Take the Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, who has been described as a socialist anarchist and a communist, drop him into an investment conference with a bunch of capitalists and what do you get?
Confused capitalists wondering how a company can exist without the urge to maximize profits.
On the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference agenda Buckmaster stuck out among the bigwig CEOs and CFOs listed.
After all, few execs forgo revenue and profit maximization even when the company is in the black, refrain from using text ads because "users haven't asked for them yet" and stick to a circa-1995 Web design.
Among the highlights of Buckmaster's talk:
--On eBay's 25 percent stake in the company: Buckmaster says Craigslist was open to eBay's overtures because the company "didn't want to get involved with the business." When asked why Craigslist wouldn't use eBay technologies such as PayPal Buckmaster says users haven't clamored for it.
"eBay has fantastic technology but the key difference is that 90 percent of eBay transactions are over a long distance," says Buckmaster. "Ninety-five percent of our transactions are between people that live near each other. It's wonderful as a technology but not relevant to what we do."
However, the two parties are collaborating on anti-spam efforts, which are increasingly occupying Craiglist's employees' time.
--On text ads: Buckmaster, who says he's only taken one economic course in his life, reiterated that the company "is not trying to maximize revenue." Although Craigslist has been approached by the likes of Google and Yahoo about deploying text ads the decision comes back to what's best for users, says Buckmaster.
"No users have been requesting we run text ads so that's the end of the story," says Buckmaster.
Nevertheless, "the numbers though are quite staggering."
--On allowing text ads for the greater good: Buckmaster was asked why wouldn't Craigslist maximize revenue and profit for the good of the world. The general idea: Funnel the money from a text ad bonanza into philanthropy. Buckmaster didn't really have a good answer. "It's a valid argument," says Buckmaster. "You can make the argument that we could raise revenue to do good in the third world." Again, the decision would rest with users, who haven't really posed the idea or requested such a move. Craigslist would consider such a move if it began "hearing from users that we should raise revenue and plow it into charity."
--On IT infrastructure and operating costs: Buckmaster says Craigslist uses open source software which runs without a lot of "intervention from us." Craigslist has gone from 1 PC with 128 MB of memory in the early days to 200 machines 1,000 times more powerful. Unit costs for hardware continue to decline, but bandwidth costs have stopped declining. Co-location of infrastructure has been an issue due to electrical constraints. "We have professional management of our co-location facilities, but electrical power is a problem. Some of these older buildings are not built for power," says Buckmaster. "That's why Yahoo and Google are building these space-age facilities."
--On the role of founder Craig Newmark: "Craig doesn't spend that much time in the office anymore, but he does answer all of his emails at all hours," says Buckmaster. Newmark's primary focus is customer service at Craigslist and media appearances.
--On the benefits of a mostly text site: Buckmaster says text not only makes the site faster, but is friendlier to older browsers and more accessible to those with limited vision. The top level pages of Craigslist will remain text.
--On long-term shareholders: What happens to the core values of Craigslist if something happens to Newmark and Buckmaster? Succession planning has been pondered at least a little, but Buckmaster wouldn't disclose anything. "None of the people running Craigslist are immortal as far as we know."