Interview: Clark Benson, Founder & CEO of Ranker.com

Value Prop Twitter Style: “Ranker is a social site/platform for ranking anything, powered by semantic technology that aggregates opinions into ‘wisdom of crowds’ rankings” Clark...

Value Prop Twitter Style: “Ranker is a social site/platform for ranking anything, powered by semantic technology that aggregates opinions into ‘wisdom of crowds’ rankings”

Clark Benson is the Founder and CEO of Ranker.com. Prior to Ranker, Clark founded four other successful companies, including eCrush, which he sold to the Hearst Corporation in 2007.

Ranker helps Internet users find the most appropriate answers to questions that benefit from the wisdom of crowds. It does this by providing simple tools which facilitate crowed sourced lists. Such lists are constantly evaluated and refined by the millions of users who visit Ranker.com each month, resulting in a repository of objective, unbiased consumer rankings.

Ranker Quote

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You can watch Part I below or on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9tKy-tEOKc

You can watch Part II below or on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2D_-29H-s-c

What follows is a summary which paraphrases Clark’s responses. For exact quotes, watch the videos.

7)  Clark, why does the world need Ranker?

“The core value proposition is that Ranker ranks results to important questions and topics.”

6) On the surface, Ranker’s operations appear simple. People create lists and other people rank them. However, from my understanding you might actually be the largest consumer website using "semantic web" technology - can you explain how that works?

“In a basic sense, semantic technology is data that is linked so you can derive more meaning and you can slice and dice the data without losing the connections between items. Our technology adds user-opinion layer to facts so that we are structuring unstructured data with peoples’ opinions.

Semantic technology is important… we can aggregate individual lists into the wisdom of crowd aggregations which are more statistically meaningful than one person’s opinion about a topic.”

5) Google does a great job with indexed search. However, many relevant topics do not lend themselves this straightforward approach. I recently interviewed Kevin O’Connor, Founder and CEO of FindTheBest and former Founder and CEO of DoubleClick. FTB is taking a somewhat different approach to curated search. Do you see crowd-ranked lists as ultimately competitive or complimentary to traditional and curated search?

“I’ve checked out FindTheBest and I think it is a pretty incredible site, given how early stage they are. I see where they are going and I am excited by it.

Google can definitely work complimentary to what we are doing. If someone is searching ‘best coupon website deals’, they really do not necessarily (want) one answer to their question, (rather) they want to get a ranked list (based on) hundreds of peoples’ opinions.

Over time, solutions like ours rank higher and will lead to more meaningful, quick answers to questions.”

4) One of the reasons we invested in Ranker is because one of the current investors, who also invested in one of your prior ventures, told us, “Clark will go above and beyond to get you a return on your money.” I have written about people who live by strong social contracts in Humble Pride. How would you describe your relationship with your investors and what can young entrepreneurs learn from your philosophy?

“I am a completist and I can’t stand unfinished business. I do everything I do all in or nothing. If someone is investing in me and my idea, I simply don’t want to let them down.

It is always great to quickly raise money with your idea, but far more often than not, it’s a long haul (of) relationship building with investors. Show people what you are doing at an early stage and then show them the results that you said you were going to do, down the line.”

3) Dude, I think I should remind you that we are still in a recession. Your traffic growth is tracking over 40% month-over-month – on a fairly big base – despite spending zero dollars on marketing. What are your primary sources of traffic and how do you anticipate you will expand your reach going forward?

“We get traffic from three sources. We get direct traffic and that has grown a lot this year. We get referring site traffic.

The single largest source of growth is organic search. We’ve got a very search-friendly site; we are starting to see what Google calls ‘authority’ for terms like ‘list’ and ‘top’ and ‘best’. We haven’t had a down week for organic search traffic all year.”

2) Your “Top 500 Musical Groups/Artists Of All Time” list is one of my favorites (yes, I voted the Beatles up!). Such lists are great fun, but what are some Ranker lists that you think provide the greatest utility, beyond the pure entertainment factor? What are some good business oriented use-cases of Ranker, in its current form?

“We have a lot of entertaining content… but that tends to be the stuff that takes off at the earlier stages. We also get a lot of traffic for (things like) best coupon website. Users vote up and down the hundreds of coupon sites… knowing which (site) to hit from a user point of view is certainly a very valuable, timesaving, practical tool.

Ranker right now is mainly a destination website. Right now you can embed a Ranker list on a third-party site with a few clicks. Soon you will be able to add an aggregated crowd ranking or vote-ranked list to your site and let your community (share) this sticky content.”

1) If you could hypnotize anyone listening to this interview, who would work your magic on and what would convince them to do?

“Ranker has ten people. We are still at that size that everybody on the team can know everything that’s going on, to some degree. Three or four people on any given project have huge input into things that go live on a pretty big content site within a week or two.

My startup is at the perfect learning curve stage for somebody who wants to be part of a startup. I am looking for Java developers and database experts. I am also looking for some bus dev and marketing help. So if you are looking to join an inflection-point startup where you can still make a huge difference, I would love to get your resume at jobs(AT)ranker(DOT)com. Looking for people who can wear a few different hats.”

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.


Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.





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