The Viral Growth Of eCRUSH, And Launch of Ranker – with Clark Benson

Posted on Jun 24, 2010 - 3:00 PM PST

Clark Benson found a clever way to grow his dating site, eCRUSH. He had users send anonymous email to people they had crushes on. The recipients of those emails would enter the email addresses of the people they had crushes on. If two people match, eCRUSH helped them connect.

The scheme generated hundreds of thousands of registered users. And if you think that’s clever, wait till you hear how he monetized it. In this interview, you’ll hear how the business went from concept, to growth, to profits, to exit.

Today, Clark is building Ranker, a platform for ranking anything in the universe. We spent some time in the interview talking about how he’s growing it.

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About Clark Benson

Clark Benson is CEO/Founder/Seed Investor of Ranker, a consumer site and platform for “Ranking the Universe.” It beta-launched in August 2009 and by April 2010 it reached 400K monthly unique visitors. He’s a serial entrepreneur who founded several businesses, including eCrush, which was acquired by Hearst at the end of 2006 and a now-defunct record store, Off/Beat Music in Redondo Beach.

He has been an angel investor who backed Jumpcut which was bought by Yahoo! in 05 or 06.

You can see what he ranked on Ranker.

*Raw* transcript


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Pre Program: Before we get started am going to tell you about three great companies. PicClick is the first, it’s a one person startup from my friend Ryan in San Diego. PicClick gives you a visual way to search eBay, Etsy and other sites. Ryan is all ready doing one million products sales per month on picclick.com. Not hits but sales, go to P.I.C.C.L.I.C.K dot com to see how he’s doing it. 99designs it’s the largest crowd source market place for graphic design, when I use them I wrote a description of the design I needed and how much I wanted to pay, I got a bunch of designs back, I gave each design a feedback and picked the one I liked best and that’s the only one I paid for, try them for logo design, if you need a blog design use them, if you need app icon use them, there are so many different reason why you might want to use them, check out 99designs and you will see why so many past mixergy guests have used 99designs.com. And grasshopper, I have had them now as my longest sponsor for a reason, not only do my, does my audience love them but you might have several guests here on mixergy say that they use grasshopper.com as a result of these messages and they love it, it’s the virtual phone system that entrepreneurs like me love because it offers us multiple extensions, music on hold, call forwarding, it makes you just, it gives an impression of having a big professional organization but also caters to your need to travel and to be flexible. Check out grasshopper.com, here is the program.

Andrew: Hey everyone its Andrew Warner am the founder of mixergy.com home of the ambitious upstarts, today I’ve got with me Clark Benson, he is the founder of Ranker, a platform for ranking anything in the universe, it’s ranker.com, previously he co founded eCRUSH a social networking and a match making site which he sold to Hearst. So Clark am going to be talking to you about the ups and downs of building those businesses, I’m going to talk to you about the tough times the good times, why don’t we start with the best times I can imagine, the time you sold to Hearst, you remember the day when the sale went through?

Interviewee: Yeah, vividly actually, I remember specifically because I live in the Hollywood hills and some reasons my neighborhood has power outages more regularly than the usual, so literally one the things about my prior start up is that we had a lot of different angel investors, the number of angel investors and employees shareholders. So I was scrambling to get all the paper work done and boom I had no power working out my home office for about four hours straight, you know trying to like you know get a fax out and a scan out, and everything like that and it was one of the worse scrambles of my life because it was right near the end of the year and we are trying to close the deal for tax reasons on the 30th and 31st and so that, it will indelibly live in my mind as a horrible time scramble and then of course you know the next day after that was a very happy new year.

Andrew: Do you remember getting that cheque?

Interviewee: Well it was a wired transfer, it wasn’t like one those big cheques they give you know at the.

Andrew: It wasn’t one of those giant big cheques like __ mail in with?

Interviewee: No.

Andrew: I see.

Interviewee: Wasn’t one of those, that would have been cool, that would have been cool but yes I remember checking the bank account obsessively just to, you know make sure it close although the wire transfer didn’t go through, it was the 2nd because of the holiday on January 1st. .Andrew: Can you talk about what it was like to see that, because I know that you were building your business through some of the toughest time for the internet. You survived it, you actually over came a lot of issue that will talk about here, what was it like that time that you finally did it that you crossed the finish line?

Andrew: It was literally like every cliché that you can imagine about just this crazy sigh of relief, get going on you know because, eCRUSH was a relatively, we never took VC money so we were always operating relatively leanly, the company was always run somewhat differently and that most of the company is based in Chicago and I was in LA, so I was a little bit detached from the rest of the team when it happened and, because I was the one doing the deal right but I wasn’t necessarily you know spending time on the day to day the last month or so that we were trying to close the deal, because when you got into a m&e process you are just jumbling so many variables at any given time that you know, you just have to focus or you know it will all fall through. And so basically you know it was just an incredible sigh of relief although at the same time there was a lot of paper work that still had to happen, you know because we had dispersed all our money to all various investors and everything like that, so it was kind of like okay I’m going to take a.
__ way after you know a M&E process you basically you are on your cell phone months at a time just completely in the zone 24/7 having to just to scramble to put things together and respond and you just, you have no control over your time. You know you basically know that every minute you are awake, you maybe working because there is so much at stake. So yeah, so it was very much like you know depressurization zone and when that happened when that actually closed there wasn’t a ton of breathing room because it was like okay I got to make good on all these other things and get everybody else. I was the one who was in charge of disbursing the payments and everything and you know people don’t want to wait for the money so it wasn’t all in a time off but

Andrew: And it is months which is why, am sorry, oh I didn’t loose the connection

Interviewee: I know I didn’t say anything go ahead

Andrew: By the way do you have anything running in the background maybe Outlook or iTunes? Anything that could be stealing bandwidth from Skype for this conversation.

Interviewee: Yeah let me close a couple of things okay

Andrew: Okay.

Interviewee: Okay we should be good now.

Andrew: Okay great. And oh I see the issue there we go. Alright live audience was also having an issue so I fixed it for them. Thanks guys. It is a few months which is why when I interview somebody who says that they are going through a sale and the sale didn’t happen and they had to pick up the pieces I completely, I understand how tough it must be for them. They start to hope that the sale goes through. You start to, plan the rest of your life and then it gets snatched away from you. Let’s talk about .

Interviewee: In my case Andrew honestly it was about 2 years

Andrew: Oh really?

Interviewee: Because we had a deal that was 90%, 95% closed like diligence had been more or less donors of a few you know when it was a few weeks away from paper work stuff to close at the end of ’05, and it completely fell through because of a bunch of unrelated external things that happened and gave the buyers kind of cold feet for a number of reasons that I don’t intend to go into but the bottom line is it was totally out of our control and we had spent 6 months setting up that access then you kind of have to start all over again a little bit because you know you can’t be doing, you cant be try to sell off for two years a straight you have to kind of say okay I am going to sell now am going to take a breather and build up the numbers a bit, etcetera, you know the buyers, if you are on the market too long at the same time the buyers all just think something is wrong. So we basically went through two years of M&A and at the end of the day about 12-15 months of that time we spent actively in an M&A process which is very draining. That is if you are a __ company

Andrew: So I remember when I almost, there were a few deals that almost that were almost, that were almost made for me to sell my company and I remember one especially when it was taken away I was just so bombed out it was hard to go back into work after imagining what I was going to be afterwards. What was it like for you after that one deal fell apart?

Interviewee: It was certainly a big let down I kind of, am an __ entrepreneur and you know I had a number of other businesses going con-currently and during the __ time. So I kind of never had all my eggs in one basket and I have always had sort of a mental I don’t count on anything until its done. So I suppose I wasn’t completely deflated because part of me was always going I don’t believe __ issues and all until the cheques are in anyways. But it’s very frustrating and it’s really frustrating for me because we are going through a process with a small company you r whole team knows that you are going through a process with a small company your whole team knows that you are going through this right and so you __ them in a big picture and not getting off what you think of an M&A process that’s going on as well. I think that might have been the toughest thing, was just to kind of say okay guys this dint really happen we are really closed but we are still got a great business here and you know we’ll just get us going again and turn this around this year because nothing is changing our core business you know, that’s the kind of thing that you got to keep in mind is that, there is always another buyer, there is always another opportunity.

Andrew: So let’s go back to how the business started. You said that you didn’t have venture capital but I read that you personally invested $100,000; did I get that information right?

Interviewee: Yeah that’s correct, the may be I was crazy but I have always, even when I haven’t had very much money I always put a significant amount of, you know my network at any given time into a new start up probably because I didn’t know any better. Like just, when I get an idea in my head I just I like to just move a
And I don’t love raising money so am like I’ll just do this in this way, I have a bare share of things if it succeeds kind of thing and so yeah I put up the initial $100,000 to sort of see the idea, build the site and get enough traction to raise more money.

Andrew: So where did that hundred thousand come from? I saw, I know that you are a serial entrepreneur and I’ve got a list of companies that you were involved with before but a hundred thousand, actually maybe I’ll have you tell it, where did it come from?

Interviewee: Sure, I mean basically when I was in my mid twenties and I started a company that I wont go on the details on it but it’s a music industry B2B business, I’m a big music fan and I’ve a background on the music industry so I kind of went off on my own as soon as I saw an opportunity and that company was never really an exitable company it was more of a, you know I guess what we call a cash cow although what’s funny is when you start to talk about M&A cash cow isn’t __ you are talking which cracks me up because if you have a business that generating high margin cash you know, that’s sounds great to me but, so basically you know I, the funny thing is this first $50,000 or so that I made from that business I put into a record store because I’ve always wanted to have a record store and I had a friend who I would partner in the record store with and then, you know after I sucked away a little more money I knew the internet craze was going on and I said “wow, am an entrepreneur this stuff is happening really fast, I want to get into this” and you know boom there is eCRUSH three months later, you know launched with my initial investment. Sometimes you can move a little to fast and I have been guilty of doing that in my life but it’s worked out good over, over time in the end.

Andrew: The record store was called off beat music in redundo beach and the cash cow was almighty music marketing. Can you just give people a sense of what almighty music marketing was?

Interviewee: Sure and it’s actually still going, it’s, we have just kind of changed some our marketing tactics that we use but the initial business was an idea that I had because I saw how much money the record label were spending this is back in, you know long time ago and positioning for listening station in record stores, you know [taller] record would have a big listening station program and I didn’t , it didn’t really realize until he saw that records were paying a lot for their positioning, so I setup a program to put listening stations, independent record stores and you know kind of combined a lot of them and got the record label to pay for the positioning there and it’s actually still going to this day but we have diversified into a lot of other marketing functions and my partner Joe oversees runs the day to on that business. It’s not really like an exitable kind of business, it’s a nice cash generating you know __ kind of business, so you know, that been great I’ve had that business now for sixteen years, which is a long time to run a marketing company in any industry.

Andrew: Do you feel comfortable talking about it a little bit more, because am curious about how that, about that business, about how you get it off the ground, about what you are doing now after the transition away from CDs and after [taller] records closed.

Interviewee: Sure yeah, I mean again I wouldn’t be, I’m going to move a little closer to the computer so that the mic doesn’t cut out as much but I wouldn’t, we wouldn’t have that business if it wasn’t for my partner Joe whose really good, rare combination of both a sales and an operations guy. Am sort of more of the business visionary there and the strategic person and I deal with the money matter and Joe really just has a great relationships through out the recording industry and what we do we offer you know just a number of services to record labels. We have a database of for every record store in the country and there actually are still over you know fifteen hundred record stores in the country and record labels do still make you know more than half of their revenue on CD sales. And actually vinyl __ are growing a lot nowadays, so we’ve got a database.

Andrew: What does a lot nowadays? Sorry the mic does keep cutting out.

Interviewee: Vinyl? Sure vinyl albums have actually picked up.

Andrew: Oh really those big records that go underneath a needle are still selling?

Interviewee: Literally they sales have gone up about 40% __ more than an audio file collectible market and so, the independent record store are kind of , I wouldn’t say they are cranking on it but they are surviving selling by a lot of vinyl and the record label are happy to see a diversified thing in the mix, so you know we provide a database of all record stores in the country that the record labels just don’t have the staff to do themselves anymore and we also have a product called new releases now which is an e-mail newsletter that goes out to about
[0:15:00.9]
20,000 music industry professionals and about you know. 50,000 consumers, that’s just, here is the new releases for the week if you __ to you know I always need new music, I want to sample quickly,I want to see this is what’s up this week am on one place. We have newreleasenow.com and you can sign up for the newsletter there you can basically stream you know 30 or 40 of the key new releases every week. So you know and we charge record labels a very nominal fee to participate in that and they get good exposure for their artists in front of the key audience. So we have diversified and we have about four different marketing programs that we offer to the record labels.

Andrew: I see okay. And when you got started that way I am surprised that the record industry wouldn’t already have their own list of all the record stores. I’d figured by now that they’d have some intern or a collection of interns go out there and accumulate the list and not need to work with you guys any more. Why do they need you?

Interviewee: What’s funny is that when, we launched that side of the business in 2003 I believe and in the late ‘90s the record labels had enough staff to keep artists together themselves relatively well but there is always you know new stores opening, closing and our lists has a lot of really granular data so you can say okay I got a punk man touring the north west and I want to make sure that I get posters out to these stores that are near coffee shops like we can actually do that we can provide the granularity so even labels that had a good list before hand didn’t have that kind of detail and it was kind of for her you know relatively small amount of money per year, they get licensed that, and create mailing labels and doing you know we, it wasn’t just a __ kind of a filter more efficiently. And so there wasn’t need for that especially when you know starting about 2001 record labels started really letting staff go. And whereas before they would have the sales department with, you know ten people and now they are down to two so nobody has time to keep up a mailing list and do all that. They really just need to out source some of those functions in an efficient way. So that’s you know, that’s still doing fine. It’s providing a service that there’s just a gap. Right? I mean that’s the whole point of starting a business you just find that you look for an opening a hole that is just not being filled and think of a better way to do it. That’s entrepreneurship 101 I guess.

Andrew: You found a great opening in the record industry. How did you find it? How did you find an opening?

Interviewee: You know I, what I, I just have a mind that’s always like thinking about business ideas. I have literally 100 ideas that I will never have time to peruse through. That I just write, I make sure I write it down I just take it down somewhere, and you know literally like I need to someday go back and look through at all of them and see what there is in and give to somebody else or something because I don’t know what it is, I just I see something that I, in the market place where am like, there is a need for this and I start to immediately think how could I fill this need? How could I start a business and create a way to do this? I have actually been guilty of dong too much of it at once I would never recommend to anybody to have four businesses going at the same time as I did at one point because you dilute your energies and you know you can go too far in that manner. It’s just oh I see an opening I must just start something to fill it. So but, it’s hard to say I think I have an instinct for like looking at here is a need, here is an efficient way to solve it and I don’t know how, I don’t know how you know its one of those gut things it’s kind of hard to explain.

Andrew: You know that reminds me of the people who I saw back in elementary school and high school always had some kind of sketch book going because they were artist you couldn’t stop them from sketching. And it seems like you are the same way, that you keep having these ideas. Were you always like that even back in high school, Elementary school, you the guy who was always coming up with ideas for businesses?

Interviewee: Not, yes and no I mean not necessarily like coming up with business ideas so much it was just angles on things I guess because I.

Andrew: Can you give me examples?

Interviewee: I don’t have one off the top of my head that I could do, but you know like when I was in college, I was involved in a lot of like party planning and things like that and I just like here is what we need to do for the __ mixer, here is what __ you know, so I think I, as soon as I got out into the real world, I was like I want to turn this into a businesses because I want to be like my own boss

Andrew: I see. You had this cash cow it gave you the freedom to launch other businesses we talked about how you launched Offbeat music in redundo, and you mentioned that eCRUSH was one of your ideas, that when you saw the internet take of, you said I want to get in on that. What was the original idea behind eCRUSH?

Interviewee: The original idea was just basically very simple early viral concept was if you got a crush on somebody, you go to eCRUSH you can put in their email address, and we send them an email that says you know ‘Andrew congratulations somebody you know has a crush on you. If you have a crush on somebody else go ahead and enter their name you know or email into our database and if it’s a match, we will let you know both at the same time’. You know it was a very simple idea that spread virally really fast without any marketing needs because it was just emails going around you know people who were, it was typically teens and college age people they always got a crush on somebody and you know a certain percentage of those crushes just turned out into be matches. And that was the original concept. I will say, well go ahead.

Andrew: No no you go ahead please.

Interviewee: I was going to say that it was a great success you know we were able to quickly raise money based on it and we had I don’t know 300, we had about 3,000 daily visitors just on the viral crush site of it alone at a point it was doing really well and then the internet crash happened. And all over sudden you know, back in the day I don’t know if you remember this, but we were making like $25 EPMs on a single ad Single banner ad which anybody out there knows now you are lucky to get, if you get 10% of it your site you know. And what happened was we just completely got basterized as soon as the internet crushed by spammers. Like all over a sudden people were just trying to get, people to open emails will be sending, ‘Somebody you know has a crush on you’ emails out there were fraudulent but somebody would open them and it kind of ruined our name really quickly because you know you were getting 10 of these a day for a while you know how spammers tend to find new techniques and then knock them to death . That happened with the viral crush emails so

Andrew: That’s a, let me dig in deep just to, in early days first then I’ll go into that and I do remember those emails that you sent out, and how incredible you were and how I also remember how I would start getting crash emails from everybody. It would always be like Samantha sends me an email telling me somebody has a crush on me. Or some other hot chic name.

Interviewee: Yeah.

Andrew: You said that the original idea was to help people find, actually was it the virility that came in first or was it, were you looking for a vehicle for virility or did you come up with an idea for had a match making, you said how do I add virility to it. Which came first?

Interviewee: The second. It was, the virility part was something that kind of made sense as we though it through, but we had already sort of said this was a great idea and started moving down the path of building it out and then we were like well of course. The email will trigger. The email so lets try you know get people to mention as many possible crashes as they have because that’s more emails going out but yeah I mean we wouldn’t have started down this part without the virility, I didn’t think from the angle of lets come up with the viral idea first I came up with the idea of using a unique angle of match making, right its finding a match with somebody that you already know verses like a Match.com model which is you know looking for somebody new.

Andrew: I see okay so you had this idea then you said how do I add virility to it, it was the first incarnation of virility what you talked to us about now where, I will get an email saying somebody has a crush on you Andrew, I would go over to the website and type in as many email addresses as I could of people who I thought might be the, might have a crush on me and then each one of them would end up with an email.

Interviewee: Yeah.

Andrew: That was the original format.

Interviewee: Right and we actually tried to be really you know, because what we didn’t want people abusing the system to try to like ‘Oh let me send this to everybody of my address book just to out somebody or whatever because you know we, I didn’t want to create negative feelings for somebody who had a crush on somebody who wasn’t reciprocated. And when the spammers came in they was basically like empty your email address book but you know a lot of that, all good things on the internet will probably get [basterized] at some point by the darker side.

Andrew: So, if am trying to figure out who has a crush on me and I start typing in email addresses and maybe 5, 10 girls. What’s the email that you sent out to them at first?

Interviewee: I would just basically say you know, ‘Andrew congratulations somebody you know has a crush on you if you have a crush on somebody that’s unreciprocated, you know, go ahead and click over eCRUSH and just enter those in and if its mutual we will let you both know at the exact same time so there is no harm, no foul if… and if its not mutual you know, the other party will never know.

Andrew: I see okay alright so that gives you the excuse to email out. What kind of tweaking did you do? How did you adjust it?

Interviewee: We, the funny thing is that the idea was relatively simple enough that we didn’t what we did instead of adjusting that was that we built out more, you now that was kind of simple idea that wasn’t really keeping a lot people sticky on the side right, it was like okay you come to eCRUSH and if you got a match you’re gone and if don’t get a match you got to wait to find more people to have a crush on, so we kind of did, is we turned it into a little bit more of a, sort of a team dating portal, it was very PG 13, site geared towards content about dating, because that’s what we had, we had mostly teenagers and college aged students.

Andrew: I see, okay and I read.

Interviewee: You know that was not till we launched it and it just turned out to be that way you know, who’s got most time on their hands? Teenagers, at the more __ teenagers.

Andrew: Why did you raise, I heard $900,000, why did you raise money for the business.

Interviewee: Well we you know we didn’t need to, we never had a huge staff, at a peek we had ten people but we did need to just kind of you know try to rump it up to where we could turn it into this dating portal and then eventually you know sell the business, in fact we, before the internet crush happened we were talking to some of the major players in the online space back in 2000, 2001 and in retrospect it would have been a smart move to have sold that time and just not to taking stock. But, so the idea was mainly just to turn it into something big enough to sell I think, and so we had about you know seven staffers and actually moved the company to the bay area for a year and a half because it was that time.

Andrew: I see, by the way I see Joseph Jackson in the audience is looking at your traffic at ranker.com, yeah it did grow a lot and I absolutely will be asking about traffic at ranker.com, R.A.N.K.E.R dot com for the transcribers. Alright so I read that 2000, actually you launched 1999, 2001 you had about 65,000 uniques, it all came from burrow marketing from the approach we talked about , where was the advertising? Where was the revenue coming from? What kind of advertising did you do at that point?

Interviewee: At that point we were making that $25 CPM just from.

Andrew: That was on the website?

Interviewee: Yeah, it was on the website and that’s all we needed, you know we actually were like break even around 2001 and then the internet crash happened and literally you know we survived on fumes for six months because we had deals that bring in some revenue, but it was like okay we have three hundred grand left in the bank and we need to, we really need to do something different with our business model because the spammers have killed it.

Andrew: So what did you do? What was that transition?

Interviewee: Well, we spent about a month of two just kind of brain storming, you know what can we do? What do we have here? what we had is that we had a database of teams really mostly and focused on dating so we said well let’s do something that a little bit different, let’s actually go more towards the other model which was, we end up creating espin.com, which initially was espinthebottle.com and its; more of a, it was basically a PG 13 match.com and we very quickly thought of a business model for that there wasn’t directly advertising related, so it’s was kind of like think of the concept and think of how to immediately get revenue out of it now because we’ve only got you know X months left to survive kind of thinking and that’s what we did, we launched __ we __ with our initial database with people, we pretty quickly you know had a, with a match.com kind of model you have to have a certain amount of scale of users or you will never find connections in the same geographic area, so we did have a big enough scale of users to have those initial connections and we ended up building a legion business around a, what’s funny is that we kind of did is we sort of were precursor to the whole you know social gaming phenomenon where you jump through a [legion] hope to win you know points in whatever system, we would have that to unmark features to engage other users. Some more like match.com, says you can do this up to a certain point and then you are going to pay a subscription fee, since we had teenagers they weren’t really going to pay a subscription fees and they didn’t have credit cards.

Andrew: That was brilliant and when I read that you did that, I didn’t even know, up until the time I read that you did that, I didn’t even know that anyone had discovered it until [super words] and who’s the other one? __ came out with it, you were a pioneer there.

Interviewee: Yeah.

Andrew: Let me see if I understand what, am sorry.

Interviewee: We were doing it like 2003 basically, we heard that this model is in place we didn’t know what to call it, we called it a locking key, unlock this stick, you know get the key into this feature kind of thing.

Andrew: People aren’t willing to pay with cash.They should be willing by filling out surveys or willing to pay by signing up for something that they could hopefully pay for in the future. But let me see if I understand the product. I was on eSPIN earlier today, just to see what it was like today and this is what I saw and I think this is what it was like when you launched it. See a picture of a girl and then on top there is a question that says basically, do you have a crush on her? Yes or no. If you click yes, says she’s told somebody has a crush on her if you click no, what was it like actually? I saw something in your face say that this isn’t the way.

Interviewee: Yeah that’s changed, and to be honest with you I haven’t stayed completely in touch I mean I got so much going with ranker that I haven’t been following what Hearst has been doing in the last couple of years.

Andrew: What was it like when you launched it?

Interviewee: It was really like just pictures ofMatch.com I mean because we have, we still have eCRUSH going right, and we are still getting, but we started using eCRUSH more as a traffic feeder into eSPIN and so eSPIN was basically Match.com with a spin the bottle kind of hook to it. So that there was been a little bit of more random __ any aspects to it.

Andrew: What was there in the gaming aspect?

Interviewee: We literally, we would click in the bottle would spin and you would get a bunch of profiles and you can click in to see more about them you know

Andrew: So really like Match.com? You say how old you are I guess you say where in the world you are maybe one or two other questions and instead of just seeing the profiles, its like you see a spin the bottle and then you see some profiles. I see okay.

Interviewee: Yeah.

Andrew: So the only issue you were bringing in was the revenue innovation

Interviewee: Yes exactly.

Andrew: And was that right from the start?

Interviewee: It pretty, it was pretty early on because it was sort of our impetuous to say okay we know we can do this, we know we can build a, sort of a PG13 dating site, but how were we going to monetize it when there is no ad revenue right now. And so yeah I think we are rebuilding up the technology to actually have the platform for the profiles but other than that, we have literally simultaneously really like how do we you know, make money out of this, and we thought you know well sooner or later kids are going to have these e-cards they can spend money on it but we better not be putting all out eggs in one basket and funny thing is it really hasn’t materialized years later you know. And so we started looking at, you know legion models, and the thing is that there isn’t a lot of legion targeting the teenager s because they don’t have credit cards, but they are things I mean half of our revenues will come from market research companies back in the day because there’s certainly a need for that. So jump through a hoop take a survey for 10 minutes and you can unlock all of these features, that was really the core business model that we had. Ringtones and stuff like that came into place you know here is one as well.

Andrew: And the ringtone business was about getting somebody to download a ringtone today and get charged for it, monthly for a long as possible. And I was just starting to take off I was just starting to be introduced when you were still running the business. I don’t explode until much later.

Interviewee: Yeah I mean, but you know but… the ringtones were kind of picking around 2006, 2007 around the time that we were exiting. That was definitely a nice component at the time that we sold.

Andrew: Where did you get the idea for the legion? Where did it come from?

Interviewee: I would take credit but I would probably can’t take credit, I, my eCRUSH co-founder Amy Gibby just you know, she had a very good monetization head and I don’t know exactly where it came from but you know at some point we would, I think we actually would look at commission junctions and places like that for offers in general. And at some point light bulbs came on our heads and lets actually stop people in their process and get them to jump through this hoop to fill out this survey or you know, there’s a few other angles that we had, it was all legion related and I think it came from discovering the offers and seeing how we could you know get somebody to, because with the whole, there is a pinpoint right? Where it’s like you got to have a product that is appealing enough for somebody to say I am not going to devote 10 minutes of my attention to filling this out and that’s the tough thing, you can’t do that. You can do that when you got, oh I really want to meet this person on the other end of the survey right? But you can’t do that for I want to conceal one more page of this website. That’s why social gaming I think has worked so well because there is people who really want those points or whatever they are using in their systems.

Andrew: Gone through commission junction’s list of advertisers and all offers is just such a great way to come up with ideas for business models and monetization because you can see specifically what advertisers are looking for or what they are willing to pay for or what products are out there, and there is also a little bit of flexibility with how you get those results for the advertisers so you can come up with new ideas. I think an affiliate business is what led Super-awards to come up with a similar business to yours where they were offering points in exchange for filling out forms or for taking up other offers. Let’s take a look here, let’s see what’s next in the bit. Actually am almost curious about what the first version of the site looked like. What did eCRUSH look like when you first launched it?

Interviewee: Oh wow it was just real simple it was like and there is nothing wrong with keeping it simple it was basically just an input box that would say enter your e-mailyou know or enter, sign up in here with two or three fields and then we would take you to another page that would say enter your email you know, the rest of your profile and your crushes and the key was, that was also a landing page right, so when you would get that viral email it would be very clear,I think we would tailor the landing page to you a little bit. And it would just be very clearly like here is what you get you know if you are lonely basically you know you want to find a match here is what you got to do. You know it was very, very simple. It was KISS right, you know Keeping It Simple as Possible. And people would fill it out.

Andrew: And I think you said that it took you months to launch that. Do I have that right?

Interviewee: Yeah well I think we, we came up with the idea and we started myself and my, I had another business partner Karen DeMars Pillsbury, we talked about it in November like around thanksgiving of, this was in 1998 and we launched the site on Valentines day of 1999. So I think we actively, she quit her job maybe early 1999 you know January, and we hired out, you know we spent 20 grand on web on a web developer to build it. It was, we didn’t have any technical knowledge at all. You know it was way before [ruby] mails and all these kind of things made it really easy to start a site so even a very simple site like that little bit of coding because you couldn’t point to somebody else and say knock this off, or you know or use a platform , you had to build it from scratch.

Andrew: How do you manage people, how do you manage developers when you are not a developer yourself?

Interviewee: It’s you, really have to have a, with Ranker especially we’ve got a lot of our developers are offshore. And so you really got to have just very, very clear instructions and I think the most important thing is you have to think through all the potentially use cases and all the way you know, you, if you give vague instructions to a developer you just fall behind because you will just spend so much time on the back and forth. You have to you know, wire your frame out, really think through all the details and that’s not the whole part of the puzzle. The other part of the puzzle is trying to get push backers to what will really take a lot of coding time or be costly on the side performance or you know potentially cause a lot of dependencies down the line. That’s the toughest part is to kind of push back a little bit to them and say if we do this, which I want to do, but it not absolute necessity, one of the repercussions. Its not easy you have to, and then frankly you have to learn over time a bit about code not necessarily knowing how to read the code but start to understand well this is part of the app, this is part of the database blah, blah, blah and I wish I knew more at this point and I have been doing this for ten years.

Andrew: So you’d wire frame it? You set very explicit directions to what everything needs to do and then you ask them to push back on you by saying if we don’t do this, it what happens or how long does that other piece over there take? Did I understand that right?

Interviewee: Yeah try to get really granular time estimates and things like that as well because you know I might think something is really simple it seems easy to me and they are like no, no, no you got to think through all these five different states or whatever and that’s the feedback I want to get back to find out you know okay, maybe this isn’t worth it because its going to cost me extra amounts of developer hours and is the pay off really that big? So yeah I mean it’s really just having that dialogue as much as possible at all times and having the clear instructions to begin with to start the dialogue.

Andrew: What kind of things did you do to keep the company lean? I feel like everyone say they kept it lean but I know that you must have done much more than they did because you survived. What did you do?

Interviewee: Well yeah so if we talk about eCRUSH for example, and I do the same thing at Ranker right now, I actually, I have not taken a salary so that’s one thing right there, because I have been able to leverage my cash car business to pay the bills.

Andrew: Still to this day you are still using money from almighty music marketing to live, that’s salary?

Interviewee: Yes actually that’s true. And especially when you are investing your own money in your businesses it kind of stupid from the tax point of view to pay yourself a salary right? Because it just does not make a lot of logical sense, so that’s one thing. Another thing is, you know with eCRUSH we didn’t, the company was based in Chicago where its not, it was really moved to the bay area and we found that it was really hard for us to get quality to get quality engineers, because there was such a bidding war going on in those years of top talent that you know when we moved it back to Chicago we were able to hire, you know develop it for 30% , 40% lower with the same skill set that you would find in the bay area and really it’s all about just having people that you can run a lean start up if your team doesn’t need, you know they don’t care that we don’t have a you know crazy lunch program for great perks and things like that, we don’t have a [missus] or whatever and you know, I think when you have a VC backed companies that really have a lot of money you know and are told to spend it right away, you develop that culture that it isn’t just lean, it’s sort of just the way it goes but I haven’t had one of those, VC backed startups so I wouldn’t know, I just know from hearsay.

Andrew: What’s so the funding for ranker.com now?

Interviewee: So I’ve got a lot of my own money in it because I was able to take my eCRUSH you know, wind fall and finance the initial seed round and we’ve got fifteen angel investors in ranker and am active soliciting more financing because frankly it’s an ambitious idea that needs room to grow.

Andrew: Who are some of the angels? Who are some of the better known angels that are backing the business?

Interviewee: Well I’ve got over fifteen different angels some of them are one who were with me from eCRUSH that basically just said whatever you do next I will bet on you and they not necessarily you know well know angels, you know there is Dave Seaman of Seaman associates, he is probably my biggest single angel and he is here in Los Angeles but it’s not, it’s not one of those, you know rock star angles or whatever it’s more just a half of people bet on me from my prior start up and they weren’t necessary [tied in] angel, they were just people that, you know were like wow you turned this into something all over the years and we’ve created t it of all completely like all my other dot com investments. So you know I can go through him but it’s, [tacos] angles is involved as well, some of the individual angles are from tacos angels here in LA.

Andrew: Let’s continue on for a little bit of more with eCRUSH and then get deeper into ranker, looking down here at my notes see what else I wanted to ask you, the sale, actually no, profits, you got the profitability 2002, that seems like almost, actually how soon after you launched espin, did you get, did you become profitable?

Interviewee: It was about nine months because it was, I literary remember putting money into make payrolls a few times but it was like well we know the receivables are coming in so we know basically we’ve hit profitability and I just need to flirt a little bit here, so I don’t have the exact, it was a while ago, I don’t have the exact time frame, but it was about nine months and you know then there was a body __ sort of [ran] almost as a break even in business and they it really started to chun cash flow.

Andrew: And this idea, am sorry.

Interviewee: That it probably started to really Chun cash flow in like late 2003 or so.

Andrew: This idea was just a hit right away, the idea of doing a dating site with a database that you had from eCRUSH and monetizing that dating site with [courage] with legion generation.

Interviewee: it was a hit right away and sort of a smaller medium scale basis, the problem we had was that we are in Chicago, the funding had totally dried up, we knew that there wasn’t going to be any chance or raising money at the time so we really just needed to bootstrap and keep the cost lean because at that time you had to have a profitable business to have a chance of an exit. So you know we weren’t able to rump it quiet as fast as we have liked because we just had [throw] it internally.

Andrew: You know what am wondering is the original users, I understand that at some point you end up with a viral effect but the original users still need to come from somewhere and it can’t just be all viral in the beginning, where did you get the original users ?

Interviewee: Well, you know the funny thing was like the eCRUSH, the crash, the viral crush thing was viral and so we would convert a certain amount of those people who had crushes that were [unrecorded], so they did become. So it was kind of like we used a viral app to send people to the non viral app because espin was not viral and then after we hit a certain scale probably I don’t know we were probably doing about three hundred thousand monthly visitors, then we started an arbitrage model where since we had really figured out how monetize the traffic and we can do it in an entirely metric driven way we would start to you know buy traffic, we would experimented at that time it was like you could buy traffic Finding Watson overture just as easily as Google right? And we also, we know it was funny as one of the big drivers of our growth was once MySpace took off we would buy a lot of their run and inventory through third party brokers, you know but we knew it was MySpace because of the system.

Andrew: That’s how you did it? You were buying adds on MySpace lay out sites?

Interviewee: Yes.

Andrew: Read an article by Pee Cashmore, one of the early articles on national.com about how you guys were buying traffic from other sites. But what about the beginning? 1999 you launched this thing it’s on Valentine’s Day, I guess…

Interviewee: PR.

Andrew: I give you some, but what, PR? That’s how it turned out for the first users?

Interviewee: yeah my co-founder Karen was great and like we would radio interviews, like crazy, we probably did every year around Valentine’s day we would do you know, couple hundred interviews between print and radio. Its, people always just have to feel space and a concept of a viral crush site was very unique at the time so,

Andrew: If you launched on Valentine’s Day, all the articles about Valentine’s Day happen before then. How do you get?

Interviewee: Well true.

Andrew: What did you get in the beginning? How close to spasm did you get?

Interviewee: We never, we really was kind of overly non-spasmy which is probably was a mistake at the time. But we actually didn’t, eCrush I remember back you know, like may be it may be May of that year that we launched, we would look and we would be like “a hundred and fifty people signed up today” or something, that’s growth. Like it took, it really took some time, I think that the traffic really didn’t start to grow until we got mentions in like you know the back of seventeen magazine, there were all these big team magazines back in those days, and we get a little editorial blub that you know eCrush is the way to find out if you got a crush on somebody and boom! All of a sudden we got from a hundred visitors a day to eight hundred or something like that and then we just snowball. But it was really PR driven, so we had no marketing money .

Andrew: And it’s kind of clever that you had the viral portion of the business and then the non-bottled cash portion of the business. A lot of times I think of how can you add a viral component to a business but may be it doesn’t make sense in every case. May be sometimes use it to have a separate business that brings in the audience using viral techniques, and then shepherd those people towards the profitable portion of the business the way you guys did with eCrush and eSpin.

Interviewee: You can’t sort of force viral if the product it self isn’t viral. So if you can find another angle, yeah. But its definitely, there is always some viral hook somewhere to figure out.

Andrew: Oh really?

Interviewee: It’s just, it may be indirect right. So.

Andrew: Alright I want to get to that with the ranker. Let’s just finish up with the eCrush. 2006 you sold the company; I read that you had profits of $1.4 million? Is that $1.4 million run ray or is that $1.4 million solid profits before taxes, and modernization , and depreciation and all that?

Interviewee: It was, it was a run ray but it wasn’t that far off that, I mean there was some growth going on so I think that year we’re probably, we probably did 1.1 or 1.2, and the run ray was 1.4 because you know there is growth every quarter but it was a nice high margin business. You know we were doing that about four million in sales.

Andrew: Wow, and got to, lets see, you have 2.4 million registered users, what did you sell the company for?

Interviewee: I actually, I am not allowed to disclose, from that the sale that we did. The docs I signed do not allow me to disclose that.

Andrew: All this time into the future you still can’t say anything?

Interviewee: I don’t, I would have to look and see when that expires but there’s speculation on the internet that’s pretty accurate.

Andrew: Okay the speculation that I saw came from a website you linked to on your LinkedIn profile. Guy actually did a great job analyzing your business, and he said that the company sold for any where from $ 8-12 million, so there’s speculation. What’s the name of that website by the way, its startup-reviews.com or something like that?

Interviewee: startup-review, yeah he interviewed me back in like 07 I think. I don’t know if he’s actively updating it but that was a great, it was kind of like a precursor to what you’re doing but not video obviously.

Andrew: Yeah he did great analysis. I love those posts.

Interviewee: Yeah, I agree.

Andrew: Okay, so actually before we get to ranker, you mentioned earlier that you had four businesses at once? At what point was this?

Interviewee: Well that was from 1999 until probably 2002, I my, I had two music marketing companies at one point, they eventually merged into one. And its probably not worth going into the details, and so three or four business depending on how you look at it. But I have four corporate entities and four sets of bucks. Just one head partner and the other didn’t have so.

Andrew: So what are the challenges with that? Because I see a lot of guys who take a lot of pride in having multiple businesses, in launching different companies, you and I talked about them in the pre interview, without going into specifics and their situations, what are, what did you see when you did this?

Interviewee: You know I would honestly not recommend it to anybody; I just had this thing when I was like “this is a great idea. I don’t want to miss the window. I must do it” and on, then you find yourself, I mean very, I have started businesses before. You know a certain component of my music marketing company was just like, the idea just clicked and it just, it didn’t take that long to set up and it just started generating cash right from the start. You can do that. But a lot of things that you do, just you hit all these pitfalls and you find out that all of this isn’t as easy as I thought, you know especially people who’ve started businesses before they always forget the tough times, you know. You just, you forget that I worked twenty hours a day for, you know three months straight and then fifteen hours a day after that, because it such a blur that it just, and you like the outcome at the end, and you love what you’re doing, but you know, you can go overboard with starting too many things at once. And I have, I am a finisher, I don’t like to start things and leave them on tap. So if I start something I will want to see it through all the way and that’s when you can get into trouble. I would actually say that there is a philosophy that you can start things and if they’re not hitting you can abandon them. And that’s just not me. But I don’t, but I suppose if you’re going to start a lot of businesses, that is a good strategy to have because you have the opportunity because what you could be doing with your time otherwise. Personally I am a completer, that’s why I started Ranker. Its about ranking everything in the universe right and I like to finish what I start and therefore I just, I probably went to far in starting too many things at once and then I had to finish them so there’s five years of my life that are a total blur. Not the worst time, but you know but I wish I would have had a little more free time.

Andrew: And 1999 to 2002, those weren’t easy years. Those were the years when you were battling with eCrush, those are the years when you had to find a whole new business model, those were the years when you ended up with espinthebottle.com. Alright, lets then talk about, about Ranker. What was the original idea for Ranker?

Interviewee: Well I’ve had the idea for five or six years, in fact I was really driven to try that you know okay, now’s the time to sell eCrush because of those opportunity cost right you know, I was like I am not starting anything new until I move past eCrush because I just can’t keep doing this to myself. But I loved to rank things. You know I’ve been making lists my whole life. I am a music fan so I always make lists of my favourite albums and songs or whatever, and you know, there really isn’t a deep, non-vertical specific destination on the web for just ranking things and so its not just for individual people to rank things, but the idea that I had was, if I feel this way about something, other people feel the same way about it, I really believe in the wisdom of crowds, right? So I think that you know, you can find one person’s opinion about anything, go to Amazon and there’s a, you know hundreds of people’s of review of different products but, like looking at reviews and five star rating systems is time consuming to filter through. And you know you always don’t know what the agendas of somebody might be etcetera. So my concept was I’d rather just see rankings. If I am interested in the best of [blank] right I’d rather see a list, rank from top to bottom of that than to have to kind of say well this, everything on Amazon is three to four stars. Right, it’s very hard to use these star rating systems to differentiate, and if you’re looking to buy a product you can’t really even find, you know user rankings of that product. You have to just kind of like filter through reviews and five star rating systems that cluster together. So the idea was let’s create a really, really, deep, flexible system that can, you know connects all the data together so that I can make a list of my favourite albums of the year. You can make a list of your favourite albums of the year and soon as there’s a certain amount of scale, we can aggregate them all together and say this is the master list of the favourite albums of the year and then we can filter that by you know, males living in California, or you know Americans or whatever and filter it by people who are into indie rock, and more into metal or whatever, and really start to develop a statistically significant wisdom of crowds kind of ranking of things, and then of course sometimes I like to do ambitious things. I thought I just don’t want to do it for music, because I am into music, but somebody else is into golf courses. And somebody else is into you know, sports cars or whatever it might be, I wanted to create a scalable platform to do that over, across the goals and my reference model was kind of the drop and drag Netflix queue. If you got a Netflix account how easy it is to sort of re-arrange or queue, I said I want it to be real simple, and drop and drag from a user interface point of view.

Andrew: I saw that. I actually played with it before the interview and I saw that what was the list I created? Clark Benson’s top three companies and I was able to just quickly add eCRUSH, it did a search didn’t find eCRUSH and so let me add it manually I added that then I added Ranker, I added maybe one other company in there and then I was just able to drag and drop them into positions so I could put them from first and third place was very easy if I wanted to add picture I could click on one of the item on the list had a picture, had a description. So people did this for cars that they loved, for music as you said for I think favorite wrestlers I saw. What’s the incentive for a user to do this?

Interviewee: Well first of all, you know people do like to rank things and just you know for their own purposes in a lot of cases and the key is we want to just make it really easy, right. I wanted to just be drop and drag simple versus typing in a lot you know if you, you are just a list dog you know it takes time but if you can just type in a few letters get it on, you know say a list of best movies and your Score Sazi fan you can just type in SCOR and automatically it shows the full list of other Score Sazi films and in you know 10 seconds you can drag them in and re-arrange them and boom! you’ve got you know 10 of your favorite 25 movies might be you know ‘Taxi driver’, ‘Good fellows” blah, blah, blah. So and we also add videos, we include images, we include metadata from this massive data set that we leverage. And you can add a video with just one click without having to do the embed code it just queries you to buy an API. So you can build a list of something that you are passionate about in you know 2-10 minutes depending on how much you know you want to talk about the items on the list and discuss them. So that’s the way that the site has, we launched Ranker in August of last year and it’s been driven data we haven’t done a big push on this yet, we haven’t said, you know, you haven’t seen us in tech crunch immersive because we have been iterating the interface the whole time broadening a lot of traffic frankly we are doing over a half a million monthly in it so it’s been taking off even without a big push from us. Now we have got that sort of the second pay off element that we are literally launching [knock on wood] this week but we want to make sure that all the bugs are out of the system before we launch it and that is the aggregation of list so you can join a community about you now the best albums of the year, the best movies of all time, the best sports cars, models ever, whatever it might be, and you can start off of their list. So you can say okay there is 50 items am seeing on the sports car list. I am going to grab the 10 that I like the most, re-rank those, and then when you submit your list you can actually see how your ranking stuck up to the communities. And you can really see these are my opinions am contributing to this, so to me that’s big pay off. It’s the ability to, I want to influence the wisdom of crowd rankings and I want to see how my opinions stuck up versus other people’s whether it’s one to one whether it’s the entire communities. And that’s you know that’s part of the reason we haven’t done a big push for Ranker yet because I think that’s the big, the big viral pay off is the ability to do that and we just been iterating on the technology.

Andrew: I think you said on your LinkedIn profile the, you loved creating viral products you said earlier in the interview that just about any, any site could be made viral]. How did you do it with Ranker? What did you do to make that viral?

Interviewee: Well so, so far you know the, sort of the initial beta stage it has been very viral the traffic has come more because people are creating, I see when we, you launch a platform you don’t know exactly what you are going to get until you see users using it out there and what we have been really exited to see is people making really you know unique, I mean somebody made a list of 15 sci-fi babes I’d most like to have most on my side in Vegas or something like that you know, unlike a list like that all over a sudden goes like viral on digg, on Facebook or social media because it is kind of granular and interesting you know it’s a little more unique than just your favorite albums of the year which are just you everybody’s got an opinion about, so we found people were using the platform in a very kind of compelling, sort of a blogging list format way. So that’s the initial viral traffic the next phase that we are going in to is really the aggregation of you know content. Joining a community list about the best movies of the year or the best horror films of the year whatever granular community is and then going out and you know giving this functionality to a blog let’s say that you have a blog of about digital cameras. We can actually give you a ranking platform on your blog that you can embed and have your community you know voting for their favorite light weight digital cameras or whatever Let the community vote within my blog post let them make the list of the best cameras.

Interviewee: Right like go to communities gathered around about a topic and give them a ranking platform because there really isn’t a ranking platform right now, there is a polling platform right, you see there all sorts kind of polldaddy and t multiple platforms, but a poll is multiple choice right, there is one to five options, [hello] I can’t figure, I can’t tell you my favorite album of the year in a one to five options thing.

Andrew: I am going to tell you, I want something like that for mixergy, I’ll tell you why. There are going to be people who are going to love listening to this interview, about an hour of worth of information, they are going to e-mail me and say I should have asked you even more questions and if we had gone to an hour and a half for two hours they would have loved it, especially the guys who are at gym, want something to entertain them the whole time they are in there and to keep them motivated. But there are lot of people who are saying Andrew, just give me the top points, give me the top ten points for this interview, I want read them quickly and I want to move on with my day. There is no platform for me to put in my site for that and that’s something I’ve thought of adding manually, that’s something I’ve thought of different ways to put in may be a wiki but wiki is not a appropriate, may be a pobe that not appropriate, we want people to just say, you are going to add mine and am going to vote other peoples post.

Interviewee: That’s exactly it and I will tell you why you haven’t been able to find that what you have been looking for, because it’s not easy to build, you know it’s really difficult to build a ranking platform that is also not vertical specific that you can open up to, you know you need data set etcetera,so that’s what we’ve spent, I mean I’ve spent the better part of two years building that platform and we’ve made a decision to hone it first on our own consumer site , because you know, you can get much quicker feedback that way, but the long term vision of rankers is not just to be a destination site it certainly be a distributed platform for rankings of anything and then our technology can aggregate those, you know to form those wisdom of crowds, you know community opinions and to me , I would love to know if, let’s say am just like, I’ve developed an interest in the civil war and I want to find out the best book on, you know an overview of the civil war. I want to know, I don’t want to know one person opinion, I want to know what, you know 150 people who have weighed in on that topic because the odds are that’s going to be a lot better than opinion and just an individuals.

Andrew: What happened to last few months, the traffic just shot up? I think it was Joseph Jackson in the audience and John Aksli in the audience who were talking about it earlier, thanks guys, What happened, why did it certainly take off around I think it was in April or so this year or May.

Interviewee: Well you know what’s funny it’s actually been a very steady growth, I mean we’ve gone from about a hundred thousand uniques to, you know we probably do about five hundred and fifty may be as much as six hundred thousand this month and you probably looking at the compete graph and you know how they would say that compete is intellectual not just directional. If you look at quant cast because we’ve actually got a tracking embedded in quant cast which is very accurate, it’s been a more steady growth period and it’s really just people were discovering ranker you know through social media and sharing and stuff and just you know make a list of there own and spreading it virally and it’s growing I mean , we also get it a descent amount of organic search traffic because we have a lot of content already, we’ve got you know hundreds of thousands of pages and you know it takes time for Google indexes to really kick in and so I would say you know about half that growth is from SEO.

Andrew: Tony Adams, what’s his role at the company? He is the guy who just people background, he used to work at yahoo doing SEO for them. He came here to mixergy to talk about search engine optimization, people love him in Los Angeles, he spoke at mixergy meet up, everybody loves him and his really good from what I understand in search engine optimization and social media and getting traffic from sites like digg. So how’s he helping you guys?

Interviewee: Well literally Tony just joined us as an advisor, I mean I’ve been friends with Tony for months, but we finally said “hey, let’s make this into something a little more formal”, so we just brought him onboard within the last month and so he is really just kind of giving, you know he’s got a full time gig, so he is not.

Andrew: He is at MySpace now?

Interviewee: Yes, he is at MySpace and it is, so it is really just advisory, he is just kind of looking at our overall, you know we’ve got a really deep-deep content site which you can make a lot of the wrong SEO choices just by not knowing all the nuance of how to do you internal page structure for example and so Tony has just been kind of taking a look at things and going “you know what , you probably didn’t optimize this well, it’s not really ready for spiders ” and certainly he is a real expert in the social media side of things so, you know we are talking about it , we need a better twitter strategy, which just have a lot of bandwidth for it , he is certainly you know we’ve had some, we’ve had some good traffic from digg you know things like that, he really knows, the key to social media is to be really current. And that guy is really current. He knows everything going on, on a dime happening in social media. And sometimes I don’t…

Andrew: What do you mean by current? To know what’s going on in, what the trending topics are and have a quick list prepared for that so that people can look at it and start spreading it? Is that what you mean? What do you mean by being current?

Interviewee: Not so much, just more like you know, just because things change so fast in social media and, you know if I was to hire somebody who did marketing for the internet two years ago they may not even really understand the new answers of how Twitter works and how there different decks on Twitter, you know, so the point is, things change so fast that you need somebody on board who is, and [Molly vendor] on our team is also, she’s you know, she’s a product manager who also wears a few other hats, and she’s also extremely current on the way the social media trends. Everything changes so fast that if somebody hasn’t been doing this hands on day to day for the last six months, you don’t know if they really are totally on top of it . So Tony Adams certainly has.

Andrew: So he showed you that he totally has by showing you how to potentially restructure the layout of your pages so that it’s easier to spider? What else did he do?

Interviewee: Well, we did a lot of stuff that he’s done, we haven’t, we haven’t been able to code yet. Because it’s just sitting in an engineering queue…

Andrew: Nice, but he’s got good advice. What kind of advice has he given you that you guys added to the engineering queue?

Interviewee: You know, here’s an example of something. We don’t, you know Ranker is mostly UGC so we never thought about submitting Ranker to Google news, because is it exactly, is it new? And Tony’s, one of the things that you know Tony said is “not everything on your site is news, but a certain amount of the, the list content being built on Ranker is news worthy. It’s timely and it is informative, you need to purge that and do a section of your site, and submit that section to Google as part of news of Google news because although they will not consider ranker to be a full news site, they will certainly consider that section to be a news site. So there Tony I hope I didn’t give away one of your ace in the whole, SEOs secrets there but we haven’t, you know we’re one code push away from having that page built, so we haven’t done that yet but it certainly is very __

Andrew: What would be on it? What kind of news would come out of Ranker.com?

Interviewee: Well just like at the top of my head I grew up on heavy metal and when Ronny James Deo passed away, a few weeks ago, I immediately was like I am putting together the list of the top ten Ronny James Deo album moments, you know and like that is news because it’s based on, its not news in the sense that you know I am covering the death of Ronny James Deo but I am doing an editorial piece with my opinions about, the metal god Ronny James Deo. His, his records and you know that’s the kind of thing that the Google does consider to be news because it’s timely.

Andrew: The ranking they will consider to be news? The ranking of the best musical moments of Deo?

Interviewee: They will consider to be news because he died right?

Andrew: I see. Right.

Interviewee: If that list had just been sitting on our site as many lists as there are of the blank of blank, that’s not so much news. But because Ronny James Deo you know passing away was big news, content, new content you know, it’s like a eulogy kind of thing. That’s considered to be news. So that’s, that was news to me. That the definition of news was news.

Andrew: Yeah right, who knew who knew? And imagine something else about him, that a lot of these techniques that he might give you, that Tony or someone else in SEO would give to you, they whisper to you. They wouldn’t want you talking too much about it here on Mixergy, they themselves wouldn’t want to talk about it too much, it’s interesting how…

Interviewee: I might not even have an advisor after this video is done. He might just be like Clarke you crossed the line there on __.

Andrew: No, he lapsed onto an entrepreneur who had a few hits, of course he loves it. You’ve given him shares in the business? You’ve given him options?

Interviewee: Advisors get shares.

Andrew: Yeah of course he loves it. First of most guys in SEO don’t know that much. This guy, he’s got a good career of working for MySpace and Yahoo so that gives him some credibility. Now to go to the next level on have shares in a business, that’s a whole lot, other stratosphere in SEO. You’ve given him tremendous credibility, he’s never going to walk away, he loves it.

Interviewee: I am being facetious but.

Andrew: I am not. I am being very serious. Alright, I think I went through all my questions here. I go through my top ten lists of questions, oh no, here’s one. Here’s one last question: tax purposes, why would you have to sell the business at the end of 2006 for tax purposes? Oh it was Jeez I forget all these specific details at the time but it was basically okay, we, we wanted to sell the business at the end of 2006 and I forget the exact reason but there was a tax reason but the key was we wanted to sell the business and have the wire transfer not hit until 2007 to thus avoid having to deal with the income on the 2006 tax returns that you will be preparing in April 2007

Andrew: So that’s like, that makes sense. You don’t want to, you don’t have to pay taxes in April that year if you can maybe wait a couple of days and pay the next April.

Interviewee: Exactly. But there was a reason why, so we had to bridge that gap because the government will look at it you know you can get away with it the funds going a day or two later but you cant get away with the funds going month or two later, so it was all about the timing.

Andrew: Okay actually no I don’t understand you do want the, you do want to record it in 2007 even tough you were closing the deal in 2006, right?

Interviewee: There was a, I forget the exact reason why we wanted the deal, the paper work of the deal to be closed. So, so the tax issue there was a deal closing paper work issue that what we wanted to get it done for 2006 I might even have been on hearst and I forget the details of it. But there was a, but the key was that we wanted the paper work of the deal to be in 2006 and the funds to be distributed in 2007 and so the only time you can get away with doing that is doing it right on the cusp of both.

Andrew: I see/

Interviewee: You know you get a couple of days leeway to get those funds and you know January 1st is a holiday so you get it on January 2nd kind of thing which is my birth day by the way and that was the best birthday present

Andrew: What’s the best part of having funds in the bank?

Interviewee: Just the freedom. You know I mean I would never I would have just go through a hell lot of fundraising to Rankers in ambitious idea you know the platform for ranking the universe is not one of these quick, two guys in a garage start ups and I would not have been able to it without the windfall from the eCRUSH investment I would have to go out and raise a lot of money which I could have done but that’s time consuming, you know and I like to just jump in you know, get started, build this thing show people when it’s built.

Andrew: That’s the answer that comes up all the time. I have started asking that question ever since I did an interview with, I think it was James Hong from hot or not I said I what was the best part of being a millionaire? And he said just freedom. Actually no even way back when I asked [Rosin Rezne] one of the first interviews I ever did, I said Roslin what is the best part of it? He said freedom, freedom comes up over and over and over again. I don’t think one person has said a car, I got a great car, freedom.

Interviewee: Yeah I used to drive in 2002 because I don’t like the idea of shopping around for new cars, am happy with my car, alright.

Andrew: In LA, are you a married guy?

Interviewee: I am a married guy

Andrew: Okay that’s why because in LA you got to have the right car. Its one of the things I learnt when I moved there.

Interviewee: It’s a luxury sedan but it’s an old luxury stuff. And they don’t make it anymore and I like it . And I hate shopping for cars.

Andrew: I hate too but single guys I think in LA need to have the nice cars, they are almost required. Depending on where you live if you live in Venus, you can have a nice bicycle. I have seen guys pickup girls with bicycles.

Interviewee: You are absolutely right. It is an indicator of status in LA and its not because I, neither of us probably wants into the big LA bashing thing here its not because LA is all these snobs blah, blah, blah its because you just need a car to get places and you know, we are in a car culture here in this city for better for worse.

Andrew: Yeah. I tried when I first moved to LA I tried for the, I tried to find all these schemes for not having a cars, I said, what if I just hired like a taxi to always be on call, that did not make any sense. What if I just rent a zip car when I need it whenever I need one, there is one down the street, that didn’t make any sense. Finally I had to buy a car. But if I rent a car __ worse. We’ll save that for another interview for now let me just say to everybody go over to Rank… Ranker.com R-A-N-K-E-R.com feel free to rank any part of this part of this interview feel free to rank the weirdest moments in my interviews, and send them over to me I want to see what you guys are ranking. Thank you guys for watching Clark thank you for doing the interview

Interviewee: Thank you very much Andrew.

Andrew: Bye.d

Sponsors I mentioned

99designs - The largest crowdsourced marketplace for graphic design. When I used them, I wrote a description of the design I needed and how much I wanted to pay. I got a bunch of designs back. I gave each designer feedback and picked the one I liked the best. Try them for Logo Design, blog design, app icons and more.

Grasshopper – Entrepreneurs (like me) love and use Grasshopper because it offers all the features of the big, expensive phone systems (like multiple extensions, music on hold and call forwarding) but it works with any phone and starts at only $9.95 a month.

PicClick – Is a 1-person startup from my friend Ryan in San Diego. His site gives you a visual way to search eBay, Etsy, and other sites. Try it this iPad accessories search, for example, and tell me what you think.

[Thank you Marc Luber for introducing me to Clark!]

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention The Viral Growth Of eCRUSH, And Launch of Ranker – with Clark Benson -- Topsy.com

  • http://www.viralfuture.com/ Viral Future

    wow, what a great idea for a site. wish I thought of it! Great Interview

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Yeah, really clever idea.

  • Viv

    Great site and huge number of lists, just about everything and even the latest and greatest! Especially liked the simplicity and quick creation of lists with the auto-suggest on any topic.

    Excellent Interview.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    The simpler, the better.

  • Viv

    Great site and huge number of lists, just about everything and even the latest and greatest! Especially liked the simplicity and quick creation of lists with the auto-suggest on any topic.

    Excellent Interview.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    The simpler, the better.

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