In search of consumers who, among other things, want to buy a used motorcycle in Ahmedabad, rent a furnished flat in New Delhi or find a date in Goa, Indian entrepreneurs have been capitalizing on Craigslist, an Internet classified advertising website, to target expatriates living in India.
In recent months, the number of people posting and replying to ads in India has soared, according to Craigslist chief executive officer Jim Buckmaster. There are more than five million page views and approximately 12,000 new classified ads listed per month, he said.
The low-frills website has listings for 10 cities in India, and recently added Ahmedabad, and the states of Goa and Kerala. Craigslist ranks within the top 250 most popular websites in India, according to web information firm Alexa.com.
A file picture of Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster at the Fortune Tech Conference in San Francisco, California, on 12 July 2007
In a country where social networking sites are drawing huge numbers of new Indian members, few sites have targeted Westerners as effectively as Craigslist. Bangalore was the first Indian city on Craigslist in January 2005 and is the busiest with almost 2 million page views per month. New Delhi and Mumbai are the next busiest and both started in mid-2005.
Worldwide, the site receives more than eight billion page views a month and Craigslist users self-publish more than 20 million new classified ads each month, according to its website.
In much of the West, Craigslist has become the first place many young people in big cities look for apartments and job listings.
Craig Newmark in San Francisco founded Craigslist in 1995 as a non-profit means to keep locals and friends up to date on events in the Bay Area; in 1999, it converted to a for-profit company and online retailer eBay bought a 25% stake in it the following year.
The site spread across the US before expanding globally in 2003. It now covers more than 50 nations and 450 cities.
That has made it possible for New Delhi real estate agent Abhishek Aggarwal to say that 30% of his business comes from expatriates surfing Craigslist. Aggarwal started posting ads on the site four months ago when a client of his from Santa Barbara, California, mentioned the popularity of the site.
“Not only people from America, but people from all over the world go to Craigslist,” said Aggarwal. “There’s been a real surge.”
On his webvertisement, Aggarwal lists amenities he said expatriates are looking for: Wi-Fi, satellite television and western-style toilets and showers, shopping areas, and ATMs in close proximity.
Another innovative use the site has been put into, is to find trainers for call centres. One company, Bangalore-based Call Ready, recruits Westerners on Craigslist to become voice and accent trainers to work with future employees in the city’s medical centres.
“On Craigslist, I can find the right kind of audience that I want to target, usually Westerners or people who come back to India after working abroad,” said Ashok Purushotham, Call Ready’s business manager in charge of recruiting. “They all look on Craigslist to find jobs.”
Purushotham said about 50% of his recruits come from the website.
While most personal ads are posted by Western men seeking Indian women, Indians are also using Craigslist to find dates with Westerners.
One man from Mumbai is looking for a Western companion, with stated intentions of sharing a cup of tea. One ad from Chennai promises “well educated mannered escorts” for foreigners visiting Chennai.
But CEO Buckmaster says India’s site seems more career-oriented than, say, neighbouring China’s.
“At the macro level, there seem to be more job ads than personals in India, and more personals than job ads in China,” he wrote in an email interview.
Some Indian entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the heavy traffic the website gets.
It’s often one of the first results on search engines, says Sunil Thomas, a communications engineer from Kerala who owns several pieces of real estate in state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
Thomas has been using the website for three months, but said his business could be better. “Craigslist has helped, but not immensely,” he said.
Thomas is looking forward to seeing how the site will help him for the tourist season come mid-September: “I expect business to pick up a lot by then. I think Craigslist will help.”