Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

For the first interview of my Embracing SUCCESS series I have Craig Newmark, Founder of Craigslist, a
site that’s made life easier for millions of people. Every Wednesday I’ll interview someone who’s become successful by following his or her passions. I find Craig inspiring. He’s so down-to-earth and caring about the services he offers, as you’ll see by some of his answers.

In 1994, Craig saw the beginnings of online communities and news groups and thought the Internet would help him connect with people. He began sending an e-mail list of what he considered cool events in San Francisco to friends. It became popular and more people got added to his mailing list. Then requests came in to list apartments, jobs, etc. Craig decided to move it to a list server.

People were calling it Craigslist and despite other ideas, the name stuck. Craig still had a day job and ran it as a hobby. In 1998, there were things that needed to be adjusted. He left his day job and worked on developing Craig’s List more seriously. He hired Jim Buckmaster to manage it and now he’s the CEO.

Craig began Craigslist as a service for San Francisco, but now there are Craigslists all over the country and the world. He still concentrates on giving good customer service and improving what the site offers. He still works in customer service. I once emailed about a problem and heard right back from him! Craig also started the Craigslist Foundation, that provides support for emerging non-profits. So giving back is a very important part of what he strives for!

Next week the interview will be with Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, the wonderful online radio site. His story is an example of how passion can make you go the distance. I have some other terrific people that I’ll announce next week.

Interview with Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist

Why do you think Craigslist has been so successful?
Culture of trust, results from follow through on values like “treat people like you want to be treated.”
Good customer service; First mover in the classified ads space. Site run as a community service, almost all free.

What turned the tide‹both in the operation AND in your head‹from viewing CL as a hobby to seeing the potential of it being a viable business?
Community people let me know that the volunteer operation was failing, and helped me get out of denial.

How do you view yourself among the other shareholders, since you founded the company? What do you currently do at Craigslist?
I don’t even think about it. My primary gig is customer service, also shared responsibility for media strategy and speaking.

What made you start Craigslist Foundation?
Felt right as another way to give back to the community.

Which of your endeavors gives you the most satisfaction?
Nothing specific, just a sense that we’re helping out lots of people.

How would you rate the importance of doing things to give back in the big picture of doing business?
High priority.

What are you most grateful for?
People can see what we’re really about.

How would you rate your success?
I don’t; there’s always more to do.

What lessons did you learn on the road from your hobby to having such as a successful business that helped you grow as a person?
Trust people in general, but listen to my intuition.

What¹s more important when making a business decision‹improving CL as a viable moneymaking business or staying true to your values and the needs of those who use it?
We don’t think about the first, we just follow through with our values.
How do you feel knowing that you¹ve created a huge community that so many people value and were chosen as one of Time magazine’s people who shape our lives? It’s flattering, but there’s more work to do.

What’s your best advice to someone who says, “My goal is to be successful.”
Follow through with basic values, and remember to provide good customer service.

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