massive PR. That gets the early adopters buzzing and then its off to the races. That works beautifully when the start-up is actually creating a new market. Twitter is a brilliant example (leaving out tech issues and monetization, Twitter has to be one of the best examples of rapid market adoption). However this does not work well when it is a mature market. It is hard to see why so experienced a team at Cuil would have made such a fundamental strategic error.Cuil did it by the start-up text book - stealth mode to big launch and then
Unfortunately for Cuil, this could be a great opportunity for Yahoo BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service) to shine.
Like most people who saw the Cuil hype, I did some searches and got the same “curate’s egg” - something that is partly good and partly bad, but as a result is entirely spoilt. Some searches were really interesting and the results were way better. The Explore by Category from my search on Vista P2P is phenomenal. However other searches simply came up blank, searches that Google (and even Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask deliver just fine). To Cuil, my other searches may have seemed “obscure” but they were not obscure to me. That experience means that I will not change my searching habits. To use Cuil I would effectively have to search in Google as well, in case Cuil had missed it. No way, in other words.
Cuil clearly understand that this is a scale game. You have to search as much if not more than the competition. Thus their PR about “the world’s biggest search engine”. For a start-up to compete on scale right out of the box is strategically…weird is the word that comes to mind. Particularly if you don’t have some disruptive technology that changes the economics. They understood the need, PR delivered, execution failed. They must have known it would fail. Surely?
Let me try this pitch on the next VC I meet. “To win we have to be as big as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft the day we launch, if not we don’t get any adoption”. I don’t think I would get the check, but maybe I don’t have the magic touch.
Why is this a big opportunity for Yahoo BOSS? Yahoo already has the scale in crawling and indexing. They already find those “obscure” searches that Cuil missed. The cool stuff on Cuil, the 3 panes and the Explore by Category, can be built by self-funded start-ups in their garage. These will probably be vertical, it will be search embedded into other apps. It is search as infrastructure. Come on Yahoo, you have Icahn off you back, make this work!