Downtime can prove enormously productive. Just ask John McIntyre. While working as a trader at the Chicago Board Options Exchange in the 1990s, McIntyre would lug scores of newspapers to the trading floor and sate his appetite for political news during the sluggish hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. When trading shifted to computers, McIntyre began surfing the Web for his news fix and saw an obvious opportunity. "It really wasn't any more complicated than there should be a place online that pulled together all this quality information," he says.
McIntyre found a newsgathering, political-junkie soul mate in former advertising executive Tom Bevan. The two, who were classmates at Princeton but never met during school, put $200,000 together, learned how to host a website, and launched RealClearPolitics.com in Chicago in early 2000. The site, with its characteristic brick red and gray design, is a rigorously updated compendium of links to the day's smartest and most important political news stories, commentaries, blogs, videos, and polls.
Politics junkies also come looking for the RealClearPolitics Poll Averages, which boast a strong track record of accurately predicting election outcomes. In 2004, the RCP polls had every state in the Electoral College correct except for Wisconsin, where President Bush lost by less than 0.1 percent. The polls, often quoted by the media, also give the site plenty of free exposure. Apart from a few thousand dollars spent on marketing in 2000, RealClearPolitics has relied on the communicative strength of its users, often bloggers and journalists with a significant audience like the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes and National Journal's Charlie Cook, to become a go-to news source. Conservative talk-show host and blogger Hugh Hewitt says he heads to the site at least twice a day. "I can't imagine being a broadcast journalist and not doing so," Hewitt says.
Surprise. The site now boasts more than a million unique users a month, an audience that has grown steadily over time, with obvious spikes during election cycles and major events like 9/11. While the founders assumed they'd eventually build a sizable audience when they launched, "I didn't perceive when we first started that it would become as big a site as it has become," Bevan says. McIntyre worked full time on the site in 2000, but finances forced him to begin trading on the side less than a year later.
Seven years into their online venture—now with a staff of about 20—the founders are expanding into other areas with the newly launched RealClearSports.com and RealClearMarkets.com sites. McIntyre and Bevan, both 38, still are active in choosing, and often creating, the site's editorial content. But they're no longer its majority owners. Forbes Media bought a 51 percent stake in the site in November. They're still getting up between 3:30 and 4 a.m., however, to begin scouring for the day's best stories. Predawn hours and all, Bevan says, "we're lucky enough to be able to do what we love."