NEW YORK: Ori Allon came up with a search technology better than Google's when he was a 26-year-old PhD student at the University of New South Wales. But now he reckons he's on to something that's on a whole new plane compared to today's Silicon Valley giants.
He's cagey about many specifics but the idea, Urban Compass (tagline: Search. Explore. Decide), was good enough to raise $8 million in pre-launch financing late last year from heavyweight investors.
Allon, now 32, says he turned down far more money than that, and even at $8 million it is thought to be the largest seed stage investment in a start-up made in 2012.
Partly, it's his pedigree - he sold his search technology, Orion, in 2006 to Google, where he led the team that integrated it into Google's core search engine by 2009. Now millions use his technology every day.
The who's who of the tech world had courted him for months, and one of those suitors, Microsoft, funded his next company, Julpan, which sold for tens of millions of dollars a year and a half ago to Twitter, where he then led the engineering team in New York.
He says he tried to retire, travelling to Brazil for two months, but now he's back. His company, Urban Compass, was a mere thought bubble last year but he plans to scale up to over 100 employees by the end of the year.
"I want to help with the most important decisions you have to make throughout the year, and I think a lot of data is missing right now," he said from his office in Lower Manhattan.
"Google is doing a great job with the Street View but it's nothing compared to what's out there, they don't really cover each one of the buildings, what's in there, in the restaurants, in the bars, in the apartments in the buildings.
"There is so much data out there that is measurable that is not online."
Unique for a technology company, he is hiring dozens of "neighbourhood specialists" who will not only help him collect this data but also "provide services" to users of the product on the ground. Building the underlying technology is a team that includes some top engineers poached from Google and Twitter.
Part of the technology will be related to housing - Allon recently poached a top New York real estate executive, Gordon Gollub - but he said it would be much more than that, only he's not revealing any more now so as not to tip off competitors.
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