November 26th, 2020 | By: Jonathan Low
Craig Newmark is the man behind craigslist —a website that today is among the 40 most visited websites in the world, is found in 70 countries, and can best be compared with Exchange and Mart in the United Kingdom.
Craig started craigslist back in 1995, and today he is reportedly worth more than DKK 3 billion. However, the last impression you get when talking to him is that of an entrepreneur guru. On the contrary, Craig is completely down to earth, something of a nerd (his word), and deeply passionate about using technology to make the world better.
He no longer heads craigslist but has dedicated his life to charitable work via Craig Newmark Philanthropies, which supports and connects nonprofit communities and drives powerful civic engagement. As editor of this book, I talked to Craig about his craigslist past and his Craig Newmark Philanthropies present.
Jonathan: You started craigslist back in the 90s. How did you get the idea?
Craig: I didn’t. I had a number of ideas about how one could connect people and make a difference. I pitched them to my friends and my network, listened to their feedback, and acted on what they told me. The first thing I did was to listen to what others suggested and then I refined the best of their ideas and input. That’s precisely the same method I follow today: listen, act, repeat.
Jonathan: You often hear good advice given to entrepreneurs that they must have a clear vision. It’s vital that they also think about why they do what they do. But I read somewhere that you never had a vision for craigslist.
Craig: I certainly didn’t have a single, clear vision with regard to transforming a single branch or the like. What drove me was a wish to build up communities, and that in fact turned out to be a very good vision.
Jonathan: At first glance, craigslist seems to be quite simple to copy as a concept. What was it that made it so unique that it has been more successful than its competitors?
Craig: It was our clear community values and a clear public announcement that we weren’t doing it for the money. That was something we also followed in practice.
At Sunday school, I learned to assess when enough is enough and also that nobody needs a billion dollars.
Jonathan: Many young entrepreneurs probably find it difficult to visualize what it was like to be a tech entrepreneur in the 90s. How was it then compared to today?
Craig: There was quite clearly a greater consciousness of using technology to do something good for the community. Of course, there were also hard-as-nails capitalists, but there was another spirit, which is apparent in projects such as Wikipedia, for instance.
Jonathan: One often sees people like you, who suddenly become very rich, begin to do a lot of philanthropy. Why is that?
Craig: I don’t really see it that way. Craigslist helped and helps the average citizen get food on his table, get a table, and find a roof to put the table under. That’s not philanthropy, it’s public service. My project with Craig Newmark Philanthropies is a direct extension of this public service mission.
Jonathan: Today, you use most of your time working on Craig Newmark Philanthropies. What is the idea behind this project?
Craig: I have always supported a great number of different charitable organizations and projects. There was a time when I discovered that the money I used for this support was actually in something of a mess. I didn’t know whom I supported or why. I, therefore, sought help to obtain a comprehensive view and then focus my efforts on the organizations I’m really fervent about helping.
With Craig Newmark Philanthropies, I’m focused on trying to help the people and grassroots organizations that are “getting stuff done” in the areas of trustworthy journalism, women in tech, veterans and military families, voting rights, and other areas.
On craigconnects, people find organizations that are unbelievably effective and good at the things they do. They are honest, which unfortunately isn’t always the case in the nonprofit world. And the web- site also enables people an opportunity to make direct contact with these organizations and take part in making a difference together with them.
Jonathan: What is a typical Craig day like?
Craig: Work and coffee. Meetings at a local café. Work at the office.
Maybe one more meeting.
Home to my wife, maybe watch some TV.
I love TV.
Jonathan: And last: I’ve read that you describe yourself as a nonpracticing, secular Jew. Unlike many Americans, you don’t get inspiration and values from your religion. Where do they come from then?
Craig: My rabbi is Leonard Cohen. He has been an influential poet and singer for almost 50 years, and he’s my guru in the sense that he inspires me and gives me wisdom. It’s Cohen’s music that gets me through the day.
I can’t run no more With that lawless crowd, Not while the killers In high places Say their prayers aloud. But they’ve summoned They’ve summoned A big Thundercloud. They’re going to hear from me.
This article was done by the Danish serial entrepreneur Jonathan Low. Low is based in Scandinavia but has traveled the world interviewing and talking to some of the leading entrepreneurs and innovators on the planet. The article is part of this journey.
Jonathan Low is the founder of 5 tech-companies and the author of two #1 bestsellers about entrepreneurship and marketing. He is also a public speaker at events in both Europe and the US.
Currently, he is the co-founder and CEO of JumpStory transforming the image industry online. JumpStory has experienced massive growth during the last year and has expanded from nothing to customers in more than 135 countries. Major media like Forbes, Entrepreneur.com, The Next Web, etc. have named JumpStory Netflix of images.