was so nervous because everything about my lifestyle might have to change. If I am in my home country, I have more information such as how to rent my apartment, how I can get second-hand furniture, and how I can look for community services. I did not have this kind of knowledge here, and I asked my ex-boss who has been working for a tech industry in Silicon Valley. He said, “No worries, Yumi. There is Craigslist. You can find everything there.” He was right.

Craigslist is the public communication website that has various categories such as community, discussion forums, housing ads, and product sales. It also includes classified advertisements that are the part of its business model. Craigslist was started in San Francisco as an email cc list to friends, featuring local events in the San Francisco Bay Area, and expanded to other U.S. cities, then overseas. Currently, Craigslist has more than 20 billion page views per month and covers over 70 countries.

“Ultimate Decision Maker Interview” assignment

I interviewed Craig Newmark for my assignment of the Ultimate Decision Maker Interview in my Sales Management class (MK332) taught by Professor Don Surath. I am going to share my take-away from meeting Craig.

Initially, I wanted to know about the secret of Craigslist because it had some unique characteristics that other websites did not have. Craigslist’s design and layout have not had a significant change for years. The customers of Craigslist focus on a clear objective such as looking for a job, an apartment, or a secondhand smartphone, so they like their simple web design; and they are willing to use it because every function is easy to understand. Also, Craigslist charges advertising cost for only some companies, and does not charge money for the general public, but their financial status is good. Those characteristics look rare in the tech industry.

While Craigslist operates their site with stable features, many competitors tried to take over Craigslist’s position, but were born and died immediately. Working in the tech industry for almost ten years, I’ve seen these kinds of circumstances hundreds of times. If someone has a competitor, the original service is often forced to change itself. Craigslist did not do this, so I wanted to know their secret of strength, why they did not change and kept offering good services firmly.

If someone has a competitor, the original service is often forced to change itself. Craigslist did not do this, so I wanted to know their secret of strength…

Meeting Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark is a likable gentleman. When we met at the café that he visits frequently, he welcomed me and sat in front of me. I asked him many questions that interested me. He answered all my questions slowly and with confidence. As mentioned above, I wanted to know the strengths of Craigslist, but it seemed to be challenging to obtain the answer from him because I did not know how to ask.

Although, after we talked a while, I had some clues. Many of his answers included the same phrase: “Treat people like you want to be treated.” That’s what he said when I asked him about the most important thing in the business, the essential point in the web service, and something about his private life. I think this phrase is his philosophy in his life, and it seems like this idea underlies his fundamental decisions.

Craig said that his position was customer service rep on Craigslist for a long time. I completely understood what he meant because the user support rep knows everything that customers want. Probably, it is also an excellent way of operating a long-lasting and popular website. Craigslist knows the customers’ opinions, so the organization did not go in the wrong direction. Consequently, Craigslist has been a popular website for years, and it has not had a big change. It might be a part of the Craigslist secret.

His philosophy is similar to “putting yourself in others’ shoes.” My major is marketing, and while I am studying at Golden Gate University, professors say this again and again. I am supposed to know its importance, but continuing this behavior is difficult. It is highly likely that Craig is a person who puts himself in others’ shoes in business and also in private. He takes others’ needs seriously. For the first time, I saw a person who lived this maxim for many years. This discovery impresses me and makes me respect him more, so I think I want to try following his philosophy sincerely in the future. It seems to be hard though!

After having interviewed Craig for the Ultimate Decision Maker Interview, I know the reason why Craigslist has everything we need – because the founder of Craigslist treats customers like he wants to be treated. He understands customers’ feelings.

Last but not least, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Newmark and Professor Surath for giving me such a precious opportunity.

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Pictured in header: Craig Newmark and Yumiko Higuchi.

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