Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Sanjay Arora — the entrepreneur taking on Google Search

Publishing & Media

How a "builder of things" is on a quest to tackle the search engine giants, and give people a chance to encounter the hidden, neglected parts of the world wide web.

Studies have shown that over 90 percent of people don’t go beyond the first page of their search results, and over 50 percent click on the top one or two listings. What’s more, close to 70 percent of people use Google as their search tool. The search engine giant’s infamous algorithm has therefore become a monopolising, highly sought-after secret SEO that specialists around the world are trying to crack.

But what about the value in the rest of the information on the internet? Million Short, a new search engine developed by Exponential Labs, is hoping to provide an alternative. The tool removes up to the first million search results, so users can skip the widely popular, already-established sites, and discover the hidden jewels of the world wide web. We talk to founder and CEO Sanjay Arora to find out more about building a disruptive alternative in an industry dominated by big players.

1. Where did the idea for your business come from?

The original idea for Million Short was based on a thought experiment, “What would the Internet and web look like if popular sites were suddenly gone from search results?”. I thought, and still do think, that the web is a vast place and there must be more to what we see on the first page of search results. We’ve received numerous letters from our users who have shared their unique experiences of discovery using Million Short.

2. Why do you think it is important to offer an alternative to monopolising search engines?

I can’t stress my thoughts on this any more emphatically. Being able to access the vast amount of information on the web and the Internet is too important a function to be controlled by only a small handful of companies. Search is perhaps the most critical function on the Internet and the more options and alternatives for Search, the better. I don’t think Search is a solved problem. It’s very exciting, and I think there is a lot of room for innovation: new algorithms, new user interfaces, new methods of filtering, indexing etc. I’m truly passionate about our mission, which is to guide people on the road less travelled, by providing alternate methods of organising, accessing, and discovering the vast web of information that is the Internet.

3. Can you describe a typical working day?

Each day involves collaborating with the development, sales and marketing teams to ensure we are all aligned toward our mission. I have quick stand-ups with each team daily early in the morning. Throughout the day I meet with different groups based on open projects. One day I’ll be working with the dev team planning our next new feature, and another day I’ll be working on recruiting new team members. Another day might be dedicated to long-term strategy and planning. Always something different. Of course, using is a big part of each day as well.

4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on your business?

When I am not working on Million Short or my other eCommerce company Nextopia, I am focused on my family. I have three young kids and my wife and I are heavily involved in their lives. To be honest, I maintain a good balance between work and personal life. Coding is still something I enjoy in my spare time, which is usually very late at night. My idea of fun is spinning up a few thousand cloud servers (small instances) and testing out a new crawler feature.

5. What’s the most important characteristic for being an entrepreneur?

I don’t really think of myself as an entrepreneur but rather someone who enjoys building things. The single most important characteristic would be to stay focused on an idea you feel strongly about. Most people tell me that I’m crazy, and wasting time with Million Short, but I disagree.

6. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Easy one. During all phases of building Million Short the greatest challenge was receiving less than positive feedback — statements like I am wasting my time competing with the established giants in the search engine space. I think it’s important to stay motivated and continue to stay focused on your goal, but it can be hard at times for sure. It’s not an easy thing for other people to share in a vision. Fortunately, we have a great team at Million Short that does.

7. What motivates you to keep going? What do you do when you hit a block?

My desire to execute Million Short’s mission keeps me going. There are ups and downs in any business. When I hit a roadblock, I take a step back and reference our mission, take action and move on to the next challenge.

8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Tough one. I don’t think I would have done anything differently per se. I’m happy with the progress to date with Million Short. If I had to choose one thing, I would have perhaps focused on marketing and getting the word out more by leveraging the initial press that Million Short received more effectively.

9. Do you have any habits or routines, which help you in your working life?

The biggest routine that helps me in my working life are my daily stand up meetings with all teams. Other than that, each day tends to be a roller coaster – full of ups and downs. Fortunately, more ups than downs!

10. What book are you reading, or writing now?

I just began reading ‘High Output Management’ by Andrew Grove. I also read a lot of Hacker News for both technical ideas and business inspiration.

11. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

In five years I am looking to grow Million Short to be a household name for Internet and web search. Something that truly adds value to the Internet experience for everyone. Getting there will no doubt be difficult but I think we can do it if we focus on a great search experience. We’ve got to make Million Short a must-have tool and we have to continually innovate. Add a bit of luck to the mix and in 5 years we should be there.

12. If you weren’t working on your business, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t involved in Million Short or building Nextopia I would be developing another SaaS company within the technology industry. I am passionate about software and building things. It’s just in my DNA.

13. Tell Springwise a secret…

Deep down I feel Million Short has a chance to become a dominant force in the search engine market and transform the world.

14. How did you get your initial round of funding to get your company off the ground?

The idea of building a search engine that competes with Google isn’t something that is very attractive to VC firms. As a result, I’ve been self-funding Million Short. Perhaps there are firms or people out there who value our mission — I’d love to meet them.

15. How do you feel about your journey ahead and do you have any wise words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

I am eager and determined to continuously develop Million Short with my team. I want to expand and improve the Internet experience by creating a search engine that offers differentiation, organisation and discovering information on the web. The advice I have for aspiring entrepreneurs is to continue to develop, experiment and implement new strategies. Stay focused on your mission and objectives. React quickly and stay focused. During the process of building a company, there are bound to be both failures and successes. Learn from your mistakes and leverage your successes. Finally, enjoy the thrilling and different challenges as you go through each phase of your business.