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Two decades of Search pays off for YourAmigo

Innovation

When the dot-com bubble burst in March 2000, it seemed unlikely that fledgling South Australian software startup YourAmigo would survive.

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Despite several blows along the way such as 9/11 and the GFC, the Adelaide-based company has built a significant business in the United States and is this year celebrating 20 years with potentially its greatest piece of software yet.

YourAmigo was incorporated in September 1999 after acquiring some unique search engine technology developed in Adelaide by Flinders University researcher Professor David Powers, who still sits on the company’s advisory board.

Almost two decades and several search engine software breakthroughs later and this year YourAmigo has spawned the voice shopping technology YourAnswer.

The patented technology combines natural language processing with machine learning, image recognition and a suite of algorithms to produce the website specific experience that can be tailored to reflect a company’s brand personality.

Last month YourAnswer’s voice shopping experience system won ‘Most Exciting Tech Award’ at the annual Worldwide Business Research presentations in California and is signing up websites as fast as it can to customise its software for them.

YourAmigo and YourAnswer CEO Rahmon Coupe says the idea involves three key functions: a website that allows visitors to use voice to get what they are looking for in a seamless way, an artificial intelligence system that actually understands what they say rather than just returning word search results, and; a dynamic display that shows requested items in a more user friendly way on mobile devices.

“We’re very excited because we do believe that this has the potential to have a massive impact on how the internet is used,” he says.

YourAnswer launched its software in February and has already customised its technology with several client websites including American plus size women’s clothing company and lifestyle brand Ashley Stewart.

In just three months the voice shopping technology has achieved quantum jumps in mobile website performance, with users staying on participating websites more than two times longer, viewing 50 per cent more pages, and converting 190 per cent higher compared to other visitors on the site.

Coupe, one of three co-founders and the original CEO, said there was now a “huge pipeline” of companies looking to adopt the technology on their ecommerce websites.

“We’re getting people spending more when they’re on a website and we’re getting the people who use the YourAnswer system on a website converting at a far higher rate than those who didn’t go into the experience,” he says.

However, the road for YourAmigo hasn’t always been paved with gold.

Initial plans for the company was to use the Flinders University technology to take on Google and Yahoo in the internet search space.

“The early thoughts were ‘let’s take on the world’ but the dot-com bubble burst in March 2000 and the change for us was that our ability to raise capital was just gone, particularly in Adelaide but even in Silicon Valley for a period of time,” Coupe recalls.

“Then in 2001 we had a deal on the table for extra capital and were told it was done and the very next day was 9/11 and I didn’t realise at the time but it meant we weren’t going to be getting any capital.

“So we decided to take this novel search engine and rather than use it to search the entire internet and do things that cost an enormous amount of money to establish, we would direct it towards searching within an enterprise’s website or the internal intranet of a company.”

The software was sold to a variety of companies in the United States and the United Kingdom, including the Honolulu Police Department, publisher McGraw Hill, the Chicago Tribune and European defence company Thales.

“The advantage for an enterprise was that if they had a lot of different databases and a lot of different data repositories you could search all of these simultaneously through one search box, rather than needing to search each disparate data source separately,” Coupe says.

“We had this ability to get in to data and bring together information from disparate sources that typically you couldn’t and we sold it around the world.”

While sales were being made and relationships were being forged in global markets, YourAmigo was still making a loss and pivoted again just when the enterprise search market was being commoditised by the entrance of Google.

This second pivot was in the early days of ecommerce. Google and other large search engines were having difficulty crawling dynamically created web pages and Coupe and the team took advantage of this black hole in internet search.

The technology created by YourAmigo to help solve this problem proved a turning point for the company, sparking increases in revenue of about 100 per cent a year for almost a decade from 2004. The technology also resulted in YourAmigo being named the South Australian Exporter of the Year in 2008.

Rahmon Coupe and YourAmigo sales staff at a US trade show in the early 2000s.

Sony was an early adopter of the software and was followed by Reebok, Home Shopping Network, Dell Computers and General Motors and many other major corporations.

While some companies had grappled with the issue for a few years, YourAmigo was so confident in its technology that it used a low-risk business model where they were only paid for the actual clicks on the products that couldn’t be previously seen by search engines.

“Our concept was based on the fact we had great technology for getting into data that others couldn’t,” Coupe says.

“What if we could form a bridge between the internet search engine and the website by creating pages that the search engines could easily crawl to get all of the products?

“I felt at the time Sony didn’t believe we could do it but they didn’t see there was a lot to lose and within about three weeks we had all of their products in the search engines generating revenue for them and for us.

“It took a little bit of time to get to profit making but we had the advantage that we had already gone global with the enterprise search engine before that so there were sales people around the world.

“We pushed the new product through those channels and reasonably quickly we were able to attract a number of big name customers and generate great revenue.”

The publicly unlisted company owes much of its success to the early angel investors and a variety of state, federal and local government support through R&D, innovation and export grants.

“We took advantage of those and they were critical,” Coupe says.

“We are very thankful for that because it is unclear to me whether we would still be here today without that support.”

YourAmigo and YourAnswer are both still headquartered in Adelaide but also have strong sales and marketing teams overseas, particularly in the United States where more than 80 per cent of its business is done.

Coupe says although YourAmigo had enjoyed considerable success, YourAnswer has the potential to overtake it in terms of the annual revenue it created.

“We’re targeting a far broader market and because we wanted to brand YourAnswer very strongly that’s why we launched another company to push this,” he says.

“Historically we’ve sold into websites in 32 different countries with YourAmigo including in foreign languages. YourAnswer isn’t quite ready for foreign languages just yet – it’s enough of a challenge in English – but I wouldn’t rule it out one day.

“The US market is such a big and good market so that’s where we are going to put a lot of effort in the short term but obviously we’ll look outside of that as opportunity arises and as we get really established in the US with YourAnswer.”

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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