Craig Newmark doesn’t exist.
Or at least that’s what he’d like us to believe. As founder of Craigslist, arguably the biggest online classified site in the world, Newmark has been content to hide behind a giant, Wizard of Oz-like veil over the years, fueling the internet legend that there is no actual “Craig.” But after receiving lightning-quick email replies for interview requests, which actually culminated in a conference call with Newmark and Craigslist President/CEO, Jim Buckmaster, I can assure you: Craig is out there.
In a way, though, Craig’s anonymity perfectly symbolizes the faceless, modest public service ethos of the Craigslist itself. While his online bio describes the initial objective in creating the site one of making “the net more personal and authentic, while advocating social responsibility through the promotion of small, non-profit organizations,” in conversation, Newmark admits it wasn’t quite that formulated. “I’d say there were no real goals when we started. I had just seen a lot of people helping people out on the net, like through newsgroups. I thought that I should give back a little too.”
“Giving back a little” is now an understatement considering that in its ten-year existence, Craigslist has been instrumental in helping millions of people find homes, find jobs and even find one another. And site devotees aren’t afraid to show their thanks. “We love and appreciate all of the positive feedback we’ve received,” Buckmaster chimes in.
There’s clearly some magic at work in the Newmark/Buckmaster combo; even in the context of a conference call, the symbiosis between the pair is evident. Having also spoken to each of them individually, it’s clear to me they’re more comfortable operating as a duo (they even share an office).
Between intermittent bites of Chinese food, Newmark and Buckmaster carefully take turns answering questions. Newmark speaks in measured verses peppered with dry, self-deprecating wit when he tells me, “I just had no clue what was going to happen [with Craigslist]. I generally try to look as clueless as possible. You can quote me as saying that.” Buckmaster is even more soft-spoken than Newmark is—but it’s this once press-shy executive who is more at ease describing the inner workings of the company.