(Reuters) – You.com, a startup looking to challenge Alphabet Inc’s Google by developing a more customizable search engine, announced on Tuesday a $20 million investment led by the venture fund of Salesforce.com Inc Chief Executive Marc Benioff.
Venture capitalists for years had avoided backing Google competitors because of its dominance of internet searching across most of the world.
But growing consumer privacy concerns and a resurgence of antitrust scrutiny on Google from regulators in the United States and elsewhere has led to what some investors perceive as an opening.
“We’re at a critical inflection point in the internet’s history, and we must take steps to restore trust online,” Benioff said in a press release. He called You.com “the future of search”.
Benioff’s involvement with the startup includes the transfer of the You.com domain name, which he has owned since the 1990s.
Neither he nor the startup would comment on the terms of the URL exchange, and it was not clear whether the transfer formed part of the overall investment. Beyond Benioff’s TIME Ventures, other investors include Breyer Capital, Sound Ventures and Day One Ventures.
Founded last year by two former top AI scientists at Salesforce, You.com lets users set preferred websites. For instance, users who like to get information from Reddit and Yelp would see rows of search results from those services before links from the broader web.
You.com will not track users across the web nor sell “privacy-invasive ads”, according to co-founder and CEO Richard Socher. He added the company will not log searches and clicks when users opt for an incognito mode.
The startup aims to collect fees for facilitating transactions like food orders or flight bookings, and wants to help other publishers generate revenue through ads embedded among search results.
New antitrust rules would help You.com grow, Socher said, adding that popular browsers owned by Apple Inc and Google in the name of security make it difficult for users to replace Google as the default search.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Menlo Park, California; Editing by Jan Harvey)