Craigslist.org is one of the most well-known websites on the Internet, yet its founder and namesake Craig Newmark is one of the most unassuming entrepreneurs you’ll ever meet.
Newmark started an email list back in 1995 to help friends in the San Francisco Bay Area keep track of local events. The list grew to a website that included other categories of information, and by 2000 craigslist started expanding to other areas. Today, the site features listings in more than 50 countries and is a resource for people looking for everything from real estate to child-care services.
What most people don’t realize is that, while craigslist is run by CEO Jim Buckmaster, Craig continues to work as a customer service representative for the site. He also recently launched an organization called craigconnects to help support nonprofit groups he believes in.
The following is a Q-and-A with Newmark:
Q: Are you surprised at how successful craigslist has been?
A: It’s a perpetual surprise, all very surreal. Sometimes I reflect on that for a moment, then it’s back to work.
Q: What do you enjoy about interacting directly with craigslist customers?
A: The sense that we’ve provided a platform where tens of millions of people have helped each other out. For example, the barter category has helped people put food on their table. A few minutes ago, I just heard from a married couple who found each other on craigslist. I hear lots of stuff like that.
Q: What advice would you offer to an entrepreneur about how to get customer service right? What have you learned about making customers happy?
A: Treat people like you want to be treated. Consider the needs of the vast numbers of your customers, realizing that individuals might insist on privileges, and that they might complain otherwise.
Q: Craigslist has obviously been very successful, but what is one mistake that you made when you were starting the company?
I’ve refused to listen to people with good advice, like lawyers, and also failed to heed my instincts.
Q: When you think about craigslist, and your role in it, what are you most proud of?
We’ve helped people with their everyday needs, allowing them to keep the cash they’d otherwise spend on less effective ads. That amounts to a huge "like kind" contribution to the American people.
Q: If you were starting craigslist for the first time today, what would you do differently?
I probably would use a different software platform, and build in anti-spam efforts in the very first version.
Q: In March 2011 you launched your nonprofit, craigconnects, to help connect and protect organizations that are doing good. What do you hope craigconnects will accomplish that you weren’t already doing on your own?
In the short term, craigconnects organizes the causes and organizations I believe in. In the long term, I hope to help get everyone on the planet connected to support what they feel is the common good. The idea is to help give the powerless a voice and some shared control in their own future.
Q: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you that you’d like them to know?
I actually exist. Well, maybe it’s better if they’re not sure.