Interview with Rollyo Founder Dave Pell

My first ‘encounter’ with Dave Pell came when I submitted some feedback to Rollyo during their public beta launch – he subsequently addressed my points via email.

For those not familiar with Rollyo, it allows a user to create a “personal search engine using only the sources you trust.” I’ve used it extensively for searching Web 2.0 terms, concepts, companies, and products via my Everything Web 2.0 Searchroll (I recently wrote about how to use this Searchroll via some of the advanced Rollyo tools).

My interview with Dave gets to the core of his service, examining things like the Rollyo value proposition to the ‘Average Joe’ and the Rollyo business model. I think you’ll find it quite interesting. As usual, the interview was conducted via email. Enjoy.

Dave, I usually like to start out these interviews by learning a little bit about you. What has kept Dave Pell busy to this point in his life?

For the last several years I have split my time between investing and blogging. I am the managing partner of Arba Seed Investment Group and I have invested in and advised more than 30 companies over the years. I started writing a newsletter called Davenetics during the early years of the boom and it has since morphed into a blog where I cover politics, media and pop culture.

Tell me how you came up with the idea for Rollyo. Why did you see a need for it and what problem is it trying to solve?

I used to teach high school in Brooklyn and my first foray into the web world was the launch of a non-profit site for Bay Area high school students and teachers called The Learning Bridge. One of the features of the site was a search engine that indexed all of the school and district sites that were part of our program. Since then, it has seemed clear to me that it often makes sense to narrow searches by source. When I ran the Learning Bridge, I had to use a software solution to index the sites myself. Once I got more familiar with today’s powerful APIs, I realized that I could create a site to empower anyone to build a personal search engine in a few seconds. And that search engine has all the same relevancy power that users have come to expect. Yahoo provides the search engine and we give users the steering wheel.

From my perspective, the Rollyo marketing approach leading to your launch was pure genius. For those that don’t know what you and your team did, please quickly re-hash your approach prior to opening up your doors to the public. I’m most interested in learning how you got people by the likes of Debra Messing to ‘roll their own search engines.’

We had a two tiered effort. The first goal was to get some well- known bloggers to roll searches. I wanted to get my friends in the blog world involved early on so that we’d have some great examples for first time users to test drive. I also wanted to get pre-launch feedback from people who think deeply about these kinds of products. The second goal was to get some great personal search engines (Searchrolls) to be rolled by celebrities to make the site more interesting and welcoming to general web users. I was fortunate enough to get some great folks like Debra Messing, Rosario Dawson, Brian Greene and Arianna Huffington to roll some celebrity (and also some extremely useful) Searchrolls.

How has Rollyo been doing since the launch? Do you possess some sort of metrics to track popular search terms or how often particular Searchrolls are being used? Is there any means for a creator of a Searchroll to find out how successful or useful their Searchroll has been to the larger community?

The site traffic and incoming links have both been growing quite steadily, especially given that we are still in beta and have thus far spent next to nothing on marketing. We do track how many people save a particular Searchroll. So far, the best place to find this data is on our Explore page where we list the ten most popular Searchrolls based on the number of users who have save them to their list of favorites. Very soon, every user will be able to see “Who’s Rolling with Me” on their Rollyo profile page.

In regards to the metrics question and what I consider some very powerful Rollyo tools [link], is there a way to determine how many users have added a particular Searchroll to their Firefox Toolbar or how many have added a Searchbox to their websites?

We are tracking both those pieces of data, but we are still building out the tools to analyze it. I can see both of those tools growing based on our referrer logs and general traffic, but I don’t have any pretty graphs quite yet. The stat that we currently track quite closely is how many Searchrolls have been created and that number is just about to top 10,000.

The tools I mention above really reach out to power users. But how are you marketing this service to the typical user of Google or Yahoo!? Do you think Rollyo adds value to the ‘Average Joe’ Internet user?

We built this site, from day one, with the average user in mind. In many cases, I think the Average Joe is more overwhelmed by information overload than the power user. Therefore, Rollyo is perfect for them. Our key goal will be to demonstrate Rollyo’s usefulness to that broader audience. So far, I think we’ve had some success in this area. During the first few days, many of our Searchrolls were on early adopter topics like CSS and Web 2.0. Today, we are seeing a much wider variety of personal search engine topics. The thing that has been the most rewarding for me is that a lot of teachers are making Searchrolls for their students and pointing them to Rollyo. This really brings the idea behind Rollyo back to its origins.

Many people are questioning the business models of new web start-ups ’ basically, they don’t believe there are many except ‘buy me’. It’s lead to talk of ‘Bubble 2.0’. Can you speak to your business model and strategy with Rollyo?

We have a few areas that we will be exploring over time, but to start, we will be monetizing our search results with paid listings much in the way all the major search engines do. That is certainly a proven business model.

What’s next for Dave Pell and Rollyo?

We are getting ready to announce a few partnerships and we are also testing several exciting new site features to make Rollyo even more useful for our growing community. I’ve really learned a lot based on user behavior and feedback, and I am excited to improve the site in the coming weeks.