Craigslist Not Selling Out

Online community billboard Craigslist receives 5 billion page views and 13 million unique visitors a month. In the eyes of many in the Internet business, those figures would represent very big dollar signs.

Though Craigslist achieves those enviable numbers, it remains simply "a small community service" to its founder.

"We could sell Craigslist for an enormous amount of money," says founder Craig Newmark, but "we tell people, 'thanks, we're not interested.'"

According to a new estimate, MySpace could be worth $15 billion within three years, and Internet billionaires populate the Forbes "Richest Americans" list. But money doesn't get Newmark excited.

"Once we're living comfortably, we don't see much point in making more," he says calmly. He continues to focus on Craigslist as a community service -- his mantra ever since he started the site in 1995. He sees it as "following-through on the value system that most of us share. Most religions emphasize spiritual values over material values."

Newmark works full-time on customer service now. Jim Buckmaster became CEO in 2000 and agrees with Newmark's philosophy. "A person with different values would not be OK" at Craigslist, says Newmark.

"They are extraordinarily principled in the way they run their business, care about their business, and try to grow their business," says Andrew Schroepfer of Tier 1 Research, a financial research firm specializing in information technology. "My bet is that these guys would not just try to sell out now because the marketplace seems more than ever interested in buying out those types of businesses."

In 2004, eBay bought 25 percent equity in Craigslist from someone in the Craigslist community. Although Newmark did not anticipate that the shares of this individual (whom he has not named) would change hands, he says eBay's purchase has not had a significant effect on the business.

"EBay generally leaves us alone," and occasionally helps in tracking down a spammer or scammer. (Newmark is quick to note that most Craigslist users are "overwhelmingly trustworthy.")

Although Newmark seems perfectly happy with the status quo, Schroepfer says he can envision a sale down the road.

"They've built an empire that's not going away, he says. "In the disciplined view of how to build a business, they'll be able to extract a bigger fair value the longer they keep running this and doing the right things to keep growing it. They're making practical good business statements to support good disciplined business that they've taken a lot of time and effort and personal emotion -- blood, sweat and tears -- to build.

"[My] hat's off to them for being sane and disciplined. I think their business is worth a ton, and they'll only be worth more the longer they wait."