SearchScene: Dr Ciara Muldoon and Dr Neil Williams

SearchScene is a charitable search engine that aims to aid the fight against climate change with just user clicks, and become the number one ethical alternative to Google.

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Name of founder(s): Dr Ciara Muldoon and Dr Neil Williams
Age(s) of the founder(s): Ciara (42) and Neil (45)
Location: London / Exeter
Date launched: July 2021
Number of employees: 2


What does your business do?

SearchScene is a charitable search engine. Like Google, SearchScene makes money from search ads. Unlike Google, we donate 95% of our profits to environmental and humanitarian charities that fight the causes and effects of climate change.

You can choose the charities you want to support by clicking on the heart-shaped charity icon at the top of SearchScene. SearchScene is a way for all of us to help fight climate change for free, by doing what we do anyway – searching the web! We have browser extensions available for Chrome, Firefox and Edge browsers, and also have apps available for iOS and Android.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

We saw the tens of billions of dollars that Google made in profits and we wondered what sort of a difference it could make in the world if nearly all of that money went to charities instead.

How did you know there was a market for it?

We saw the success of other alternative search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and Ecosia. However, when we tried these other search engines, we were disappointed by the search experience. We thought we could do better, so we created SearchScene.

What were you doing before launching your business?

We have spent the past decade building our affiliate marketing business by promoting other people’s products and websites online.

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

Neil: I originally worked in the space industry as an aerospace engineer. But when the spacecraft that I worked on failed to make orbit and plopped into the ocean (not my fault!) I started looking at ways of starting an online business on the side. This grew into a much larger business over time. SearchScene is the next step on that journey.

Ciara: Not really, although as I progressed through my academic career path, I realised that having an online business would give me the added flexibility to work from home. This, in turn, gives me a better work-life balance, especially when it comes to family life.

How did you finance your business?

The money that we made from affiliate marketing over many years has financed our new project, SearchScene. We wanted to do something more meaningful with our lives and we wanted to do what we could to help tackle the climate crisis. SearchScene is our small contribution towards that.

Explain your business model and how you make money.

Just like Google, we make money from the search ads that you see at the top and bottom of your search results. These ads are supplied by our search partner, Microsoft Bing. Advertisers pay to have their ads shown on Bing and can elect to also have their ads shown on Bing’s partner search engines (of which SearchScene is one). When a user clicks on an ad, the advertiser pays us a small fee. With enough users performing enough searches, those fees can quickly add up (just look at Google’s success!). We then donate 95% of our profits to the environmental and humanitarian charities that have been chosen by our users. It is a way of empowering people to raise money for charity without donating any of their time or money. You can read more about how SearchScene works on our website.

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

As a Bing search partner, we get most of our search results from Bing. However, we have had to build our knowledge panels, instant answers and widgets ourselves. Collating all the data for our feature-rich knowledge panels and serving them up quickly enough for the user was challenging, but we got there in the end (and they are still under constant development). As a result, we can confidently say we have the best search results of any alternative search engine.

What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?

As we work remotely from home anyway, the pandemic has not really affected us that much.

Describe your first breakthrough.

There have been many breakthroughs and we hope there will be many more. Figuring out how to build such feature-rich knowledge panels was one breakthrough. Getting a contract with Microsoft Bing was another, as well as finally getting our iOS and Android apps online.

How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?

As an online business with search traffic from the UK, USA and Canada, etc., Brexit hasn’t really affected us that much, if at all.

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

To quote a line from the movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come!”

What is one resolution you have for your business this year?

At the moment we are the best charitable search engine that you’ve never heard of! Our aim over the next year is to rapidly grow our user base and become well-known. We can then donate significantly larger sums of money to charity and make a real difference in the world.

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

We hope to expand to other countries and also take on private search engines like DuckDuckGo. Ideally, we would like SearchScene to become the natural, ethical alternative to Google. In doing so, we hope to raise millions of pounds for great charities that are addressing the causes and effects of climate change.

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Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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