In this segment, Bambi Francisco interviewed Randy Adams, CEO and founder of SearchMe, a site that turns browsing the Web into the same experience as flipping through a magazine. In the first part of this two-part interview, Adams talks about the SearchMe product on the mobile device and why many of the three million monthly unique visitors on the SeachMe site on the Web are using the service for product searches. Adams said SearchMe needs to ramp searches to three million searches a day, up from several hundred thousand, to get to breakeven. One way to drive those searches is through its SearchMe toolbar downloads and distribution deals, which, along with SearchMe's current fundraising initiatives is what Adams and I discuss in the second part of our interview (to be released later this week).
Here's the first interview, partly edited.
BF: Congratulations on launching on the Nokia Ovi. What do you expect from that platform?
RA: I expect that there will be a tremendous amount of Nokia users who will use SearchMe to be a great way to search the Web. We're very visual and we deliver the search results much faster than if you had to click and open the Web pages. We are happy to bring the advantages of the mobile SearchMe platform to the Nokia platform as well. We have an iPhone platform, which also has many users as well.
BF: So it's when they get on iPhone platforms, it is just like flipping through pictures?
RA: Yes. When we deliver the search result, we deliver the pictures of the Web page in which people can expand and zoom in on. But they are not actually rendered in a browser, which would take a long time on a conventional mobile phone and even on a 3G phone which takes a long time to load in a browser. But with our app, you can see the pages because there are pictures of the pages with fewer bytes that we have to download which makes it quicker.
BF: Since your launch in April of 2008, what's happening at SearchMe in terms of traffic?
RA: We are seeing about three million unique users on a monthly basis, hundreds of thousands of searches a day, and in Q1, we've increased the number of searches organically by a factor of 200%. So we're seeing a fair amount of significant growth, in terms of our user base. As the word gets out, people like us, and they tend to like us. In some cases, we are the primary search engine and in other cases we're a visual search engine where people use us to do a visual kind of thing.
BF: So let's talk about why people are using SearchMe. As we talked about earlier, I am not going to type in an address for some restaurant to get directions or I'm not going to search for, 'What's the market opportunity for mobile phones?" SearchMe is not a place to do information or text-based searches.
RA: Well if you're looking for a child car seat for example, you might type in "car seat," and we will show you all the pictures of the Web pages that are offering child car seats for sale. You can actually flip through to read and see them and before you actually take a clip to the site, and wait for it to load, you actually know what you're going to get. But if you search on Yahoo or Google, you're going to get a list that will not always tell you what you're going to get.
BF: Are you optimizing your pages or search experiences for product searches?
RA: We're optimizing them to provide the most relevant results. So in the case of product searches, you'll find the most popular car seats in the market which are based on other people's relevance of the result. And we rank relevance through a number of machine learned algorithms.
BF: We certainly would like Vator to be the first to come up when we search entrepreneurship, so how do we become the number one result?
RA: The best way to ranked high in any search engine is to become very popular. So the sites that get the most number of views tend to be the highest. We use a link backs similar to Google. There are techniques to rank things. So if you have the meta data text to your site then you will rank very high.
BF: It's also if your site is very visual too.
RA: It's very visual. We also look for the visual nature of the site and the sites that are usually visually appealing tend to be more ranked higher.
BF: You mentioned that you're doing three million uniques, two hundred or three hundred searches a day. But you need three million searches a day to break even.
RA: We monetize through advertising in a way that is very similar to Google and Yahoo but it's different because we actually show pictures of the advertiser's Web pages so when people click on those pictures, they know a lot more about what that advertiser is selling and they are more likely to come through it. So depending upon the conversion rates and the bid prices, we estimate breakeven at certain levels but it's in the millions of searches a day.
BF: So to get to a million searches a day, you need to have a deal to get some distribution.
RA: One of the ways Google became successful is that they made a deal with Yahoo to power search for them and they built a brand based on that and they broke off and started doing their own search engine but by that time they had their own critical mass and solution to advertising to actually cover the cost. We're looking at those kinds of deals and I think that if you ever look at bigger sites with a lot of traffic, they do deals with Google and we are not looking for those kinds of deals but smaller deals and sites that want to share revenue with us and sites that might want an alternative to Google.
(Check back later this week for the second part of the interview with Adams)