With a Lifeline to London, Blinkx Builds the World’s Largest Video Search Index
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the standard capital marketplaces for a Silicon Valley tech company. Blinkx went out to raise $50 million on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), a part of the London Stock Exchange.
That plan wasn’t wholly nonsensical. Chandratillake is native of Britain, and Autonomy itself is listed on the London exchange. Still, when consultants at Citibank recommended listing the company there, “It was a really bizarre idea,” Chandratillake recalls. “The first time they suggested it to us, I didn’t really take it seriously. But the more we looked at it, the more I liked the idea.”
For one thing, AIM is set up for small, early-stage companies, and the regulatory standards it imposes are far less onerous than the Sarbanes-Oxley rules that govern public companies trading in the United States. Listing in London would also give Blinkx access to “the right kind of investors,” Chandratillake says: “Institutional investors who are interested in buying something they believe in, but not in trying to be part of the team the way VCs want to.”
The July 2007 IPO was oversubscribed by a factor of three, so the company could easily have raised $150 million or more, says Chandratillake. But he says he only wanted to raise enough money to see the company through to profitability within two or three years—which is exactly how things have turned out. (To keep the growth going, the company placed $31 million in new shares this October. The company is now valued at £221 million, or about $343 million.)
The future, for Blinkx, involves expanding onto mobile platforms—Chandratillake thinks half of the company’s traffic will come from non-PC devices by 2013—and to other video interfaces such as set-top boxes. The 110-employee company recently partnered with San Francisco and Seattle-based Evri to insert relevant videos into its “EvriThing” mobile news aggregator apps.
But “video is just one type of unstructured data,” says Chandratillake—and in a development that harkens back to its desktop search days, the startup is also helping consumers locate other types of information. Using an approach called “implicit search,” for example, the company can pull up data related to whatever is on screen. The first example of this concept in action is Cheep, a browser add-on that Blinkx launched in October to help people find the best prices for e-retail goods. When a Cheep user visits a site like Amazon, the add-on provides price comparisons for whatever product is showing in the main browser window.
“I’m really bullish on this implicit search idea,” says Chandratillake. “Browser augmentation is really trendy at the moment, with so many plugins available for Chrome and Firefox. I’m a news junkie, and you can imagine [a plugin] that displays a matrix of every information source you might need” alongside every news article.
Whether Blinkx is actually building such a plug-in, or how it might be monetized, Chandratillake didn’t say. But given the company’s history of experimentation and adaptation, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the idea come to life. “Video is just one type of unstructured data,” says Chandratillake. “It’s just the first application of what we could do.”