Many would argue that in the world of online search engines Google (www.google.com) reigns supreme. Google’s ultimate plan is to one day have every piece of information on Earth cataloged in its server farm and freely accessible to the masses, and it has a pretty good jump on this goal. With free searches that cover dozens of information types, and more new categories and technologies appearing weekly, it would seem that Google is already too large to compete with.
But just as Microsoft has Apple, there are several search engines attempting to overcome the strangle hold Google has on the online search market — and its substantial advertising dollars. Winning customers away from a giant can be a very expensive uphill battle, but an area start-up is ready to give it a try.
Boris Simkovich, founder and CEO of the Internet startup Zuula (www.zuula.com), thinks he has found a better way. In the true spirit of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” Zuula, based at the Carnegie Center, is working with Google and other search engines to bring their customers easier access to varied search results. A search from the easy-to-use Zuula interface returns results from a number of search engines — both the big-name search engines and small, specialized search engines — in a tabbed format.
Born and raised in State College, Pennsylvania, Simkovich attended Penn State, where his father was a professor. After it was too late to change his major, he discovered a love for economics and minored in the subject while attaining his bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1985. After graduation Simkovich traveled to Austria to study at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration before becoming an assistant professor at Vassar College and eventually pursuing a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, which he earned in 1994.
Deciding to leave academe, Simkovich, who lives in Yardley with his wife, went into consulting and accepted a job as head of U.S. operations for a European firm with a specialty in pricing. He enjoyed that work, and founded his own company, Light Management Consulting (www.light-mc.com), which has its offices at 214 Carnegie Center, in 2002. A data-driven company, Light Management works with clients to determine how to price their products in such a way that they will be competitive, but at the same time will make an optimal profit. Clients come from a wide spectrum of industries, but many are in the high tech/IT field, and, more recently, in the pharmaceutical industry.
Zuula, still in the early stages of its growth, is an initiative of Light Management, and operates from its offices. It began to evolve as Simkovich and his staff were looking at potential Internet ventures and saw a need for improvement in the way they were able to search the Internet. Their answer, Zuula, was released in beta form in November, 2006.
His company’s search engine is truly different, says Simkovich. “Zuula does not crawl (search) and index the Internet the way Google does,” he explains. Nor is it an aggregator, a site that compiles the results from several established search engines and presents them mashed together as its own results.
Zuula is what Simkovich refers to as a “meta-search engine.” It returns the results from several established search engines in an easy to browse tabbed format. If you search for the word “banking” on Zuula and click the Ask.Com tab, you will see the same results that you would if you searched for “banking” directly from the Ask.com home page. After reviewing the Ask.Com results, you are able to easily click on the Google tab — or one of several other tabs — at the top of the Zuula interface and page through the results of that search engine without having to perform a new search in another window.
Most people have a favorite Internet search engine, and they are probably able to name it as quickly as they can name their favorite color or ice cream flavor. And as with so many other things, they will argue that their favorite is the best. That may be, but no matter how good the search engine, it is returning different results than its competitors.
A simple search to determine the web address of a national retail chain will likely return similar top results in all search engines. More complex searches, however, will return vastly different results in different browsers, and a comprehensive research project will require the repeated entry of an exact set of search terms on multiple websites. Zuula users bypass the repeated typing, and after inputting a search request just once, they view the results from Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask, along with lesser known search engines Gigablast and Exalead, by clicking on tabs in the Zuula window.
Tabs, for those who may not be on the cutting edge of Internet technology, are much like they sound. Tabs look similar to the standard paper file folder tops and run across the top of an Internet browser window, or web page in this case, and contain what is essentially a page within a page. Popularized by Mozilla’s Firefox Internet Browser (www.mozilla.com), and now being used by its largest competitor, Microsoft (www.microsoft.com), in its latest version of Internet Explorer, tabs allow users to quickly organize and flip between web pages without having multiple windows open and scattered cross a computer’s desktop.
The Zuula user does not even have to give up his favorite browser. Zuula’s user options allows users to choose a favorite browser and have its tab automatically placed on top of all of the others, which can also be arranged to suit the searcher’s personal preferences. In addition to choosing a favorite search engine, Zuula offers an array of settings that allow users to customize the search experience.
By default all of the search results accessed by Zuula are “family friendly,” meaning that Zuula searches will return only results that the search engines have determined not to be adult oriented. Zuula, however, does not have its own filtering software and relies on each search engine’s filter to discard inappropriate search results. While filters are getting better, a few unwanted results may still slip through, but no more than would be the case with a search input directly into a specific search engine. This option can be disabled at anytime from the Zuula preferences panel.
Another time-saving option is the search history tab. By allowing Zuula to save your recent search queries, you need not have to remember and retype them if your research session is interrupted.
In addition to standard web searches, Zuula offers the ability to simultaneously search multiple sites for images, news, blog posts, and even jobs. Simkovich says that “additional types of searches, including video, will be added soon.”
Simkovich believes that the strength of Zuula truly lies in the secondary search types, where the results are vastly different from one search engine to another. The image search, for example, includes results from Flickr (www.flickr.com), whose images are uploaded by users and not always available in mainstream search engines.
A unique Zuula search type is the jobs search. Presenting the results from Monster, Hotjobs, Career Builder and Indeed, Zuula takes a lot of the legwork out of searching for the perfect new job, making it less likely your current boss will catch you looking around online.
In the few months that Zuula has been available to the public it has started to gain attention in the online world. A quick search of recent blog posts, easily done on Zuula, of course, shows an overwhelmingly positive response, which is impressive considering the number of bloggers who seem to concentrate only on finding fault in new sites.
It seems that Zuula is off to a good start, which is good because it will need to develop a strong following to become profitable.
Simkovich hopes to develop a revenue-sharing deal with the search engines whose results Zuula is serving up, but he acknowledges that there are some hurdles to overcome. The biggest challenge will most certainly be convincing the existing search engines to turn over a share of their ad revenue. There currently isn’t a precedent for Zuula to use in striking a deal with existing search engines, so the company is going to have to develop one of its own.
Simkovich describes the current situation as a classic “Catch 22” where he has to develop a large customer base before he can approach the big companies and be taken seriously. Developing a large customer base, however, takes money.
Zuula is currently being financially backed entirely by its parent company and Simkovich declined to release financial information, saying only that the cost of funding Zuula “isn’t an inconsequential sum.” Simkovich added that his primary company is prepared to carry Zuula for an extended time until revenue agreements are reached.
Currently sharing the same 3,000 square feet of office space in with Light Management, Zuula has the advantage of using its resources, including personnel who are already in place. When he adds to his staff of seven Simkovich looks for people who will be flexible enough to work on projects for both companies until Zuula is large enough to stand on its own.
Simkovich’s plans for Zuula do not include a sale, but he is hesitant to rule anything out yet. He would prefer to build Zuula for the long term by adding new features and functions and envisions the company as one day operating under the direction of Zuula’s current president, Tim Hunt.
Currently all of Zuula’s data servers are being leased from, and are located at, existing data centers across the country. Even without plans to build its own data center in the near future, office space is getting tight and Simkovich plans to relocate the company by the end of 2007. He would like to stay in the same area and is currently looking at property near his existing offices.
The consensus online is that Zuula is doing exactly what it intended to do: simplify web searching. Nothing flashy, no earth shattering new ideas and no fancy new algorithms that normal people won’t understand anyway, just an easy to use way to save time searching the Internet.
Zuula, 214 Carnegie Center, Suite 304, , Princeton 08540; 609-651-4790; fax, 609-651-4799. Boris A. Simkovich, CEO. www.zuula.com
Light Management Consulting LLC (), 214 Carnegie Center, Suite 304, Princeton 08540; 609-651-4780; fax, 609-651-4799. Boris A. Simkovich. Home Page: www.light-mc.com