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In Ross Kramer’s world, relevance dominates. In ecommerce, connecting with the right demographic at the right time, with the right message in the right place takes accuracy. It takes skill. And it takes know-how.
Kramer, the co-founder and CEO of the digital marketing company Listrak, has the benefit of creating and using analytics—the pathways to quantification by way of statistics and objective analysis. Listrak works to find meaningful patterns in data to predict, describe, and enhance marketing strategies. After all, when it comes to knowing what people want, one must understand complex psychologies of value, identity, and trust. The fundamental question, amid the ever-accelerating evolution of information, is always: what does a person want? Predicting human behavior is not easy.
Kramer is a compelling conversationalist. He’s confident, easygoing, and possesses an unguarded wellspring of anecdotes, challenges, stories, and fragments of humorous self-awareness. He highlights three things his company does really well. They innovate to stay relevant. They sell to stay alive. They take care of their customer. Consumer demand is always at the core. “At Listrak we help retailers compete against Amazon. They’re a giant,” he says openly. “We are solely focused on retail and we help retailers do better marketing.”
Growing up in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, he describes himself as an entrepreneurial type of guy. He had a paper route. He painted houses. He hung drywall. But he was really good at computers. In high school, when others were enjoying snow days and cancellations, he was establishing relationships with distributors like Ingram Micro. “I was in business in 1993, selling computers to teachers, neighbors, and people from church,” he recounts.
After high school Kramer went to Penn State to study Biology and become a doctor. “I thought I could just waltz up to State College and they would just hand me a degree in Biology. The teachers and the professors up there had a different idea,” he says, laughing. “So I got straight Ds my first semester.” He graduated with a degree in Health Policy and Administration. Then, in 1995, his junior year in college, Ross and his father, Howard, took all the money they’d made from computer sales and building websites and they bought a couple of servers and got into web hosting. (Howard Kramer, was in the construction business, later moved to a career in banking, and now currently serves as the co-founder and COO. A heavily decorated Vietnam veteran, Howard served with the US Army’s 9th infantry division.) The day after he graduated, he went to Philadelphia to talk to one of his clients—Movies Unlimited, a site for collectors of cult classics. “In 1995, Amazon.com wasn’t selling movies and there wasn’t Netflix, and you couldn’t rent their top sellers at Blockbuster,” he says. By 1999 they wanted us to build them an email blaster. “This was in the days where it was like get your commercial email the hell out of my inbox. Amazon was one of the first to send them.” The first version of Listrak was built in 1999.
“Our first office had no bathroom,” he says. “It’s a real humble beginning.” With two hundred and fifteen employees spanning two local offices and a third in California, Listrak is a fast growing business. Kramer plans to build a 100,000 square-foot office, in Lititz, to house up to six hundred employees. “In the early days it was really rough,” he says. “I’ve been blessed beyond imagination.” With more than nine hundred clients, Listrak continues to transform retail.
When he’s not at work, Kramer enjoys spending time with his wife and son and daughter. “The world is crazy. It’s going to continue to be crazy. My parents grew up in a world where you got drafted and you had to go to war, whether you wanted to or not. I don’t think my kids are going to grow up in that kind of world,” he says. What does he want? He wants his kids to grow up and work hard, to have good social skills, and to be happy. In his world of ecommerce and online retail, learning what Generation Z, or Centennials, want might just be his latest project. Rumor has it that they’ve got about $44 billion in purchasing power—and that’s not just relevant, it’s the key to growth.