Craig Newmark is the founder of the popular find-anything Web site, Craigslist, which got its start in the San Francisco Bay Area in early 1995. In 2000, Newmark also founded the Craigslist Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to “strengthen communities and neighborhoods.” He tells us about his desire to help people help each other, how he gets through dark times, and the man that has greatly influenced his life.
How did Craigslist get started? What was your philosophy behind starting it?
As the Internet became popular, in ’94, I saw a lot of people helping each other out, and in early ’95 I figured I should give something back. So, I started a simple events list. It spread via word-of-mouth, and I got a lot of feedback and acted on that feedback.
What would you want most to hear your colleagues say about you?
I’d like to hear very little, preferring to have the smallest footprint possible. Getting out of the way is a big deal, and it’s more effective when people get stuff done themselves.
What is the best part about your job?
The sense that we’re helping tens of millions of people help each other with basic everyday tasks.
What is the worst part?
When I have to deal with trolls, scammers and spammers.
What was one of the stranger jobs you’ve had?
Nothing that I’d really consider strange.
How do you see your role in the world?
Craigslist involves getting a lot of people to work together for the common good, for mutual benefit. I’d like to extend that to many other areas where people help each other out. That involves work in microfinance on the West Bank and helping others improve the way our government works. I do have some focus specifically in peace between Israel and Palestine through microfinance with Kiva.org/CHFinternational.org and LendForPeace.org; support for our returning war veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan through IAVA.org; and helping classrooms get the support they need for their educational projects through folks like Donorschoose.org.
Who has made the biggest impression on you?
That would be my rabbi, Leonard Cohen, the poet and singer — his work is my liturgy.
What is the golden rule by which you live?
Treat people like you want to be treated.
Where or to whom do you turn to in dark times?
Just my sense that I can get through anything.
What’s something about you that people would find surprising?
I have injuries resulting from my attempt at ballet, 30 years ago, when I thought I could meet interesting women that way.
Did you ever imagine that Craigslist would grow into what it has (and become a household phrase worldwide)?
No clue at all.