July 15, 2008 by Jay Bhatti
Thedeal.com recently interviewed Jay Bhatti.
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Jay Bhatti is not afraid to say the “G” word. In fact, Bhatti, co-founder of people search engine Spock Networks Inc., goes out of his way to compare his company to Google Inc. [GOOG], perhaps with the hope that his company will someday be able to capture a small but lucrative piece of the search market.
“People searches are a very huge category, but it’s extremely fragmented. It’s like what search was like before Google came out,” Bhatti says. “What we want to do is more sophisticated, which is finding Web pages about people, excluding the other things and just concentrating on people.”
But Spock goes beyond just people search. It also combines a social networking function that personalizes search results to include information about friends and colleagues and where they might be on the Web. And in the vein of Wikipedia, it allows users to add or modify information that Spock finds about them on the Internet to ensure accuracy.
“We expected it to be popular, but we didn’t know what aspect would be popular,” Bhatti says. “We found people were interested in the people they cared about and the news about what those people are doing.”
Spock has raised $8.5 million in capital, including a $7 million first round of funding in December 2006 from Clearstone Venture Partners and Opus Capital Ventures, but Bhatti says he’s ready to put out “feelers to investors” in the next few weeks.
“If we really want to go after Google, we need to invest in the $10 million to $15 million range and hire three or four `rock star’ engineers,” Bhatti says.
When asked about the key challenges facing Spock, Bhatti says hiring talent tops the list.
“It’s a challenge most other startups face, hiring great people because there are just so few of them out there,” he says. “And we’re very picky, and we have to be picky because search is a very capital-intensive behavior. We’re trying to assemble a top-notch team.”
But Spock also must find a way to monetize its search results. Though the company has not disclosed how it will make money, Bhatti said within the next few months search results will have rich, contextual advertisements along with banner ads. He said it expects to have a lead generation revenue model “down the road.”
Bhatti also has to make some decisions down the road regarding whether Spock will need to team up with a larger company or continue to go at it alone. Bhatti said he could envision Spock as part of a larger search engine, with users clicking on a tab to conduct a people search. He says the company also could succeed as a standalone if it can get even a small percentage of the overall search business, considering every 1% of the search market is worth $3 billion.
“Thirty percent of Web search is people search, whether people are searching for celebrities or people they know,” he says. “Even if you capture 1% or 2%, you are a highly valuable company.” - David Shabelman