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Inside Neeva, the ad-free, privacy-first search engine from ex-Googlers

A new search engine? One that people have to pay to use?

At first blush, it may seem like a textbook example of a startup idea destined never to get anywhere. By definition, any new search engine competes with Google, whose 90 percent-plus market share leaves little oxygen for other players. And we’ve been accustomed to getting our search for free since well before there was a Google—which might make paying for it sound like being expected to purchase a phone book.

But Neeva is indeed a new search engine, officially launching today, that carries a subscription fee. Though it’s extremely similar to Google in many respects—with a few twists of its own—it dumps the web giant’s venerable ad-based business model in the interest of avoiding distractions, privacy quandaries, and other compromises. It’s free for three months—long enough for users to grow accustomed to it without obligation—and $4.95 a month thereafter. Apps for iPhones and iPads, and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, and Brave, are part of the deal.

Neeva may have a certain whiff of improbability about it, but its cofounders, Sridhar Ramaswamy and Vivek Raghunathan, are the furthest thing from naïfs. Two long-time Google executives with more than a quarter-century of experience at the web giant between them, they have an insider’s understanding of how it operates. Moreover, about 30 percent of the roughly 60-person staff they’ve assembled at Neeva consists of ex-Googlers, including Hall-of-Famers such as Udi Manber (a former head of Google search) and Darin Fisher (one of the inventors of Chrome). They’ve also secured $77.5 million in funding, including investments from venture-capital titans Greylock and Sequoia.

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