****Update at 12:35pm

Folks -- It's been a blast hanging out with everyone and answering your questions. Darin and I need to jump back to writing code -- we will catch up on this AMA in a few hours and make a sweep. Again, thanks for the thoughtful questions.

=Vivek & Darin


Hi Reddit,

I am Vivek Raghunathan, co-founder of Neeva (ad-free, private search) and former head of monetization at YouTube, and I am Darin Fisher, overseeing Neeva’s browser development and formerly ran the Google Chrome engineering team.

At Neeva, we have been busy trying to reimagine search and the browser with you, the end user, at the center of the experience. Neeva has no ads, is private, and is built completely for you. We offer a free basic version and a paid premium version. We only make money (and succeed) if you love the product enough that you’ll pay for it. It’s that simple.

Putting you at the center of information discovery lets us innovate in ways that existing ads-supported search engines (or as we refer to it at Neeva, “the other search engine in Mountain View”) can’t or won’t do (because it hurts the bottomline). For example, Fast Tap search gets you directly to your search results inside of our browser. The cookie cutter extension eliminates (GDPR) cookie consent pop-ups by letting you set your preferences once for all sites. NeevaScope uses our search engine to make discovery in the browser smarter.

Of course, building a search engine and a browser are no easy tasks for a small team up against a player with 80%+ market share, thousands of engineers, and billions of dollars to spend (that pesky upstart in Mountain View, CA again!). Offering a new information discovery experience for consumers across search and the browser is one of the most complicated challenges in technology, and we’d love to share our learnings.

We are happy to talk about all things search and browsers, both the product and the technology. And give you a behind the scenes look at the ads ecosystem. As well as lessons/stories from our days at Google and how those translated (or didn’t) to building a startup from scratch. And whatever else you ask us.

Ask Me (us) Anything!

Folks answering questions from Neeva:

Comments: 307 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

YoFIyness226 karma

Is this AMA really just you advertising your search engine for free?

JMWTech30 karma

It's pretty apparent it is, and having someone that went from being "head of monetization at YouTube" to being someone that cares about your privacy raises all sorts of flags.

That being said stranger things have happened and maybe this guy found jeebus and wants to atone for his sins.

vivekraghunatha39 karma

For me, it was the realization that incredibly smart, well meaning engineers who are looking to optimize for a metric can do hundreds of well meaning launches every year, and if the metric is incorrectly set (by execs like me) and incentives between users and customers are not perfectly aligned, you can end up with pretty bad long term outcomes.

At the same time, I get where you're coming from, and it's totally okay to be skeptical. To you, I'd say -- give us a shot and judge us by what we do.

MiniDemonic-4 karma

Considering the lack of answers and the wall of text presenting the product. Yes, it is just an ad.

vivekraghunatha27 karma

Darin and I would love to get questions from y'all and typing in answers as fast as we can. We had starting troubles with the AMA moderators, apologies!

Cerus-7 karma

There's a possibility that they overpaid a marketing agency for this boondoggle, so maybe not free free.

vivekraghunatha21 karma

You have the two senior most engineers in the company here -- this is entirely inhouse.

Regex0099 karma

Does the premium version really provide enough revenue for you guys to turn a profit? Seems surprising honestly.

vivekraghunatha98 karma

This is ultimately the bet we are making. We only make money if the product's good enough that you will pay for it. The result IMO is our incentives are perfectly aligned with end users and that's the way it should be. 80% of employees at Neeva are working purely on product & tech to make the end user experience better, and the other 20% are interacting with Neeva members to make sure we are listening to their feedback and using it to shape the product experience

Regex0032 karma

Impressive. Are you self funded? I imagine competing with Google isn’t cheap.

vivekraghunatha86 karma

VC funded -- Sequoia, Greylock and Inovia. There's a bit of Cambrian explosion recently in search engines, which is promising as well.

As for the costs of running crawlers, indexers and search serving systems, yes, it's not for the faint of heart, but it's less than you think it is thanks to the wonders of AWS and Spark. It's basically S3 costs, compute on Spark and Databricks, and serving off SSDs.

balek41 karma

As you are VC funded, is your goal to go public or to sell? What is your policy and thought towards your user's data if you are purchased?

ETA: Or if others replace you as the heads of the company? Is there something codified to ensure privacy?

vivekraghunatha20 karma

My priorities in the short term are very simple:
1. Deliver end value to users
2. Do it sufficiently often that they pay for using Neeva
3. And we build a successful business.

Your hypothetical questions are in the case we are not able to do 1-3. To be open about it, I would never be able to do 1-3 if I spent time dwelling on the hypothetical. I don't dwell on it.

Sridhar & I started Neeva to be a customer-first ads-free private search engine. In the hypothetical scenarios where we are not as successful as we hope to be, we aren’t going to do anything that violates the basic premise for why we started the company – your data is yours, your experience is yours. We will never sell your data to advertisers or 3rd parties.

balek11 karma

Thank you. Your answer shows that you are building a company that you want to build, which is very rare in my experience. I asked my question from a place of cynicism having seen and worked for too many companies whose main goal for existing was to be bought by a Google or Amazon, or have a big enough IPO to cash out. It is great to see important problems being addressed by people who actually care enough to see it through.

I work in identity, so I have seen what happens with mergers and acquisitions of customer data. If you want to really drive that home for people like me, put it in your EULA that you will erase my data in certain circumstances and tell me what they are.

I hope your company the best and will definitely give you a go, and let you know with my dollars if I think it is valuable. Thanks again.

vivekraghunatha10 karma

Thanks! Give us a shot and we'll work every day to earn your business.

halbritt9 karma

As for the costs of running crawlers, indexers and search serving systems, yes, it's not for the faint of heart, but it's less than you think it is thanks to the wonders of AWS and Spark. It's basically S3 costs, compute on Spark and Databricks, and serving off SSDs.

Less than I'd think and Databricks? My guess is that used in any meaningful way, their costs scale substantially relative to revenue.

vivekraghunatha10 karma

Haha that's a great comment. We spent months debating the Databricks decision. You are right that they charge an arm and a leg. The value they provide in terms of eng productivity is pretty immense fwiw, and that's true even for a company like ours with a lot of infrastructure talent

Final plug -- Vinod and Arsalan at Databricks have been incredible partners and very thoughtful about treating us as someone who will make up in long term volume what we can't give them in short term margin. Happy to make intros to them.

vivekraghunatha6 karma

(my email is [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]) if you want to email me)

NormieSpecialist53 karma

What’s going to stop you from ending up like Google?

Zen-waichi162 karma


vivekraghunatha67 karma


The_Patriot29 karma

"We only make money (and succeed) if you love the product enough that you’ll pay for it" -have you thought about asking the folks over at WinRAR how that's going to go?

vivekraghunatha13 karma

Counter example: the folks over at Netflix and many more.

hobbes6436 karma

What do you mean by Netflix? They only have a paid product.

Do you mean that they look the other way if people share their passwords? That's not paying for it, that's "stealing". Also, there's recent news how they're trying to tie logins to a single geo location.

vivekraghunatha16 karma

By Netflix, I mean an ads-free product where the only customer is the end user.

(So we are clear, our free product is not ad supported and never will be.)

4fingertakedown7 karma

Don’t you get tired of responding to business critique from armchair dorito-finger experts who haven’t the slightest idea about how to start and run a business?

vivekraghunatha4 karma

At the same time, I get where you're coming from, and it's totally okay to be skeptical. To you, I'd say -- give us a shot and judge us by what we do.

Actually don't get tired. When you are running a business, you are often in the weeds all day long. So having a bunch of folks ask high level questions is a great thing!

BaconSanwich24 karma

Remember when Duck Duck Go was all about the same thing? And now they’ve been completely compromised within the span of about a week?

vivekraghunatha46 karma

My personal opinion is that Duck tried to have its cake and eat it too. Their positioning is "we just serve up results, no editorial" and then when the shit hits the fan, they end up disappointing all their users.

The reality with all search engines is the following:
1. Search ranking is editorial. There's no getting around it. You write down human eval relevance judgement guidelines; you train your systems to it. That's an independent search engine that is implicitly editorializing. You reskin a 3rd party; that is you depending on the 3rd party's implicit editorial judgments.
2. So what should we do? Part 1 -- be transparent about how we rank. We have inhouse raters labeling domains as ads-supported, trusted, forums, blogs that we surface in our UX so you can filter down to the kinds of sites you like. We also integrate with 3rd parties like Newsguard to give you reputational signals. (And for those of you who want alternatives to Newsguard, please send them our way -- we will consider for integration)
3. So what should we do? Part 2 -- control. At the end of the day, we need to give users agency over their own ranking. if you want to upvote or downvote sites, that's what Neeva's preferred providers does.

To sum up, ranking is editorializing. With that reality in mind, we give you transparency. We give you control.

BaconSanwich8 karma

Thanks for the response. Follow up: do you honestly think results could ever be even close to reasonably balanced (for all of the reasons you mentioned), or will it become inevitably like our news which is becoming more and more extreme each year due to how they are directly incentivized to be that way (for clicks)? Is there any way to avoid these types of positive-feedback cycles?

vivekraghunatha15 karma

I think it's providing end users choice and control over their own ranking. In other words, treat them like adults.

sonofol31321 karma

How do you handle the SEO “battle” of potentially low-value sites optimizing to appear ahead of what a user may actually feel is a higher value site? One example that bugs me constantly on Google is recipe searching - top results are all these random blogs with lengthily meaningless text, pictures, ads, etc in the page before an actual recipe eventually. As a user I find those results low-value and they consistently appear above recipe pages from food network, nyt cooking, etc.

vivekraghunatha17 karma

Two streams of answers:


  1. Control: You can prioritize your favorite sites, and deprioritize sites you dislike. This gives you (the end user) control over the experience, and is.
  2. Transparency: We provide you faceted search in a number of verticals like health, programming, legal, cooking where we have worked w/ human raters to label sites as trusted/ad-supported/forums/blogs/.... -- of course, you are trusting our judgment here.
  3. Transparency: We integrate with 3P providers of authority information like NewsGuard (and if you know any others, please email me at [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]))

More strategically, we need to work with our own member community and communities of users who care about the Internet (like Reddit and Hacker News and Wikipedia) to build a web of trust of good sites with great content. In the long term, that is the most sustainable path forward

itsjustchad4 karma


Will we be able to turn off this feature? Seeing as their app has like a two star rating, I think I would prefer to make my own choice on news.

vivekraghunatha3 karma

Do you have any other site authority providers you would like to see integrated? We are always looking for options. On areas like site authority, I believe diversity is important. (We also do our own ratings for things like site facet labels (ad supported vs forums vs ...)

GetOnTheFlow10 karma

A couple of questions:

  1. Google searches now largely come up with blogspam or retail sites, is there a way to filter these (and other commercial primary sites) from my results?

  2. Searching for code on Google is difficult to impossible, how do you handle special characters (brackets, semicolons, etc.) and exactness inside quoted searches?

vivekraghunatha7 karma

Our approach to 1 is to work with human raters (and 3rd parties like NewsGuard) to provide you a rich set of facet labels for each domain and let you pick and choose which ones you want -- forums vs blogs vs ads-supported sites vs smaller retailers vs ...

On 2, it's just hard man. Tokenizing all these edge cases correctly is lot of painstaking work. Our ranking team spends a lot of time on it, as do the ranking teams at Google, Bing etc.

FTeachMeYourWays9 karma

Wtf do I need to sign in for free?

vivekraghunatha6 karma

You can definitely use neeva w/o signing in. Just go to www.neeva.com and search. Or download our extension from the Chrome, Firefox, Edge or Safari stores (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/neeva-search-%2B-protect-fo/aookogakccicaoigoofnnmeclkignpdk for Chrome).

If and when you sign up, the product gets better for you. You can optionally configure your preferred providers, which gives you full control over your ranking. You can connect your personal data (e.g Gmail, DropBox, GitHub, Figma, Slack) and we provide you one integrated search experience across public & personal data. You can collect your search results into spaces that are shareable with friends. (Think of tasks like travel planning that are fundamentally social search experiences).

therealBlackbonsai13 karma

Tell me where on this Site i can search w/o signing in? Do you know what you are selling?
even if i klick on the Get started image i get to a login screen.

tell me where is this giant Searchbar?

Praglik6 karma

No search bar on mobile either... https://i.ibb.co/3dtZH1d/IMG-20220318-191151.jpg

vivekraghunatha7 karma

Folks -- we'll take this entire stream of comments offline and debug right away. It's possible some of you are in a holdback experiment from when we launched the search box (Jan 12) on all our home page surfaces.

nrdrge1 karma

There's a bigass search bar right in the middle of the page - what are you missing?

MMdomain3 karma

You can do one search, then they want your email.

vivekraghunatha6 karma

We did some digging offline with the team.

  1. If you are from outside the US, we won't add a search box on the home page. It's because we aren't yet ready from a product perspective to support you.

  2. On things like pop-up frequency, we hear you. We overhauled our sign up flows a couple months back, and are still cleaning up from there. Will get addressed soon

MMdomain4 karma

I'm in the US. I did one search and then it asked for email. I've tried searching again and it pops up every time. How does locking results behind the email help the user? Why do I have to link my email to every search I make?

If you intend to actually take on google, then you're going to need to at least be as easy to use as google. The email wall will severely limit who uses this service. If your paid product is worth what it costs, then people will pay for it. Holding results hostage behind a wall isn't going to get you any favors.

vivekraghunatha2 karma

Not sure if you saw my post above -- on this like pop-up frequency, I hear you. It's tech debt from a sign up flow overhaul. We are fixing it.

ryanlewisdavies7 karma

When I go to your site I cannot search and it needs my personal info to sign up for an account to use it.

What steps are you taking to remove this appalling user journey in order to make you actually competitive to other privacy focused search engines like Duck Duck Go?

vivekraghunatha6 karma

Debugging live here -- desktop/mobile, and which browser/OS? You should be able to search on our search box: see this https://imgur.com/a/7YPwcE9

briefcasefullofbacon7 karma

For the higher ups at youtube do they have favorite youtubers that they actually watch for the content?

vivekraghunatha22 karma

I love Scott Manley, Verisatarium and the Armchair Historian. My kids love SSSniperWolf, who I can tolerate. PewDiePie and the Paul brothers caused my teams lots of headaches when I was there, so lets just say I am not a fan.

shlopman4 karma

Google sucks for searching porn because of their safe search. Do you filter porn results out?

vivekraghunatha7 karma

We give you choice (as do Google and Bing to give them credit where it's due). By default, our safe search setting is off (so you'll get porn if you are looking for it). But if you want safe search, you can turn it on, and we'll of course respect that setting.

cmv14 karma

As ex employees of said behemoth company, what was the turning point where you decided to actually try and not do evil? Do you have any regrets about your tenures there?

vivekraghunatha7 karma

For me, it was the realization that incredibly smart, well meaning engineers who are looking to optimize for a metric can do hundreds of well meaning launches every year, and if the metric is incorrectly set (by execs like me) and incentives between users and customers are not perfectly aligned, you can end up with pretty bad long term outcomes.

It's easy to feel that way about it. Much harder to actually end up doing something about it. Which is why Sridhar and I ended up co-founding Neeva, so user incentives were aligned in the foundation of the company itself.

30303 karma

What are you doing to make yourself a better option than Google? Small list of (some of) Google's problems:

  • Blatantly preying upon users, harvesting data and constructing 'profiles' of said data to sell without consent of the end user. Aggressive "botnet" design that introduces "features" for the sole purpose of accomplishing this.
  • Joining at the hip with the federal government, blatantly 'curating' search results, picking and choosing favorites because the Pentagon commands them to.
  • Abruptly abandoning projects, effectively robbing people by convincing them to 'switch over', only to take their money and force them to spend even more migrating right back.
  • Corporatist cult culture that justifies all of the above, imbuing the entire company with many, many negative Orwellian connotations.

vivekraghunatha6 karma

I would start w/ a SRP that has no ads. The most common reaction we get from our members is the sense of calm. We've all grown blind to how bad the SRP experience has become on the 20% of queries with commercial intent. It's time to stop ignoring the problem and take control back. It's time to stop assuming the first 3 results are irrelevant and you are going to skip over to result 4. You don't need to feel stressed out from the cognitive overload. You can make your search results infinitely better overnight.

Of course, once you do that, you'll start noticing all the other nice things about Neeva. Search results that show you instant previews. Search results that you can control the ranking of. A search engine that can search over your personal data in addition to the public web. A search engine that is stateful and lets you co-search and share your search experiences with others. A search engine that gets you results directly in the browser. A search engine that makes your browser smarter. And a search engine that does all things while blocking trackers and preventing the web from taking your privacy away.

rolyoh2 karma

I haven't yet tried Neeva, but do you use completely ad-free? Or is there a freemium level? I like to see ads for products I'm interested in. That is the caveat, though: "interested in". If ads I'm being shown will save me money on things I buy, and the savings adds up to more than the cost of the service, it's a win IMO. What I don't like is being shown ads that look like search results. JM2C.

vivekraghunatha3 karma

Neeva is completely ad-free across the board. On commercial queries, we'll show you relevant commercial information; just based on the search engine's ranking.

And yikes on ads that look like search results -- the reason the ads-supported search engines do that is it maximizes click through rate.

4fingertakedown2 karma

How does it compare with Brave?

vivekraghunatha5 karma

I'll speak from a biased PoV. We are a better end user experience :).

On the end user side, using Neeva means you can personalize and control your own ranking. Using Neeva means you can connect your personal data (Gmail, DropBox, Slack, ...) to Neeva and search over it. Using Neeva means you get search results as you type in the Neeva mobile app. Using Neeva means your browser automatically clusters your tabs, and makes you smarter! Using Neeva means great full page search experiences on queries like [lemon bars] or [best headphones] or [react hooks] that get you the answers you want. On the end user side, Brave is very much a "this is the search engine you use when you use Brave" -- and I am not sure if they spend as much time on the end user experience as we do.

On the tech side, lots of the attention that Brave Search gets is very much about their "independent index". My understanding is Brave Search is a rebadged version of the Cliqz/Tailcat search engine that Josep Pujol (who is great and is at Brave) and others built. Their work is largely built on the Human Web system that Cliqz built where they get their users to share the Google SRP with them. The same idea powers Brave's "Fallback mixing". Neeva's search tech is more a combination of a traditional search engine like Google or Bing (summarize the document, understand the query, understand the link structure of the web, use hundreds of signals to match relevant docs to the query and trained on human eval). Both Brave and Neeva crawl and index the web; we just have very different approaches to ranking.

DominoLogic2 karma

Are you considering offering search tools geared towards professionals? People in fields like finance, legal, STEM, etc. often want to look up very specific information and any search engine that returns better results than Google for such queries would definitely have some demand among professionals.

vivekraghunatha5 karma

We've considered it and are experimenting.

  • We find users in professional settings find our personal search offerings very compelling. Its why we built Slack, Jira, GitHub, Figma, DropBox integration into the product -- it's a pain point our end users hit and have asked us to fix
  • We also find users in professional settings know what they are doing, and want to quickly filter down to sources that are authoritative. It's why we built out faceted search for verticals like health, legal and programming, so if all you care for are results from the NIH, that's super easy to do.

DominoLogic4 karma

Thanks for answering. I feel that if you can nail professional search, people wouldn't mind paying even 10x of the monthly fee that you are charging now.

vivekraghunatha4 karma

Thanks for the feedback -- will take it back to the team!

DominoLogic2 karma

How are you funded?

vivekraghunatha2 karma

VC funded -- Sequoia and Greylock and Inovia.

An-Actual-Pencil2 karma

I appreciate this is judging a book by it's cover but why should we trust the former head of Monetisation for YouTube, something famously broken and unfair?

vivekraghunatha3 karma

It's a fair question and you are completely in your right to question my motives. It's totally okay to be skeptical. To you, I'd say -- give us a shot and judge us by what we do.

halbritt1 karma

What is your approach to guaranteeing search quality?

vivekraghunatha4 karma

Like Google and Bing, we use human eval relevance judgements on random query sets as the north star we optimize for. We baseline where we are with respect to Google and Bing, and work on signals and models that improve our ranking. We work with a number of vendors (Beans.AI, Telus, Appen, IonIdea, SurgeHQ and Scale.AI) to build out these templates and collect labeled data. Many of these vendors are also used by Google and Bing.

(I am not sure if Duck does any independent search quality work of their own)

brettstoner1 karma

When you worked at Google did Google care or worry about ad-blockers? Did they invest time, resources, engineers on the issue?

vivekraghunatha9 karma

My understanding (and could be dates) is that AdBlockPlus (and others) "whitelist" google.com (which is where the primary $$ is made) in exchange for $$ from Google -- it's a bit of a shakedown

Separately, Google periodically considered efforts like an Acceptable Ads Standard baked into browsers like Chrome that whitelisted "good ad formats" (with most ad formats from Google getting whitelisted) and blacklisted "bad ad formats" (like 30s non skippables). My experience with efforts like acceptable ads was there were well meaning engineers and PMs leading these efforts, but structurally, these were not set up to succeed given they were negotiations across various product areas (Chrome and the display ads teams in this case).

jonomacd1 karma

Is your main competitive difference privacy? If so how will you rise above the other privacy focused products that have not made much if a dent against Google? Users seem to generally not care about privacy (see the rise of Zoom when it was a privacy disaster) do you think you can make them care?

vivekraghunatha4 karma

Our main competitive difference is building an entirely better search experience. Every feature, idea, and product we offer is entirely around getting you the most useful information as quickly as possible and nothing else. We are private and ads-free because our business model demands it. Things like taking you away from a search results page entirely, or given you more information about the site you are on, or transparency and control in the sources you are shown. These are all features that make for a better experience and will continue to get better.

Like Jaron Lanier and Tristan Harris say in the Social Dilemma, the ads-supported tech industry and the drug industry are the only industries that call their users users. At Neeva, that's not the case. We are not peddling you to anyone.The user is our only customer. We only make money if our customers are happy.

tankuboat-9 karma

I'm super excited to follow Neeva's progress and the future of search. I do have a few questions.

  1. Does Neeva use a fundamentally different ranking algorithm/model? How is it it different than the DuckDuckGo model?
  2. By focussing just on search as a problem, do you foresee changes in the way a user interacts with content?
  3. Do you see the boundary between searching online and searching locally as blurred?
  4. Do you believe ads and computing can work together?

If Neeva does deliver on the idea of paid service for search free of tracking, I am looking forward to seeing what else comes from the the team! Good luck!

vivekraghunatha1 karma

Thanks for the question.

On 1, we crawl the web as neevabot. We are currently crawling few hundred million pages per day, and our index is in the billions of docs. Our ranker uses a combination of modern deep learning (transformer models) and traditional informational retrieval. We also use 3P services like Bing for cases where our index coverage is not quite there yet. My understanding of Duck is its purely syndicating Bing, but I don't want to speak for them fully.

On 2, I think you are completely right. To give you an example of how this can change how the product is shaped, look no further than FastTap, where we show you search results directly in our mobile browser. We can do this because we don't need you to search on neeva.com to make money, so we can take the results directly to where you are (in the browser).

On 3, I personally think where the industry is headed is search that blends public information and your personal data. I think most of the latter will come from SaaS services that you connect to (like GitHub or DropBox or Gmail or Office365 or Slack), and less from what's on local storage.

therealBlackbonsai8 karma

Answering fake questions on a Ad AmA. Is that tactics you learned at google or did you learn that by yourself?

vivekraghunatha-1 karma

I love the optimism implied in that question ;).

Darin and I are just on this AMA answering any questions you have, (and working with the moderators to resolve some tech issues at the beginning).

Speaking of which, do you have one?