Kosmix.com, a new age search engine, has been dubbed as a Google challenger by the media, a description much disliked by its Indian founders, though. The three month old website allows it users to explore the web for a topic by presenting information in the form of relevent videos, photos, news, commentary, opinion, communities related to the topic.
Kosmix’s founders Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan, both graduates of IIT Madras and PhDs from Stanford University, like to call it ‘explore engine’. They also recently launched MeeHive, a site which organises news based on your favourite topics. And they will depend on contextual advertising revenues much the same way Google does.
Rajaraman and Harinarayan are experienced entrepreneurs. In 1996, they launched Junglee, a comparison shopping site which was sold two years later to Amazon for over $250 million. In 2000, the two started a venture capital firm – Cambrian Ventures. Their latest venture was RightHealth.com, which became the No.2 health website in the US in 2007. VCCircle speaks to Anand Rajaraman, the co-founder, on why they have launched Kosmix.
Could you explain the business model of Kosmix?
The business model is fairly straight forward – its advertising driven. On Kosmix, people enter topics like diabetes or the name of a destination or a car- something really targeted that they are doing research on – and then we show advertising that is targeted to the key words that they enter. So it’s very straight forward and it’s a model that has been proven by Google. It’s a very lucrative revenue model. Advertising is the only source of Revenue.
How is Kosmix different from the other search engines like Google and Yahoo?
We don’t think of Kosmix as a search engine at all. We think of it as a new category that we call an ‘explore engine’. Search engines are really useful when there is a specific piece of information that you are looking for- like a website or a schedule. But on the other hand sometimes we have a topic that we just want to learn a lot about- you are not just looking for a specific piece of information. For example, if you have seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire and you want to know all about Freida Pinto. Or may be you are traveling to the Caribbean on a vacation and you want to learn about that or may be you are searching for a model of a car that you are planning to buy. So in all these cases, on internet you cannot find a single website.
Google and all is very good when you are looking for a specific website. The goal is to learn as much as possible about a topic- not just all the facts but also what are people talking about this and what are the opinions, is there any multimedia information like if somebody has made videos about it. So that is what we try to do – to organise all the information on a topic and make it easy to explore it.
How did you conceive the idea?
There is a lot of information on the web, yet there is no great to way to organise the information and explore it in an easy way. There is actually no tool to do that and we saw that as a big need in the market.
You launched the website during a slow down? What is the whole idea and why did you choose to launch during a downturn?
I have been in this business for a long time – since 1998 and have been through downturns in the past. In general, I think there is a consumer need for what we are launching and ours is a product that is targeted at the consumers using the technology to find information that will make a difference in their lives. So information is valuable for consumers at any time, downturn or not – doesn’t really matter. And our product is not something that consumers need to pay for, it’s a free product. It’s an observation, having been through the dotcom bust in 2001-2002. Downturn is actually not a bad time, its actually a good time to build a company because you have fewer distractions – its not like 10 other people trying to do something similar to what you are doing. It’s very easy to motivate and retain employees. So, there are a lot of positives of doing a business during the downturn.
How much money have you raised so far?
We have raised a total of $55 million in financing. The most recent round of funding that we just announced in December 2008 was led by Time Warner. Prior to that, we also raised venture capital from a bunch of VC firms including Lightspeed, Accel and DAG Ventures. The December funding is the fourth round, in which we raised $20 million.
By when do you think would you be raising your next round of funding?
We have raised a significant amount of funding and most of that is still in the bank. And we are already making double digits in millions in revenues and we’ll be profitable in a reasonable time so I don’t see any reason for raising any more rounds of funding.
Is Kosmix revenue positive? What kind of hits does the site get?
We are revenue positive but we are not profitable yet. I can’t disclose the numbers but the revenues are in double digit million dollars. We expect to get profitable by early next year, ie., by 2010. We get about 15 million visits a months.
What kind of growth are you expecting in your revenues by the end of this year?
Pretty robust growth. Basically all our revenues come today from our RightHealth property that we launched over a year back. It does basically what Kosmix does but restricted only to the health area. Now we are expanding from health to everything else.
How big is the Kosmix team? Are you also looking at increasing your headcount?
We are currently a team of 65 people. We are looking to hire some really good super star kind of people but we are not looking to generally grow the team for the sake of growing the team.
Could you also tell us more about MeeHive?
The idea is similar to Kosmix, which is an editor for a topic. If you enter a topic it will put together a page for that topic. We worked with the same technology that we used for Kosmix and applied it to news. The idea is that there is a whole bunch of topics that we all care about and on a daily basis you want to know what is new in those topics. So we took the same editor technology and we are applying it to news. So you can think of it as a personal news paper editor for you. That’s what MeeHive is. It was launched in March.
Kosmix has been dubbed by media as a challenger to Google. How do you view this opionion?
I personally don’t think that Kosmix is a challenge to Google. I think the two value propositions are very different. Google is about finding a piece of information on a website really quickly. Kosmix is about exploring a topic. So these two are really two different things. People have mistakenly thought that we are trying to challenge Google or something like that. And every opportunity that we get, we tell people that this is not the case. I think people are just looking to write sensational stories.
How are you expanding?
The biggest expansion that we are doing right now is on our user base. It’s mainly happening through word of mouth. People use our product and tell their friends about it and we are growing that way.