Success Story Of Gabriel Weinberg Founder of DuckDuckGo, Inc.
Gabriel Weinberg's startup journey started back in 2000. He graduated early from MIT and funded his first real venture with the leftover tuition money.
Gabriel's first startup was called learnection. It was an educational product to increase parental involvement in primary schools. It was a horrible failure. The main problems were poor execution and it being 10 years ahead of its time. He spent 2.5 years on it. He tried to sell it to a non-profit, and then ended up working for that non-profit instead to save up some more money.
His next big venture was a site called NamesDatabase that was basically a Classmates.com competitor. The concept wouldn't work now, but in 2006 it was acquired for a few million dollars by Classmates.com after four years of work.
No one likes to be watched, tracked. Gabriel Weinberg launched DuckDuckGo to help you search for what you need online without being tracked.
Gabriel founded the company in 2008 to offer an alternative to Google with the aim of keeping a user’s privacy at all costs.
Since it doesn’t store your previous searches, it does not and cannot present personalised search results. DuckDuckGo bills itself as “the search engine that doesn’t track you”.
Why did you choose to build a search engine in the first place?
I wasn’t too into my last company product-wise. After that I decided I only wanted to do something I could work on for the next decade, since that is the time scale in startups it really generally takes to be successful. I had hunches for what that might be, but wasn’t sure, so started about a dozen side projects. After a year or so I knew way more, and combined a few of those into what became DuckDuckGo. I’m really attracted to data, algorithms, answers, and the challenge of getting people to switch search engines.
What did you see in Duckduckgo that made you choose that decision?
I actually started working on this back in 2007 as a bunch of side projects to improve my own Google results, and not as a business idea. I wanted to remove spam and content farms from my results as well as add instant answers from sites I kept going to (Wikipedia, IMDB, etc.).
Do you think not storing as much user data significantly decreases the quality of results of duck duck go? If so how are you planning on mitigating that.
No I don’t. When people say they want personalized results, they generally mean localized results (like local weather and restaurants), which we can do without tracking people. We’ve seen no compelling evidence that further personalization really helps, and some decent evidence that it hurts. That said, we do have a region setting that works anonymously that boosts results from a particular region, and you could theoretically extend that concept in a still anonymous way to categories (like I’m a programmer). That hasn’t been a priority, however, because we just haven’t seen the need.
DuckDuckGo is kind of long name is there any plan to rebrand/rename to a short name ?
We have a short url in ddg.gg. We have no plans to rebrand. Google owns duck.com and unfortunately points it at Google search, so that makes it challenging. They acquired it from a company that owned it before we existed but it wasn’t pointing at Google search until we inquired about it. No idea if there was intent there or not, but it causes consumer confusion.
Do you think DuckDuckGo gained traction simply because it was a good product and would have made it no matter what? Or because of luck and fate due to the country, and world, learning about the privacy issues we face in such a swift blow? Aka, right place, right time.
DuckDuckGo had been growing steadily and significantly (at least to me) since 2008 when we came out, so we had literally years to get the product ready before Snowden in 2013.
Snowden no doubt accelerated our growth by years and we are really grateful for that. However, I was happy with where we had gotten before that point and where we were going.
I agree with your underlying premise that there are still no good limits on online tracking and as a result it continues to get crazier and crazier and more people are reacting. It was already heading in that direction pre-Snowden.
What’s your daily routine like?
My usual schedule involves reading a bit in bed, showering, getting the kids ready for school, taking my youngest to school and getting into the office around 8:10AM. Then I’ve been trying to exercise, usually walking with my wife.
I’m then in the office until 4:20PM at which point I pick my son up from school, and spend the next few hours with the family. After the kids go to sleep around 8, I’m back at work for a couple hours and then to bed, unless I’m really tired in which case I’ll watch TV or some mindless Internet equivelent :).
What prompted you to write Traction? A book on marketing isn’t an obvious jump for a CEO. What’s the back story?
I started working on it way back in 2009! I tried to apply the same ways we got traction at my last company to DuckDuckGo and they didn’t work to my dismay, so I went looking for a structured framework to get traction only to find none existed. Then I started doing tons of interviews to uncover one and I did!
At that point I thought I should make a book out of it to fill this void in the business literature. But at the same time the framework worked and DuckDuckGo started taking off and so I didn’t have a lot of time for the book, and that’s why it took so long. It is a passion project.
What was the motivation behind starting DuckDuckGo?
I started my first internet company right out of college. DuckDuckGo is my fourth to 10th company depending on how you count. So I learned a bit before doing this one, thankfully. I didn't set out to build a search engine, but instead wanted to work on a number of projects I found interesting. After doing that for about a year I saw a path to a better search experience involving less spam and more instant answers. I just decided to build an alpha version, put it out there, and see what happens.