Google is great and all, but it has some limitations, when you stop to think about it.
It’s fabulous at searching the whole web at once — there’s nobody better at trawling humankind’s vast combined storehouse of knowledge to quickly tell you how to make a hamburger.
But it’s less great at searching within any individual website or app. Sure, you can use Google to search within a site, but really it’s just going back out to Google’s master index, and then back to you.
It’s slower than it has to be, and it’s not really applicable to searching inside, say, your own text messages on your own phone.
Enter Algolia, a San Francisco-based startup that gives developers and businesses the tools to build their own search experience, their own way, for their own sites and apps.
So far, Algolia has raised $21 million from investors including Accel Partners, the Y Combinator and 500 Startups accelerator programs, and Docker founder Solomon Hykes. And customers like Medium, Twitter’s Periscope, and Microsoft’s soon-to-be-discarded calendar app Sunrise are using Algolia’s tech to power search in their own services.
Today, Algolia announces that Kendall Collins, the former CEO of Salesforce Cloud and current CMO of $1.9 billion startup AppDynamics, has signed on to its board to guide the company towards the future and help bring the product to bigger businesses.
Google casts a long shadow over the world of search, it’s true. But Algolia cofounder and CEO Nicolas Dessaigne says that there are lots of reasons why developers crave the ability to build their own search tech.
“Increasingly, people want building blocks,” not a total prepackaged solution, says Collins. He likens it to hot Silicon Valley startups Stripe and Twilio, which provide access to payment and phone services, respectively.
For starters, even if you’re using Google’s own Site Search tool to let people search your own website, you’re not seeing any of Google’s data on which links they’re clicking, or how they’re finding those links. It means a developer can’t get insight into how their customers are moving through their site.
“That information is critical to running a good business,” Dessaigne says.
Furthermore, you can’t exactly embed Google within a mobile app. If you’re building the next big shopping app for the iPhone, you can’t just drop a Google search bar in there for your customers to look for products.
But search is “really intensive,” Dessaigne says. If you don’t have Google time, Google money, and Google resources, you’re not going to build a search feature that works half as well as Google, even if you decide to build your own.
This is Algolia’s sweet spot: Providing an easy way for developers to build a smarter search straight into their apps and customising it to their whim, letting Algolia itself handle the hard part of making it all hum. Your app gets a better, smarter search that helps customers find what they want, and Algolia gets paid.
The Algolia service is hosted out of 36 global data centres, so it’s kept highly reliable. Plus, customers get all of that critical data to help run their businesses. Collins praises both the speed and relaibility of the service, as well as the fact that Algolia built their tech from the ground up.
A major side benefit of this approach, Dessaigne says, is that customers can do funky things with search once they’re given access to Algolia’s underpinning engine.
For instance, Twitter’s Periscope live video app uses Algolia to make a real-time map of its broadcasters’ locations, Dessaigne says. All you see is a map, no search bar in sight, but Algolia is cruising Periscope’s data behind the scenes.
Otherwise, Algolia is used by “one of the top five enterprise software companies and one of the top five retailers,” says Dessaigne. Going forward, the company wants to launch Google-style personalised search, which has clear applications to online customers.
Behind the scenes, Algolia knows that it can’t out-Google Google, having 50 employees — considerably fewer than the search giant’s 50,000-some-odd. So instead, it’s just focusing on making its core search features as good as it possibly can, while making sure developers are happy with the Algolia service.
“You want to be loved by developers,” Dessaigne says. “It’s all about focus.”