Craig Newmark is a self-professed nerd, an ingenious, committed philanthropist and a wry savant. He founded craigslist in 1995 as an email distribution list for friends, featuring local events in the San Francisco Bay Area. The service became web-based a year later; it fast expanded into other classified categories and U.S. cities. Today, it covers most countries in the world. Despite his phenomenal success, Craig Newmark has not followed the usual Silicon Valley route of going public, selling out and maximizing his return. Instead, he decided to “do what makes him feel better.”
At the SOCAP 2011 conference, Newmark talked about his leadership style, the social impact of craigslist – beyond “getting rid of an old sofa” – and his new venture craigconnects.
With humility and humor, Newmark recounted that his early days at Craigslist were a bit a rocky. “I had limitations as a manager,” he confessed. “I sucked.” He moved into Customer Service where he tried “to listen and do what makes sense.” As a result, a lot of his approach is very customer centric. He believes in starting small and local to see what really works, then helping small effective groups reproduce their success. He also advocates “being persistent without being too annoying.”
Newmark is highly attuned to the social impact of the service he started and how it benefits the underserved population. He describes the many who rely on craigslist for their next day job, or to find food. “We have not yet been able to measure our social impact, so most of our knowledge is anecdotal,” Newmark noted. “We do know that we have given away approximately $1.5 Billion in advertising.”
Looking ahead, Newmark has high expectations for the power of technology, connecting, and community. In his view, the past decade has been about singularity. The present is about people connecting, and the connecting is rebalancing influence and power. He waxed philosophical: “The moral arc of the universe does not bend towards justice. This is the decade for that.”
To promote connectivity and common good, Newmark recently launched craigconnects. Craigconnects intends to galvanize an online movement and move people in large numbers towards a common good.
“Hey, I know I say ‘this is a big deal’ a lot, but this really IS a big deal,” Newmark asserts. “I’ve decided what I want to do for the next 20 years… I want to help connect and protect organizations that are doing good through a program I’m calling craigconnects.”
This new effort is highly personal. Newmark selects focus areas he understands and believes in, and he shines a spotlight on those. At the outset, they include: technology for common good like Kiva, Charity Navigatorand Guidestar; military veterans; back-to-basics journalism; public diplomacy; open government; and consumer protection.
But it also invokes the essence of craigslist – digitally connecting people for mutual benefit.
This is about “connecting nonprofits with one another, with contributors, to get people in the habit of working together on the net,” Newmark said. “It gets you efficiencies and an effectiveness that we’ve never seen before.”