It is our immense pleasure to be presenting this conversation with Sameer Nath, Co-founder and Head of Programming at Meekd.com, a Dubai-based global search engine that deprioritises sponsored and promotional content to offer real organic results.
The platform was officially launched in February 2019, under its parent company called AlphaNumeric Inc., based in the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (Dtec). The startup last month has also successfully raised its first round of seed funding.
About Meekd.com founders
Sameer Nath, Co-founder and Head of Programming at Meekd.com has worked with several large corporations including IBM, Citibank. Emirates NBD, and National Bank of Fujairah (NBF). After leaving NBF in 2018, Nath along with his co-founder, Muhannad AlDarrai, started working on Meekd, the search engine was launched in February, after two years of hard work.
Muhannad AlDarrai, Co-founder and CEO of Meekd, is an ex-banker, worked with several large institutions including NBF and Dunia Finance. AlDarrai holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering.
In this interview, we asked Nath various questions – to let our audience know about the core-cognition behind Meekd.com, its benefits for the users, and how organic search is the way forward. Let’s hear it!
LAFFAZ: What triggered you to start Meekd.com, and what are the key propositions of meekd.com when compared to the legacy search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo etc?
Sameer Nath: Over the past few years using Search Engines that are currently available, we noticed an increase in the number of instances where the more pertinent information was not available on the first page of search results – especially when it came to MENA-related webpages.
The problem was that we started seeing an increase in the amount of time spent on going through several search results to find the best webpages. The big Search Engines always prefer and up-rank Sponsored or paid-for results content. We saw several cases where valid search results were getting suppressed.
In our ideation stage, we interviewed over 400 users in the UAE and found that less than 1% of them, go beyond the first page of the search engine results. This finding of ours is are also mirrored by many similar overseas surveys conducted over the past few years. So, in other words, if you are not in the top 5 search results, you are essentially invisible. There’s a famous joke once shared by Jeremy Stoppelman (of Yelp): “The best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of Google results!”. This means that for the meek players of the world, who’re fighting for visibility against the larger corporations, in this world driven by pseudo-SEO-science and paid-for ranking, there is little hope to be discovered online.
Currently, there are just 2 global Search Engines, Google and Bing.
There are some regional search engines like Baidu (China) and Yandex (Russia). The rest such as Yahoo, AOL, Duckduckgo, Ask.com, etc. are all Search Aggregators that are licensed to show Bing results (i.e. they either partly owned by or have a profit-sharing model with Bing or Google). These Search aggregators e.g. Duckduckgo, simply show Bing results with a bit of re-ordering of their top 5 results. So outside of the top 2 engines that have a monopoly on all information online, there are no global alternatives.
When I was working for IBM in Canada, I got to meet Scott Cleland, former US Deputy Assistance Secretary of State for Information & Communication Policy. And he informed me and my colleagues about some amazing facts:
- The founders of Google, Larry and Sergey themselves despised the ads-driven page ranking, that they wrote the same in their paper “The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual Web search engine“, at Stanford, back in 1998. ZDNet also later cited the same. They also believed, “Advertiser-funded search engine will be inherently biased towards advertisers away from the needs of the consumers“. They highlighted how Search Engines have become a “Black Art” and the results are “Advertising Oriented”.
- Eric Schmidt (Alphabet’s Board Chair) confirmed to ZDnet at a SearchEngines Conference, “Ultimately our goal at Google is to have the strongest advertising network and all the world’s information…”
Although they do understand that ‘Ads-driven results’ ranking is basically a horrible service to provide to the consumers, that has become their Mission, or at least an ultimate ‘part of their mission’!
With all that in mind, we decided to launch a new Search Engine that would address this need. Meekd.com is now ready to be the world’s third independent Search Engine, not licensed to the large Search corporations.
On all typical search engines, that are driven by ads, while users search and click on search results, their history is being recorded to profile them, to ultimately place more sponsored results and ads into their future searches. There’s also a growing need for a local search engine that understands the MENA market at a deeper level – understanding the nuances and the finer subtle nitty-gritties of this region.
More and more local businesses have already been reaching out to us to offer them more visibility and outreach in the market. We sense that local businesses have been struggling to constantly nurture the ballooning pseudo-SEO-consultancies that offer visions of online dominance. SMEs are looking forward to any respite that can bring them clients without paying the SEO pundits. We know that we are in a good position to fill this gap.
LAFFAZ: Was it challenging for you to raise the first investment round for Meekd.com since you are directly competing with the traditional search engine giants?
Sameer Nath: Yes, especially in our region, investments usually go to startups that have proven cash flow and/or actual client contracts. Our model as you can see, is not one where we can show you a list of “clients” or cash flow in right in the first year (this by the way, is typical with tech startups in our genre). To convince investors to invest based on the growth of users alone can be an uphill battle.
LAFFAZ: So bootstrapping Meekd.com for two years was a choice or was it due to the challenges?
Sameer Nath: We knew at the onset, that coding this project alone would be a 1-2 year task. Furthermore, we understood no one would be investing until we have a working prototype with actual users, which we do now. So bootstrapping was the only option. It was most challenging since we had to debate and re-discuss every additional dollar being spent, considering we’d both resigned from our jobs to focus on coding fulltime.
LAFFAZ: Every new startup that we see today starts with an initial focus of raising funds to reach the masses in a shorter span, but most of them end up struggling with funding rather than working on their product. Would you like to throw some light on the subject so that the aspiring entrepreneurs, especially the youth could learn from it?
Sameer Nath: I can speak for myself, considering we are a pure tech-startup, we had to focus on coding for the first couple of years to get a prototype ready. Most people we spoke with told us that “it couldn’t be done!”. It would have been great if there were more visionary investors in the world who believed in true innovation over proven cash flows. However, the reality is people would only give you their money if you can show them something solid to bank on.
Raising funds can be a fulltime job. And you cannot code and pursue your fundraising efforts at the same time. We chose to focus on coding first and subsequently shifted focus to seeking investment. As per me, for tech entrepreneurs, initially focus on making the product great and impressive, then focus on seeking investment.
LAFFAZ: Since Meekd.com prioritises organic content where the results are ranked based on user votes, what’s the monetization tactic that you have while working on such kinds of a model?
Sameer Nath: We are building a ranking framework where part of the ranking score is driven by the users themselves. Which means we’ll not be up-ranking paid-for results. Just like Larry said – any Search engine that is based on monetizing ads in their results cannot be trusted.
So we decided to generate revenue via alternative means. We have been coding a framework/eco-system where we’d be able to offer a suite of services dedicated to both individuals and companies, like cloud storage, online business listings, and email services. Our ads services are based on non-intrusive approach of using a segregated Related Products listing, which is tabbed separately from the main Search Results.
LAFFAZ: What are your expansion plans for Meekd.com? Will you be allowing users to submit their website feeds on Meekd.com just like Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools?
Sameer Nath: We have been working on a whole dashboard to allow businesses and individuals to sign up for various services including submitting their corp. or personal websites. Additionally, we are also working on launching our own Maps and an exciting new features of ‘Offline Web Search’ (search without being connected to the internet). Plus, we also have a video hosting feature that the team has been working on.
LAFFAZ: Thank you for taking time for this mesmerising conversation, let us know about your experience with LAFFAZ.
Sameer Nath: I appreciate that LAFFAZ is working hard to bring visibility to the small players in the startup sector. Most platforms simply focus only on large well-known brands and corporations. It is invigorating to see that the meek early-stage entrepreneurs have a platform that supports them. We’d like to partner with LAFFAZ to showcase their publications on our News and Technology segment.