Search-as-a-Service and API-as-Product: An Interview with Algolia

Mark Boyd
Oct. 11 2013, 09:00AM EDT

Over the past year, French startup Algolia has pivoted its business model to focus on providing search as a service by offering an easy-to-integrate API product for use by websites and online businesses. ProgrammableWeb caught up with CEO and Co-Founder Nicolas Dessaigne at the recent API World conference to discuss the service’s new seed funding, and how an API-as-product business model builds trust with end-user developers.

The Algolia API provides a turnkey solution to provide real-time, typo-tolerant and location aware search in applications and websites.

“We provide search as a service, so we provide an API to developers so they can provide a good search experience inside their website and their applications”, said CEO, Nicolas Dessaigne, speaking to ProgrammableWeb at API World, shortly after Algolia’s announcement that they have raised $1.5 million in seed funding.

“It’s extremely easy to integrate… for example, look at TV show time data,” Dessaigne cites a recent example from working with new app service TV Showtime.

“TV Showtime has data on 15,000 TV shows. They push the data to us in JSON format, then they can directly start searching for it using our drag and drop interface. This allows setting of ranking priority attributes, for example, they can establish a ranking protocol based on:

  • Lowest number of typos in the search request
  • Geodistance
  • Proximity of words
  • Attributes order (such as whether actors names, episode titles or series titles should be ranked first)
  • Popularity ranking.

"We are improving the onboarding as much as possible. In the meantime, we give our customers an API client in their preferred coding language, and then they can push the JSON data and send their queries and they get back their results in JSON format.”

Algolia started life as an offline search engine for mobiles, so end users could consult their contacts address book, for example, when not connected to the net. “It works for offline travel guides for example, but for the vast majority of applications it was not that interesting,” Dessaigne admits. “The SaaS market is so much bigger.” As a result, Dessaigne and co-founder Julien Lemoine reoriented their business model to focus on providing a great search experience for customers of SaaS businesses. The pivot has resulted in a sign of confidence from experienced SaaS veterans like Producteev founder Ilan Abehassera who was part of the seed round of $1.5 million from Index Ventures, Point Nine Capital and Alven Capital.

Building trust with SaaS vendors so they have confidence in incorporating the Algolia search tool into their interface is the next step for Algolia. The company admits they need to ensure their SaaS customers have confidence in relying on the Algolia API.

Dessaigne points to three key factors that demonstrate trust:

“Well, we have just raised some funding,” Dessiagne reiterates, noting that the seed funds help build Algolia’s stability.

"We also have 99.99% SLA guarantee - we have built the service to be indexing on at least 3 different servers as a minimum. It is still early days - we have been out for only a few months – but we are already serving 4 million queries a day and starting to get traction.

"Finally, we also provide a status page about our API product. When you are a SaaS business, it is important for developers to see the status of our API at all times.”

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities. I can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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