Craig Newmark hasn't taken a day off in seven years. His obsession? Responding to user complaints and stamping out fraud across Craigslist's 194-city network. The founder and self-described "nerd and figurehead" of the ever-expanding online listing community, Newmark spends his days fielding hundreds of customer emails from a corner of Reverie, his favorite coffee shop in San Francisco. Working off a Treo, he'll scan the Web, electronically rapping the knuckles of site abusers. When an email warning isn't enough—as is the case with some errant New York apartment brokers who post deceptive ads—he'll walk in and introduce himself. "Usually, there's a few moments of panic," says Newmark with an impish smile, "followed by picture taking."
Newmark's celebrity status is even greater in the Bay Area, where he's on many Silicon Valley guest lists. He admits to using those opportunities to sidle up to execs from companies such as AOL or EarthLink, enlisting their help against the worst offenders, including those ubiquitous Nigerian scammers. Though he often winds up in the spotlight, Newmark says his best work is done out of it. "Much of what good customer service is made of are things that nobody notices," he says, "until you stop doing them."
See the full 2005 Customers First Awards.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.