A Q&A with Swiftype co-founder Quin Hoxie. The San Francisco-based startup, which offers a feature-packed search solution for individual websites, closed a $1.7 million Seed funding round earlier this month. Investors include Andreessen Horowitz Seed, NEA, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Ignition, SV Angel and CrunchFund. It was founded in early 2012 by Hoxie and Matt Riley.
SUB: Please describe Swiftype and your primary innovation.
Hoxie: Swiftype has created the easiest way to add great search to any website or mobile application. We provide two primary benefits: 1.) Faster, more relevant results that you control. If there is a result set you don’t like, you can simply drag-and-drop to reorder them. It is like a content management system for search. 2.) Detailed insight into what your users are searching for, what they’re finding, and more importantly, what they are not finding. We surface critical intent data from your users and tell you how satisfied or unsatisfied they are with your content.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Hoxie: Most of our customers fall into two buckets: marketing and technology. On the technology side, we are solving a very difficult problem in search. This is something that, when done well, can take an entire team of engineers many months to build, not to mention maintain. With marketers, we are improving conversions and retention through better results, but we are also giving them actionable data that they would not otherwise have access to. We often see our analytics drive the content strategy for entire teams.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Hoxie: We have a wide variety of competition—everything from high-end ecommerce-focused products like Endeca down to ad-supported offerings from Google. In reality, most of our strongest competition comes from within companies. Search happens to be a problem many engineers find interesting, and thus we will get push back for the prospect of using an external product like Swiftype. I’m an engineer myself so I can understand the allure, but building a complex search system really isn’t something most companies should be doing in-house. Only a few do it truly well, and they are companies like Amazon and Walmart.
SUB: What differentiates Swiftype from the competition?
Hoxie: When we originally set out to build the product, we knew it needed to be something that is valuable for both technical and non-technical people. Most products are non-starters unless you have at least one engineer involved. We think control over your search should be accessible to the people who care about it the most. If a content manager wants a small change in the search results, they can just go to the Swiftype dashboard and make it themselves. You don’t see this level of control for non-technical users elsewhere.
Another major piece of Swiftype’s mission is that we believe that good search is a moving target. What makes for relevant results today may not be the same a year from now, and a search system should adapt and evolve transparently. Our product learns everything it can about your content, your goals, and your users’ goals, and it continually adjusts results to balance those factors.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Hoxie: Step one was quitting our jobs, which was a very difficult decision. After that, basically all of our initial focus was on building the best product possible. Some of our early customers had functional search already, so getting them to switch meant Swiftype had to be compelling in every respect. We gathered as much feedback as we could, and just built out the product we knew people wanted.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Swiftype? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Hoxie: Matt and I were both working at Scribd. During our time there, the company went through a few iterations of trying to buy or build a proper search system. It was a long, costly and sometimes painful process. After some false starts, our team ended up building out a solution. It was a challenging system with quite a few unexpected moving parts. When it was all done, the question we had was: “Why were we not able to buy a good solution to this problem?” There was a clear need, and we had been through it firsthand, so we decided to make the leap.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Hoxie: Our initial focus was on search suggestions or autocompletion, which is why we essentially combined ‘swift’ and ‘type.’ The idea was getting the users to results so quickly they didn’t need to finish typing. Beyond that, I think we just like the way ‘Swiftype’ sounds and how the actual text looks when written out.
SUB: You recently closed a $1.7 million Seed funding round. Why was this a particularly good time to raise outside funding?
Hoxie: I think in general things are fairly entrepreneur-friendly right now. For us, we didn’t choose the timing especially carefully, it just made sense for us to get started on at this stage. Most of our momentum was based on early traction and how much we had gotten done in such a short amount of time. We scaled up the platform pretty quickly, especially early on.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?
Hoxie: We plan to use the funding primarily to grow the Swiftype brand. Our users love the product once they try it, and given a market as broad as site search, our primary objective is to get the product in front of as many people as possible. We’ve also learned a lot from our users in the last year, and we plan to continue rapidly improving the product itself.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Hoxie: Growth has been particularly good lately, so I cannot rule anything out. We will see what the next few months hold, but search is a very engineering-intensive product to build, so the team will need to continue growing.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Hoxie: Balancing priorities is always a challenge. Matt and I are both engineers so we try to contribute to the product efforts as much as possible, but there is always something else to work on. A good example is the fundraising process. We both attended all of the investor meetings, and every time we were in one, there were two fewer people working on the actual product. This was a struggle, but also a reality for any company. It is something we continue to balance to this day.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Hoxie: We charge a monthly fee for providing our service to customers. For very small websites or applications, it can be free. We have a number of generally available pricing plans based on the size of the website and its traffic. On the high-end, we work with large enterprises to customize a plan that fits their specific needs.
SUB: What are your goals for Swiftype over the next year or so?
Hoxie: Again, we really just want to get Swiftype into the hands of more site owners. We know they’ll love it, and their feedback helps guide our roadmap. We will be growing the team and the product offerings in the next year as well. There is a long list of features we intend to build—it is just a matter of how soon we can get to them.
Swiftype – www.swiftype.com