Clark Benson is the founder of Ranker, a consumer web startup that is a platform for ranking . . . anything. Ranker is Benson’s 5th startup; all prior startups were successes – real businesses, real profitability. He sold prior internet startup eCrush to Hearst in 2006. Benson is also the founder of Almighty Music Marketing, which has provided various marketing services to the music industry since 1995. Benson has always rolled some of his earnings into his other businesses, and self-financed the initial seed $1million for Ranker. Clark started his career in business affairs at Virgin Records America and co-wrote the book College: Your Guide To The Best Five Years of Your Life.
If you’d like to learn more about eCrush’s sale to Hearst media, here is an interesting case study titled Why timing the M&A market is tricky.
What are you working on right now?
Ranker, 24-7. It is a very ambitious platform and is starting to take off quickly, so it’s pretty much the main focus of my energies. My other business, Almighty Music Marketing, is a 15 year old company that provides various marketing services to record labels, and I have an amazing business partner, Joel Oberstein, who pretty much runs every aspect of that, allowing me to devote almost all my time to Ranker.
Trends that excite you?
The move on the web towards structured data is the trend that most excites me, and my goal is for Ranker to play a big part of that. We are striving to produce a Wikipedia of opinions – taking large datasets of topics that people feel passionate about and giving them a fun, easy, and social tool to rank them. And the rapid growth of open-source datasets, through sites like Freebase , who we have partnered with, has given us the ability to scale far faster than I’d imagined 5 years ago when I first started kicking around the concept.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I get lots of ideas (for businesses and other things), but I have what may actually be a disease in that when an idea gets in my head in a certain way and I can’t get it out I just plunge into it full steam ahead. I probably don’t do enough planning in advance, it’s human nature to massively underestimate the time it will take to do something. I had the luxury of quick success with my first business, and so as soon as I had saved some capital, I dumped a big pile of it into my second business, and have done that ever since, though the businesses have gotten a lot more scaleable. This enables me to move fast, but it certainly doesn’t ease the stress level, ha. Almost every time I start a business, I find myself 6 months in, when I’m working 80-90 hour weeks, going “why didn’t I really plan out the details through some more before going all-in”. Whenever I commit to an idea I want to get it out as fast as possible to beat any potential competition etc. But once you have a staff and overhead you have a lot of other things on your plate that can suck the time away from planning, so you end up working nights and weekends so you can really hone ideas without all the distractions. So far it has always worked out in the end, but it certainly makes the process quite a ride.
What gave you the idea to start Ranker?
I’ve been making lists all my life, I love to rank things. I also strongly believe in the “wisdom of crowds”. Lists are all over the web, but they don’t connect to anything, so I decided I’d build a platform that would allow, for example, anyone’s “Best Movies of Alltime” list to connect to other people’s versions of the same list. Then, of course, we can aggregate them and generate that “wisdom of crowds” ranking, which is really powerful. And quite cool as well.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I have a bunch of hobbies and interests, but above all I’m a total music freak. Most of my other startups have been in the music industry, and getting into the business side of the music industry was the main reason I moved to Los Angeles. I can barely think straight without music playing in the background. I have seen 1000s of concerts and own about 10,000 albums. A lot of my ideas for Ranker came out of how they would apply to music, but I didn’t want to just do a music startup, I wanted to create a broad platform for anyone’s hobbies. We already have all kinds of crazy datasets beyond just the obvious stuff like albums, movies, books. People can make a list of alltime favorite sports cars, mountains they hope to climb, basketball players, comic book characters – whatever your hobbies/passions/interests are, we have a platform to express your opinions in a very granular way. Americans love lists and rankings – just look at Digg’s homepage or any major blog. But most of the lists I will be personally be making are things like The Best Rock Bands.