Jeff Bezos backs AI-powered startup working to rival Google

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By Dan Sears

Jeff Bezos has backed a startup valued at $520 million working to rival Google’s web search dominance by using artificial intelligence to change the way people look for information online.

Dubbed Perplexity, its prized product is a forum to “ask anything,” which its San Francisco-based team of less than 40 calls an “answer engine,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Perplexity works as a chatbot-style search engine that responds to queries using OpenAI’s GPT technology.

It produces a direct text response to questions, rather than website links, using information from online sources, which it includes along with its answer.

“If you can directly answer somebody’s question, nobody needs those 10 blue links,” CEO Aravind Srinivas told The Journal.

A more powerful version of Perplexity’s search engine that uses GPT-4, OpenAI’s most advanced technology, can be accessed for $20 a month.

The concept caught the eye of Bezos, as well as other tech executives and venture capitalists, who collectively invested $73.6 million Perplexity’s latest round of Series B funding, the startup revealed in a blog post on Wednesday.

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Jeff Bezos, through his Expeditions Fund, along with other tech executives and venture capitalists, raised a collective $73.6M in Series B funding for Perplexity. AP

It wasn’t immediately clear how much of the nearly $74 million investment was provided by Bezos.

The sum marks the largest sum raised by an internet search startup in recent years, The Journal reported, with money from “continued support from our Seed and Series A investors…as well as new investors NVIDIA [and] Jeff Bezos (through Bezos Expeditions Fund),” among others.

Bezos’ brainchild, Amazon, has recently committed billions to AI initiatives, including its $4 billion commitment to generative AI startup Anthropic, the startup behind the chatbot Claude that promises to rival ChatGPT.

The Post has sought comment via Bezos through his Expeditions Fund and Amazon.

To date, Perplexity has raised $100 million, it said in the post — an investment that values Perplexity at $520 million, according to The Journal.

Srinivas previously worked as a research intern at Google before nabbing a job as a research scientist at OpenAI — a role he assumed for just one year before co-founding Perplexity in August 2022, according to his LinkedIn page.

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Perplexity’s website and mobile app has come to be used by 10 million people monthly, and raked in 53 million visits in November alone — up from 2.2 million when the service first became available in December 2022, The Journal reported, citing data from Similarweb.

Perplexity looks to rival Google with a search engine that responds to queries with text, rather than website links. Perplexity

The founder told The Journal that the startup has spent next to nothing on traditional marketing, relying on word of mouth and buzz on X to attract new users.

And despite publicly sharing its goal to upend Google’s roughly 90% market share in online search, Google’s own executives — including former YouTube chief Susan Wojcicki and Jeff Dean, a senior vice president focusing on AI research — have made personal investments in Perplexity, the company said in a March 2023 blog post.

Perplexity still has a long way to go if its going to eclipse Google, whose parent, Alphabet, boasts a $1.74 trillion market cap — the world’s fourth largest.

Google, with a market cap of $1.74 trillion, dominates the search engine market with a roughly 90% market share. AP

Google — whose global workforce is nearly 140,000 — has also invested hefty amounts to answer the widest range of queries possible in more than 133 languages. Scaling like this is a difficult task for a startup whose team has yet to breach 50, The Journal reported.

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Perplexity, meanwhile, has yet to be listed on a stock exchange, and it wasn’t immediately clear if the startup is planning an IPO in its near future.

Representatives for Perplexity did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.

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