The number one cliché about the Austrian capital runs under the name of Gemütlichkeit, that’s English for coziness and is associated with Vienna’s long-standing coffeehouse tradition. No wonder the two Austrian entrepreneurs behind the new search engine Blippex first met in person over coffee, at the Viennese central Café Ritter, along with some local politicians. But ironically, keeping the tradition was the last thing on their mind.
In the election year 2008, top-bloggers Max Kossatz (43) and Gerald Bäck (41) joined forces for a social hack. Since they were both interested in the agenda of the Austrian Green Party, they established an online platform where users could suggest candidates and vote for them. The goal was to ensure that nobody would be selected from a closed circle of participants like in previous years. “So we basically messed it up for the Greens,“ says Max. “Then they messed it up for us by rejecting our candidates,“ says Gerald. But the two created an alternative and that seems to be the driving force behind all their actions.
Max showing off with his first computer Photo credit: BlippexPrivacy, transparency and real-time results
Their newest alternative is called Blippex and is meant to change the status quo in terms of online searching. The main assets of this search engine launched this year in June are DuckDuckGo-like privacy and a whole new algorithm called DwellRank, which ranks the results based on the time people spend on a website. “We have noticed that there is no innovation taking place in the online search department because everyone is copying Google,“ says Gerald. And Max explains Blippex for dummies: “If you search Obama on Google, you’ll get the Wikipedia page about him, his personal page, the White House page also. If you search Obama on Blippex, you’ll get news about Obama that people have read most in the last days.“ So Blippex is all about real-time results – an area that Google doesn’t cover well because of its page rank system.
With Blippex’s motto “Let’s make search human again“, Max and Gerald capitalise heavily on the PRISM scandal but they also offer complete transparency around their tool: the code is open source and they are releasing periodically the dump of their database. Even the search algorithm will be released shortly. As for privacy, Max and Gerald made sure that they don’t know anything by which they could identify their users. The main metric of their algorithm is the number of searches perday, which ranges between 70.000 and 80.000. “It took DuckDuckGo two years to reach this number and we did it in six weeks,“ Max says proudly.
A look back at archify
Before the duo could go ahead and focus on Blippex, though, they were faced with the decision of how to handle archify, their initial startup product. archify was launched in November 2012, and was a personalised online archive that took screenshots of every visited website, enabling users to search their browser, Gmail and every IMAP-able mail server and to look into statistics about their online behaviour. The past tense in the last sentence is not a mistake. Earlier this year, the team weighed their options and decided to shut down their original product in favour of Blippex.
The main ingredient in this startup duo’s recipe for success seems to be the mutual understanding. “After about ten minutes of talk we decided to close down archify and engage full-time in Blippex,“ remembers Gerald. It also took them merely two weeks to develop its name, design, software, plug-ins, android app and API.
Gerald monitoring the media Photo credit: Blippex“We had to decide what to focus on: archify – a steady but slow-growing service, or Blippex, whose traction is far beyond our expectations,” says Gerald.
Before the team closed it down, archify was not yet set up for revenues, and naturally, it was going to cost them to keep it running. “As a startup you always have to take care about your limited resources and that’s why we decided to make this tough call,” says Gerald.
Still, the startup duo cannot complain from lacking outside financial support. In 2012, they received an investment from Balderton Capital worth 500.000 euros, which their current company egoArchive.com GmbH – a subsidiary of the original archify GmbH, will further use to develop Blippex.
Where minds meet
Looking back on Max‘s and Gerald’s teamwork, one can find several other instant brain connections that resulted in actions with social impact. Like their online campaign from 2009, called Holiday with friends, meant to support the establishment of a refugee camp in Carinthia. “While barbequing at Max’s place, we talked about how local politicians opposed setting up a refugee camp for fear that it would scare off tourists,“ remembers Gerald. The next day they launched an online campaign inviting people to guarantee that they would spend their holidays in whatever town agreed to host a refugee camp. 2.000 people subscribed but the politicians were not impressed.
“Politicians don‘t get the internet yet,“ says Max. The former Visual Arts student was into computers ever since he was 10 and fondly remembers the first internet connection at the Vienna University of Technology in 1989. In his 20s, he ran an internet service provider for artists in Vienna and New York, and later became CEO of an internet agency. In 2004, he co-founded a company called DKS for online product research and analysis, which he eventually left in order to set up аrchify. The fact that he didn’t study technology “was never an issue,“ says Max. He was always employed or self-employed in this field.
Gerald on the other hand studied Computer Science at the University of Applied Science in St. Pölten. He started his own media monitoring company Public Webwatch in 2000 and three years later, he took over a customer’s company called Media Doc after it went bankrupt. In 2010, he sold the two companies because he “did it for 10 years and itgot boring.”
Expanding in Berlin
Starting archify GmbH together with Max was a welcomed challenge for Gerald because “initially we didn’t know anything about startups,” he confesses. So the two entrepreneurs traded the Viennese coziness for a bootcamp in Copenhagen in order to set up their business and later moved to Berlin. Together with their international team of seven people from Portugal, the US, Romania, Ukraine and Germany, Max and Gerald are trying to further develop the algorithm of Blippex and get money to keep it running. But most of all, as they say, they “wanted to contribute to the discussion about what search is” and are anxious to see where their Blippex experiment leads them. One thing’s for sure: cozy it shall not be.