Jul 14, 2022 - Economy

You.com raises $25 million to challenge Google's search dominance

Illustration of a search bar being illuminated by a spotlight.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

"Why won't Google just build that?"

  • That question has been posed to entrepreneurs by venture capitalists so often that it's become a cliché. But not when asked of Richard Socher, the former Salesforce chief scientist who founded a web search startup called You.com.

Driving the news: You.com today is announcing $25 million in Series A funding led by Radical Ventures.

  • This follows a $20 million seed round last fall led by Marc Benioff's Time Ventures. Other backers in the new deal include Breyer Capital, Norwest Venture Partners and Day One Ventures.

How it works: You.com, a domain that somehow was never before used by a business, looks a lot like Google at first blush. Sparse page with a giant search bar.

  • Its results, however, are organized differently and can be personalized by adding apps in areas like news (Axios is in there) or code (Stack Overflow, etc.).
  • You.com also doesn't currently have any ads, although Socher says it may eventually follow the DuckDuckGo model of "private ads" whereby the advertiser doesn't learn anything about users and can't follow them around the web.
  • Another monetization option could be with premium apps or other services. Particularly for developers — what Socher calls "professional searchers" — with You.com features including an AI code completion function and GitHub results.

OK, so back to that question: If You.com gets major traction, why won't Google just take its best features and crush it?

Socher acknowledges pushing against a boulder, but believes the search giant is vulnerable. And not just among privacy-conscious developers.

  • First, he believes Google has gotten too big to move quickly.
  • Second, there could be new government regulations and/or antitrust action. He's already been interviewed by the Justice Department, expects the EU's "choice screen" rule will provide tailwinds and argues there even would be indirect benefits to a high-level breakup of the "privacy invasion outside of search."
  • One thing he's sure to have told DOJ is that Chrome has subtle ways of redirecting users back to Google search as their default, even after they've installed a rival search extension like You.com.
  • Finally, he says Google itself proved the value of an open platform when it bought and built out Android, to compete with Apple's dominant iPhone ecosystem.

The bottom line: You.com is a highest degree of difficulty startup with vast reward potential. Or, as Google might put it, a moonshot.

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