Rant Wants To Raise More Money To Take On Vox, BuzzFeed

Brett Rosin CEO RantWhen Rant Inc. founder Brett Rosin created RantSports.com out of 150 sports blogs he pulled into one centralized hub, it became the foundation of what would soon turn into a massive portfolio of properties.

Rant, founded in 2010, is no longer just RantSports. The media company now includes RantChic (fashion), RantStore (ecommerce), RantFinance and RantPolitical among 15 subject areas.

While recommendation services like Outbrain and Taboola propelled Rant’s early growth, its 25 employees closed out 2014 with 20.9 million unique visitors according to comScore, a nearly 50% increase from the month before, which Rosin attributes to the company’s increased push into social networks like Facebook. Rant used tools like Facebook’s retargeting to drive audiences to relevant content, Rosin said.

Rant still buys from Outbrain and Taboola, but it wants to bring those users back organically, Rosin said. So far, it’s working: Return visits increased to 6.6 visits per user in December, according to comScore figures.

There’s a reason Rant is doubling down on driving audience. Rosin wants to graduate from the minor leagues to the major leagues. In July, the company raised $4 million on a $54 million valuation. That’s far less than companies like Vox Media ($100 million with a $420 million valuation) and BuzzFeed ($96 million with a current valuation near $1 billion) – but not too far from what other fast-growing upstarts like Upworthy ($12 million) and Elite Daily ($1.5 million) have raised.

“We’re sneaking up on everyone, and we like it like that, but we think it’s time for the market to take a look,” Rosin said.

In January, the company launched BrandRant, a native advertising program, adding to a monetization strategy that previously revolved around working with ad networks and programmatic platforms. As such, Rant is hiring a sales force.

Rosin shared his 2015 plans for Rant with AdExchanger.

ADEXCHANGER: What would you say has been the biggest driver of your growth?

BRETT ROSIN: If the content is not quality, [audiences are] going to leave and not come back. What we do differently is force you as a reader to have an opinion. We try to drive arguments.

What old media doesn’t do well is wrap an opinion around a story. For the normal reader nowadays, a story is not enough for them.

You’re not as well-funded as Vox or BuzzFeed. How do you compete?

We’re really close in visits per UV [unique visitor] to BuzzFeed, and just passed Upworthy, according to December comScore figures. Our organic audience is continuously growing. That audience is coming back at a higher rate – That’s what separates us from these major publishers, especially when you look at the funding.

We’re still in negotiations. We’re looking at raising a massive Series C, starting to get into the premium side of the game. With a sizable capital round, that allows us to catch up quickly.

What kind of feedback are you getting from investors?

They were impressed we were able to show the growth we’ve had over the past six to 12 months, and that we’ve been able to monetize all of that.

We’re looking long-term, big-scale in terms of getting into technology and social and data and monetization tools, and I think that can potentially overwhelm some funds. They think we’re doing too much. But we’ve had very good execution because we’ve never had the dollars before to waste money.

How did you scale into different verticals after your initial success with RantSports?

We saw lots of success around the pop culture of sports, so we said, “Let’s get out to market with men and women’s lifestyles.” They took off far beyond what we anticipated.

RantLifestyle and RantChic have only been around for a year, and the other properties [Movies, Cars, Games, Gizmo, Dating, Pets, Food, Beats, Finance, Places, Political, Girls and Store] have only been around for months. There’s so much room to grow and get better.

We’re looking to raise a sizeable Series C, and it will lead to greater numbers and users. We’re very pleased with how things have gone in the past six to eight weeks in particular.

What happened in the past six to eight weeks?

Our social footprint. We are very behind Upworthy and Elite Daily and Vox in our social footprint, and [we focused on] using Facebook’s tools without spending too much money. We’ve seen a lot of success there already. We allocate some budget to boost things and do what BuzzFeed and some of these other companies have been doing all along. Spending based on the quality of the content and retargeting users.

What role have content recommendation engines played in your growth?

There’s a science to the ROI of using content recommendation engines, and that’s something we figured out much earlier than everyone else: the CPC game. We have internal tools to determine ROIs to increase viewability with users. Those are internal and we want to keep them close to the vest.

We have good relationships with both Outbrain and Taboola. We’ve been able to build a much more organic audience using their tools. Those readers are starting to like us and share their content more on social media.

As your traffic increases, is it coming from different places?

As we’ve grown, we’ve seen a decrease in [share of traffic coming from] content recommendation systems, and increases in organic and social, which has turned more mobile for us.

For content recommendation engines, brands are in there more, there are more publishers out there, so you’re not able to unlock volume at the same rates in the past.

Your monetization focus is BrandRant, your native advertising solution.

We’ve see a ton of success with BrandRant with a couple of different campaigns. When you can say you’ve driven 750,000 people to the content, and 10% CTR on top of that, that’s taking viewability to whole different levels.

That a .05% CTR is a successful [display] campaign is a complete joke, and viewability is a complete joke depending on where the ad is. We’ve been able to drive hundreds of thousands of users to branded content that doesn’t seem like branded content, but the whole page is paid for by the brand.

How are you pricing native?

We want to make sure the advertiser is getting that amazing ROI. We’ve heard a lot of rumors about the high prices Vox and BuzzFeed charge, and that’s not what we’re trying to do. We want to build established, long-term relationships with advertisers, and given them ROIs without killing the user experience.

We have content, display, skins, pre-roll.

What’s the future of content on Rant?

Breaking stories. BuzzFeed and Vox are amazing companies – doing a good job disrupting a market thriving and thirsting for something different.

You can allocate those dollars to getting more audience and established journalists and editors who can break stories, and that’s where we lack. We don’t have the appropriate capital.

As we start to expand into data and technology plays, we are looking to be a hybrid tech company centered around digital. There are a lot of things we’re in the process of doing that still are not in market yet.

What role will mobile and video play for you in 2015?

We’ve been very desktop-focused, and have been trying to get every cent of that. Mobile is still very difficult to monetize. We just had our first month ever we did more from mobile and desktop, 55% mobile to 45% desktop.

Video is a focus for us, we’re looking to do distribution deals with video companies. It comes down to having the dollars, which we’ve never really had.

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