Wajam is a startup entering into the crowded and messy social search space (most industries are crowded and messy!) The company was instigated by the folks at Bolidea, a startup accelerator that we’ve covered before. Bolidea has been involved in a few launches and startup announcements of late, including Artfox, Serviceville and Planbox.
Wajam started in March 2009, and they’re now getting ready to open the doors. They’ll be presenting at Startup Camp Montreal 7 as well.
NOTE: If you want an invite to Wajam, I may be able to help. Get in touch.
A lot of startups are playing in the social search space – Greplin, Blekko, Sentimnt (which has pivoted to the enterprise), Introspectr, Nsyght (which is already dead), Heystaks, and more. Even with a number of these early startups there have been pivots and outright failures. Although a lot of people are complaining about Google’s efficacy, search is a tough nut to crack.
Wajam’s approach is to embed its social results directly into your search engine of choice. This is one of its key differentiators. Users don’t have to change their behavior and can continue to use their search engine, with the added Wajam results displayed. Another very interesting point is that Wajam is attempting to monetize very quickly by displaying ads and providing Pro accounts to power users. We chatted with Martin-Luc Archambault, founder of Bolidea to learn more.
NextMontreal: What is Wajam?
Martin-Luc: Wajam is a browser extension that makes searching the web more personal by adding social results to your search engine. It works in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari, on either PC or Mac.
Wajam automatically saves the content you and your friends are posting on Twitter, Facebook, and Delicious and makes that content available when you search from Google, Bing, or Yahoo. So what’s great about Wajam is that it doesn’t require users to change the way they do things because it seamlessly ties into what they already do online.
Getting started simply involves downloading the Wajam browser application and telling it which sources to aggregate from (Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Bookmarks). This process not only takes less than a minute, but is absolutely safe and private. Wajam is certified by TRUSTe and Verisign, users have total control of which content it saves for them. Users’ content and personal information is kept secure on Rackspace cloud servers and is never shared with anybody.
You can watch a quick 30-second demo of the product here: http://vimeo.com/17224111
NextMontreal: When you started in March 2009 what was the focus?
Martin-Luc: In 3 months we had built a mini prototype with 3 features:
- Firefox add-on to “tag” any page on the web
- Adding a layer in Google to display results that were “tagged” by you and your network
- Adding friends to your network
That prototype alone gave us a lot of value because it allowed us to stop wasting time searching for stuff that others in the office had already found. I don’t know if it’s clear to an outsider, but here’s the original idea on the back of a napkin:
NextMontreal: What’s the core value proposition of Wajam? What opportunity did you see in the market that made you say, “We have to build this!”?
Martin-Luc: Wajam makes searching the web more personal by giving you access to your friends’ knowledge anywhere that you search.
A lot of companies are trying to make social search work, but most of their products require you to change the way you do things, like using a new search engine (that isn’t better than Google), or making you tag pages with a new widget that you don’t want to use.
The fact is people are not ready to give up their existing habits to get search results from friends. That’s why we focused of incorporating social search into your everyday use cases.
NextMontreal: How do you expect people will react to Wajam injecting itself into their everyday search engine use?
Martin-Luc: Wajam is great for users that are very active on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. For example, I personally have over 500,000 links from my friends that Wajam looks through every time I search Google. Without Wajam, these links would have been lost, but now I get added value in almost every search I do in Google.
I like to think that now with Wajam, I have access to an online library packed with my friends’ knowledge.
So in my case the Wajam layer in my Google search results is pure added value.
NextMontreal: How will Wajam monetize?
Martin-Luc: Everybody has bills to pay right? From time to time, you’ll see sponsored results within your Wajam results. There is also a very affordable Pro version for power users that gives you access to more content from friends, without ads.
NextMontreal: Can you provide more information on the PRO version and what it will cost? Will it be available at launch?
Martin-Luc: We are still gathering data on how much people use the system before releasing the Pro version. However, what’s key is that most users will be able to enjoy Wajam for free and that power users will only have to pay a few dollars to get the Pro version. Our goal is to be profitable with free users irrespective of Pro accounts.
The only reason we need a Pro version is because power users like you that follow over 5,000 people obviously are giving us a HUGE amount of data to process and we need to be able to cover our costs. To give you an idea of what I mean, let’s look at how the system works:
- First, we need to analyze every Tweet from you and from the people you follow to see if there’s a link or not.
- When we find a link, it’s usually shortened like “bit.ly” so our crawler needs to go to that page and extracts the Title, Description, Tags, etc.
- That allows us to get more relevant information about a page and match it to a tweet in the database. That’s part of the secret sauce of how we can give you better results when you search.
- Then for every search that you do, we need to check in the database to see if your friends have information for you and display it to you.
- Finally, we need to do all this process at lightning speed, because if not, you’ll soon forget about us when you search. So obviously Wajam requires a lot of bandwidth and servers and therefore it globally costs a lot of money.
NextMontreal: How big is the team?
Martin-Luc: We’re a small team of 7 people and let me tell you that it’s one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with. We’re currently looking for more PHP developers and a System Administrator. Guru and Heineken are included
NextMontreal: What lessons learned can you share about starting, building and launching Wajam?
Martin-Luc: The first challenge to starting any company is building a solid team. We were lucky to have gotten this right pretty quickly. When you start, focus on recruiting the right people because the project will change but not the people.
Building something so complex takes lots of time and money, so plan accordingly if you are looking for investors in your project. We couldn’t have done this in 3 months and for $25,000.
As for launching, I can’t tell you what to do or not do, but in my opinion an effective launch press campaign also takes time and money. For now, I prefer to focus our resources on building a product that our users love and then make good business development deals to scale. That’s why our launch is probably not going to drive as much media attention as it could. But that’s not what will make or break our company in the short term anyways.
NextMontreal: What will the key focus be over the next 6 months as you start to release Wajam into the wild?
Martin-Luc: Our near-term priorities:
- Get users to love us by iterating on their feedback
- Support more search use cases (shopping, for example)
- Aggregate from more sources (RSS feeds, for example)
- Monetize and figure out life time revenue ASAP.
- Make strategic business development deals to scale
Disclosure: I’m an advisor to Wajam.