You.com founder Richard Socher knows that his company has always been a David going after the Goliath in search, Google, and to a lesser extent Microsoft. He likes to point out that his company built search based on generative AI in December, several months before the other giant search players made their announcements.
Today, the company is announcing it’s taking that head start and building on it with multimodal search. That means it can add elements beyond text to help answer a question more precisely. So say you ask a question such as "Which company has the most CRM market share," you will get the answer "Salesforce," and if you follow up with "What is Saleforce's stock price?", you will get a stock chart instead of a text-based answer.
Socher says that’s a big leap forward for chat-based search, and puts his company ahead of his much larger competitors. “Instead of making up a bunch of numbers, which every other language model would do, we'll just show you our stock app right there inside the conversation,” Socher told TechCrunch.
He believes that’s a much more effective way to answer that kind of question and these different modalities can be applied to other questions depending on the context. “It's a big step forward to get large language models to be multimodal in the sense of the different modalities being text, but also code, but also tables, and also graphs and images and interactive elements -- and sometimes that is the best way to answer your question. I truly believe that this better way to represent the answer to this question than any text could be,” he said.
You.com displays charts or other elements when it helps to answer a question more than text would. Image Credits: You.com
You.com launched at the end of 2020 with the belief that there was room for another search engine, based more on AI. That’s a notion that the search market has caught up with, but Socher sees room for a fresh approach, one that the incumbents can’t offer.
As he told TechCrunch at the time of his company’s $25 million funding round last summer, he wants You.com to be the anti-Google. “Google is a monolithic, monopolistic search engine that is closed and has ultimately weaponized AI against users for the sake of serving its true purpose: advertising. We are building You.com as a search platform that is open and emphasizes directly serving user needs with You.com apps instead of bombarding people with ads,” he told TechCrunch’s Kyle Wiggers at the time.
Socher is reluctant to discuss the technology behind his company’s search at this point, concerned that his competitors will be able to use it against him, but he says at some point he will reveal the secret sauce he is using to build his company’s search solution.
“We don't really share right now how we built it. I know a lot of people are super curious about how we are building all this stuff. But a lot of people are trying to copy what we're doing. And it just doesn't really make sense until we're at least default live or profitable as a startup to share all our technology, or even high level or details on how we're doing any of it,” he said.
He says that the company is growing double-digit percentage growth every month, and they have millions of people using the site every day now. They are still considering how to monetize, but it won’t be like Google or Bing.
“We don't have to make $500 million a day. We don't have that pressure right now as a startup. But we will think about monetization this year, and we'll try to explore different paths,” he said. That includes private ads, subscriptions to different add-ons like one they have that helps users write essays and blog posts for a couple of dollars a week, and they could also open the platform to build third-party apps like the stock app that displays a stock chart.
“You can allow that third-party app to just sell a service, and when that's relevant to the user, and the user wants to buy whatever that company sells, then we get a cut of that. So it's sort of monetizing the end of the funnel rather than the beginning of the funnel, which is what ads do,” he said.
He certainly understands that he’s up against some formidable competition, but he believes that You.com has found a way to differentiate itself from its competitors.
“It's certainly a tough space to compete in, for sure, and you need to build something that is both unique and different, but at the same time good enough to capture most of the things that people currently want from their search engine,” he said.
“And that's what we've done, and it's part of why we're able to grow now and provide a fresh new perspective on what a search engine can or should be able to help you with.”