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The Interview With Craig Newmark, Founder of craigslist

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If you follow this blog, you know that I go after what I want. With RELENTLESS DETERMINATION. There is an interview I've wanted for some time. It was Craig. THE Craig, founder of craigslist (who nicely corrected my spelling of CraigsList, explaining it should be written in all lower-case). The way he spells craigslist and his newest initiative, craigconnects, is just so very Craig -- understated, modest, simple. When I interviewed him, I kept challenging him for more MEAT, more stories, more guts, for all my women who love details. But I learned something from Craig. Sometimes, less is more. He's concise and precise. But that doesn't mean he isn't all heart. Cuz he is. When I blamed my demand for more 'meat' on the battle of the sexes... that women are 'oversharers' and men are 'undersharers,' he told me, "That's all I got." So, in the words of my uncle who always tells his daughters to "land the plane" when they go off on a tangent, enjoy this simple, but powerful interview from a remarkable entrepreneur and do-gooder in this universe, Craig Newmark.

As an entrepreneur myself, since the age of 24, I am fascinated by people who have a vision and who successfully bring that vision to human beings around the globe. It seems only fitting that Craig should be here.

Without further ado...

Craig, I have been a long-time user of craigslist and have made quite a bit of spare change selling my old high chairs, baby car seats and strollers! What a great site and concept. Tell us how the idea was born, and why do you think craigslist became as successful as it did? It seems an easy enough concept to copy. What made it so unique?

Well, in '94 I was at Charles Schwab & Co., showing people the Internet and suggesting we'd do business that way someday. Also, I saw a lot of people helping each other out.

In '95, early, it seemed time for me to give back, and I started a simple arts and technology events mailing list. Also, I solicited feedback, and did something with that feedback. We continue that ask/act cycle to this very day.

What seems to make craigslist work is our deal about "doing well by doing good," and by providing a platform where people can help others with everyday basic stuff. That starts with helping get a job and a home, and goes from there.

The "doing well by doing good" thing is unique in our area, as far as I can tell.

Your bio on Twitter says, "Customer service rep and founder for craigslist." Either you're a very humble man, or I'm not sure what! Tell us what craigslist means to you today, and tell us more about your newest initiative, craigconnects.org.

I earn my living wage by being a Customer Service Representative.  Haven't coded software at all this millennium, so it's really that simple.

craigslist does serve as a platform where people help each other for the basics, and also, shows people that the Internet is good for mutual support. I do feel pretty good about that.

In the short term, craigconnects is about me standing up for people who do really good work in areas I believe in.  Some of these are helping vets and military families, back-to-basics journalism and fact checking, open government, consumer protection, and technology for the public good.  I just did a long blog post on our craigconnects.org website talking about what we've done in the past year.

craigconnects, in the long term, is my attempt at figuring out how to get everyone to work together for the common good. My deal is that the Internet will provide a number of platforms for making that happen.

I'm giving twenty years to that effort.

Tell us about your thoughts on keeping the Internet free. I know you have a strong voice on this matter. This has been quite a hot topic lately with SOPA.

SOPA was about shutting down websites at the whims of the powerful, often to suppress free speech. Free speech is a big part of what a "free Internet" is about.

We need to prevent bad legislation from preventing people from helping each other out. SOPA was about that.

More importantly, the SOPA thing was a wakeup call for the Internet community, and we're realizing that we need to work together to stop similar malicious efforts.

As an entrepreneur named 'Time Magazine's Top 25 Most Influential People on the Web' what 3 tips would you share with someone who wants to start their own business, online or other? Many of our readers are wannabe entrepreneurs and mompreneurs. What do you feel makes for a great recipe for business success?

  1. Well, I figure people should treat others like they want to be treated, which translates into serious customer service.
  2. Realize that you can't make everyone happy.
  3. Do something real, and keep it simple.
When are you the happiest?

When I feel like I'm deeply engaged with what I should be doing with my life.

I do love playing with babies, see the photos of Charlie and me on Facebook.

What do you make of all this social media madness and online explosion? What's real and what's hyped and falsely inflated?

I think it's real and effective when done well. However, there are people professing social media expertise who lack it, yet they're billing hours for it. People need to reality test, and also to stay the course.

And finally, I often ask in my interviews, what is on your Bucket List?

I don't really have one. I'm tired.

*****
About Craig Newmark, in his own words...

I'm Craig Newmark.

Here's the first thing: I'm not as funny as I think I am, but sometimes I can't help myself.

I was born in Morristown, N.J., in 1952. Right now, I live in SF. There are other places I think about living, but San Francisco and I seem to be a pretty good fit at the moment.

When I went to college I was going to study physics, but instead I got into computers. I had a lot of hair back then. And just like you'd expect I wore a plastic pocket protector and thick black glasses that were taped together. I earned my bachelor's and master's in computer science from Case Western Reserve University. I was and will always be a nerd.

I was with IBM for 17 years, and then worked for GM, Bank of America, and Charles Schwab until the late 1990s.

In 1995 I started helping my friends out by putting stuff together online about events in San Francisco. That project became craigslist -- but who knew? Now we're one of the 10 most-visited English language web platforms on the planet. Really not because of me, I'm really bad at business stuff, but because at least I was smart enough to hire Jim Buckmaster to run the biz and I mostly got out of the way.

See, most people assume I run craigslist, but I don't. It's run by a small group of very smart people who have stayed loyal to the idea that it should be simple, fast, mostly free, and "bottom-up" oriented. I've been involved, of course. I've done customer service from the beginning and am committed to it forever. It keeps me anchored to reality. Beyond that, I've learned a lot that can be applied to the common good and I'm doing that on craigconnects.

I don't expect to be a "leader" with this thing. I'd rather be a builder. I'd like to build a way for people doing good work to connect, to learn from each other, protect each other, and then I want to get out of their way.

I hope you'll join in and help. Thanks!

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I'd love to know what your thoughts.