Stephen Shore has surfed the big subscription waves in the past. For 20 years, he led the Time Inc. magazine subscription program. Then he joined Amazon as Vice President of a small project called Prime.
He oversaw multiple consumer and corporate marketing programs at Amazon for 15 years until last month when he joined search engine startup Neeva as CEO.
For the Neiva, the attraction is obvious. The company hopes Shure will be able to pick up the subscription subscription in a bottle again — this time using a search engine the company plans to offer at around $5 per month.
But getting people to search for a service they used to get for free won’t be easy. In fact, Neeva needs to invent a whole new category: search engine subscription.
“The common denominator for most of my career has been persuading clients and businesses to pay recurring fees for a great product,” Shure told AdExchanger.
Shure isn’t the only heavy hitter involved with Neeva. In addition to CEO and co-founder Sridhar Ramaswamy, who has run Google’s search business for years, Neeva’s rankings include the top leaders in search and recommendation products from Chrome, YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook.
AdExchanger spoke with Shure about his plan to translate Neeva’s vision into a viable business that raises thousands, or eventually millions, in monthly credit card payments.
AdExchanger: What drew you to the new role?
Stephen Shore: I knew Sridhar Ramaswamy when he was at Google. My team at Amazon has been one of the biggest customers of Google Ads for many years. He and I were reintroduced by a mutual friend.
I was enthralled by Neeva’s mission, opportunity, and challenge.
What is your vision for turning Neeva into a profitable business?
I’m going to give a high-profile answer, for which I apologize, is my mom and apple pie. My goal is to provide a level of excellence and expertise along with the business to match the product we offer. The engineering and product team are on the right track towards providing the best search experience.
It is a difficult task ahead of us, to invent a category and teach people that there is value in paying for something they consider free.
Join Prime, for example, agree to let Amazon charge your credit card and start arriving products. But Amazon has an existing customer base, credit cards, and opportunities in the checkout flow to ask people to try Prime. The Neva does not have these things.
Neeva also faces a strong established player with over 90% revenue share, and its business model is unable to make it easy for customers to use other search engines. We’ll have to teach people the value of Neeva and find ways for them to easily sign up and stick with the product in a frictionless way.
Is Neeva still free to use now?
It’s free to use, but not without an account.
Is there a strategy for how to make this transition?
This is one of the main challenges.
It’s a chicken-and-egg problem, because over time we’ll have to charge. However, we also have to generate a fair amount of experience and word of mouth. As with many tech startups, there’s a challenge to walk that fine line between letting people sample your product and growing your user base and influence, and knowing when to turn the tap off or at least turn it down for just those who sign up.
This isn’t a very satisfactory answer, but I don’t have a timeline yet.
Do you envision income sources other than subscriptions?
I think there will be other revenue channels, but we’re not going to look at revenue channels that are based on ads or real-life ads. E-commerce revenue streams where Neeva places higher links or results in search rankings for financial reasons rather than consumer reasons will not be considered.
As a hypothetical example, would Neeva join a retailer’s affiliate program?
We will not consider affiliate partnerships. a period.
What you see when you search on Google are ads and affiliate links – and you can’t even tell that they aren’t organic results.
Neeva will not participate on such terms. I won’t draw the line and say the Neva won’t partner with a retailer in some way. There may be ways to form a financial relationship. However, this specific model is exactly what Neeva will not do. Neeva will not sell the used product to anyone.
But I don’t think about it at all now. Our focus is on the subscription business and figuring out how best to grow our user base and ship customers.
Has Neeva made any announcements herself?
We will dip our toe in the water. We certainly do not oppose that. We need to build this business, effective marketing. It may be ironic that Neeva is not constantly marketed, but that does not mean that we are philosophically opposed to advertising the products we make.
People using search engines can be found in search engines. People who download apps can be found in the app stores. These are not surprising facts. It’s just to say we’re going fishing where the fish are.
Are there any current partnership opportunities that you can point to?
I’ve already been involved in a small group of Neeva’s partnership discussions, and I’m really excited about those conversations.
They have the feeling of the early days of the prime. It’s hard for people to put themselves back in that frame of mind because of what Amazon is today, but in 2006 everyone was turning to Amazon. Amazon was such a wonderful upstart. And people are really rooted in Prime. They wanted to tell their friends about how transformed she was. This was before the days when Amazon was seen as an empire of evil.
People would love to talk to us about how they’ve worked with us to improve Prime, and I feel the same way about partnership discussions with Neeva.
What is Neeva’s offer to potential partners?
Many companies have a complex 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 tax in the form of advertisements to get users to visit their sites. Companies have to buy ads in their own brand name, for good.
Companies will see a world where less market power is concentrated in one place – and that world will be better for them.
This interview has been edited and condensed.