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Craigslist: From a Simple Hobby to the Epitome of Big Business


Take the typical 70's nerd and give him a hobby - what do you get?

A multibillion-dollar corporation that I'm sure you've heard of, unless you've been living under a rock - Craigslist.

But Craig Newman's journey wasn't always rosy.

With barely any social skills to speak of, and a fiery dedication to his hobby, one man created today's number-one advertising platform in the world.

Read the full story of Craigslist here:

The Lonely Upbringing of Craig Newman

Born in 1952 in Morristown, New Jersey, Craig Newman was a quiet and timid boy. The ordinary life of the Newman family changed after Craig's father passed away, leaving all family duties to Craig's mother. Because they struggled financially, his mother moved Craig and his brother to a new apartment in Jacob Ford Village.

While in high school, it was obvious that Craig lacked social skills - he always kept to himself, staying in his own comfort zone. He was your regular 'thick black duck-taped glasses with a pocket-protector tucked in the shirt' type of high-schooler. As he himself has said on many occasions - being Craig Newman at that time can only be described as lonely.

From that loneliness, appeared his interest in technology - and with so much free time, Craig dove into the subject, learning as much as he could under the circumstances.

So, before he even graduated from high school in the early '70s, Craig learned how to code. At the time, he used punch cards, learned the Fortran II programming language, and used an IMB1620 computer to ply his trade.

Pretty impressive for a high-schooler, right?

Craig was self-taught and driven to learn things from a very young age, and these characteristics led him into getting multiple scholarships which eventually led him to attend Case Western Reserve University.

By 1977, he had obtained a master's degree in science. After he finished with his studies, Craig got employed at IBM - the beginning of a new chapter that would define the remainder of his life.

The Beginnings of Craigslist

Craig spent 17 years working at IBM, but decided to leave and start working for Charles Schwab, which required him to move to San Francisco. His experience at these two corporations made one thing clear: his lack of social skills was the main reason for his professional stagnation.

During his first days in San Francisco, he used a then-famous online platform - the WELL, to help him get around the new city. Realizing that the internet had opened a world of infinite possibilities, Craig concluded that sooner rather than later, it would become the place for businesses as well.

So, with this foresight in mind, how could he not carve a piece of that cake?

He started to plan, and in 1995, he left Charles Schwab. It was time for the move.

He created email lists using Pine and sent out news about local events happening in the city. As this was still the beginning of the internet, the number of people receiving these emails skyrocketed in a short period. Most of the events that Craig shared through those emails were about art and technology, but soon enough people were contacting him for job postings and apartment notices too.

The ball had started rolling.

Growing Up Into a Brand

The list of people who wanted Craig's emails was growing by the day. There were around 250 people on Craig's CC list by the middle of the year, but he facilitated almost all of the work and kept sending out the emails on the side.

When the demand for other things to go into the emails grew, Craig found people who volunteered to help him out with his lists and started a simple site. He paid only 35 dollars for hosting, but as time went by, people started calling this tiny company - Craigslist.

In 1997, companies offered to pay for job postings on the platform, because they thought that way their postings would be more effective. Craig then realized that he could offer ad postings and charge less for them. In the same year, the site was getting a million page views per month, which was considered very high site traffic for that time.

The extra work slowly pointed out the obvious - he had to turn it into an actual business with a marketable strategy.

He thought about the name. Should he keep it, now that it was recognizable, or change it to something more marketing-driven?

When talking to other businesses that were using his services, they advised him to keep the name to Craigslist - because everyone already knew them by that brand. At that moment, at the age of 42, Craig got familiar with the term 'brand'.

So, he took the initiative to take Craigslist to a new level!

From Hobby to Business

When deciding whether to turn Craigslist into a real business, Craig had to make a tough call on monetization. Well aware that he was holding an opportunity that would make him millions in his hands, his philanthropic nature still made him look at the situation from a different angle.

He wanted to have enough for him and his family, and he wanted to provide enough for the people that worked for him to be able to get nutritious meals and roofs over their heads.

So, Craigslist became a business in a form of a classified advertisement website with sections devoted to jobs, housing, items, gigs, services, and discussion forums. The beginning of this journey was rough for Craig, because like in the past, he struggled with his social skills - especially when it came to micromanaging.

Craig made a decision that many other CEO's wouldn't easily make - he hired Jim Buckmaster as the new CEO of Craigslist in the year of 2000. The hardest part of this decision was, as Craig himself says - 'divorcing his ego from the CEO position'. Nevertheless, that sacrifice was the only way Craigslist and his whole team could actually benefit, and today, it seems that Craig's selfless ways have paid off!

Moving on, but Staying In

One of the things that Craig learned while he attended the Jewish religious school as a child, was to treat people like you want to be treated. That's why after stepping down from the CEO position he continued his work in customer support. But, he didn't stick around too long there either, instead devoting his time to philanthropy and engaging in fixing social issues.

Craigslist was always a civic engagement concept in a way, but it took on a life of its own. Craig's number-one passion for Craigslist was connecting people - with the right services, right people, and right offers.

Ultimately, Craig wanted to help people any way he could. That burning desire led him to indulge in philanthropic ventures, and by 2006 he was donating $20,000 to non-profit organizations.

In 2011, he introduced Craigconnects - a long-term initiative that connects people and organizations that do charitable work. Not only that, but on multiple occasions Craig has said that this project was the biggest thing in his life. The childhood foundations of being kind and giving, are what keep the Craigslist founder passionate about what he did in his professional life.

Some would say, admirable?

The Continuous Greenshoot

Today, Craigslist looks the same as it did in the '90s, but don't let looks fool you: it's spread across 70 countries, available in 700 cities, and as of 2020, comes on an app available for Android and iOS. It still serves as an advertisement website, now with more options and categories. The hobby that Craig Newman once had, today is a corporation with around $3 billion.

Since leaving Craigslist, Craig isn't directly involved in any operations inside the corporation, although his influence and his vision are inevitable and highly respected. The Craigslist founder is still working full-time on his philanthropic exploits, promoting trustworthy journalism, protecting voting rights in the USA, supporting the local community, ethnic media, etc. From the latest developments, it seems that Craig isn't going to stop creating opportunities for people to help other people.