Quixey’s ‘Power Search’ Helps Users Weed Through Universe of Apps

3/15/12Follow @xconomy

The idea for Quixey, the search engine for apps, came from a simple problem. When co-founder Tomer Kagan was still the CEO of his last company, Your Logo Here, a colleague was looking for a password manager. Typing in “password vault” didn’t bring up anything useful. Kagan realized people needed a better way to find the apps they need.

“It’s really silly,” he says. “Just because you don’t know the name of something, that shouldn’t be a hindrance. You should be able to describe your need and get a solution.”

Two and a half years ago, CEO Kagan and co-founder Liron Shapira started Quixey to solve that problem. At the time, he says, “Every other day there would be a new announcement of a new platform saying, ‘Build on top of us.’ The way the entire Web was organized was going to change.”

So Quixey built what it calls “functional search.” Generally search engines are built to match keywords, so if you type in “photo editing app”, maybe 100 apps with those words in their description pop up. But search for something specific, say “red eye editing,” and maybe only four apps pop up, even though most of those hundred probably have the ability to fix red eye. Why? Because unless whoever wrote the app’s description included that detail in their write-up, the search engine isn’t going to find it.

The Quixey team

But Quixey’s search can. The company built the largest database of information about apps, culling data based on what people say about various apps in blogs and articles and on Twitter, and organizing it in a new way. They built search algorithms on top of that database to make sure that Quixey could find what users were actually looking for, instead of just matching a blurb to their exact words. “The search should be based on the functionality of the app, not based on the description,” Kagan says.

Quixey lets users select the platform they’re using—iPad, Android, Firefox plug-ins, etc.—then pulls up apps to match a given need and gives a “snippet” of information about them so users know what they’re getting. Simple.

The one app Quixey won’t find for you: its own. The founders have avoided making one. “Why go out of your way to find an app to help you go find other apps?” Kagan wonders. “We’re helping power people to search in any system to find the solution they need.”

Kagan and Shapiro bootstrapped the company for the first 18 months, before raising a first round of funding from Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors and Archimedes Venture in March of last year. In August, they raised $3.8 million in Series A funding led by US Venture Partners and WI Harper Group.

While it’s still figuring out its business model, the company has focused on partnering with mobile manufacturers, search engines, browsers and carriers to support search for their apps. “We’re not trying to be an app store,” he says. “We don’t think of ourselves that way.”

Because of that mission, Kagan doesn’t really see the other companies out there that are trying to solve the same problem for users—like Iddiction’s App-o-Day app (an app to find other apps) or Chomp, which has since been acquired by Apple—as competition. To Kagan, companies that fix bigger problems and can answer users’ questions are more of a threat than others who occupy the app search space. And sometimes, the biggest challenge isn’t even besting competitors, but convincing potential partners that it’s better not to try to do the work themselves. “The biggest competition we find realistically is people within partners trying to solve problems singlehandedly,” Kagan says. “‘Are you really sure you want to tackle this in-house?’ Getting people to understand that collaboration is really helpful.”

Building power search has been a complex problem for the company, and finding the best engineers has been important to its success, Kagan says. To attract potential employees, the 25-person company has hosted challenges where outside engineers are given tough problems to solve in less than a minute. The prize? $100. They test the quizzes on their own engineers, and find the challenge helpful to understand how potential employees think—even those who can’t quite make it under the one minute mark. “We’ve found it to be very appealing on college campuses and for people sitting at work,” Kagan says.

It’s one piece of a unique culture Kagan has worked hard to foster at Quixey. The company is run out of a giant converted Victorian in Palo Alto, and has some perks that aren’t unusual in Silicon Valley—free T-shirts, free meals—but also others that are uncommon in small startups, like a weekly speaker series, a room full of board games, and barbeques with employees at other companies.

“I’m a big believer that the culture you set today is going to mean a lot to the happiness of all employees,” Kagan says.

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