Google is the most visited website and the second most recognizable brand in the world. To launch a company that goes head-to-head with those guys, you'd have to be crazy, right? Not necessarily. After all, if Larry Page and Sergey Brin had been scared off by existing search engines like Yahoo and AltaVista back in 1998, they might never have founded Google in the first place.
That's why it's been inspiring to see several smaller players make big headlines lately with products that seem to take aim directly at the tech juggernaut. Here's a look at a few audacious companies daring to challenge Google at its own game.
Mobileye Targets Google's Driverless Cars
The biggest news this week came from Mobileye, an Israeli company that announced it had raised $400 million at a $1.5 billion valuation to commercialize semiautonomous vehicles. Founded by Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram, the company has been working on collision avoidance systems since it was founded in 1999. Now, it's developing driverless cars that will sell for a fraction of what Google's vehicles will cost. According to The New York Times, Mobileye hasn't set its sights quite as high as Google has, since Mobileye's cars won't operate completely on their own. Instead, Mobileye's technology allows cars to drive in a single lane at a steady speed and identify and respond to traffic lights. Making the cars semiautonomous, the founders hope, will keep costs low, relative to Google's driverless car, and may help the company get its cars on the road as early as 2016. As Aviram told the Times, "It's a camera and a chip, with no exotic technology. It's the most cost-efficient system that's out there."
OneGigabit Takes on Google Fiber
Last week, a new Vancouver-based start-up called OneGigaBit revealed its plans to bring high-speed Internet to Canada with its own fiber network. Similar to Google Fiber, OneGigaBit will offer Internet at one gigabit per second, which is 60 percent faster than the average in Canada, according to CBC News. Founder Eric Fuhnke recently told CBC he plans on working with real estate owners and developers to install fiber connections in entire apartment complexes at once and plans on selling the service for $45 to $65 a month, slightly lower than Google Fiber's $70 a month price tag. Because fiber optic networks are local by nature, it seems unlikely that OneGigaBit will face much direct competition from Google any time soon. So far, Google has only managed to launch Fiber in Kansas City, Kansas, with plans for Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah, in the works.
Leap2 Tackles Search
Perhaps the most peculiar Google challenger is Leap2, which is taking on search, of all things. Of course, the team behind the Kansas City, Kansas-based start-up is quick to point out they're not trying to replace Google as a search engine. "Google is really, really good at what Google does," product director Tyler VanWinkle told VentureBeat Monday. "We feel like we're doing something completely different from what Google is doing." The start-up, which raised $1.6 million in April, aims to build a search engine that's more relevant to younger users by incorporating search results from public Tweets and relies more heavily on images. "The younger generations don’t have the same kind of loyalty we have. They haven’t been using Google for 15 years. They’re not loyal, frankly. They want something different. They expect it to be dressed, sassy, sexy, bundled up, and highly consumable." Now the challenge will be convincing advertisers of that fact.
Feedly Outlasts Google Reader
Google Reader took its last breath July 1. While Google's decision to shut down the service may have dismayed loyal Reader users, it was great news for Edwin Khodabakchian, who built his own competing news aggregating app Feedly in 2008. When the Palo Alto-based start-up launched, a full three years after Google Reader, the market for copycats was already saturated. But Feedly, with its slick interface, persisted and slowly amassed a loyal user base of 4 million. Now that Reader is out of the picture, Feedly is reaping the benefits. On the day Google announced the shutdown, Feedly's blog reported the start-up had gained 500,000 new users in 48 hours, and that number has only continued to grow. Feedly, which has been struggling to keep up with capacity, has since seen its user base triple to 12 million.