Steven Shure has ridden big waves of subscription in the past. For 20 years he ran the Time Inc. magazine subscription program. Then he joined Amazon as the vice president of a small project called Prime.
He oversaw various Amazon consumer and B2B marketing programs for 15 years until last month, when he joined search engine startup Neeva as Chief Commercial Officer.
For Neeva, the attraction is obvious. The company is hoping Shure can once again capture subscription lightning in a bottle – this time with a search engine the company plans to offer for around $ 5 per month.
But getting people to engage in search, a service they are used to getting for free, will not be easy. Neeva, in fact, has to invent a whole new category: search engine subscription.
“The common thread through much of my career is convincing customers and businesses to pay recurring fees for a great product,” Shure told AdExchanger.
Shure isn’t the only big hitter involved with Neeva. In addition to CEO and co-founder Sridhar Ramaswamy, who has led the Google search business for years, Neeva’s ranks include top search and recommendation product leaders from Chrome, YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook.
AdExchanger spoke to Shure about their plan to translate Neeva’s vision into a viable business that collects thousands, if not millions, in monthly credit card payments.
AdExchanger: What attracted you to this new role?
STEVEN SHURE: I knew Sridhar Ramaswamy when he was at Google. My teams at Amazon have been some of Google’s biggest advertising clients for many years. He and I were reintroduced by a mutual friend.
I was taken by Neeva’s mission, by the opportunity and by the challenge.
What is your vision for making Neeva a profitable business?
I will give the high level answer which, I apologize, is a bit of mommy and apple pie. My goal is to bring a level of excellence and expertise to the business side to match the product we deliver. The engineering and product team are already on the right track to deliver the best research experience.
It’s a tough task ahead of us to invent a category and teach people that there is value in paying for something they perceive as free.
You can join Prime, for example, agree to let Amazon charge your credit card and the products will start arriving. But Amazon has an existing customer base and credit cards and opportunities in the payment stream to get people to try Prime. Neeva doesn’t have these things.
Neeva also faces a strong existing player with over 90% revenue share and whose business model is staunchly against making it easy for customers to use other search engines. We’re going to have to teach people the value of Neeva and find ways for them to easily subscribe and engage in the product without friction.
Is Neeva still free to use at this time?
It is free to use, but not without an account.
Is there a strategy for making this transition?
This is one of the main challenges.
It’s a chicken and egg problem because over time we will have to charge. And yet, we must also generate a lot of lawsuits and word of mouth. As with many tech startups, it’s hard to distinguish between letting people taste your product and growing your user base and influence, and knowing when to turn off or at least turn down the tap to those who subscribe. .
It’s not a very satisfactory answer, but I don’t have a timeline yet.
Are you considering sources of income other than subscriptions?
I think there will be other income channels, but we will not consider advertising based or de facto advertising based income channels. An ecommerce income stream in which Neeva places higher links or results in the search score for financial reasons rather than consumer reasons will not be considered.
As a hypothetical example, would Neeva join a retail affiliate program?
We will not consider affiliate partnerships. Period.
What you see when you do a google search are ads and affiliate links – and you can’t even tell these aren’t organic results.
Neeva will not participate in such conditions. I’m not going to draw the line and say that Neva wouldn’t partner with a retailer somehow. There might be ways to build a financial relationship. Yet this specific model is exactly what Neeva will not do. Neeva will not sell the user as a product to anyone.
But I don’t think about it at all for the moment. We focus on the subscription business and how best to grow the user base and bill customers.
Did Neeva advertise herself?
We will dip our toes in the water. We are certainly not opposed to it. We have to grow this business, and the marketing is working. It may be ironic that Neeva focuses on not being constantly marketed, but that doesn’t mean that we are philosophically against advertising the products we create.
People who use search engines can be found on search engines. People who download apps can be found in app stores. These are not surprising facts. It’s just to say that we are going to fish where the fish are.
Are there any existing partnership opportunities that you can point out?
I’ve been on a small series of partnership discussions with Neeva before and I’m really excited about these conversations.
They get the feeling of Prime’s early days. It’s hard for people to get back into that frame of mind because of what Amazon is today, but in 2006 everyone was supportive of Amazon. Amazon was this wonderful upstart. And people were really rooted for Prime. They wanted to tell their friends how transformative it was. This was before the time when Amazon was considered that evil empire.
People loved asking how they could work with us to make Prime better, and I have the same feeling in the partnership discussions with Neeva.
What is Neeva’s speech to potential partners?
Many companies have a complicated relationship with Google. They see it largely as a necessary evil. We will benefit from having a share of those customers who do not always have to pay a tax in the form of advertising to get users to visit their site. Businesses have to buy their own brand ads, for god’s sake.
Businesses will see a world in which there is less market power concentrated in one place – and it will be a better world for them.
This interview has been edited and condensed.