How Ranker Is Using Data to Reinvent the List

09/06/2016 11:13 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2016
Clark Benson

These days everyone has an opinion, whether it’s on politics, sports, pop culture, or any number of other topics.

If there’s a topic on the web, there’s a high probability that a group of people feels passionate about it. And in today’s connected environment, they’re going to share their thoughts and make their voices heard.

The challenge for surveyors, of course, is sifting through the noise created by individuals and coming up with meaningful data.

That’s the problem Clark Benson set out to solve when he launched Ranker, a leading digital-media company that crowd-sources opinion-based rankings over the internet. 

Ranker caught my attention as a company solving a real problem with a unique solution. I decided to reach out to Benson to learn more about Ranker as well as do a deep dive into his experiences.

Ranker is not Benson’s first startup. In fact, he’s built many companies in the past, including Almighty Music Marketing and eCRUSH.

The key, Benson reveals, is commitment. “The main recipe for success has, frankly, been that when I decide to start something, I just go all in. I really, really focus on it. I am very prepared to handle the time commitment that’s required. Honestly, if you want to sort of have your absolute best shot at success, you really do need to sort of devote most of your week hours to what you’re doing, right? Everybody needs a few outlets outside of work, but you have to basically be prepared to work your ass off…

“I’ve had a couple of different people who say, ‘Wow! Benson is a hell of grinder.’… In entrepreneurial culture, I would say that’s a positive, but in straight tech-startup culture, that sometimes is almost seen as like a little bit of a negative because of those sort of tech startup fail-fasts.

“Like, ‘If it’s not going to happen, just bail and move on to your next VC-funded thing.’ And so I take that as a badge of honor, but I certainly don’t know if it’s always said as a badge of honor.”

A lot of what Benson preaches is not magic. It comes down to hours of hard work. But what keeps a serial entrepreneur like Benson moving? He’s built successful companies in the past, so why did he make the effort to build another in Ranker?

Benson explains: “I’m a big lists nerd. I’ve always loved making lists. I’ve always loved consuming information in list format … Lists are all over the web, and have been since the dawn of the web; and before the web, they were a big part of magazines, right?

“Lists have always been sort of a proven readership draw. But what I never liked about a lot of the lists I would see is it would be just one editor’s opinion.

“And when we built Ranker, my decision was sort of made to say, ‘I’m kind of sick of looking at what one person thinks is the best of a topic. I want to see something that is crowd-sourced. I believe in the wisdom of crowds. And something that a thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand people have voted on is going to be a lot more authoritative than an individual editor’s opinion or an individual blogger’s opinion.’

“And so, we built Ranker from the start as a platform where everything on a rank or list is a data object that can be voted on, and re-ranked, and moves with the crowd’s behavior and voting … 

“You know, we certainly do a lot of traffic in movie and TV recommendations, and Netflix recommendations. People wanting to know what’s the best movie of the year or what’s the best spy movie: ‘What else can I watch in the vertical of something I like?’

“Actually, our most passionate audience is within sports, as you can imagine, because sports fans have such strong opinions on, you know, who’s the best quarterback of all time or whatever the topic is.

“But, really, anywhere that people have a passion about things and that the question is best answered in list form.”

I expect many companies to follow Benson’s pioneering idea of building a data-first culture. Companies like Ranker are shifting from collecting data to curating it in a presentable manner. That data will remain valuable for years to come.

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