Friday, March 20, 2009
Interview with Dan Yomtobian, Scour
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Dan Yomtobian is CEO and founder of Sherman Oaks-based Scour (www.scour.com), a meta-search engine which adds social features such as voting and comments to Internet search. Scour is an offshoot of a PPC advertising firm, ABCSearch, which was also founded by Dan. We talked with Dan to learn more about Scour, how it started, what he's hoping to do with it, plus learn more about the firm's hiring plans.
What is Scour?
Dan Yomtobian: Scour is a social search engine, which meta searches Google, Yahoo, and MSN. We overlay our own algorithm and decide what listing to show, in what order, based on how Google, Yahoo, and MSN spit back data to us. We use our own algorithm, as well as user votes. Users can vote for relevancy of results, and over time, the non-relevant information or SEO moves down below the line. On top of that, we allow users to comment and read other comments, and email other users within the system. For example, in Scour, you can do a search for shoes, and read comments about a specific shoe or shoe website, plus you can potentially engage users that left the comment. We also allow users to benefit, by giving them points for searching, comments, and voting. Those points add up to a Visa gift card. We give users something they don't get anywhere else, for something they do every day--searching the web.
What are you hoping to offer over other search engines, and given the dominance of Google, how are you getting people to use you?
Dan Yomtobian: We haven't done much marketing yet, and most of our user base is really viral. We're about to do some marketing, but the hard part really isn't going to be getting people to visit the site, it's to get them to stick. People are so used to the Google mold. The way we can combat that, is by constantly adding new features and services, which give users more reasons to stick with us. We're going to add value-added services, points, and giveaway type programs. We've only been around now for less than a year--we're still in beta--but we are now getting a million searches a month, and half a million unique monthly visitors to the site. It's pretty much been all organic.
What's the business model behind the site--it looks like this is advertising driven?
Dan Yomtobian: 100 percent of our revenues come from advertisers, and from people clicking on sponsored listings. On Scour results, we have sponsored sections on the north and east of the search listings page. Our ABCSearch business is quite large--we do over 10 billion searches across our network and syndicate--and we have deals with all the search engines, Ask.com, Yahoo, all of the domain parking companies, and many contextual ad companies.
Are users taking advantage of the social features, and what other features do you have planned for the site?
Dan Yomtobian: Believe it or not, users are taking advantage of the voting. I think they feel empowered with the ability to vote, and feel that the votes actually count and make a difference. Over time, our algorithms will automatically change the positions of items that are visible to everyone, based on their thumbs up and thumbs down. We'll soon be adding those voting capabilities to our image and video search. On top of that, we've been looking at offering monthly giveaways for Visa gift cards, on top of the regular point system.
Do you have any issue pulling information from the search engines? It seems like you'd be somewhat competitive to what they do.
Dan Yomtobian: Some of the deals we have are direct deals, and some are done in a way where we're accessing them through their APIs. All of them are a non-issue, because we're either paying for it, or it's through a legacy contract with them through the ABCSearch side.
How did you get into this business, and what's your background?
Dan Yomtobian: I've been in the online space since 1996. I bought and sold domain names, did website design, and was the co-founder of another search engine, Findology, which we sold. In 2001, I started ABCSearch, which as been in the PPC space for a number of years. ABCSearch, is not a search portal that a user would visit, it's really a platform designed to allow advertisers to reach users that are on search enabled sites. However, we always saw a value in having our own property, so we could directly drive users from our property to advertisers. We wanted to have a search site that was cool, and give users an incentive to use us over another engine.
How is the company funded?
Dan Yomtobian: The company was funded from selling stock in my other company, Findology. That's how I was able to fund and start ABCSearch. We're a profitable company, which I started out of a guest room in my condo 8 years ago. We don't have any outside investors, venture capital, or private equity. I'm the CEO and founder, and own the company.
Back to the site, can you talk about how your point system works?
Dan Yomtobian: You get a point for searching, a point for voting, and a point for commenting. Once you get 6500 points, we mail you a $25 Visa gift card. We've given thousands of dollars away already.
We were talking earlier and it sounds like you have a pretty big team already?
Dan Yomtobian: We already have 25 employees here in our Los Angeles office, and we have another office in India with some of our software development operations--18 people out there. We have a little over 40 employees overall, and are hiring another 10-15 employees over the next six to nine months.
And, because we're sure our readers would be interested--what kind of employees looking for?
Dan Yomtobian: Our growth really is in client services. We're going to be expanding our direct ad sales, and bringing in ad sales members who will be selling to our advertisers, both nationally and locally.