Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

I decided that I would start sending people notices about cool events, usually ones that involved arts and technology. And from there, via word of mouth, the news of the list spread.
—Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark, founder of the incredible word-of-mouth success story, has an air of humility and… befuddlement? about him in interviews that I find very intriguing. I’ve seen the poster boy for word-of-mouth business success interviewed a few times. He denies having consciously lit the spark for that success. He seems even to suggest that the Craigslist WOM machine is still a fire that burns out-of-(his)-control.

Well, we don’t have much in the way of a business strategy. Like no business plan. Which I say to torment all my friends who are VCs or MBAs. That’s always entertaining. The deal is, it’s a mixture of luck and persistence.
—Craig Newmark on the Tavis Smiley show, 23 Jan 2006

He told a few people he knew, who told a few people who knew them, and the story of the guy who didn’t want to make much money, who didn’t have a plan, who let the people make of the list what they wanted—the amazed, grateful philanthropist “in the rich nerd tradition” as he’s called himself—took off.

Craigslist took off, because the story of Craigslist took off. Everybody loves an underdog.

People weren’t buying from him. He was only helping them buy from each other. Or get an apartment. Or find love.

People who trusted Craig Newmark bought into the story at first, then people who trusted them bought into it, and by now all the world knows that Craig Newmark keeps the list with his name on it as rumpled as…

… well, as his image. Because as you probably know, that aw-shucks guy is also a multimillionaire. While he may truly have been stumped by its initial success, he’s been clued in for a long time. The list stays ugly (in spite of critics like Wired magazine) because the ugly list is the story, the whole history of Craig and his original 10 or 12 friends wrapped up in a “brand image.” The guy stays strategically non-strategic because it’s what helps spread the word. He’s still, somehow, the underdog.

Craig’s secrets?

Start the WOM-spark through trusted sources

Tell a story people will love to talk about—Craigslist tells it in more than one way, through the founder’s story and the “visuals”—and let them fan the fire

When the line is out the door—DON’T CHANGE A THING.

You want to know something? Even though I can take it apart—and even though I’m sure Mr. Newmark is aware of all of this himself—I believe in the story, too.

‘Cause I’ve got a funny feeling he’s sincere. And that’s a secret that everybody loves to share.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


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