Buckmaster Bewilders Some, Inspires Others

Lucy Kellaway is Financial Times’ management columnist. For the last ten years her weekly column has “poked fun at management fads and jargon and celebrated the ups and downs of office life.” So it was fun to see how she did with Jim Buckmaster, the CEO of Craiglist.

Ahead of our meeting I gave myself two modest challenges: to make Mr Buckmaster talk financial and to make him smile. After all, he has enough to smile about. In 1999, he was an unemployed web programmer who posted his resume on Craigslist, where it was spotted by the site’s founder, Craig Newmark, who offered him a job.
A year later he was made chief executive and now he is in the most delicious of positions. Hugely successful, he could also be hugely rich if he wanted to cash in his stake. Only he chooses not to. The high moral ground suits him better.

People with better things to do than make money will always confound.

Kellaway gets past her bafflement however, and does the reader a nice service by listing some of Buckmaster’s habits and beliefs.

  • Listen to what users want. Try to make the site faster and better.
  • Hire good people. “We work hard trying to get the right kind of folks.” It pays off: they hardly ever leave.
  • No meetings, ever. “I find them stupefying and useless.”
  • No management programmes and no MBAs. “I’ve always thought that sort of thing was baloney.”
  • Forget the figures. “We are consistently in the black, so if we do better or worse in any given quarter it is absolutely irrelevant.”
  • Occasionally, give people “a very gentle nudge”. This can be done over lunch or on the instant messaging boards.
  • He doesn’t reply to any of his 100 daily messages, most of which beg Craigslist to do a deal. “I’m not real chatty on e-mail.”
  • Put speed over perfection: “Get something out there. Do it, even if it isn’t perfect.”
  • “Don’t screw it up by doing things that make people feel worse about their work.”

This is the maxim web developers must live by: “Get something out there. Do it, even if it isn’t perfect.” Of course, very few agencies are prepared to think and act this way. Instead, we mirror the bad habits of our client partners.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.