Neeva, which for a while looked like one of the startups with a real chance to challenge Google Search’s supremacy, announced on Saturday that it is closing its search engine. The company says it’s all about AI – and may be acquired by Snowflake, The information reported – but mostly seems to believe it failed.
“Building search engines is hard,” Neeva co-founders Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan wrote in a blog post announcing the closure. (Ramaswamy in particular is part of the reason Neeva seemed promising — as a longtime head of Google’s advertising business, few people are better equipped to know how to build and monetize search than he is.) But Neeva did it, they said. It built a good, competitive search engine. It was even way ahead of Google in some ways, like swapping 10 blue links for a more visual page and highlighting man-made information.
But building the search engine was actually the easy part. “During this journey, we discovered that it is one thing to build a search engine, and quite another to convince ordinary users of the need to move to a better choice,” Ramaswamy and Raghunathan continued.
Building the search engine was actually the easy part
I’ve spoken to Neeva’s co-founders several times over the years and their list of grievances here is long and well-founded. They’ve had to deal with the billion-dollar deals Google is signing to make itself the default search engine on devices everywhere; the huge “are you sure you want to change?” pop-ups that appear when you try to set a new default browser or search engine; the difficulty of finding those settings in the first place; the mess that is the Chrome Web Store; on and on and on. Anyone trying to build a new search engine is fighting an extremely uphill battle.
Neeva was also a paid product, as the company tried to prove a different business model for search than ads and surveillance. “Contrary to popular belief,” the co-founders wrote in the blog post, “convincing users to pay for a better experience was actually a less difficult problem than getting them to try a new search engine in the first place .” Combine that with a tough economy, and Neeva just didn’t see a business way forward.
The timing here is really interesting. Neeva retires at what may be the best time in two decades for upstart search engines. are users increasingly fed up with the ad load and subpar results they get from Google, and AI chatbots like Bing and ChatGPT have turned everyone’s idea of how to interact with the internet upside down. Neeva also capitalized on this by developing a large language model-based system called Neeva AI, which is in many ways more useful than what you get from Bing or Bard. But even that wasn’t enough.
The race to take down Google is, of course, still in full swing: Bing continues to push hard to gain market share and Brave recently touted that it now runs entirely on its own search stack. Companies like you.com and DuckDuckGo are also trying to rethink the way search works and are using AI to do so. But so far it seems that Google’s only real competitor is, well, Google.
Neeva’s search engine will stop on June 2. Going forward, Neeva will “shift into a new area of focus,” which appears likely to be LLM-based and related to the Snowflake acquisition. The company will refund users for the unused portion of their Neeva subscriptions and delete all user data. “We are truly grateful to our community,” the co-founders wrote, “and we are truly sorry that we are unable to continue to provide the search engine you want and deserve.”