From Russia With Love: Yandex Invests $15 Million in Blekko

Blekko Man With Yandex Badge (Photoshopped for illuistrative purposes only))Yandex just invested $15 million in search engine 'upstart', Blekko. In a fourth round of funding, Blekko raised a total of $30 million from new investors Yandex and MLC Private Equity, and current investors CMEA Capital, U.S. Venture Partners and Pivot North Capital. This latest round doubles the total figure invested in Blekko since the company was founded in 2007.

Rich Skrenta, CEO of Blekko, told Search Engine Watch that Yandex has joined as a strategic investor meaning that they may provide resources to the developing search engine. Yandex's 3000 strong workforce and pool of talented engineers could prove to be valuable support to the significantly smaller team of 27 at Blekko. Yandex's founder and CEO, Arkady Volozh, joins the Blekko board and will be able to impart some of his 20 years of experience in building a profitable search engine, who's expertise cannot be overstated enough as Yandex recently completed the biggest IPO since Google.

On Blekko, the Yandex CEO said "Blekko's top tier technology and fresh product approach has enabled it to sustain growth since it launched, something no other U.S. search start up has been able to accomplish in more than a decade. We love blekko and think it’s a great product – a quality search engine that organically combines search algorithms with expert opinions. We believe the outlook for this approach is strong and that the Blekko team is poised to make it a success."

Indeed, there seems to be a lot of admiration between the companies, despite the fact that, strictly speaking, they remain competitors.

A Yandex spokesperson also confirmed the willingness to collaborate between the two companies, saying, "As an investor in Blekko, we are very much interested in the success of their product. We are ready to share our expertise and consider the possibility of technological cooperation. This investment is also an opportunity for us to see how a search engine works in the US market. Blekko launched its search about a year ago and since then the number of users and the number of search queries is growing. For the last 10 years this is the first search startup, which succeeded."

Although there is an English speaking version of Yandex, the search engine has not made much of an impact outside of it's core market of Russian speaking countries.

However, the partnership is not a means for Yandex to gain traction in the U.S., but simply to play a mentoring role. Whilst intelligence may be shared on both sides, unlike the Bing/Yahoo Search Alliance, Yandex and Blekko currently have no specific plans to combine products.

This is underlined by the fact that Blekko plan to spend the $30 million on substantially increasing their crawl of the web, which will naturally require substantial investment in their hardware footprint. Furthermore the 27 strong startup plans to increase the headcount of engineers and sales and marketing professionals.

Skrenta told SEW that the current challenge for Blekko is to improve the ability of the search engine to return high quality results to user queries whose intent somewhat defy categorization or are yet to be catered for by editorial slashtags (e.g. /health /politics). So, in effect, Blekko is committed to returning it's own results more often, to even more types of queries, and therefore use the latest round of funding to reduce the need to rely on any other search engine indexes.