How This 19-Year-Old Is Taking On Google

greplin daniel gross founder


Where might you want to search that Google can’t reach?  The social slice of the Web, plus everything that an individual has password-protected hovering in the cloud, has been largely off-limits to traditional search engines.Well, until an Israeli high-school graduate took a hiatus from Army duty to spend three months at Y Combinator, bombed on a few projects, and then struck gold in his last 48 hours at the start-up incubator.

Daniel Gross, along with co-founder Robby Walker, 27, created Greplin, a user-authorised search that can access Facebook, Twitter, Google Documents, Salesforce, and more. The site launched in late February.’s Christine Lagorio spoke with Gross, age 19, about his struggles, raising nearly $5 million in investment after just six months at work, and his unique lack of college experience.

Here’s how a 19-year-old is taking on Google >>

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San Francisco

'I had this very long list of things I thought would be cool. Greplin was always near the top. But my mistake at Y Combinator was not listening to my own intuition enough. There's the line 'Wouldn't it be cool if this thing existed?' but those aren't often good ideas, because you're not the ideal user.

'It's also very hard to make a product when you're not the target audience. Because you have to make decisions along the way, and unless you would be the target user, you're going to make the wrong decisions. Understanding that fact was my 'a-ha' moment. Greplin was the one project idea I had for which I was the target audience.'

Hipmunk Inc.

Did you ever have to slow down and think: Wait, what am I doing?

'Well, once, and it was wise. More or less, we had some money in the bank and we launched the product. But we had this weird problem where we didn't know so many people would use it. I mean, a lot did. Somehow the code I'd written at 4 a.m. trying to get onto stage didn't scale very well. (Laughter.)

'At that point you can either monkey-patch everything, or you can start from scratch. We chose to do the latter. So we spent September through last month reworking it all.'

And you just launched the site officially last week?

'Yeah, we raised $4 million from Sequoia in December, and kept programming, and then just launched the site, and we're trying to keep it growing since.'

You say you're not trying to compete with Google, but what you've created seems a lot like Google for social media and cloud-computing. What portion of your data lives, personally, is in the cloud?

'I had this realisation a few days ago when I thought I lost my laptop.

'Then I realised I don't think I have a single piece of information that's solely on my laptop. I think I'm indicative of a future generation.'

'I think what I was trying to say is that if you look at a product like this, it's useful. There's a need. And the question is why hasn't someone built it already?

'The answer is that Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., they're not able to get access to the data other than your own. Google and Apple compete. They're not sharing data anytime soon. We're Switzerland, because any company creating a product like this cannot be biased to any product over another.'

Do you think you'll go to college eventually?

'The way it works in Israel, you're supposed to go into the Army first, and they have a computer science division, I would have done that.

'But regardless of how successful Greplin is, say, even if we go public someday, my parents won't be satisfied unless I get a degree. They won't speak to me. But, really, I've been completely focused on the company, and haven't given it too much thought.'

Did you always intend to become an entrepreneur?

'I was always fascinated by the greater speed start-ups function at versus larger corporations.

'It was always something I wanted to do--the unexpected thing was how quickly that happened. I thought I'd go to the Army, develop relationships with intelligent guys, and then three years later maybe start something.'

How does your life and work now compare to what you see yourself doing in five years?

'It'd be really great for me personally if we were able to keep growing Greplin in the next five years.

'If we can create something that's a household name and that people use every day, that's a dream.'

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