Web’s Forrest Gump – Grow by Rejecting Innovation

Which business I am talking about? Clues –

  • 1 in 5 US residents visits it every month
  • Besides offering nearly all of its features for free, it scorns advertising, refuses investment, ignores design, and does not innovate
  • Founder told Charlie Rose – “already have a parking space, a hummingbird feeder, a small home with a view, and a shower with strong water pressure. What else am I supposed to want?
  • It has serious presence in at least 50 countries
  • It has rejected just about every “hot” technologies for last 10 years. It’s User Interface is probably more outdated than the
  • It has by the the most “closed” system — there is practically no externally documented “API” or “ecosystem” built around it
  • It does not charge anything to 95% or more of its users from way before the term “Freemium” was “in”
  • Its site has no “text” or “banner” advertising
  • Even though it could rake possibly billions, it never tried the IPO route
  • You don’t need to become a member to use any feature

You agree with him or not, you must bow to Craig Newman who is a living antithesis to just about any reigning business theory. There are all IBMs, CISCOs, HPs and even Googles — and then there is Craigslist. Being a somewhat aggressive reader of business and leadership literature, it was challenging enough for me to find an equivalent. Then – recently – I came across a thin translation written more than 400 years ago. “Code of the Samurai” says —

“If you are going to (study military science), you should not stop halfway. You should practice until you reach the inner secrets, finally to return to original simplicity and live in peace. If, however, you spend days in half-baked practice, unable to reach the inner principles, thereby losing the way to return to original simplicity, thus remaining frustrated and demoralized, that is most regretable.

..just as with bean paste that stinks of bean paste, when you meet a (military) scientist who stinks of (military) science, you cannot stand the smell”

Replace the ‘military science’ with ‘business of community’, and you would get Craig Newman – a self-proclaimed “Forrest Gump of Internet“.

He is willing to perform the same task again and again. During the company’s first years, Newmark approved nearly every message on the list, and in the decade since he has spent much of his time eliminating offensive ones. Even by the most conservative accounting, he has passed judgment on tens of thousands of classified ads. Very few people could do this and thrive.”

Wired magazine profiled Craig and his list in the latest issue. Give it a read when you can. Despite the tactical problems, the business is fully poised to survive — perhaps because it never consciously tried to!


About Nilendu Misra
I love to learn, create and coach. Things that I do well are - Communicating ideas - verbally or through words and diagrams; Problem Solving - Logical or Abstract; Very Large Scale Systems; think about 'Frighteningly Simple' approach first. Things that I intend to do better are - Establishing Stringent Process; Exchanging Tough Feedback; Keeping up with my reading or To-Do list to be able to completely relax.

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