Confusing the Capitalists
This is probably my favorite story of the last week: Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster went to a media conference for financial types and made them all drop their jaws to the ground when he explained how Craigslist isn’t all that interested in finding ways to eke profits out of each of its users, it just wants to help them find jobs and dates and apartments:
Wendy Davis of MediaPost describes the presentation as a “a culture clash of near-epic proportions.” She recounts how UBS analyst Ben Schachter wanted to know how Craigslist plans to maximize revenue. It doesn’t, Mr. Buckmaster replied (perhaps wondering how Mr. Schachter could possibly not already know this). “That definitely is not part of the equation,” he said, according to MediaPost. “It’s not part of the goal.”
Why doesn’t Craiglist at least do AdSense ads? they asked Buckmaster. His response was that as far as he knew, his users weren’t asking for them. Apparently this precipitated another wave of the “qua?” face from the analysts, et al. They didn’t seem to get the idea that a company could leave that much money on the table.
This makes me feel almost intolerably warm and fuzzy toward Craiglist. I like money quite a bit myself, as most of you know, but I think from time to time it’s perfectly fine not to have money be the main reason one does a thing. Craigslist was not initially designed to make tons and tons of money for Craig Newmark, as I understand it. He wanted to help people find things around San Francisco. The company’s bigger now but its goal is pretty much the same, and I think its fine that the company has focused on that rather than blinging out the revenues. Presumably it’s doing well enough. Unless Newmark and Buckmaster suddenly decide that what they both really need is a 300-foot yacht stocked with cocaine and supermodels, how much more do they need?
Buckmaster’s response to the analysts resonates with me because on a drastically smaller level, these are the same issues I deal with here. I get approached all the time to run ads; I just yesterday turned away someone who asked to run one. I also know people who don’t quite get why I don’t run ads here, given the site’s traffic. The reasons are pretty simple: One, I don’t wanna. Two, I don’t wanna. Three, I don’t wanna. Also, like Buckmaster, I’m not really hearing a clamor for ads from the visitors to the site. I can’t really remember anyone ever saying to me something along the lines of “I like the Whatever, but I’d like it even more with advertising.” Also also, there’s the small matter that unlike Craigslist, this isn’t even a business, so I wouldn’t even have that excuse.
As I’ve noted before, I’m not opposed to people putting ads on their site, and even if I was, my opinion of what other people do one their own site counts as much as their opinion counts for what I do on mine, i.e., not a damn bit. I’m not even saying I will never put ads on the Whatever one day; really, who knows. But right now it doesn’t seem particularly likely. I like not having ads here. I like not having to do everything with an eye on how much it can get me.
On the other hand, I’m not walking away from potentially tens of millions in revenues like the Craigslist people are. All things considered, their decision to skip the ads is rather more impressive than mine. Makes me want to post an ad there or something. You know, just to say “good on you.” Which reminds me I still have my Virginia home up for rent. Hmmm.