Web searching gets personal for Israeli teen

Sharon Udasin, Web searching gets personal for Israeli teen, The Jerusalem Post, 28 March 2011

In an attempt to organize the Web experience on a whole new level, 19-year-old Daniel Gross and his $4.7 million budding company have created a personalized search toolbar to index and sort through all of the user’s online data.

“More and more people in the world are approaching this point where a lot of information you have is online on a bunch of different websites,” Gross said, reminiscent for the times when computer users could just press “Control+F” and find necessary information on their computer hard drives. “What hit me hard was events,” he added, frustrated that a whole host of places, like Evite, Facebook and Gmail, could all contain different appointments and social gatherings.

The result – a free tool called “Greplin,” which allows subscribers to add as many websites as desired to their accounts so that the program can search through all the data in one place. If a user knows he or she had scheduled a meeting at a local coffee shop, for example, but can neither remember the time of the meeting nor where that information was stored, Greplin’s goal is to provide a quick answer.

Greplin – whose name comes from a combination of the words “grep,” a programming term used in search utilities, and “zeppelin,” the online “cloud,” or network – currently has around $700,00 worth of angel investments and about $4 million in series A (first round) finances.

“More and more of the information we have and consume is not sitting on our hard-dive – it’s on some other service,” Gross said. “Why can’t I have this box and type text into it and get results about items that I own on the Internet?” “If you think of Google, it’s a great way to search the public Internet – we’re primarily building a ‘Google’ but for your things,” he added.

Gross, who for the last 15 months has been living in San Francisco, was born and raised in Jerusalem, after his parents made aliya from America. After finishing high school in Israel, he successfully applied for a grant from Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley seed funder for start-ups.

“Y Combinator is boot camp for start-ups,” Gross said, explaining that participants are generally awarded investments between $12,000 and $20,000. “The goal is for you to take that money and go through this three-month program where they give you basic building blocks on how to be a good company.”

The idea that Gross originally used in his grant application was not Greplin, however, but a website like eBay with a social networking structure so that buyers and sellers could see what their friends’ consumer patterns were. This concept then evolved into yet another idea, which in turn ended up not working at the last minute, toward the end of the grant period. So Gross said he needed to quickly think of something else to impress the judges – representatives from various investment groups that were coming to learn about that season’s Y Combinator projects.

“I essentially built a basic form of Greplin in the last 48 hours,” Gross said, and this basic model had surprising success with the investors who attended the March 2010 event.

Deciding he wanted to expand upon the idea, Gross said he joined up six months ago with company co-founder Robby Walker, an intellectual phenomenon who began college at nine years old and had a PhD by age 20, who at the time was working at Google and had done Y Combinator in the past.

“People like him have this desire to build things,” Gross said. “They love building products.”

Greplin launched an initial public version of the website in November, but because “a lot of people tried to use it,” the site “crashed” and had to be restructured, Gross said. Since then, he explained, the site has been “re-launched a million times before it worked,” but now is working properly.

The company’s most recent developments include a $4 million investment fromSequoia Capital that closed in December and went public in February, along with the hiring of three new employees.

“Greplin has the potential to be a killer app,” said Dr.

Andre Oboler, social media expert and director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia.

“What it adds is the convenience of everything in one place, while at the same time asserting its independence.

With the larger players already having so much information on each of us, the last thing we need is for them to be aggregating our data.

Greplin lets the user enjoy the benefits of aggregation without the need for crosssharing between platforms. I have no doubt that Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other sites will soon start competing for this space, but personally, I’d much rather trust Greplin.

“Greplin is carving an important niche for itself in a market where there is decreasing trust in the major players.

As an independent aggregation of personal information, Greplin has the potential to put the customer first, and that may prove to be a major commercial advantage.”

Greplin never actually gets to see users’ passwords on their various online accounts being searched, because similar to what occurs in Facebook “app” usage, the subscriber grants Greplin access through each individual site – upon adding Facebook to the index, for example, a Facebook page will pop up asking the user if he or she wants to grant access to Greplin, according to Gross. The same occurs on websites like Gmail, Dropbox, Microsoft Exchange and Twitter, and the technical term for such a process is called “OAuth,” which standards for Open Authorization.

“We have never stored a single password,” Gross said.

While basic usage is free, Greplin is now beginning to charge ($5 and $15 monthly plans) for storing more data and adding certain “premium” sites to user indexes, those that required “quite a bit of computational force” on the part of the Greplin staff, Gross explained. One such site would be Salesforce, which offers businesses massive customer relationship management tools, according to Gross.

“Is it something that business users will have a tendency to use? Is it very expensive for us to index?” Gross said were some the questions that go into deciding if a site should be considered “premium.”

Asked whether the public should be expecting anything new from Greplin in the near future, he responded, “We don’t have any solid product launches coming up in the next few days but we will soon.”

Gross’s interest and skills in computer science stem back to his childhood.

“I was sort of always interested in this as a kid and my father is a computer science teacher in Israel,” Gross said.

“I was always curious and I had the tools to learn.”

Attending university to accrue even more such tools is “on the list of things I have to do,” Gross added, noting that “there seems something to be gained by having education in the arts that I don’t have” – so he plans to apply to college, though not tomorrow.

“My parents are Jewish, so I think I have to,” he said, laughing.

Gross wouldn’t comment on how he is dealing with his requirement to serve in the IDF. He has no immediate plans to return to Israel but he said that he had initially expected to come back right away and still remains surprised that he didn’t.

“I constantly thought to myself I’d be back a month later and then three months later,” Gross said. “But once we actually took funding, I realized I couldn’t just back out. I have other people’s money invested in the success of my company.”

When asked to give a statement about Gross’s case and his obligation to enlist, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said he “did not show up for induction and is currently out of the country. Upon his return to Israel, he’ll be handled by the relevant authorities.”

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