Craig Newmark is best known for founding Craigslist, but he is also a Web pioneer, philanthropist, and advocate. He created Craig Newmark Philanthropies in 2016 to support organizations fighting for trustworthy journalism, voter protection, women in technology, and veterans & military families.
You describe yourself as a nerd. How would you define that term?
In my case, for whatever reasons, I was never socialized, growing up without social skills and oblivious to social norms. Today, I’m only simulating social skills that I really don’t have. (This is the original sense of “nerd”, which is different these days.)
Why did you start Craigslist? Were you surprised when it turned into a global enterprise and part of the popular culture? Is there anything you wish had happened differently or decisions you wish you could go back and change?
After I started telling people about local events, people asked for more, and I followed through with my commitment. I’m very surprised about craigslist’s success, never thought about it way back, and it always seems completely surreal. Change? I could probably better lead by example.
A lot of entrepreneurs focus on maximizing profits, but you consistently told people that your goal was to “do well by doing good.” What does it mean to “do well by doing good”?
A company can be successful by doing the right thing for people, like treating people like you want to be treated.
You are an active philanthropist and have focused your efforts on trustworthy journalism & the information ecosystem, voter protection, women in technology, and veterans & military families. Why did you pick each of those particular focus areas?
Commitment to these efforts helps the USA fulfill our aspirations like fairness for all, and helps protect the country against bad actors, foreign and domestic.
What kind of impact have the organizations you support been able to achieve thanks to your help? Are there any examples you’re especially proud of and would like to share?
Looks like the chances of an honest election are better.
How did you spend your time during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic?
Pretty much the same as before, but no time at our place in NYC. Mostly spending time with Mrs Newmark, working, reading, working, watching TV, working.
What were you like in high school? What did you think you wanted to be when you grew up?
In high school, I was still very much a nerd, hoping I’d be a successful quantum physicist or similar.
Were there any specific experiences growing up that informed your world view and affected what you would go on to do as an adult?
In Sunday school, learning big lessons from Mr & Mrs Levin, like treat people like you want to be treated. In high school history class, from Mr Shulzki, we learned the role of the Bill of Rights and that a trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy.
If you could travel back in time and talk to your 16-year old self, what advice would you give him?
Talk to people, openly and frankly.
What advice would you give high schoolers like me, today (especially those of us who also want to “do well by doing good”)?
Treat people like you want to be treated. Watch out for bad actors who target people of good conscience.
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