Photo: Visual Photos
'The search bar for your life' (illustration)
Photo: Visual Photos

Sequoia Fund bets on young Israeli

After developing new search engine, 19-year-old Daniel Gross manages to raise $4 million for his start-up. 'I want our website to compete against Google,' he says

Daniel Gross, 19, doesn't appear to be moved by the fact that someone has invested millions of dollars in his company.


"The sum doesn't matter. The moment someone invests money in a product of mine, I already act differently. I can't take a day off even if I don't feel like working," he says in an interview from his San Francisco home.


The company he founded, Greplin, recently raised $4 million from the Sequoia Fund. This sum was added to an initial investment of some $700,000 from private investors, including Bret Taylor, the chief technology officer of Facebook and a former Google executive, and Paul Buchheit, who created Gmail.


Gross isn't the first Israeli to succeed in the international high-tech industry, but the main difference between him and other start-ups is his age: We are talking about a 19-year-old boy, who has experience in developing applications in high school, but this is his first company.


"My father taught computers, so it was always there. Over time, my interest in the field grew. There is something fascinating about the ability to think about an idea and simply build it over one weekend, and then take it out to see what people think about it," he says.


Gross grew up in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood. About a year ago, when he graduated from a local high school, he sought to participate in an entrepreneurship program of American seed-stage startup funding firm Y Combinator, led by entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham. He sent the application form, but did not pin his hopes on being accepted.


Much to his surprise, Gross was invited to San Francisco to meet with Graham, who wasn't particularly enthusiastic about his idea but spotted the potential in the young man standing before him.


"There were some ideas that didn’t work out, and that's when I decided to start Greplin. The idea was in my head way before I applied for Y Combinator," he says.

The Greplin site, which defines itself as "the search bar for your life", creates an index of personal content from Google services (Gmail, Google Docs and Calendar), Facebook, Twitter, Drop Box, LinkedIn and others. All your messages, photos, statuses and chats are kept in a repository on which you can conduct a search of the information you're looking for."


Where did the initial idea come from?


"One day I wanted to find information about a party in Jerusalem, and I didn't know if someone had sent me an email or if it was a Facebook event. There were all kinds of sites where I could find the information, but there wasn't one service in which I could just type the words 'party, Tuesday, Jerusalem' and get an accurate address.


"I spent three months developing the product and meeting with potential investors. After the program ended I built a basic product myself and raised $500,000."


How did the development process go?


"I got up in the morning and went to a café. I was the first to sit down and the last to leave. And after they closed I went to another café and met with people and worked. I don't think it could have happened anywhere, because such a thing requires a start-up atmosphere – the ability to sit in a café and set up a meeting with someone who happens to work a 15-minute walk away from there."


And were there no mishaps or disruptions on the way, people who tried to steal the idea or discourage you?


"There were people who didn't understand the idea, perhaps rightfully, but I treated it like a challenge. It only strengthened my motivation to succeed. There wasn't a stage in which I asked myself what do I need this for, because the responses were divided in two: People either liked the product and wanted to invest in it, or didn't like it because a certain feature wasn't working efficiently enough. In such cases I devoted time to fix the problem and then presented the product again.


"The responses of external people were very significant in the product's development. The best example is the meeting with Taylor from Facebook. I really wanted him to invest in the company, because he's one of the most amazing engineers one could get advice from. He suggested adding a function that will have the website start searching as you type. When I came to him the following day with that change, he agreed to invest."


How do you convince a Facebook VP to meet a 19-year-old boy from Israel ?


"It's all through Y Combinator. They have a strong name. When they suggest that someone meets with me, that person takes it much more seriously. No one ever commented on my age. It's pretty amazing, and I think it comes from the general atmosphere here. It doesn't matter how old you are or where you come from. The only important thing is if you can keep your promises.


But it's still unusual, even in these surroundings.


"What convinced many people was that I managed to show them that despite being 19 and having a basic product, I still managed to do this and this in two days or a week. And if this is my pace, imagine what could be done in a year or 10. This makes me an attractive target for investment."


So don’t you have any plans to sell your company and move on in life?


"Not at all. I want Greplin to become a service like Google, which people will use and will become a central part of their life. It will make me much happier than feeling good about myself because I managed to sell my company."



פרסום ראשון: 05.10.11, 14:46
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