Gabriel Weinberg AMA is happening on OCT 7th (2pm EST)
Gabriel Weinberg is the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn’t track you with over three billion searches in 2015. He’s also the co-author of the bestselling book TRACTION: How any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth. Previously he was the cofounder and CEO of Opobox, which was sold for $10 million. Weinberg resides in Valley Forge, PA and on twitter @yegg.
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Gabriel Weinberg – Founder & CEO, DuckDuckGo – Transcript
The AMA with Gabriel Weinberg was held on October 7th, 2016. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.
Hi all, great to be here! I’m the CEO & Founder of DuckDuckGo (https://DuckDuckGo.com), the search engine that doesn’t track you, and the co-author of Traction (http://tractionbook.com), the book that helps startups get traction (2nd edition came out yesterday).
Anyone in the past or present looking to acquire you guys?
Yes, we’ve had acquisition offers right from the beginning, but nothing that we’ve gotten too serious about.
Did you write any code?
I was a solo founder without any employees for the first three and half years, writing the vast majority of the code (just outsourced our mobile apps). My last company had no employees and I wrote everything.
Bunch of things — not credible offer or company. Not a strategic fit. Doesn’t share our vision, etc.
Does the DuckDuckGo algorithm piggyback off Google?
Nope — no Google APIs used except YouTube API for video results.
How does your company generate revenue?
What’s the most surprising insight you had from creating Traction (great book, btw– I must have recommended it to a dozen people by now)?
Several – you should start getting traction immediately when starting to develop a project: https://medium.com/swlh/the-secret-to-having-a-successful-launch-48e4a233a50d
What are the top 3 data problems you run into at DuckDuckGo?
1) data that costs money 2) synchronizing data across the world 3) getting data feeds fast in real time
Ever thought of monetizing your data through other means… like selling it to Ahrefs or something?
Can you share a couple anecdotes of how you gained traction with DuckDuckGo?
We really applied the framework from the book — https://medium.com/marketing-102/the-bullseye-framework-for-getting-traction-ef49d05bfd7e — we’ve switched channels 5 times: SEO to content marketing to social ads to publicity to business development and now are looking for another channel.
Who is your “Matt Cutts” in DuckDuckGo?
It’s been me to date:)
What kinds of internal monitoring do you do of results?
We have a lot of internal monitoring of results and systems to make sure things are working. We have an instant answer platform with over 500 sources https://duck.co/ia and we need to know which are up and down, for example.
Most searched KW in DDG?
Not sure honestly, but a lot of navigational stuff is at the top like YouTube, Facebook, etc.
How many pages does DDG crawl a day?
We stopped our cross-the-web crawling a while ago. We focus on crawling for spam and deep crawling for instant answers via DuckDuckHack (http://duckduckhack.com/), so as a result I don’t really have a good answer for that, since it isn’t a core metric.
Does DDG use user metrics to rank pages (i.e. click-through, etc.)?
Not directly. We run experiments to test different things, but not a direct feedback loop like that.
With such a behemoth like Google in the search space, what kind of goals do you guys have in mind for your platform? What does being the smaller player in the space look like in terms of vision?
We want to truly differentiate and focus on things we don’t think the big guys will do, and that are uniquely aligned to our strengths and values. Privacy is of course a good example (we don’t track you), but DuckDuckHack (http://duckduckhack.com) is another — we take an open approach to instant answers as opposed to others’ closed approaches. Design is a third.
What’s been the hardest aspect of what you are doing to “justify” to investors?
It hasn’t been that hard. I waited years before seeking investment, and as I like to say Traction Trumps Everything – https://medium.com/life-learning/traction-trumps-everything-d0c59919c00d — consequently we were able to raise from great investors who are really bought into our vision and with us for the long term.
Hypothetically, if somebody was using DuckDuckGo on Chrome, could Google put the dots together and still feed that individual personalized search results through DuckDuckGo? Have you ever seen anything like this happen?
The Chrome privacy settings are somewhat unclear as to what they allow to use and share. We recommend going into those settings and turning them off, but I’m honestly not sure and haven’t seen or heard of anything like that happening and am doubtful it would. We are also all encrypted so if you are on DDG itself your data wouldn’t be exposed.
Where did the inspiration for a product like yours come from?
I wasn’t too into my last company, product-wise. After tha,t I decided I only wanted to do something I could work on for the next decade, since that is the time scale in startups it really generally takes to be successful. I had hunches for what that might be, but wasn’t sure, so started about a dozen side projects. After a year or so I knew way more, and combined a few of those into what became DuckDuckGo. I’m really attracted to data, algorithms, answers, and the challenge of getting people to switch search engines.
Throw me an interesting fact about DuckDuckGo.
All of our staff has been hired from our community and consequently are scattered across the world.
What’s one thing you learned throughout DuckDuckGo’s existence that you found fascinating (data based)?
That as you grow, things you did earlier marketing wise no longer move the needle, as your goals are so much bigger. For example, a front page major newspaper story now wouldn’t make much of a difference, but it did years ago. You have to really tie things to the scale and numbers you’re focused on.
If somebody is just using Chrome without Tor, etc., is it really any more secure than using Google directly?
Definitely way more secure — on Google, your whole history is most certainly tracked and used to target ads at you throughout the web.
But what if I’m signed into Chrome with my Google account? Obviously, I probably wouldn’t be, but it strikes me that a lot of normal internet users may well be.Is there any advantage to using DDG?
It doesn’t matter if you go to DuckDuckGo we are completely encrypted. The URL itself is encrypted over HTTPS so the keywords aren’t linked. DuckDuckGo doesn’t collect or share personal information. You can’t get that anywhere else. In addition, we think we have an overall better search experience even beyond privacy though better open answers and design.
But would view DDG as more secure…
It is secure — you being signed into Google in Chrome doesn’t penetrate the HTTPS.
OK, good to know. That’s the part I am genuinely unsure about.
Yeah, you can additionally install other privacy add-ons to make Chrome more secure, as well as go in and turn off some of the additional Google stuff.
From a privacy/security standpoint, what is one of the most alarming things you see coming from your competition, and are you doing anything to go in the opposite direction?
There seems to be no limit on tracking, and I think there should be: https://medium.com/life-learning/privacy-is-at-a-crossroads-choose-wisely-96bac0644ec1 — I don’t see the tracking stopping unless we step in with some kind of limits.
What’s the Penn tech scene like? Is it harder to attract talent out there? Or are you mostly distributed?
We are almost completely distributed, though I love living here, and we do have an office here (I’m sitting in), and I like the tech community and have been trying my best to help it where I can.
Are you able to give us a breakdown of the ranking factors from most important to least?
It’s really the same as others, with links being the major factor. For us in particular, we’re focused on DuckDuckHack (http://duckduckhack.com), our open source instant answer platform, and since we put instant answers above ads and links, that is the place to be if you can. We’re always looking for good sources to partner with there.
What percentage of your search traffic is for porn?
On porn — I’m unsure. There is definitely some, but I’m not sure it is actually more than other engines.
I notice you guys aren’t on the HSTS preload list – https://hstspreload.appspot.com/ – does this mean that the initial request to DDG goes over http?
Yes, we would like to talk more about that. I think people don’t realize for example, they’re being charged different prices on a lot of retailers and cutting down on their data profiles would help with that. And other ways their search history could impact them later on (legal, ads following them around, filter bubble, etc.). Not sure on the HSTS preload but will pass it along.
Cool, read about it here – http://www.troyhunt.com/2015/06/understanding-http-strict-transport.htmlFor a security related site, might be good to know about…
Do you do anything as a distributed team to make teams members feel… closer together?
A lot of things! We do a yearly in-person meetup, and do a lot of video chat using Zoom.us and a lot of chat.
So, since you guys don’t track the user, does that mean the search results aren’t location based?
We can deliver local instant answers without tracking you, so for example you can do weather and get local weather.
I think you would love what I’m building (the local web). How would one go about getting some time to show you how awesome it is?
Email me yegg@DuckDuckGo.com — if it is good for instant answers you can email the right people at DDG at bd@DuckDuckGo.com.
What do you think about Online Geniuses?
From what I’ve seen, I like it — I’m all about communities.
What’s a product you wish you had the all the resources to create?
Great question. This isn’t as much of a product as something I would like to see exist that would have an app form on the Web. I want a way to map out the serious debates we’re having (climate change, inequality, whatever) and move them from black and white to way more nuanced through the use of a flow chart system to really analyze different parts of the debate visually and help people assess where they really are in each debate.
As as a solo founder, at what stage did you first hire someone (before funding? after funding?) and curious, what role did you hire? If after funding, how did you handle that question while raising funding about why you are operating solo?
I went three and half years before hiring — arguably way too long.We were an unusual series A raise with no employees. Our first hire was our now CTO. I waited so long, that we had enough traction with the idea to be OK.
Is promoting your book overly distracting? And how much do you hate/love doing it?
Way too distracting. It is a love/hate thing, though. I really believe the book is helping people get traction, and that’s why I did it in the first place, and we have some decent evidence from that through talking to people after the first edition. But day to day, I hate promotion. I’ve never enjoyed talking about myself, for example. So for the book, I just try to talk about the ideas… That said, the part I do like is being able to test new marketing things and platforms. That can be fun, but since so much is going on at DuckDuckGo it is too distracting.
Off Topic question: Who in jail do you think should be free?
Most everyone incarcerated.
Can you explain?
I think jailing most of the people in jail is counter-productive for society.Great example of what I was saying about a project that would map a debate more detailed, and all the sub-nuances behind it.
What sort of traction did you have at that point (when you raised the series A)? How do you measure your traction, searches/week?
Our core metric is direct searches (human, non-bot, non-API) and we make them public at http://DuckDuckGo.com/traffic— we were at ~7M a month and now we’re 300M.
If you could get your hands on any data set in the world, what would it be?
I don’t know. I’d probably want to accelerate data on personalized medicine so we can make some serious progress on anti-aging.
Congrats on the new book. Just downloaded it. Do you think it’s more important for a solo founder to focus on product or marketing in the early stages?
Thanks for picking up the book! As you will soon read, we strongly recommend and try to make the case for what we call the 50% rule — spending half your time on getting traction and half on product right from the beginning. A summary of that argument is here https://medium.com/swlh/the-secret-to-having-a-successful-launch-48e4a233a50d
How much did your vision play a part in your early fundraising, vs your traction or technology?
I think it was traction + vision. Vision that there could really be an alternative search engine to get traction around privacy and open source answers and other things Google can’t do easily, and enough traction to show it was possibly doable.
If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the Philly startup community, what would it be? (Not including everything you already do :P)
10 more monetates or DuckDuckGos or RJMetrics — more companies at the kind of series B and beyond stage.What about you?
I wish I could be a part of the solution you mentioned, still working on bootstrapping off the ground. Along the lines of what you brought up: if there were more startups getting seed money, that would raise the chances of any of them making it to a B round. I’ve never focused on raising, only building & getting traction (had a great talk with Zac from DDG at an event about this).
Keep at it. Glad Zac’s talk was useful.
Do you think Medium is the best platform to post content?
I ran my own blog for a long time and took it down this year and switched to Medium, so yeah, but honestly it has become really hard to reach readers lately relative to a few years ago.
My website ranks well on Google, but badly on DDG, can I submit to DDG directly?
No direct submissions, sorry.
In what scenario would you take down a result from your SERP?
A request that is legally binding on us.
Nothing from a moral point of view?
When I search for my name, I find LinkedIn and Facebook ranked above my own domain name. Shouldn’t I rank above their weak directory listings because I have 1000’s of backlinks and also an exact match domain name? Does domain popularity outrank relevance on DDG?
As you would imagine, so many factors, and it is super hard to analyze one search without digging into a ton of things.
What are you planning for on-platform advertising in the future?
Not sure what you mean.
About ads on your platform.
Gotcha — we syndicate the Yahoo/Microsoft alliance and that’s our foreseeable future.
In an alternate universe, what type of revenue model for DDG would you like to have?
Would have loved to make affiliate really work.
What do you do in your free time, to relax and unwind?
Free time? Hah. Family (two kids 4 & 6) take up the rest.
<– family with 3 kids. I still get an hour here or there.
Well the answer was the book.
And now it’s back to painting model trains?
Unclear — you may see me publishing more posts…
TBH do you only use DDG as your SE?
For years and years.
Silly Q and sorry if it was asked – but why, DuckDuckGo? (The name, hehe)
No great answer.I’m bad with coming up with names and pre-DDG it popped into my head and my wife liked it — a surefire sign I should use it for something!
The wife is always right!
Yes, good rule of thumb
What’s your favorite gif?
Wow, great question.
Let me guess…
Hah giphy.gif Might be that.
That said, I made some of my own that I’m partial to…zen.gif.gif rory.gif.gif nothing.gif.gif dishes.gif.gif
So I like those too.
I LOVE GILMORE GIRLS.
Really hard to use those because no one gets the reference — but my wife does.
I can hear the last one in my head so clearly.
What big public facing features are you working on?
It is no secret we need date filters — we’re focused right now on major gaps as well as supporting people to do new cool instant answers on our DuckDuckHack platform
Any DDG swag available?
What has been the most effective traction channel for the book?
https://medium.com/next-to-launch/getting-traction-for-traction-book-12-328-copies-by-the-numbers-d62cbb1527f6 — last year podcasts and then email marketing
2XL tshirts sold out.,,,,Nooooooooo
Just ordered the new book.
Thank you everyone for the fun AMA! Back to work…
This was a great one, thank you!
My pleasure, thanks for having me.
Thanks, guys… follow Gabriel on Twitter.Twitter.com/yegg