Building a system of mass disruption

STEPHEN HUTCHEON
Last updated 15:42 28/11/2012
Ori Allon

ORI ALLON: He made millions selling ideas but is keeping latest brainwave to himself.

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Ori Allon, the Israeli-born, Australian-educated, New York-based online search savant and serial inventor, made millions over the past few years selling his big ideas first to Google and then Twitter.

But his latest brainwave is not up for grabs. Instead, he has accumulated $8 million in seed capital from an impressive line-up of backers. And this time, he says, he wants to develop it himself.

Emerging from a two-month hibernation after quitting his job as director of engineering at Twitter, Dr Allon has revealed that his stealth start-up is called Urban Compass (motto: Search. Explore. Decide.).

"There are still a handful of industries out there that have either resisted or have been very slow to implement technology innovations," he said in an email exchange.

"Getting these industries to adopt a more efficient way of doing things is a challenge, but also a huge opportunity for us to build products that will fix what is broken and outdated."

As an example of the type of disruption he has in mind, Dr Allon cited the case of Uber. The San Francisco-based start-up is shaking-up established taxi services around the world by matching drivers with people who need transport.

In a telephone interview, Dr Allon said the new business would harness mobile technology and a "human network" to collect hyper-local knowledge and use the resulting data to connect the offline and online worlds.

He referred to his new venture several times as a "big idea" and that it would "tackle real problems" faced by consumers.

But he declined to elaborate until the model was more fully-formed, sometime mid-next year.

It was not, however, another social play or another search engine, and the business model was not predicated on serving or displaying ads

As vague as the concept sounds, it has nevertheless attracted millions in seed capital from investment bank Goldman Sachs, venture capital funds Thrive Capital and FF Angel and several private investors, including the chairman and CEO of American Express.

And Urban Compass's co-founders and senior management team includes a coterie of Goldman Sachs alumni as well as engineers from Google and Twitter.

Dr Allon, 32, first hit the headlines in 2006 when it was revealed that he had sold Google the rights to an advanced text search algorithm that he developed while a PhD student at Sydney's University of NSW.

He had previously completed his undergraduate and masters degree at Melbourne's Monash University and has since become a naturalised Australian.

He was later employed by Google where he helped to integrate his search technology - dubbed Orion - into Google's all powerful, all conquering search engine.

After leaving Google in 2009, he set up a company called Julpan in New York and hired five former UNSW students to join him to help developed a system to capture and analyse real-time activity on the social web. Microsoft was among his backers.

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Last year, he sold Julpan to Twitter for a sum believed to be in excess of $40 million and then joined as director of engineering.

A year and three days later, he quit to concentrate on doing his own thing with Urban Compass.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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