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The young and the restless
Grove agreed the barriers to entry on the Net these days are so low that anyone can purchase a script off the shelf and launch their own search engine. "But it isn't easy being competitive. There are over 600 search engines but there's probably only 10 you've heard of. The most important thing is for people to get to know us. We are very focused on marketing and branding."
Grove said he takes comfort in the fact that in every key market outside of the U.S., the No 1 portal is always the local portal.
Although a RM1 million advertising campaign is on the cards, the management team needs little by way of promoting Catcha.com. Their age, looks and savvy fielding of press questions make for good copy. A no-frills launch of the Malaysia search engine recently saw placement in every newspaper plus a magazine spread.
Grove said he isn't worried that banner ads market seems still limp in Malaysia. "The tide is going to change and we will be banking on it as we are among the first movers in the region."
He said a research study recently by Goldman Sachs projects Internet advertising will increase dramatically in Asia, from the current US$237 million to US$1.45 billion in 2001.
"In America, the top 10 Web sites in terms of traffic secured 61 percent of the total online advertising, and in Australia the top 10 secured 77 percent of online ads. We expect Asia to achieve similar concentration," added Grove.
COO Lim also cited other revenue sources for the company besides banners, such as sponsorship for promotions and selling space on email newsletters and on secondary search boxes.
Catcha.com boasts a database of 30,000 listings, and averages 10 million hits monthly. It features the usual free Web-based email, chat, news, events calendar, e-cards, forums and real-time stock market information. Popular sections include a comprehensive food review section and the "Catch A Date" service that admittedly the portal founders say has improved their social lives.
The company has signed on about 30 content partners in each country and is quickly adding new ones.
Lim said he doesn't discount e-commerce tie-ups in future. "The Malaysian market is still slow as people aren't ready to put their credit cards online. Our role is just to keep creating awareness, increase usage and build trust with our users. Once we have that, e-commerce will follow."
Catcha.com has also acquired two other vehicles--ibeau.com, an Asian celebrity search engine, and 1mp3.com, one of the top 25 MP3 music search engines in the world--which the company plans to build into parallel sister ventures.
"Music is very niche on the Net and we hope to spin-off 1mp3.com to have its own team, and close its first round of venture capital soon," said Lim.
Grove said that Catcha.com also plans to list on Nasdaq or a regional bourse such as Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, or both, within a year.
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