Keep Laughing; Cuil Isn't Quitting Yet

Cuil CEO Tom Costello

A year ago a small team of former Google engineers came together and, with funding, built a search engine.  They called the company Cuil.

Tour Cuil’s Menlo Park office →

Soon, the hype-happy tech press labelled the startup as the “Google-killer.”

But as quick as the hype around the $33 million venture-backed company began, it just as quickly turned sour.

On launch day so many users came to see the new search engine, that they crashed Cuil’s servers throughout the week. Even when it was working, people weren’t satisfied with search results.

And everyone hated the name.

One year later, we visited Cuil to see how the laughing-stock survives to keep on fighting.

What we found was small startup of 25 employees trying to scour the Internet faster, cheaper, and more comprehensively than Google. Cuil now claims to have the largest search index in the world — over seven petabytes of information.

We found that hard to believe. But walk through of their operations side of their office in Menlo Park, California and all you can see is the massive scale of walls of servers stuffed with hard disks.

Cuil says it puts all that data to use by presenting users with search results that are both typical and atypical. Rather than just returning the most popular websites that are linked to by other sites, they mix it up by showing webpages that aren’t as polished or optimised but still have relevant information.

Cuil CEO Tom Costello’s analogy is that Google or Bing are the airport bookstores stocking only the New York Times bestsellers while he’s working on making Cuil the neighbourhood store stocking the hard to find antique and offbeat books.

We’ll be honest: the search results still need improving and if Cuil is ever going to make it as a business, it needs to drastically grow its userbase. In September it attracted 73,000 US unique visitors according to Compete — down from 400,000 in September 2008.

Tom knows it and he’s looking to add players to the team who can help. With $33 million in funding from Greylock in the bank, Cuil continues to add to its team slowly, interviewing older candidates that are often overlooked in the Logan’s Run environments of Facebook and Web 2.0 startups.

Look into Cuil’s Menlo Park office →

Cuil is currently headquartered in Menlo Park, in an building once occupied by tshirt company Zazzle.

The company has a staff of 25, a team of entirely engineers.

The company has a staff of 25, a team of entirely engineers.

The team is very close knit and maintains a garage culture.

The team is very close knit and maintains a garage culture.

The building's previous tenants, a Star Wars game developer, left behind their posters

Their local data centre holds 7 petabytes of data. Heating is a big issue.

The company keeps a bucket of worms to decompose leftover lunch.

A haven for network administrations and server infrastructure geeks.

The company works with petabytes worth of data and build custom server racks.

Pallets of used hard disks from past upgrades, each box contains thirteen 200 Gb disks, sit waiting.

A side project involves setting up solar panels for redundant backup power.

Server cabinets that have been built but not yet deployed.

Cuil gets about five complaints a day from webmasters worldwide

They order in food or grill outside when weather permits.

A book club is set up by the employees. Selection vary from American history to fiction.

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