Why former Salesforce engineers want to take on Google

Richard Socher wants to build a “new entryway to the internet.”

You.com CEO Richard Socher

"People don't have any control over their information diet. You have basically AI manipulating you, trying to get you to spend as much time on a site until you click on an ad. And that's not ideal."

Photo: You.com

Former Salesforce scientists Richard Socher and Bryan McCann wanted to make a better search engine than Google. Though their search engine is open to all, they’ve found their new product particularly popular with developers.

Socher and McCann created You.com, a privacy-focused search engine that’s completely customizable. Marc Benioff, who backs the company and also gave the duo its domain name, called You.com "the future of search." Since launching in public beta in November 2021, Socher said it’s amassed “several hundreds of thousands” of searches and a 50% retention rate of its user base.

On Thursday, the company announced a $25 million series A funding round backed by Benioff’s Time Ventures, Breyer Capital, Norwest Venture Partners and Day One Ventures. The company also announced the launch of YouCode, a platform that auto-generates code using AI and aggregates code snippets from more than 20 of the most commonly used developer tools.

Protocol sat down with Socher to learn why competition in the search engine space matters.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What would make somebody want to use You.com? What's your pitch to the internet layman?

It's definitely easier to pitch if you really care about search, because we save you so much time. If you're a developer, for instance, we just save you time, sorting out code snippets and having it auto-complete things for you. If all you search are things like weather, or how to get from A to B, honestly, like, there is not a big difference, other than that you have much better privacy and your data is not being sold. When you actually use search for more than just the weather, it gets more interesting. You have control over your information diet by selecting the kind of sources that you'd like to see.

What were you doing before you started You.com?

I’m originally from Germany and came to the U.S. for my Ph.D. at Stanford in computer science, then started a company called MetaMind. We got acquired by Salesforce where I became chief scientist and eventually executive vice president running most of the AI groups, and then started You.com.

Does your background at Salesforce play into your work at You.com?

I've learned a lot at Salesforce about better management from people. It was really amazing to see some incredible executives like Marc Benioff, Brett Taylor and Mark Hawkins. They had this great phrase, “better, better, never done,” which kind of stuck with me. I would like to think that, compared to my first startup, I'm making a lot fewer of those management mistakes. It's a skill that takes time to develop. But just having seen a powerful growth machine and good management definitely has influenced me as a person, manager and CEO.

Image: You.com

What was the idea behind You.com?

We really think that the world needs a better search engine. We kind of have a situation where the entire economy is moving online, and to have a single gatekeeper that wants to sell you to the highest bidding advertiser, and that can't be the right setup.

People don't have any control over their information diet. You have basically AI manipulating you, trying to get you to spend as much time on a site until you click on an ad. And that's not ideal.

Why do you think it’s important to challenge established search engines like Google?

A lot of people complain about [Google’s] privacy, they complain about relevance, they complain about the SEO and microsites that are all just ads, but they don't know that there is an alternative that they can actually use.

In Europe, which I think is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to antitrust, they realized that maybe users should have a choice screen. And at least users realize there is a choice in your search engine. You can use the same operating system and browser, but you can use different search engines.

What is You.com’s business model?

Currently, we're just using money. In the future, we will explore private advertisements, similar to DuckDuckGo, where you have advertisements that are only dependent on the query, not on the user. The advertisers don't know what you're actually searching.

Where I'm personally much more excited is actually in the apps that we have. You.com thinks about search not as a closed ecosystem. We plan to open up our platform so that anyone can contribute apps, and the users actually have real control over those applications. Some of these apps may actually be so useful people will probably pay money for them.

You announced a pretty big funding round. What do you plan to do?

The biggest goal is to improve YouCode, and then also open up this platform. I think right now, a lot of people can't imagine a future that is without Google, but I think the open platform really has that potential to have everyone in the world contribute, collaborate and work together on a new entryway to the internet.

Correction: This story was updated July 18 to clarify that YouCode is aimed at developers, not You.com itself.

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