“I Lived the Dilbert Life”: The Early Years of Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark
"I didn't have a clue, just did what felt right."
He may not have had had a clue, but Craig Newmark struck gold with his simple online listing of local jobs, apartments, events, and more. Despite having started off with no business plan, the centralized network of websites that offers communities free classifieds and discussion forums that Newmark created in Craigslist has today become one of the top ten sites on the Internet around the world.
Newmark was born on December 6, 1952 in Morristown, New Jersey. His father, a salesman who peddled everything from food to insurance, died of lung cancer shortly after Newmark's bar mitzvah. His mother worked as a bookkeeper and struggled to make ends meet after her husband passed away. "We weren't poor," recalls Newmark, "but not incredibly far from there."
Newmark went to Morristown High School, where he became co-captain of the debate team, and also an active member of the forensics club. He also started his own club, which met regularly to play the game Go. After graduating in 1971, Newmark enrolled in Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he earned both his bachelor's and master's degree in computer science. His master's thesis was entitled, "Fundamental Models of Computer Systems and their Relationship to Information Security."
A few years later, Newmark landed a job at IBM in Florida, working in what he calls "Advanced technology." Despite his professional successes, however, Newmark struggled personally. He enrolled in ballet and jazz dance classes in order to meet women only to wind up in the hospital with a hernia. "I remember realizing that it wasn't everyone else who had a communication problem," he recalls. "It had to be me. I miss what other people would find obvious...I lived the Dilbert life."
Dilbert though he might have been, Newmark continued to move up the ranks professionally. In 1993, he landed a job with Charles Schwab in San Francisco, where he moved to work as a Systems Security Architect. "I've been a San Franciscan all my life," he now says, "although I only moved here in mid '93."
Two years later, and over the following four years, Newmark began working as an independent consultant, taking on contracts with Bank of America, Xircom, Sun Microsystems and more. Then, after several years of observing people on the Internet and how they made use of such tools as Usenet to help one another out, Newmark decided to begin his own email service.
"I decided that I would start sending people notices about cool events, usually ones that involved arts and technology," he recalls. "And from there, via word of mouth, the news of the list spread."
Soon, people were writing to Newmark to ask if they could subscribe to his list. "People wanted to be added," he says. "People wanted more stuff like jobs or stuff to sell posted there. And then I said ‘How ‘bout apartments?' and it just grew like that. People wanted more."
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