DuckDuckGo: A Single Founder Gets An Army Of Fans To Take On Google – with Gabriel Weinberg

Posted on Dec 5, 2011 - 8:19 AM PST

How does a single founder go up against Google in search and actually get traction?

Joining me is Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo, a search engine that has had about 10 million direct queries per month, and recently raised $3 million from some of the smartest investors in the business.

Oh, and Time Magazine called DuckDuckGo one of the top 50 best sites of 2011.

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About Gabriel Weinberg

Gabriel Weinberg is the founder of DuckDuckGo, a search engine.

Raw transcript

Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

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Hey, everyone. I’m Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of, home of the ambitious upstart, a site where we learn from successful people how they did it. I bring back their ideas so that you can go out there, use them and hopefully do what today’s guest is doing, which is an interview where you teach others what you’ve learned.

So here’s my big question for this interview, the question that I’m walking into this conversation with: how does a single founder go up against Google in search and actually get traction? Joining me is Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo, a search engine that has about 10 million direct queries per month and recently raised $3 million from some of the smartest investors in the business. Oh, and Time Magazine called DuckDuckGo one of the top 50 sites of 2011. Gabriel, welcome.

Gabriel: Thanks. It’s great to be back, Andrew.

Andrew: Yeah, it’s good to have you back here. So, I think last time that you were on here, I asked you, “What are you expecting to do in this space?” And I really regretted the way that I asked that question because I said, “I wonder if it came across as condescending? I wonder if it didn’t come across as just me being in awe of what you’re trying to do, but also saying, ‘Are you really going after this space?’” And you just kept building and building and building and tell me a little bit about where you are right now, before I get into the different things that I’ve observed about how you got here. How big is DuckDuckGo today?

Gabriel: So, time-wise, I’ve been doing this close to four years, or just around there. So it’s been awhile, longer than a lot of start-ups end up being around. So that’s something if you’re thinking about incremental progress over time, there’s been a lot of increments or a lot of time for increments. We just hired our first employee.

Andrew: Let me stop you right there. So you have one employee plus you, right?

Gabriel: Yes.

Andrew: Google, according to their last head count that they released publicly has 31,353 people.

Gabriel: That’s a lot more.

Andrew: That’s a lot! Right now, in the cafeteria, there are more people who are working in your company. Right now in the bathroom, any bathroom at Google, there are probably more people than there are at your company. All right. Now you’re two people going up against them.

Gabriel: Right. So we also have, just to close it out, a bunch of other people who are contributing a very significant amount but they’re not official employees yet.

Andrew: OK. And I’ll also say this: in addition to the people that are actually working for you, there is, what to me feels like an army of a fan base. When we went onto the message board on your website, and we’ll talk about this in a bit, asking the audience, “Guys, can you help us figure out what exactly is Gabriel doing to grow this search engine?”, we got a bunch of great responses, really well-thought out, really people spent a lot of time linking us up to information about you.

And beyond what they told us, which I’ll talk to you about in this interview, about how they saw your growth and why they think you grew, what amazed us internally here is the level of commitment that these people have to helping Gabriel Weinberg build this freaking search engine. I want to find out how you did that, how you got them. Tell me more about where you are right now, and then I promise to the audience, I will dig in to how he did this. But I want …

Gabriel: Sure. So …

Andrew: … to set it up to let people know how big it is.

Gabriel: We, the number that I track, really internally, is the one that you mentioned, this direct number of quires per month, and so that’s grown slowly. At the beginning of the year we were at two and a half million, and now we’re at ten million, and then a year before that, I think we were only at five-hundred thousand, and the year before that we were only at fifty thousand. So, it’s solely increased, we have a public stats, we make it public, and we annotate the graph. And so there are some things that jumped us up this year, some marketing things. But for the most part, aside from those specific events, we’ve grown via word of mouth and the kind of people you’re talking about over time. And as the base has gotten bigger, you know, it’s sort of a percentage increase, over time. And so, the numbers keep growing, and it just hasn’t really plateaued yet, which is great. At the same time, we’re at this ten million now, and I’m trying to figure out ways to get it to a hundred million, and that’s going to take things that we haven’t done before. And, started to think about what those are, but, so, I’m getting beyond your question, so feel free to jump in.

Andrew: All right. I’ve got a note here to come back and ask you what you’re going to do to grow beyond this. How you’re planning to get to a hundred million. And then when you get to a hundred million, I’ll do an interview with you, and ask you how many of those ideas actually worked, and what else you discovered along the way. Alright. Let’s figure out how you got here. Let’s start off with the message board. I said that to me, that seems like a key reason why you’re growing, and one of the key elements. Do you have an example of one good thing that came to your business because of the message board, that you couldn’t have gotten otherwise?

Gabriel: So, the message board, to put in context, is at DuckDuckGo. It’s a community forum where people can share ideas, and do regular message board stuff. But, I’d say it’s one piece in a number of pieces of staying really close to the user base of DuckDuckGo. So, we also have a feedback button on the bottom of every search results page, that I get sent all of it. And, you know, that actually produces more feedback then the message board itself.

And I’m also personally approachable. You know, people can write me emails. You know, I have this standard alerts for any kind of news or blog articles about us, and that kind of stuff, and I try to respond to all that. But, in the aggregate, right, all that is about really trying to understand what, why people are using DuckDuckGo, what they want out of it in the future, and so in that sense, it’s been completely invaluable. Like, I’ve tried to keep my ear as close to that as possible. Not that I am going to do, react on everyone, anything, anyone ever says, which is sort of ridiculous. But, you know, I look at all that stuff very deeply and try to internalize into what we should do next.

Andrew: OK. So, I wrote down notes as you explained some of the things you do to pay attention to what’s going on in your community. And I’ll come back to the feedback button and the alerts and so on, but sticking with this message board, one of the things that I wonder is, you’re often asking people on the message board for help. Like for example you said, “I think we should go and reach out to bloggers and other reporters, and let them know about DuckDuckGo.” And in my mind I said, “That’s one reason why he’s growing. He’s asking his community for help. I should probably do that.”

And my audience is probably hearing that and saying, “Hey, we should do the same thing, we should put together a message board and ask our audience.” But then maybe the audience will feel the same thing that I felt immediately after I came up with that thought, it’s, why would I ask these people to help me? I mean, they have their own issues. How do I ask them to pay attention to me, and help me with my issue? You’ve done that. Specifically with this message board, do you have any of these feelings, like I’m asking these strangers to go, or these people who like my site, to now go and help out and basically be free employees of this site or free supporters? And if you did, how do get over that?

Gabriel: So I mean, I started it, the message board, and then that thread because of inbound requests from the feedback button. People writing in and saying, ‘Oh, I love your site, how can I help? Can I donate? Can I work for you?’ And my answer to that is, you know, we don’t accept donations, you know. I feel weird because it’s a for-profit company. We’re not hiring right now but if you really want to help, we need help spreading DuckDuckGo, and then I, you know, I say you can get involved in the community, and that kind of stuff.

So because of those inbound requests I didn’t feel that it was a stretch to put that kind of stuff on the message board, because people were asking for that kind of stuff. There’s a related point to that which is now one of the big efforts is to be leverage open-source a lot more and I do feel awkward asking anyone to volunteer their coding time to something that’s not open-source. We’ve opened up source for that and so that’s really the only uncomfortable line there. Otherwise, I didn’t feel uncomfortable asking for that particular thread.

Andrew: Why not? How should we be feeling to be able to do what you’re doing?

Gabriel: Well here’s the thing. I had no expectation for anything happening on any of these things. They’re not going to make or break anything, but if something comes out of it that’s awesome. My view is, you put it out there and if it works it works and if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t work. You have a lot of these things going on and it’s kind of in the, and I’m sure you’ve talked about this on your show a bunch, but it’s in the vein of making your own luck. Increasing your luck service area as Jason Roberts says. Planting lots of little seeds and hoping some of them come back and are useful.

Andrew: What about this part of the message board? A message board, when people pour their time, they pour their passion into it, you have to reciprocate and spend your time and your passion on that message board. But you have other things to do. Up until recently you were the sole employee of the company. You have to keep building out the search engine. You have to look at all the feedback. You have to monitor the alerts. You have to talk to potential investors.

You have to deal with guys like me who are constantly emailing you and asking you what are you doing, fill me in on this space. You have to do so many other things. You have a child, you have a wife. You have to go and mentor the Dream It people. How do find time to go into the message board? How do find the time to go into, as we’ll get to later, into the read it section on DuckDuckGo and to all these other areas?

Gabriel: When I first started I had more time. I didn’t know necessarily what to build next and so I was really wanting all that feedback and I still want it, but I have a lot less time now. As time has gone on, I’ve tried to do productivity things to make this effective, so I will batch my time for all those things.

For most of the feedback stuff I have external software that helps me run it. For feedback in particular I use Assistly now. For the message board and things like that, as it has grown I’ve recruited moderators and so there’s like 5 moderators on the message board and they help organize it and answer questions that are common questions and things like that, so I have to spend less time on it. I do think it’s still important to come in and read everything and to come in and answer when it needs to be answered.

Andrew: The other thing that you told me about the message board is that people ask me for it, they said we want to contribute, we want to help out. How do you get people to feel this way about a search engine?

Gabriel: I think that it’s two things. One is that there’s a feedback loop about answering feedback that people feel personally invested in the product because you’re listening to them and actually doing things that they say. So if you write in and say, I want this feature and you get a response quickly back from the founder and they say, that’s on the list, I can do that, or I’m not going to do it because of this, or I’ll do it in 3 months and then you write them back 3 months later and you say, it’s done.

That’s a different experience than with most products, certainly with most search engines. That creates a bond, I think a legitimate bond between them and the company that makes them want to help out more. The message board in particular, we got requests for it, but also it really came out of the fact that our feedback was going up and up and up and people were saying the same things in feedback and I thought that they could really benefit from cross talking to each other.

Someone posting the same idea they would post in feedback and then other people building on their idea instead of me writing them all back individually and having these separate built conversations. When I put it out I’d never run a message board before and it started out really slow, but over time it got better and better.

Andrew: All right. What else do I want to know about you? The Reddit group, I brought it up earlier. There is a That’s a sub-section of Reddit where people basically talk about DuckDuckGo. How did you get people to interact with that? How did you get people to go in and vote up and participate and care about it?

Gabriel: So that was, I think, totally not my doing. That was people from the community forum, the message board, created that and started using it. It had very few users but people still were using it and then, recently, we did a Reddit promotion and, sponsored by the company, and part of the promotion, I structured it such that it was on that sub-Reddit and, as a result of doing it, we jumped up our readers on there. I think we’re at, like, 350 or something right around there, so now it’s become a much more vibrant place.

Andrew: I see. This is where you said, “Can you help us spread the word?”, or, “Can you take this challenge?” and basically you asked people to switch their default search engine to DuckDuckGo . . .

Gabriel: For a week.

Andrew: . . . and if they did and reported on their results on their blog or, I think, in other places, then you would reward them with Reddit gold and t-shirts and so on. 768 points. That’s how many points that request got and all that participation, you’re saying, also fed back into a more robust group on Reddit.

Gabriel: Yes.

Andrew: OK. Again, this goes back to the passion that people have for the product. And I asked you that question and I didn’t ask a follow-up question, which I should have. Tell me more. I understand people are sending you feedback and requests and you’re giving them immediately what they want or you’re explaining to them why not or you’re coming back to them later on and saying, “Hey, you know that idea you came to me with three months ago? I did it.” What else do you do to get people passionate about your product? Because I’ve got a feeling that if you can get people passionate about your search engine, the person who’s listening to me that has a more, not a differentiated product, but an easier product to build and lighter competition, they could take some of your ideas and implement them in their business.

Gabriel: Yeah. So, there’s that, like you said, responding to people’s feedback. Over time, incrementally over a year, what that’s meant is that we’ve become very good in certain groups because we’ve added all these features that are useful to people like programmers and associate administrators and designers. And then it becomes something that they can evangelize around and be like, “Hey, I’m a designer. I love this search engine because it does x, y and z. I’m going to tell all my designer friends they should use it because when they search these types of queries, it works.” Another big one that people rally around is our stances on privacy and putting the user first, above other things. It’s personally come out of me and now the company, but it’s a message that really resonates with people and it’s also created strong evangelism.

Andrew: OK. What else? What else do you do to get people passionate about the product?

Gabriel: Hmm, wish I had better answers for you.

Andrew: How about the way that you personalize it. You sometimes change the logo?

Gabriel: Yep. That’s actually community driven now too. Those are submitted on the message board and certainly, if you create a logo and it gets on the search engine, you’re probably pretty happy about that. But it’s just a fun thing.

Andrew: What else do you do to give the product a personality?

Gabriel: Oh, here’s another one, actually, this is related the to the user having control, but our settings page, it’s actually something that other start-ups can do, has tons of settings and we actually have a long list of more to even add. I think there’s already something like over 26 because I ran out of letters of the alphabet in my internal [?]. That enables you to personalize the search experience dramatically. You can change the fonts, the colors, the layout and the header bar and all that kind of stuff. And if you care about that, you can create an experience that’s very in tune to yourself. There’s some kind of self-expression there, I think, people like. That’s one thing.

Andrew: All right. How about this: you’re getting requests for a lot of features and you’re helping as many people out by adding those features in, but one of the reasons that people like DuckDuckGo is the simplicity of it. There’s a clean homepage. It doesn’t look like Yahoo, it looks more like the original Google page.

Gabriel: Yep.

Andrew: It’s a simple product to learn. How do you add a lot of features and still keep the whole thing clean and easy for someone who’s a first-time user to fully grasp?

Gabriel: That’s the user experience trick and it’s easier to do in search engines because you can segment the query space very detailed where you have to type in this particular syntax and then you get this other stuff. What we try to do is add this stuff that’s sort of behind the scenes, so if you know about it you can do it, but if you don’t know about it then it doesn’t affect you. It’s not going to clutter up the interface or anything like that.

I think that there’s ways to do that for almost any product, but it’s a hard bet because you’ll get a lot of people that say the exact opposite, you should never put stuff behind an advanced or settings screen because no one is going to see it. But at the same time, it can create people who really like your product who want to use those types of features.

The way I think about it is this, if you have 1% of people who really want this feature in your product, it’s a big paying point to them, but 99% of other people don’t want it. Put it somewhere that 99% of people can’t see, but 1% can find it, then tell that 1%. If you do that 100 times now you have all these little subgroups who really, really care about that product and want to evangelize it based on that one feature.

Andrew: I see. Earlier you talked about how you sometimes have to turn people down and you tell them why so that they understand and that they also feel connected to the owner. Can you tell me how you tell someone who just maybe wrote you a long email explaining how the feature that they have in mind could help them and other people like them and why you should do it, how do you say no to someone like that and still have them feel connected to the owner and love and passion for the product?

Gabriel: It definitely varies by feature, but the most common question we get is, why can’t you guy make email? I want private email. What I say is, look, we’re focused on web results and we just don’t have time and focus to even think about email. I really am not long winded about it and that’s pretty much what I say.

Andrew: You just tell them, I can’t do it because I’ve got to focus somewhere else?

Gabriel: Yeah, and I think people just appreciate getting a response and that’s personalized.

Andrew: I see.

Gabriel: And that’s different. It’s a really easy thing to do as a start-up, but still not everyone does it.

Andrew: Really? I get a lot of requests and when I respond and explain why it’s an invitation to have a discussion about why. They understand that I care enough to respond. They want to explain to me why I’m maybe missing a point. How do you stop that? How do you stop from getting into these endless loops with people where they explain why you need to add something, you explain why it doesn’t make sense, they say no, no, you need to understand this little subtle point and so on.

Gabriel: I don’t stop them.

Andrew: You just keep going?

Gabriel: Yeah. Generally I’m pretty terse with email. I may stop it a little bit in that they send a long thing and I send a short thing or it may just naturally stop there, but I generally don’t tell people to stop and I appreciate their follow-up because there may be something I did miss.

Andrew: Four years you were at this. A lot of them were slow years where people you respect were saying this guy’s just tilting at windmills. I don’t know what he’s trying to do, but search is kind of over, Google has it locked up. Bing, owned by the powerhouse, by Microsoft, can barely compete. Yahoo, the original discovery engine, the search engine, the directory, was slaughtered by Google. In comes Gabriel Weinberg, what does he think he’s doing? And you must be able to see it in people’s eyes, you must have seen it back then. How do you keep yourself going when that was going on?

Gabriel: Sure. I think a lot of that is personality driven in the sense that I have pretty high self-confidence and I don’t really care what other people think. I do care though if I’m wasting my time, so I was constantly sort of evaluating whether I’m crazy or not internally. I have a long-term vision for what I was doing and I believed in it. I saw little signs along the way that it was working. The query volume was picking up, people were excited, that maybe other people didn’t see, or see as closely. I just concentrated on those things and not on that stuff.

Andrew: I see. So you just kept looking for these little wins and what if there was a week when you didn’t see a little win or a month when you didn’t see a little win? What would you do then?

Gabriel: Generally that just didn’t phase me. I’m not one to get depressed in that way often.

Andrew: You don’t doubt yourself about that?

Gabriel: Not really. If there was like six months and nothing, and we were totally flat, I think that begins… we’ve got to step back and see what we’re doing here. We had passionate user base, although very small, right from the beginning. As long as there’s that, you have something. I mean, it may be that you can’t turn that into as big a business as you want, but, it really does mean you have something there.

Andrew: I asked Steven Welch, one of the co-founders of DreamIt Ventures, who is number one mentor is for all those start-ups that they funded. He said, without a doubt it’s Gabriel Weinberg. And I asked him why? He said, “The guy just knows marketing.” Does that sound fair? That’s a big contribution that you give these start-ups?

Gabriel: That’s interesting. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a master of marketing but I, I try to help them, anyway they want, sort of simplify their message. I guess, that does count as marketing.

Andrew: What about the virality of there message?

Gabriel: Absolutely. I have a lot of virality experience and I try to help people with that, if I can, as well. That’s very, more quantitative and stuff. I think a lot of start-ups at the incubator stage, when they’re coming in, have a much more fundamental problem than that.

Which is, they have a convoluted message about what they’re doing and they need to focus on that core piece and communicate that to the world.

Andrew: You’re last business was built on virality. You created this name directory where people can go and find their friends and in order to find their friends, you got them to spread the word. Anyway, people can go back and listen to that interview, figure out that whole process. But, I don’t see that here at DuckDuckGo. Am I missing something?

I see it in some of the message that you have for other start-ups. I see it in your past. Your one of the top viral marketing guys. Am I missing it at DuckDuckGo?

Gabriel: Yes, we do not have any viral stuff going on. I would love to do it, but I haven’t found a way to work it into search without hampering the user experience and our privacy policy.

Andrew: What are some of the ways that you’ve tried?

Gabriel: Well, I mean, little things, like, just trying to get people to tweet or share they’re results or share links. It just doesn’t get enough, that first part of the funnel isn’t high enough. It’s not something that inherently social, yet.

Andrew: Right.

Gabriel: Maybe it will be in the future. But I haven’t tried [inaudible] that many people yet.

Andrew: There’s no urgent need for people to share anything on DuckDuckGo.

Gabriel: Exactly. It doesn’t make the product better immediately if they shared it and, so, there’s not a great starting point for a viral loop.

Andrew: So why get into a second business that doesn’t take advantage of one thing that you are probably, definitely, one of the top people in this space on. You know viral marketing more than 99.9% of the human race. Way more. Why not take advantage of this one strength that you have and build a business around that again?

Gabriel: That is a great question. It’s mainly because I want to do something different. I don’t know. I was tired of it and I wanted to do something in these areas because I like these technologies and then, I didn’t think about it from that perspective.

Andrew: OK. What else do I want to know about you? I want to know about some of these campaigns that you had that gave you a huge spike in traffic. One of them is the San Francisco billboard. Huge spike. Why does a company that buys just one billboard get such a big lift in traffic?

Gabriel: The main story behind everything we’re doing in [inaudible] technology or marketing, is all about leverage, from my perspective. The billboard, to me, was about putting a line in the sand about this privacy issue and then using that to get leverage to get national press around it. And that’s what we did.

I thought that the billboard would make a nice picture, especially, the place that we put it. Once I got the picture, I could use it to… We got on Wired and USA Today and stuff like that, then get people, you know, to see it.

Andrew: All right, let’s break this down. What was on the billboard?

Gabriel: It said that ‘Google tracks you, we don’t. Search better at DuckDuckGo.”

Andrew: OK. And where was the billboard?

Gabriel: It was right on the Bay Bridge, or coming off the Bay Bridge, going to San Francisco on the 101.

Andrew: OK. How much did it cost?

Gabriel: $7000.

Andrew: All right. So you spent $7000 on this billboard. And now you’ve got your picture of it, you’ve got your message on the billboard, and the story where the billboard is. It’s time to get Wired Magazine, a magazine that writes about the next iPad, iPad killers, all the big things in text base. You have to tell them, ‘hey, stop everything else you’re doing, this is a big enough story in tech for you to include it’. How do you do that?

Gabriel: So, we did two things, one which was somewhat coincidental and unplanned. Two weeks before, I had put together a website with the same message called don’t And I put that out myself. And it had a picture of the billboard at the top. But the billboard wasn’t real yet. And I had posted that on our Twitter, and it went semi-viral itself. It probably got, all told, maybe 500,000 people to that page.

Andrew: OK.

Gabriel: It wasn’t on our domain, but it was a micro-site about the issue. And so when the billboard came out 2 weeks later, I could use that traction in my pitch and say, “Hey, this thing went viral, now we have the billboard that’s real, the photo-shopped picture at the top is not real. Here’s our real picture”. And so that was a more compelling story. And then the second thing is, the Wired editor, Ryan. I had communication with him over the past 2 years. He hadn’t written a feature story on us, but he had mentioned us in passing, saw us on Hacker News, liked what we were doing, liked the privacy stuff. So it was the right time for him to write a feature, and now I had a story for him to write, and break. And so he did it.

Andrew: How did you meet him and how did you stay in touch with him?

Gabriel: He picked us up and wrote us in, in passing in some article like in 2009, maybe based on a [??] story or something, about us. And then I wrote him and said, “Oh, thanks for the mention, let’s keep in touch”. And I think he said, You’re welcome”, or something. And then every now and then I would email him about updates. That’s about it, just email. I’ve never met him in person.

Andrew: You just email him in …

Gabriel: Follow him on Twitter. Occasionally I’ll reply.

Andrew: How do you stay on top of these reporters on Twitter. Do you just have a list?

Gabriel: Yeah, well, I am not too diligent about this because I don’t have a lot of time, and I don’t like crappy stuff in my Twitter feed.

Andrew: You don’t like what?

Gabriel: Crappy stuff in my Twitter feed. So, I’ve subscribed and unsubscribed from you like, must be 20 times.

Andrew: Yeah.

Gabriel: Because you tweet too much for me. But, occasionally I will look, when I’m bored one night, at who other people follow, and other tech reporters and stuff like that. And I’ll add them. Oftentimes tech reporters are awesome to follow because they share really interesting links that I wouldn’t otherwise read. And so, some of those have stayed, Ryan among them. But I haven’t gone out of my way to like, [??] all these other people. Like David Pogue and Walt Mossberg. I’d love them to write about DuckDuckGo, but I couldn’t stomach their Twitter feeds. So, I’m not following them.

Andrew: You do follow me and unfollow me. And I don’t really give a rat’s ass. I’m not tweeting out pearls of wisdom. But I have to tell you, that there was one time when I went in and I just checked your Twitter feed and I said, ‘he’s not following me’. And it hurt. Now, really, I don’t give a rat’s ass about this. My life isn’t Twitter. It hurt for a moment. Which makes me wonder. Steven Welch at one point, stopped using you as his main search engine. I have gone on and off using you as my main search engine. That is significant. How do you deal with that? Do you feel that pain? How do you deal with it?

Gabriel: Yeah, I think that there are many reasons not to use our search engine, and many good reasons to, and I have no problem if people go on and off it.

Andrew: I understand intellectually. First of all, you do have a problem. These are the tech leaders. I’m a, I’m not a tech leader, but Steven Welch absolutely is. Yeah …

Gabriel: I mean, so when I hear that, right, I’ll be like- I’ll get into deep conversations and, you know, I can do it now too if you want. But I’d love to know what’s stopping people from using it. Oftentimes, it’s stuff that I know already and I’m working on, so I try to say, hey, come back in six months I think we’ll have a lot of that fixed.

Generally that works. I love that you’re trying to use it on and off, and maybe one day it’ll stick.

Andrew: All right. So you’re basically saying don’t feel sorry for yourself about this, don’t feel bad about this, find out why?

Gabriel: Yeah, well, I mean it’s a long . . . Maybe that’s the part of the long term vision thing, right? I would hope that in a couple of years from now you’ll be using it, but I’m going to be around then. It’s not the end of the world if you stop using it today.

Andrew: Is that a painful thing to say in this space? Again, going back to Dream Mate, do mentored companies that have ended up getting sold, that ended up getting that kind of traffic, a lot of attention and then, boom, they’ve moved on to something else, and here you are trundling along with your one company in a space where we’re not proud of people who stick around with their company

We’re proud of this [??] entrepreneur who just flipped six companies and raised a ton of money for his [??].

Gabriel: I wouldn’t want to start again. I think that process is very difficult. I like the moving sort of forward thing. I think that’s great.

Andrew: One company for the rest of you life if you [??]?

Gabriel: Not for the rest of my life, but I definitely don’t have that we’ve got to do this in 24 months and flip it thing. That’s just not me.

Andrew: All right. Let me ask you about your vision and why you say it I’m also just going to adjust the mic over here for a second. I’ll put myself on mute so you don’t hear me adjusting the mic.

What the hell am I doing here with this freaking pod casting and me adjusting my own freaking mic? I was actually, what was it? I was watching Paper Tiger, I think it is. That movie about George Clinton, the Sports Illustrated writer.

I was saying to myself, this is a guy, a Sports Illustrated writer who was playing with the Detroit Lions, a young man. Look at how successful he was. Look at what he was doing with his life.

Who was playing in [??] . . . Alan Alda was in it. I thought, look at Alan Alda and everything that he done with his life, and look at how big these guys have gone on a national stage.

I was thinking, another thing you’re really pride of is like doing interviews with entrepreneurs about how they’ve built their business. Like more people watching this old movie on Netflix on any given day than are watching Mixergy.

What the hell are you doing? You don’t feel any of that by the way?

Gabriel: Sure, I mean there’s ups and downs.

Andrew: Get real with me. Don’t act like a superman because I don’t learn anything when people pretend that they’re superman. I do connect with you and I learn a lot when you say, Andrew, here’s my freaking vulnerability and I’m willing to talk about that.

Gabriel: Yeah. I’m not trying to shield anything from you.

Andrew: What are you vulnerable about professionally?

Gabriel: I don’t know. I mean there are lots of people who have done much bigger things. I don’t like to think I’m wasting my time. I think that’s my biggest life vulnerability. I wouldn’t want to do this for 10 years and then be in the same place I am right now. I think it does have to move forward or else it was a waste of time.

Andrew: But it’s just analytic. You don’t have a moment where you say, Andrew, I’m in my house, I’m working in the house, everyone was out of the house one day, it was a tough day for me because my traffic was down three days in a row and I saw that Google just suddenly spiked up and everyone was talking about the lunch at Google and here I was sitting over a tuna fish sandwich, and I just jumped into bed and I said, I’m a failure.

You never had anything like that? I had a guy on who talked about how he took a beer into the shower at the end of a tough day at work and he just, I think he, I don’t know if he cried in the shower, but I know that he drink his beer in the shower because he was feeling so bad for himself, obviously.

Gabriel: Maybe I would if I had more time. I have two kids under three, so there’s little time for that.

Andrew: All right. On to the next set of questions here. Any of these by the way tough questions, or do you feel bothered by these questions at all?

Gabriel: No.

Andrew: No? All right, good. All right. You have Don’t Track Us.

Gabriel: Yes.

Andrew: Give people who don’t know what Don’t Track Us,, what’s that about? Then I’ve got to ask you a question about that.

Gabriel: It’s just a simple message explaining how you get tracked from other search engines across the web and that at the end of it, it basically says all these ways of tracking. We don’t do that, so if you’re interested in that, use us.

Andrew: All right. So that’s it. How many views did it get?

Gabriel: It’s somewhere like 500,000, something like that.

Andrew: 500,000 views. It was one of the key reasons why you ended up in Wired Magazine and it helped spread the word and get people to feel really connected to the product as you mentioned earlier. Here’s the thing about it, it’s basically a standard HTML page. Anyone that has an old version of FrontPage can create that page.

Gabriel: I wrote it by hand on a side note.

Andrew: By hand?

Gabriel: Yeah.

Andrew: So really basic. One of the things that I admire about that, I keep saying to myself, look at all these info-graphics. They’re beautiful, they spread, they work really well at getting a message out. I can’t for the life of me create an info-graphic. I don’t even know how to design it and send it over to a designer to create an info-graphic and in walks Gabriel Weinberg and says, I don’t need an info-graphic. I’m going create an HTML page by hand with pictures and basic text and just buy a domain for $9.00 off of GoDaddy and boom, I’m going to get half a million page views on a message that’s going to resonate with my key audience. Do you have any hesitation about the design of what you have versus the design of something that maybe KISSmetrics would have for one of their info-graphics?

Gabriel: It was very specifically designed the way I did it. By the way, there’s a start-up now that helps you make info-graphics, I forget what it’s called.

Andrew: But you didn’t even wait for them? You didn’t say I need this design?

Gabriel: I actually think it’s not a good idea to make info-graphics like that.

Andrew: OK.

Gabriel: I think that they look pretty, but they’re too complicated. They’re usually big images and you have to zoom in and it takes you a while mentally to figure out what’s going on and you’re looking at all these numbers. It’s not that compelling to follow along a story and then be like, wow, that story really hit me, I’m going to send it off. I think to get that story mentality I was going for more of a storyboard type of thing. I wanted it to be linear so that you were only looking at one thing at a time. I didn’t even want to go across like that, so it was very deliberately done like that. I thought that would, I mean it was just a hunch, but I thought that might resonate a lot more with people and be much more viral.

Andrew: Here’s what it is. There’s a big picture of this billboard that eventually did exist and then underneath it says, when you search Google, and then there’s a screenshot of Google, and a search for herpes, and then click on a link and there’s a click on the 3rd herpes link in the list I think.

Gabriel: It went back and forth with every image and the tags.

Andrew: Yeah, just when you do this here’s an image and then this happens and here’s an image of that and just like boom, boom, boom, very simple stuff. I understand about the feeling that you have about this and it’s OK for you to put this out and the idea of why it’s even better to have it look like this. Tell me where the original idea came from? Where do you say I’ve got to be more than a search engine, I need to have a mission behind this because people don’t connect with software as much as they connect with missions? How do you find your mission? How do you find the thing that defines you to the point where it galvanizes an army of passionate followers?

Gabriel: It wasn’t a grand plan. I think a lot of these things came out of listening closely to the feedback and that’s really the genesis. If there was a plan, the plan was to listen to feedback and it came out of that. The particular tactics then came out of me, or I tried to draw on those things and then put together something I thought would be the most compelling.

Early on people were requesting privacy discussion and features and we didn’t have it early on, but I continued to listen to it and started to believe in myself. Honestly, I didn’t know as much about it when I got into it and really came to believe in it, then started to promote it on the search engine. I saw that it resonated with people. At that point we had all these features that I knew had resonated with a lot of people, but no one knew about them.

Only people who had written in or really cared and so I was trying to find a way to communicate that to more people and that’s where this idea came from. Actually, first I thought of the billboard and then I thought hey, if I have a billboard, why don’t I have a site to go with it? I think it may have come out of a conversation I had with another journalist who I was asking about how best to promote this. I think it was Christopher Mims from MIT Tech Review. I have to look it up, but I think he said, you need more information. If you just have this tag line, maybe you should have a site. Maybe it was my sister–I do not know–someone said, “Maybe there should be a site you could go to,” and I thought, “Hey, you know what: the site could exist before the billboard,” so that is how it got snowballed.

Andrew: You would go to a journalist and say, “This is what I am thinking. What do you think of it? Give me some feedback.”

Gabriel: Yes. Well, in particular, on this issue, someone whom I trust about privacy and who has a lot of experience dealing with privacy messages and critiquing them in their daily life, and just see what they thought about it.

Andrew: I got it. Alright, you have another page that also got you another big spike in traffic, Don’t Bubble Us. Can you tell people what that is?

Gabriel: Yes. It is a similar site. I made a few improvements on the layout, I thought, but also HTML hand-edited, and it describes another privacy topic that DuckDuckGo does, which is about the filter bubble, which came out of this TED Talk. It is about when you click on links in Google, and if you click on stuff you agree with, oftentimes–if you are a Democrat, and you click all this Democrat stuff–you will stop seeing Republican stuff, and a lot of people do not care about that, but a lot of people do, and they want to get diverse opinions and diverse sites when they search, so it is one of these things that we do not do be default, but other search engines do.

Andrew: How do you know that rises to the level of importance: that is something that people care so much about that it is worthy of a page? That it is worthy of incorporating into your core mission?

Gabriel: Well, here is my thought there.

Andrew: OK.

Gabriel: The first one worked really well, so it would be stupid not to try it again. I was waiting for something to do it on. This TED Talk came out that I had seen, and I was interested in that idea and telling people about it, but then, he wrote a book called The Filter Bubble, and it started getting all this press. It was in the New York Times and all these book review places, and he was starting to appear on radio and everything, and I noticed that a few people in the comments of those articles were mentioning DuckDuckGo, and saying, “Hey, DuckDuckGo doesn’t do this,” and I said, “You know what? This is a moment where I could try to ride on that press and see if I could insert myself into this message,” and it sort of worked.

Andrew: It did. I see the traffic spike, and it was not just a momentary spike in traffic where more people are searching on DuckDuckGo, and then after the story was over, they stopped. It sustained itself, right?

Gabriel: Yes, absolutely. That one did not get as much traffic as the first one, but I think the message was very compelling to people, and so it actually created a higher conversion.

Andrew: What else do I need to know about you? I am looking here at my notes. One person told us that DuckDuckGo is like a drug. I wish I copied where I got this. He says, “It’s almost like a drug. I come here every day with anticipation to see what the creative minds here have come up with.” Now, to me, I look at, and it looks to me just like it did a week ago and just like it did a month ago. What do you do to keep it looking fresh and familiar to people like me, but also to this person–I apologize for not knowing who it is–to make it feel so different that it is like a drug. He has to come in and see what else is going on there.

Gabriel: We are continually adding these features which are somewhat hidden, and we honestly need to do a much better job of communicating they exist to people like you, and so that person, I imagine, is watching the forum, or watching our Twitter, or watching our Facebook, where we mention these kinds of things, and they are excited to see the new ones; but yes, we need to do a much better job of communicating that stuff.

Andrew: Part of it is that you let people into your story. He is watching you on the forum and he is watching you struggle to build your business on your own for a long time. I am reading about you on HackerNews and on your blog. Someone else might be reading you only on iG. How do you share your story without making it all about just you, you, you?

Gabriel: After a point, I have not tried. At the beginning, when no one was listening and I tried to submit it to those places, after a point, I stopped doing that kind of intense self-promotion and just tried to push it through our normal channels. Now that people are following our Twitter and my Twitter, I put it there, and I sort of let it happen, at this point, and only try to bigger press things or bigger marketing efforts happen, like the

Andrew: The feedback button–you brought that up a lot. Every page has a feedback button. Lots of sites have feedback buttons. Many of them even have that [kiss] insights little pop up thing that says, “Hey, come on please tell me some feedback. What are you thinking?”

Most of them don’t even know what to do with all the feedback that they get. It’ll probably just sit somewhere and they’re hoping to get time to deal with it. How do you with so many feedback requests process them all and make everyone feel like they’re listened to and their ideas are acted on?

Gabriel: Up until relatively recently, it all just got sent to my personal inbox, and I would try to just reply to them quickly, I’m a fast typist and stuff like that. It became a little bit overwhelming with too much of my time.

So because of the sense that I would get the same request over and over again and I wanted to write the same thing and I was trying to use [??] responses to Gmail, they weren’t working, so I was looking for other solutions.

First thing I did was made a FAQ page and point people to that. Lately, I’ve switch to this product called the Sicily which you just can buy off of eBay, I think, or another sales force.

in there you can create a whole [knoll] space. I did that recently. There’s help at The stuff that comes in still a lot of them are the same, so I created some automatic replies that I can add.

Beyond that I just think that you have to have it as a focus or else it’s not going to be a focus. It’s a focus to me.

Andrew: Just going through the feedback is focus for you?

Gabriel: Yeah, I mean I think it’s important to do it every day. I get more of a 360 view of our problems. About half the messages are, “You guys suck at this or that or this.” Once you hear it a bunch of times you really understand where you suck and what you need to do.

Andrew: Teach me if you don’t mind. Teach me and I bet that other people have similar issues. I can barely deal with my inbox, and here you are not just with a flooded inbox like everyone else, more flooded than everyone else, but you’re opening up all of these other in-boxes.

The one basically that has to do with the message board. The inbox that’s basically the comments coming to you on HackerNews, coming to you on Sicily now which is a whole other box that you have to go to. It doesn’t integrate with Gmail.

How do you go through it all and respond when I’m having so much trouble just responding to my basic email.

Gabriel: I’ve gone through a lot. I mean I’m constantly seeking out these productivity tools. But I mean it’s basically constantly refining the process. That’s why I can’t switch off of Gmail even though I’d love to.

I want to switch off of Gmail, but I can not find an alternative because I use all the filters in it. I use the keyboard shortcuts. I try to keep the email responses very minimum. I batch things. I go into a Sicily once a day, maybe something like that.

All these kind of little tricks. I use add ons, like Boomerang for Gmail, I use a lot. I don’t know if you use that one.

Andrew: I use something similar. I use What that does is you say, I can’t respond to this email right now, but I have to get to inbox zero, so what I’ll do is I’ll forward it in the future, basically, it’ll boomerang back to you a week later and that’s when you could respond to it.

That’s what you’re doing?

Gabriel: Exactly. Exactly. You don’t have to keep track of a lot of things. Like, if you order a response and you’re waiting for a response you could just say, send this back to me if nobody responds in five days or something.

The other thing is I try to get rid of all extraneous email. I get up all stupid list and marketing crap and . . .

Andrew: Annoying Twitters who have nothing to say.

Gabriel: Yeah, exactly, [??]

Andrew: I don’t care. I really don’t care as long as when you come here, whenever it’s convenient for you to come here and you just . . .

Gabriel: You have a lot to say. It’s more that the problem there was I felt guilty about not watching the interviews. I just didn’t have enough time to watch them all, and so I just out of sight out of mind.

Andrew: Believe me, I don’t have no problem with that. As long as when you come in here and you say, ‘Andrew has these dorky questions. He wants to know the basics of business that I don’t even give much thought to. I’m going to give him the answers. I’m going to help him understand how I process all these emails.’

By the way, are these questions dorky? Am I missing the bigger picture business by asking about small things like why do you have a message board?

Gabriel: No. I like detailed stuff.

Andrew: Why?

Gabriel: Because I think these little tactical things can really make a difference especially in a start up, can give you kind of edge.

Andrew: OK. What edge am I missing? What about you gives you an edge that I just didn’t think to even ask you a question about?

Gabriel: Well, I read this article this morning about long term vision and do you have a [??] vision. I think one thing, that’s one thing I’ve been seeing, a lot of angel pitches that people seem to be missing. They’re not communicating to me effectively, which is you’ve got to do things, yes, day to day, tactical. You’ve got to do all this stuff that we’re talking about, but you’ve got to be working towards a real kind of vision where you’re going to make a big difference in a big market. I feel that a lot of people are not necessarily working toward that big vision.

Andrew: All right. You’ve been saying this a few times. I’ve made a mental note to come back and ask you, “What is your big vision?”

Gabriel: So in my case, right, I want to attack this huge market so, I have to make less of an impact to make a big company. That’s great for people picking markets. I mean, it’s great to pick huge, huge markets. Sometimes I see start-up things, and they’re like this is a billion dollar market, but actually that’s not that big a market. Then you’re going to take this little spar, this little spar. Then you’re talking about you’re sub-market, which is about 10 million, and that’s really small.

So in the search market my vision is all about leverage. I had thought that what search engines were missing was that all these start-ups and companies were starting to organize all their data, and expose it via APIs and structured data sources. That was not being leveraged by the existing players because of a number of reasons. Not technical reasons largely, but mainly business, legal, and cultural reasons. I can come in, and use those data sources to be kind of a distribution platform for all of them and organize them in a search engine. So that’s what we’ve really been working towards.

Andrew: Is the [sic] Wolf RAM Alpha an example of how you’re doing this?

Gabriel: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew: Can you describe that just to illustrate the bigger point?

Gabriel: WolfRAM Alpha is a great example. They have this amazing company now, which structures all sorts of data. I’m guessing you don’t go there very often, or do you?

Andrew: No.

Gabriel: No, OK, even though you would probably benefit for some things you’ve been doing, and some research to go there because they do pretty cool things. They’d announce this. You can’t be bothered to go there, because you’re not going to (A) remember them, or (B) understand when you should go there, like I don’t know if they’re good at this [sic] way or not.

So what I’ve done is try to understand what they’re good at, and what a 100 other companies are good at. I organize it in the search box, so you can go to DuckDuckGo, and type in the birthday of this random celebrity, or elevation of Mount Everest or, what ever WolfRAM Alpha is good at; really complicated math query. I’ll know WolfRAM Alpha is really great at this query. I’ll go to Wol RAM Alpha for you and bring it back and display it. So the results aren’t traditional links they’re instant answer type of things. I’ve identified the right API for you and, and right source, and beyond that formatted the information for you, and only took up part of the information that was useful.

Andrew: So WolfRAM Alpha website stinks. I think their text is so hard to read that that’s a big impediment for me.

Gabriel: Even if they were great, why should you have to understand the UIs of all these hundred different search engines when I can make it all standard UI.

Andrew: And Stack Overflow would also be another place. If I ask you a programming question that Stack Overflow is especially good at you just know to search Stack Overflow on my behalf.

Gabriel: Exactly.

Andrew: Essentially this is the dream that a lot of people have for [sic] Seri. That they imagine that Seri will be the interface to all these APIs. When you saw Seri come out with that how did you feel?

Gabriel: Seri was acquired a couple of years ago for 200 million, and I saw that, at the time, as a great validation of this long term vision. I expected them to come out at some point. I think it’s great. I think it’s further validation of what we’re doing. I see in general the search market, as another part of the vision thing, kind of fragmenting over the next five to ten years. There’s going to be a lot of different places, and types of search engines you’re going to use. Our goal is to be one of those, so I see Seri as another one of those.

Andrew: I see. You know, I actually see that in my own life. I’d like to dispute it so that I can be a more challenging interviewer, but I’ve go to tell you, that in my own life I used to search Google for everything. But now if I felt the tremor I wouldn’t go to Google. I would search on Twitter. If I didn’t know how to do something on my computer, I’d probably wouldn’t go to Google for it, I’d go to – I think it’s and I’d go and ask there or I’d find the answer right there. I do seem to go to different places for different kinds of answers. Doesn’t then Google unify it all, wouldn’t Google say, “Hey, you know what, this API thing is great. If one guy wouldn’t Google say, “Hey, you know what, this API thing is great. If one guy at his house can do this with now a smaller team of people who are growing around him, we’re going integrate API management am of people who are growing around him, we’re going integrate API management , or API searches into our product too?”

Gabriel: Yeah. There’s a number of reasons why they – which I’ll be happy to get into if you want – why they haven’t reacted to it as quickly and I don’t think can execute on it the exact same way we are, but ultimately I see that search engines are somewhat similar and part of the problem is for the ones that have come and gone and wasted lot’s of [??] capital money, is that they tried to be too different too quickly. They weren’t incremental enough and it’s a fine line you have to walk. What I look to in this fragmentation in the future is the browser market right now.

There are a number of different browsers all which have significant share and they all look very similar and work very similar, but they’re subtly different in the UI and some of the preferences and people prefer them pretty strongly because of those things. I do think it’s all trended towards that because everything’s trended towards that, but the way Google will do it will be different than they way we’ll do it. People will prefer the way we do it to some degree.

Andrew: All right. I wrote a note to come back and ask you, how are you going to get to a hundred million? How are you going to get there?

Gabriel: It’s not a simple answer, unfortunately. Honestly I don’t really know, but I have a list of close to ten areas I think that will get us there almost all independently. What I’d like to do is make bets in each one and I think one will or a combination of them will get us there. To illustrate a couple of those, part of the reason I raised some money is because some of those cost more money to try to get into. A good example of that is Mobile.

We have mobile search apps like other people, but like other people they haven’t really taken off and so I’d like to do something a little different that is a little more complicated, simple to the user but complicated to build in mobile, that’s one of the areas. If we can get that to take off we’ll get a lot more searches but that may fall flat on it’s face so we can’t really rely on that.

Another area that I’m really heavily invested in is this open source area of turning DuckDuckGo into a plug-able search engine where developers can submit their own modules into it and leverage either their API or help us leverage their API or just an API they like or a data source they like or a tool or goodie and start letting people do that and on-board that quickly. I imagine a time when there is a 1,000 of these out there. API’s this is one of the reasons why Google can’t respond to it as much, API’s Google would never touch because they’re just not the scale, they’re very small pieces of the search space, but we can so that’s another area. I would hope that some of those things would end up being business development relationships and there would be cross marketing and that kind of stuff. So that’s another area.

Andrew: OK.

Gabriel: Then this whole privacy aspect continuing down, communicating that down to the public in bigger and better ways, that’s a third one. If you look at that, some percentage of people it resonates with and I think that percentage is decently large. Millions and millions of people have never heard of DuckDuckGo and so reaching them with that message could be pretty valuable for us to jump to that level. So that’s three of the ten.

Andrew: Three of then?

Gabriel: Yeah. Exactly.

Andrew: How do you go in all these different directions and still stay a small, focused organization?

Gabriel: Right. So a lot of these things are segmented and they take time to do and so I look at a list and I want to move forward incrementally on each of these each month. I make sure that they’re moving forward.

Andrew: I see. So you have ten items on your list and you say, “What can we do a little bit to advance in the area of privacy? What can we do to advance a little bit further with mobile?” That’s what you do.

Gabriel: Well, yeah. See now we have a little more . . .

Andrew: . . . and that’s what you do?

Gabriel: Well, yeah, see now we have a little more resources so I can segment them and maybe put someone on that, but I’m not doing it all anymore. Someone is really taking control of that area and focused on that particular thing. I’m sure every company does that, they’re doing to segment it by what they need to do.

Andrew: How did you meet the guys at Union Square Ventures, one of your backers?

Gabriel: I met them pretty haphazardly. I wrote a friend initially about who he thinks we should be talking to for investment and he referred me to three people and I talked to one of them and he said, “I would never fund you because you’re not on the west coast, but you should talk to Christina, the Associate at Union Square, because she’s awesome and I think they’d be interested.” Actually, I was a little skeptical because based on my knowledge of their investing, I didn’t necessarily think they’d be interested in what I was doing, but I said, “Yeah, I’d love to talk to her.” If only for her to refer me to other people.

So I Skyped with her and she said she would bring it up at their meeting and the next Monday I happened to be in New York, so I said, “Hey” via email, “If you guys are at all interested, I’m going to be there today so why don’t we meet up.” She said, “Actually, we talked and there is some interest so why don’t you come by” and that’s how it got started.

Andrew: All right. What else do I want to know about? You and I met through, because you were doing interviews and you emailed me and said, “Andrew, what software are you using for interviews, or how do you record it or something?” Your interviews were all about how to get traction.

Gabriel: Yes.

Andrew: How did those interviews on how to get traction help you at DuckDuckGo?

Gabriel: Not much.

Andrew: OK.

Gabriel: Maybe, they helped me very subtly to help build thinking, but I don’t, when you ask that I don’t have a direct line, like oh this guy’s said this and I’m going to say this. It wasn’t about that when I started, I just thought that this aspect, which I think you picked up on pretty well, about getting traction is really opaque to people and I thought maybe I could shed some light on it and it might be a good book one day. I honestly ran out of time to work on it so I haven’t touched it for probably over a year.

Andrew: All right. Zipping through these questions, revenue.

Gabriel: I think we’re still pretty low, we haven’t focused much on monetizetion, I think we’re, I honestly haven’t looked at it recently, but I’m guessing we’re about $100k for the year, something like that.

Andrew: OK. What can I do better? You’ve seen now the interview from both sides, how do I make this more useful to entrepreneurs like you?

Gabriel: I think that you should, you’re probably going to hate me for saying this, I think you should stop doing interviews for a minute and organize all your stuff and put out some books.

Andrew: Books. What kind of books would you like to see me put out?

Gabriel: I want you to write the book that I wanted to write because I think it would be useful for people and make money in the process, which is how to get traction. With all your interviews, you can put together themes an d best practices and all these different traction verticals like SEO and conferences, billboards and all this crap and piece together all the quotes and lessons learned and all this stuff.

Andrew: I see. One book on traction, piecing together everything I learned from your interview and maybe 20 other interviews and then another book on, I don’t know what, on public relations, piecing together everything I learned about PR for start-ups? That’s the kind of thing you were thinking?

Gabriel: Yes. Well, I think traction is actually the, I think you could do sub-books on all the, I think traction has all these verticals, PR is one of them. You could actually sell the mini-books independently and then sell the big book that’s aggregated altogether, maybe it’s in summaries, but I would definitely do that. I would distill all this stuff and try to put it in more teachable forms.

Andrew: I see. Right. Because interviews are too impenetrable?

Gabriel: No. I think they’re great. I think the interviews are great, but they don’t, they reach one market segment. You have data that you could reach other market segments, potentially larger if you distilled it and packaged it in different ways.

Andrew: All right. Interesting. Background, I’ve got a note here to come and ask you what’s going on behind you? I see, what is that a drill press? I see . . .

Gabriel: This is my basement. We are getting an office, actually our first office, I just moved stuff in there this morning. In a few weeks it should be up and running. I generally have worked out of my house and in the last year or two out of my basement.

Andrew: All right. One little point and then I’ll come back and ask you a final question. The little point is this, I get a lot of compliments every time I tell the audience that there’s and the reason is that people are rooting for me to do well with it and they’re saying, “Andrew, you can’t do well with it unless you actually start telling people about it.” If you go to, you’ll get courses on specific topics by people who do it exceptionally well.

I got an email here from someone who signed up for premium and here’s what he said, “Andrew,” I’ll remove the expletive, “holy crap, I cannot believe this worked. I listened to the Mixergy Master Class on Copy writing a few weeks ago and so when it came time to send out an email blast for my new business, I thought what the hell, I’ll try it.” He says, “I got a 68.4% open rate and a 81.5% click rate.” He says, “My copy is below but I was so nervous about sending it out, I thought people would think I was insulting them, but they loved it. I even got emails from people saying how great it was.” This is Jason Tugman [SP] of

That’s the kind of responses I’ve been getting from people. This is not just intellectual curiosity that I’m trying to satisfy. I’m trying to give people tips and tactics that they can actually use in their business and it’s coming directly from people who do it everyday. So, I’m not bringing copy writing by theoretician, I’m bringing copy writing by a guy whose livelihood and business depend upon it. The same goes for every topic in the courses.

If you’re already a member, go and get that copy writing course, you can see that it worked for Jason and if you’re not a member, go and sign up and you get all these courses as part of your membership. Mixergy Premium, I hope you all join.

Gabriel: Here’s another idea for you , hi everyone.

Andrew: I love it. I should have taken longer to see how many other ideas I can get from Gabriel.

Gabriel: So, Mixergy Premium you have these courses you say, I’m looking at them now, you could transcribe some of that into an article and put it in Hacker Newsletter and all these other places, and in return they would plug Mixergy Premium at the bottom.

Andrew: I see. Where we take seven tactics out of this copy writing course and we make into an article for someone else.

Gabriel: Yeah. Exactly. Always link back to Mixergy Premium. Are you doing that?

Andrew: Not yet. I just found a writer who can help me do it. I can’t do it myself, I need more writers. If someone out there is a good writer and wants to be the writer I hire to do this, please email me, I’d love to get somebody to get on this stuff because you’re right there’s a lot of great ideas in these courses and I’d love to get them out there and I know the course leaders would love that too. Dude, keep that coming, I would never hate you for any of your feedback.

You know what? I got to tell you, Gabriel, I’m really fortunate in that I’m reaching an audience of people whose ideas I respect so when they send me feedback, I feel proud to get their feedback and I feel that it’s feedback that can really help me. The same thing for the interviewees, I’ve built relationships with you now over the years and I hope to know you for the rest of my life. If you say you don’t want to do DuckDuckGo for the rest of your life, I want to do Mixergy for the rest of my life and I know that for the rest of my life I’ll get to know you and I hope to keep deepening our friendship. I’ve been so blessed that I’ve gotten to do that with lots of interviewees and I would never be upset to get your feedback. Keep sending it over.

Here’s a final question. You’ve done exceptionally well building traction for your business. You’ve interviewed other people on traction. You helped other entrepreneurs, Steven – I told you Steven Welch of Dream Adventure says you’re one of the guys to go to when it comes to getting traction and building that early following. Do you have one piece of advice that you could give the person who’s listening to us about how they can get traffic for their business, traction excuse me with their business?

Gabriel: Yeah. I would say you have to systematically go after – I’m looking at your Mixergy Premium – all these different areas. Try all the different traction verticals and place little bets in each one because you don’t know what’s going to work and then try to focus in on what you think had the most work. Then you have to iterate in that area to get it to work. Maybe for your business, viral marketing, maybe it’s PR, maybe it’s conferences, I don’t know you may not know you have to try them all.

Andrew: I see. Little bets on all these different channels and then find the one that works for you well, one that you’re passionate about, one that you think is worth putting a deeper and bigger bet on.

Gabriel: Then really hard core focus on it. Because often times you really have to iterate a lot, A-B testing or whatever it is to get it to actually pan out.

Andrew: All right. Here it is, guys do what I do, every once in awhile check out DuckDuckGo and just keep looking at what he’s doing. Check out the community today on, what’s the website

Gabriel: Yep.

Andrew: To see how he’s building up his community of people who consider his search engine, his product like a drug. If you got any value out of this I hope you find a way to say thank you to Gabriel. I’m going to do it right now and say, Gabriel, thanks for doing this interview.

Gabriel: Thanks for having me.

Andrew: Cool. One more thing. I got an email from someone who said he felt guilty because he keeps thinking, “I should thank the guests and I don’t do it the day of because I want to think of what my email is going to be and then I don’t do it a week later because I still haven’t gotten it right. Then a month later I feel guilty for not doing it. [??] come back a month later.” Most people will give up within 24 hours, if you come back a month later to Gabriel by Twitter or by email or by that feedback channel of his and say, Dude, I got something valuable out of this experience, thanks for coming on Mixergy and teaching it, I know.

I know that Gabriel will appreciate it and beyond that you’re going to feel good about yourself for having connected with someone who you admire instead of just sitting on the sidelines of life and watching him play on the field.

So whenever you get a chance, whenever you get a chance even if it’s five years from now, make sure to let Gabriel know what I’m doing right now, which is Gabriel, I appreciate you doing this interview.

Gabriel: Thank you.

Andrew: Thank you. Thank you all for watching.

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  • Andrew Warner

    I’m especially eager to hear what you guys think of this interview because I admire what Gabriel has done.

    Did I capture his story well? Did I uncover the actionable tactics for you?

  • Justin Park13

    Hey Andrew,

    I have been a big fan of yours for a minute now. In fact, I started my blog as an answer to yours.

    If you have a moment, please see:


    P.S. I give you a shot out in my very first post!

  • Andrew Warner

    Cool. Shoot me an email and let me know how things are going for you.

  • Whitney

    I’d never heard of DuckDuckGo before, so I checked out the site and was really impressed with the and pages. It’s hyper-logical but in a personable style, like one of the first blogs I ever subscribed to: Twizzle (?–I don’t think it exists anymore).

    I rarely see startups with interesting writing/landing pages.

  • Whitney

    I found the interview oddly comforting.

    I keep on seeing business after business using stupid marketing methods that don’t make any sense because they’re trendy or everyone else is doing it. Seems like Gabriel thinks before he acts.

    Like the infographic thing. I hate those things so much that when I recently decided to contact startups for in-house copywriting jobs, I blatantly made fun of FeeFighters for bragging about spending $2000+ on that stuff.

    Gabriel’s billboard idea was more expensive ($7000) but 100 times more logical and successful.

    How he decides to follow and unfollow on Twitter makes sense. And how he responds to emails makes sense too.

    I think we just found the male version of me.

  • Andrew Warner


  • Andrew Warner

    Yes, he’s refreshing.

    Speaking of good writing, I’m almost done formatting the writing you sent me. I’ll email it to you in a few hours.

  • Usman Muhammad

    Gabriel brings up a good point that there needs to be a framework with the content on Mixergy.

    In a recent interview, you recommended courses to check out on creating systems and I really liked that.

    Actually, if I think about it, it’s when you recommend a course, it’s then I go through the courses in the premium section. i.e. you mentioned the copywriting course and Rubin’s course on networking in one of the interviews and those were one of the first courses I went through.

    Since there are so many interviews and courses in the premium section, it’s tough to know where to get started.

    However, I had found posts like such by browsing and found it helpful:

    - I went through Neil Patel’s and Noah Kagan’s interviews, and I don’t know if I would have gone through them if I didn’t read that post. (Awesome interviews btw)

    There is also a post on Fail series, and I really enjoyed going through some of those interviews as well.

  • Andrew Warner

    Thanks. We’re working on more pages like the one you mentioned.

    And search has been an issue that’s dogged me since the beginning. I’ll keep searching for ways to improve that.

  • Adam Clinckett

    I’m getting a heap out of your latest interviews. 

    You’re honing right in on getting people to tell you exactly how they got started.  For example, even though Mark Britton’s interview was initially bumpy, he was telling you about all the channels he was working to build relationships to get people involved.

    And then you pick it right up with Gabriel asking about the channels he was using – billboard etc.

    I’m really happy that Gabriel’s stuck with his product.  It’s great to see people who actually love their product and keep it going. 

    You obviously have that same passion which is why DuckDuckMixergy is so awesome :)

  • Andrew Warner

    Thanks. I’m obsessed with getting the substance of these programs right.

  • Jian

    To be honest, I felt this interview was a bit boring. I guess mainly because I didn’t get excited since the site was not making huge profit? I think traffic is one thing, and funding is also good, but, for boots-trappers, I guess how to ge to profit is more exciting to hear/learn from.

    I’ve been watching the search industry for a long time, and my feeling about sites like gigablast, duckduckgo, bing, etc. are that, it is hard to compete with Google head-to-head. My gut feeling is that a niche search service could beat Google. Or, a completely different search experience could beat Google. But, just by differentiating on privacy or a couple of minor things, won’t make people to switch.

    Anyway, I am amazed that duckduckgo could be a one-man shop? I thought search is too complex a technology, including crawling, indexing and searching.

    I’ve written a crawler before similar to Nutch, and boy, I learned that there are a ton of crappy html pages out there and it tend to break the crawler. So, just crawling itself, could be very daunting. Let alone high speed indexing of content and efficient searching of the content (inverted index…)

    Overall, it seems to me, search is not an easy area to be profitable. Google could do it as they got to the scale. But, before Google, it was a struggle for Altavista, etc, that’s why they switched to portal sites instead. After Google, I haven’t seen a successful search engine yet like Google. Even Bing is deep in the red I heard. And it is likely that Microsoft might cut some losses to please Wall Street.

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  • Andrew Warner

    I really expected this interview to get more views, so maybe I didn’t communicate how big his achievement is or maybe, like you said, I didn’t make it interesting enough.

  • Pjb200

    The interview was fascinating. I would like to know more about the interviewees background and skill set. For most of the people you interview, they have a particular skill set that may or may not have been crucial in their business growth.  I would like to know how valuable in their success they consider their skill set to be and if others don’t have that particular skill set how much value should be placed on attaining it (time/money) Especially as a bootstrapped start up.

  • Kevin @globalfibernet

    Having been on the Google bandwagon since it’s infancy, I love this! Because of this interview, I’m going to research on Gabriel and DuckDuckGo… love the name as well by the way!

  • Matt Gorecki

    DuckDuckGo just clicked for me after listening to this interview.  The explanation of how DuckDuckGo uses the existing publics APIs finally sold me on why it’s different.

  • Andrew Warner

    I didn’t understand the big vision before either.

  • Anonymous

    Well I found this quite interesting Andrew. A lot of it I was aware of but it did fill in some gaps in my understanding.

    I think personally that the reason DDG is doing well against Google is by not attacking Google through technology but people. To compete against Google on their home ground is foolish unless you have unlimited money like Microsoft with Bing, see Cuil as a classic example.Note, I am one of those anonymous people who contributes to DuckDuckGo behind the scenes. 

  • Andrew Warner

    Boyter, thanks for this. Coming from you, a guy who helps out DDG, it means a lot.

  • Hadi Laasi

    I loved it when you asked him about doubts, I’ve been thinking along the same lines as your questioning did… (i.e. look at all these amazing people who have accomplished soooo much in their lives.. and here I am wasting my time on something thats going to fail etc)… …and I’ll admit that gets a bit depressing. Watching mixergy is one of the ways I keep up beat… so, thanks :)

  • Michael Smith

    I am another volunteer, and I must say: Gabriel’s work on connecting with users is really working out great. I remember the first time I found DuckDuckGo, I used the feedback button to give an idea. To my surprise, Gabriel personally responded less than an hour later. Sure, he turned down the suggestion, but just the idea that the founder and sole employee (at the time) had actually responded to me in person, definitely gave me a good feeling about the project. In fact, I can say that the friendly environment (email, forums, IRC channel, etc) is what made me especially eager to help out in whatever way possible. :)

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