In a nutshell, Craig’s story is one of a very talented man who saw the potential of the internet and decided to use his skill to do something good with it. The result was a place where people could not only connect virtually and make transactions, but also reach out to charitable organizations, even from thousands of miles away.
Believing in the common good
For Craig, deep down in every person’s heart is a small flame of passion to serve others, but it is suppressed because people feel limited by their location, economic status, influence, etc. This is why Craig saw the web as a powerful tool for getting that fire burning, and since establishing “craigconnects.org,” he has seen amazing results:
“My gut says that people have always wanted to help others more, but thought they were the exception and there was nothing they could do. Now, on the net you can see that others feel like you do, and that you can get stuff done together. That’s what we’ve seen worldwide, in politics and philanthropy, for example, the ‘sea of goodwill’ supporting military families and veterans.”
The Beginnings of an internet entrepreneur
Craig was born on December 6, 1952, to Jewish parents in Morristown, New Jersey. His parents came from families which emigrated from Europe to the northeastern United States during the 1930s to avoid persecution. Craig’s father took a job as a car salesman, which he would hold for the rest of his life. His parents met sometime in the 1940s and got married, and Craig’s mother gave birth to him in 1952.
Even in the United States, most Jewish immigrants retained their culture and religious beliefs, and were able to practice and teach their children freely. Because of this, Craig was raised in the Jewish culture and taught all about the doctrines, life principles and teachings of the Jewish faith. This, coupled with the support of his parents, enabled Craig to fully develop his talents, as his parents always believed he was destined to do something great.
Death in the Family
Craig spent his primary school years in a Jewish religious school and had his bar mitzvah at thirteen. However, in that same year, Craig’s family suffered a terrible tragedy when his father died of an illness, leaving him and his brother under his mother’s care. Because his father was the primary breadwinner, Craig’s mother soon struggled with their finances, and later had to move Craig and his brother to an apartment.
In spite of this difficult situation, Craig did not succumb to the temptation to leave school to work full-time for his family. While studying at Morristown High School, Craig used his family’s situation as motivation to study well (which, as such a gifted individual, he had no problem doing), and he was often praised as one of the brightest students in the school. In 1971, Craig’s academic performance earned him several scholarships which not only allowed him to graduate with honors, but also enabled him to pursue his studies in spite of a tight financial situation.
Craig’s College Years
And so, using his scholarship grants, Craig enrolled at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. He initially wanted to study physics, but as time passed he grew more interested in computers, which were undergoing radical developments at the time due to the introduction of integrated circuits (also known as “microprocessors”). This proved to be a correct decision, as Craig excelled in his studies and earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Science in 1975 and 1977, respectively.
Craig jokingly described his college years in an interview years later:
“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.”
Before Craig earned his Master’s degree, he had already been hired by IBM, one of the largest computer companies in the world. Craig worked for the company for the next seventeen years, contributing his time and tireless efforts to their computer/program development. After leaving IBM, Craig continued working as a programmer for various companies, including Bank of America and General Motors, and sometime around 1993/1994 he took a job at Charles Schwab.
The Internet was still in its infancy during the early 1990s, and most people were not yet aware of its potential. Craig was introduced to the internet while working at Charles Schwab and, upon learning how it worked, realized it was going to be the “next big thing” worldwide. And so, with a few friends and colleagues, Craig began developing a project that would enable them to benefit both themselves and the people they were going to serve.
Working with Charles Schwab and Craig’s Eye-Opening Experience
At the time, Craig was already doing very well in his career. Not only did he gain invaluable knowledge in his seventeen-plus years in the computer industry; he also established a name for himself as a professional. But, while working at Charles Schwab, something caught Craig’s attention that radically changed his life and turned him from business-minded to service-minded:
“In '94 I was at Charles Schwab, and I was going around the company showing people the Net, saying, 'Hey, here's how we're going to do business someday.' But I also saw a lot of people helping each other out, giving each other a break. And by the time '95 rolled around, I figured I should give back a little to the community. I started a little CC list telling a few friends about arts and technology events, like the Anon Salon or Joe's Digital Diner. Nothing idealistic about it, nothing altruistic about it - just giving back a little bit.”
The Birth of “Craigslist”
With this in mind, Craig focused on creating something that would help people. In 1995, Craig and his colleagues started an online service that enabled people to share information about events in the city of San Francisco, a service which Craig described as an “internet commune.” The project soon grew from sharing events information to buying and selling things, which they saw as very convenient.
The project was named “craigslist.com,” [after Craig] when his colleagues agreed that he deserved the honor. Craig described it in an interview:
“Mid-95, when I had to use a list server, I had to give it a name. I was going to call it San Francisco Events. It was mostly that then. People around me who were smarter than me said: 'We already call it craigslist. Keep calling it that; it will keep it personal and quirky.' They were right - much smarter than me. And one effect of that is that when there's a problem, I take it personally, and that's one reason I will go after bad guys myself, as well as the whole customer service team.”
Little did Craig know how much “craigslist” would impact the world. Within two years of its launch, the site was already averaging about one-million views per month. The advent of the internet age had begun, and “craigslist” was one of the pioneers which eventually broke out to become one of the largest websites in the world.
Establishing “Craigslist” as a Business
Initially, Craig saw “craigslist” as a non-profit organization and wanted to have volunteers help run the site. It did not work out, and in 1999 he decided to register the site as a business, and hired Jim Buckmaster to manage the company. Craig’s decision to leave the management to Jim was wise, and the two have been good friends and business partners ever since. Craig recalled the beginnings of “craigslist” as a company in an interview:
“Through '98, I tried having things run on a volunteer basis. That didn't work, and fortunately people helped get me out of denial relatively quickly. In '99 I made it into a real company, but I'm not a very good manager, and I'd hired this guy Jim Buckmaster around there, and he turns out to be a far better manager than I am. That means he's CEO now, doing a great job. I do full-time customer service as a line worker, not a manager, and that's a pretty good combination.”
Becoming One of the world’s Largest Websites
“Craigslist” enjoyed great success in the following decade and became one of the most visited sites in the world. While much of its growth can be attributed to the popularity of the internet, Craig often claims the reason for its success is the autonomy it provides its users. He often says that, while they do customer service and maintenance on the site, they let the people run it:
“Something about craigslist that's unique is that the people who use the site run it. We don't monitor our site. We rely on the community to do that, and people help us out. People flag a lot of crap away, and sometimes when it's repetitive, people will send us a couple sample links, and then we'll get rid of that. We provide the infrastructure and we provide customer support, but if you see an ad on the site that's somehow wrong, you can flag it for removal. If other people agree with you and flag it, if enough people do it, the ad is removed automatically. And while that system is flawed in some ways, it works amazingly well.”
The success of “craigslist” thrust Craig into the international spotlight. With the growing popularity of social media and online businesses, “craigslist” continued to gain momentum. In 2004, Craig was named “Person of the Year” at the Webby Awards for his contributions to the development of the internet, and in 2010 he was included on the “Billionaires in the Making” list by Forbes Magazine.
Craig Joins Foundations
While he was enjoying the success of his company, Craig never forgot about giving back to the people, and actively supported numerous non-profit organizations and charitable projects throughout the 1990s and 2000s. In 2009, he was made a member of the Wikimedia Foundation’s advisory board and was also named a Patron of the University Philosophical Society of Trinity College. Since the early 2000s, Craig’s active participation has earned him memberships on the boards of many non-profit organizations, including the Sunlight Foundation, the Consumers Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the New America Foundation.
Craigconnects.org: Connecting People and Charity
In 2011, Craig established “craigconnects.org,” an initiative for people to connect to charitable organizations through social media, support technologies and platforms in enhancing these connections, and create more programs for the good of mankind.
Craig described “craigconnects.org” in a statement:
“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. 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.”
In 2012, Craig was inducted into the “Internet Hall of Fame.” It was also in this year when he married Eileen Whelpley, whom he had met a few years before, and they remain together today.
Currently, Craig keeps himself busy with finding new ways to connect people to non-profit organizations that are impacting the world. Because of Craig’s selfless desire to serve people, he was able to create something that benefits billions (literally) of people worldwide. His story never ceases to amaze us, and his life is an inspiration to everyone:
“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.”
Companies and Organizations Worked With
- 1976-1993: IBM
- 1993-1995: Charles Schwab
- 1995-present: Craigslist
- Serves as a Board Member of many of the foundations listed below
Organizations and Programs Supported
- Wikimedia Foundation
- New America Foundation
- Center for Public Integrity
- Consumers Union
- Sunlight Foundation
- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Voto Latino
- The Tech Policy Summit
- Charity Navigator
- Great Nonprofits
- The Democratic Party of the United States
- Invisible Children
Awards and Achievements
- 2004: Received the Webby Award for “Person of the Year”
- 2009: Named an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society of Trinity College
- 2010: Included in the “Billionaires in the Making” list by Forbes Magazine
- 2012: Inducted into the “Internet Hall of Fame” and received the “Faculty Award”
- Included in the “Top 25 Most Influential People on the Web” by TIME Magazine
- 2008: Honorary Doctor of Science from Case Western Reserve University, USA
- 2009: Honorary Doctorate from the University of San Francisco, USA
Wikipedia (Craig Newmark)
Craig Connects (Craig Newmark Biography)
The Huffington Post (Craig Newmark)
PBS.org (Craig Newmark Interviews)
New Media Rockstars [NMR Exclusive: Craig Newmark Interview (Founder of Craigslist)]
The Huffington Post (The Interview With Craig Newmark, Founder of Craigslist)