Interview with Craig Newmark – Founder, Chairman, & CSR at Craigslist

Today’s post is an interview with Craig Newmark, the founder, chairman, and a customer service represenative at (yes, you read that correctly).

If you’re not familiar with Craigslist, it is a gigantic site with ads for everything from apartments to jobs, and most are free to post and all are free to look at it. It’s a very interesting concept and the site has really made customer service a priority since day 1.

Craig is a very interesting guy who is very down to earth. He was kind enough to answer some questions I had for him, which have been posted below (click on More).

Question: What is your title exactly?
Answer: It’s customer service rep and founder.

Question: And Craigslist has how many listings on it any given time?
Answer: You know, I’m going to ask. I think my current figure is old. I’ll go ask Jim. I’m interrupting him a bit. [Craig says: Jim, how many postings per month are we getting now?] I’ve been using an old figure and I screwed up. It’s over 10,000,000 listings at any given time. That includes forum postings also.

Question: I’d imagine having a top executive respond to customer service emails is fairly unique among fairly large Internet companies, yes?
Answer: Perhaps so, but strictly speaking, I’m not an executive at all. I’m a line-worker in my realistic role.

Question: You have a technical background, correct?
Answer: I do, all though I don’t use it now, not really.

Question: What prompted the move to customer service?
Answer: It needed to be done to serve our community well.

Question: Do you like tech-stuff or customer service more?
Answer: Some parts of customer service I like. I’m a tech guy at heart, but I haven’t done anything real serious for six years.

Question: What’s your favorite part of customer service?
Answer: The sense that we really are helping people.

Question: Is there a specific reason you respond to customer service inquires instead of doing other things like product development or technical planning?
Answer: Well, it feels right and it’s often more effective if I ask someone to cut out from bad behavior since my name is on the site.

Question: Do you believe customer service is something that can either make or break an Internet startup?
Answer: Yes.

Question: Do you think Craigslist’s customer service has played a role in its success?
Answer: Yes.

Question: How so?
Answer: It helps remind people that we’re serious about our culture of trust.

Question: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to make customer service a top priority in their business?
Answer: To get serious and follow through, and really do it.

Question: What do you think are the most important traits, factors, etc. that a customer service representative should possess?
Answers: Just be able to listen and empathize and to move fast.

Question: What companies have you consistently had great customer service experiences with?
Answer: Experiences with, boy. I can’t think of any. Typically, the people at companies want to provide customer service, but talking to them, they tell me that their management undermines them. In most corporate cultures, customer service is regarded as an after thought and a cost center.

Question: What about bad experiences – are there any companies that you consistently have bad customer service experiences with?
Answer: I don’t want to mention any by name. I could cite my bank, which is one of the country’s largest, which talks about improving customer service while deliberately making it worse.

Question: What do you think is the most important thing a company could do to ensure great customer service?
Answer: Have top management actually think about it and have someone in top management actually do it at least part time.

Question: Does Craigslist’s CEO, Jim Buckmaster, respond to any customer service inquires?
Answer: Oh, very much so, but his primary duties are elsewhere. Me and my primary duty is customer service followed by I’ll sometimes chat with people in the media about what we’re doing.

Question: How many customer service emails does Craigslist receive on any given day?
Answer: *laughs* I don’t know. I could guess, given the amount I do, in the low thousands. I’m including things too like oh like flagged postings and our discussion boards.

Question: Does anyone else really help you with customer service frequently?
Answer: We have a whole customer service team. I’m just one part of it. What we do also for customer service, is like to hire hardened criminals, ex cons because they’re tougher… No one here is getting the joke. It’s not very funny, but comedy is best left to professionals.

Question: Do you think more companies should followed Craigslist’s lead with having an executive, founder, etc. answer some of the customer service representatives and do some frontline work?
Answer: Well, I think everyone should do the right thing and that that would mean, doing some of the same things we do. I’m not putting us up as a role model or anything. I’m making a somewhat subtle distinction, because there are many ways to get the same results. What I’m fundamentally saying is, people should treat other people like they want to be treated.

Question: Treat people like you wanted to be treated has become a core philosophy at Craigslist, right?
Answer: Yeah, and it’s core part of most anyone’s philosophy. The deal is that we’re trying really hard to follow through on that.

Question: Do you think other companies like Yahoo and Google are getting better with customer service?
Answer: You know, I just don’t know. I use Google search, for example and I do a couple things with Yahoos, but never really use their customer service. I honestly don’t know.

Question: Do you think being on frontline and responding to customer service emails helps you get an idea of what the Craigslist community is thinking, what they like, don’t like, etc.?
Answer: Very much so and quite deliberate. By doing customer service a lot, I get a good feel of the zeitgeist of the community.

Question: Amazing. Anything to add?
Answer: Basically, [customer service,] it’s all tied into our values and our culture of trust. Basically, well there’s also that principal of doing unto others.

Another thanks to Craig for allowing me to interview him. Reader comments are welcome. Tomorrow’s post is about rebates and how they relate to (a lack of) customer service.

8 Responses to “Interview with Craig Newmark – Founder, Chairman, & CSR at Craigslist”

  1. Maria Palma said:

    Jul 04, 06 at 8:06 pm


    This is a great interview! It’s nice to know that there are founders of companies out there who still think of themselves as “customer service rep” and make contact with their customers on a daily basis.

    No matter what your position is in the company, it is still good to be on the front lines!

  2. Ann Michael said:

    Jul 04, 06 at 10:13 pm

    Doug – this is wonderful. I didn’t know Craig worked customer service!! I saw Jim at a conference back in January and I was so impressed with him. I wrote about it here:

    Great way to run a business!

  3. Ann Michael said:

    Jul 06, 06 at 5:07 pm

    Doug – Did you see this article about Craigslist on CNet? Newmark’s last line is great:

    “If you want to be successful try to do the right thing,” he said. “In the short term you can succeed by screwing people, but it doesn’t work too well long term.”

  4. Service Untitled said:

    Jul 06, 06 at 6:18 pm


    Yes I did. I read that before I interviewed him and thought it was pretty funny. 🙂 I do agree – you should try to do the right thing all the time.

  5. Service Untitled » Freelancers & Customer Service: Conclusion said:

    Jul 24, 06 at 4:28 pm

    […] Do the right thing. In his interview, Craig Newmark said “Well, I think everyone should do the right thing.” That applies to everyone from freelancers to the biggest companies in the world. As a freelancer, try and do the right thing. Don’t cheat your clients, be nice to your partners, and try and do the right thing whenever possible. In a different interview, Craig said something along the lines of “Screwing people can produce short term success, but never long term success.” Try and think of that all the time. […]

  6. Service Untitled » Who else wishes there were no moronic idiots in customer service? said:

    Aug 02, 06 at 10:50 am

    […] Find good talent. A big part of not hiring moronic idiots is knowing where to find people. Be creative with how you post your job ads. Are you looking for a customer service representative that isn’t doing anything that complicated and that you are willing to train? Then post an ad for a receptionist with above-average customer skills. This person very well may be a good fit for the job. Ask employees to refer people they think may be fits. Always keep your eyes out for talent. Or do as Craig Newmark suggests and hire hardened criminals, specifically ex-cons to work in your customer service department. (Too bad he was kidding.) […]

  7. Service Untitled » To be honest with you. said:

    Oct 30, 06 at 5:38 pm

    […] You can probably rip someone off once, but that doesn’t work in the long-term. Remember the culture of trust that Craig Newmark of Craigslist talked about? Try and build that in and around your company. Make it so your company’s representatives never have to say “to be honest” – have them be honest all the time. « What do you know about your customers?   […]

  8. interview with craigslist founder « All For You said:

    Nov 03, 06 at 9:08 pm

    […] Hope on over to Service Untitled for an interview with Craigslist founder Craig Newmark. […]