Cuil No Longer – Leapfish To Deadpool Next?

It seems Cuil.com is dead.

Michael Arrington’s sources suggest this is permanent.

That is $33 Million down the drain in research, development, infrastructure for the search engine crawlers etc.

But that is a fair investment… the investors new there was a significant risk, and based on the Crunchbase profile there were a whole load of smart people involved.

To misquote Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam:27, 1850:-

It is better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all.

But Leapfish… it is not just investors who will end up losing their money… if they haven’t already pulled their investment out.

Cuil vs Leapfish vs Andybeard.eu

Traffic numbers between Cuil & Leapfish are very similar i.e. Leapfish hasn’t gained any traction.

No amount of paid reviews is going to revive a flagging product – Google instant just blows any unique qualities away – before anyone suggests that somehow Google are copying Leapfish, there have been various “instant” type search implementations for the last 5 years and meta search engines are a dime a dozen.

“Boiler room” sales practices – an interesting way for a startup to get “funding” from people who in some cases were borrowing money of family member’s credit cards so they didn’t miss the great opportunity to “invest” in a guaranteed listing at the top of a search engine noone is using.

Up until fairly recently you might have thought their traffic was growing… and that that was search based.

However under the surface you have the Leapfish directory http://directory.leapfish.com/

Leapfish Traffic

That looks like the search engine traffic (from other search engines) has taken a hammering, and all that is left of their traffic only compares to a mildly popular, though niche blog such as my own.

Mark Kithcart, Director of Marketing whenever Leapfish are criticized comes up with amazing quotes such as:-

Also I think a few clarifications around our advertising model may help. We are not the traditional PPC modeled platform where you rent space and pay per click. We offer advertisers an opportunity to actually register Keyword Positions outright. We do charge a yearly renewal fee, but advertisers are able to benefit from both the traffic and equity side of the Keyword Position as the engine continues to grow over the next several years.

Equity equity equity…

But Leapfish doesn’t grow… maybe the only way it grows is by buying traffic in the hopes of luring in more people to buy keywords that are guaranteed to rank on a search engine no one is going to use… well other than the people who have purchased keywords.

I would have thought there were government departments in the US who were meant to investigate things like this – SEC, FTC etc – maybe the total investment isn’t as large as the Madoff scenario, but people are being hurt in a similar way.
I can’t understand why there would need to be a class action lawsuit against Leapfish.

If you are looking for some indepth research, Matt has a full dossier on Leapfish, and there is mention here of a formal complaint to the BBB & FTC about Leapfish.

Matt’s analysis is actually important to add balance to this blog post because at one time he equated Leapfish traffic number to the amount of people the Leapfish boiler room sales people could call in a day to sell keywords to, many of who would check out the site before hopefully saying no.
It is quite possible the massive drop in traffic displayed in the Alexa graphs is due to a reduction in phone calls.

This blog post is all personal opinion, based upon the limited information I have available and public statements by official Leapfish representitives. I have never been cold called by Leapfish, but then I am a crazy guy living in the middle of the Polish countryside.
I have previously covered another startup by the same founder, Ben Behrouzi called ePerks.com – that website ripped off lots of Real Estate people and no longer exists.
My prediction is that Leapfish is heading in the same direction… the deadpool and I am sorry that so many people may have lost their “equity” investment without the typical safeguards you would expect for such a high risk undertaking.

Update

I knew I should have checked one more resource as for a long time Vlad was monitoring Leapfish though mostly on Twitter where I haven’t been very often in the last 6 months.

He had posted last year on one blog that he was no longer interesting in covering Leapfish.

UPDATE May13, 2010: Things pertaining to LeapFish.com, their founders and management, along with related startups are no longer of interest to me, therefore no further comments are allowed on this post. There are also more reliable sources out there (such as Better Business Bureau) to help you make an informed decision about LeapFish.

However on his real estate marketing blog there have been a few updates to the Leapfish saga, most notably this one covering the Leapfish financial situation.

Staff laid off at parent company
Class action from employees that hadn’t been paid… won by employees, and then DotNext, the parent company failed to pay the award.

My Personal opinion – Leapfish is now a Zombie – the living dead – the search box on the site is about all that is left, a meta search engine that no one uses.
A note for any Leapfish affiliates – if the can’t pay their employees, the chance that affiliates will be paid I would class as slender.
If you are interested in buying lots of keywords, there is this staute on Staten Island you might also be interested in. ;)

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Comments

  1. says

    It was only a matter of time. A company that is too aggressive in its sales rarely focuses on customer satisfaction which leaves it wide open to a drug like dependence on the sales team rather than a more healthy dependence on good marketing. Those that understand this difference tend to do well in the long term but those who miss it eventually burn out the mark-place’s accommodation of the company.

  2. says

    It is a fundamental rule of economics that people use products that add value to their lives. Google has a business model that is designed to do that. Those who sell search rankings either fail to add value to the searchers, or actually detract value. Simple economics.

  3. says

    I received several calls from them. I eventually checked my analytics. We were already in a number one spot in Leapfish’s we should get some good traffic, right? There were two clicks in six months and one was from the Leapfish sales rep. The site itself was OK but their tactics and leadership was bad news.

  4. says

    Andy,

    Thanks for the update. I am trying to post again since my previous comment was swallowed up into the dark abyss :).

    I am glad you brought up the “directory” of LeapFish in your post. Google reports over 600,000 (varies on some days) pages indexed for LeapFish. Majority of those pages are from the “directory”. Google Ajax Search API TOS has this in regards to archiving their results:

    You will not, and will not permit users or other third parties to:
    …copy, store, archive, republish, or create a database of Google Search Results, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, except that You may display Google Search Results that have been “clipped” through an end user-requested action…

    One look at their directory reveals that these archived results have not been “clipped” through an end user-requested action…

    The irony is that Google Webmaster Tools are now reporting incoming links from this spammy directory. Go figure!

    Back in May I really wanted to move passed the LeapFish saga. However LeapFish is a gift that keeps on giving. :)

  5. says

    Well, it’s always a shame to see a huge investment go to waste. But i believe a lot of companies tried to fight against Google & tried to come up with something better. It’s not the first project to fail i believe. Pulling out better sooner than later. That’s the case.

    But Matt is right. If your campaign is based on attacking some other company that is already the leader of the search engines, you’d probably fail.

  6. says

    Interesting. I actually had only heard of leapfish but didn’t know anything about it until I read your blog. I wondered about the origins of the name. A leapfish? Sounds like a leap of faith….sort of like what investors and employees took….

    • says

      Marc if you search on many of the real estate blogging sites you will find tons of real estate agents who have been ripped off and can say nothing positive about ePerks and Leapfish

      When the only positive press is coming from people desperate to get their money out/back or from people being paid to write positive things, it is time to stop the lame company causing more hurt.

  7. says

    It is sad to hear a search engine cuil.com retire permanently after spending so much time & effort. They should try to sell it to someone first before shutting it down.

  8. Kenneth Ford says

    So under your policy, why would anyone comment if they can’t back link? The engine tanked and investors got burned, tough shit, do your due diligence.

    • says

      Tons of genuine people comment and get links from this community all the time – the shills, sock puppets and spammers don’t.

      Just because the search engine has been switched off doesn’t mean the investors got burned. The company produced I am sure lots of intellectual property and there is a significant chance that the investors had preferred stock with liquidation preferences.

  9. says

    I don’t think anything goes down so early after spending so much money on resources and research…I firmly believe that leapfish has been sold to any big business company like yahoo, microsoft or google but they are not revealing it openly for some reason..in the past we have seen so many acquisitions and to me it looks like the same…

    • says

      I can believe Cuil had technology for sale and smart people worth hiring. They had some really smart people there.

      I can’t believe that of Leapfish, it was just a meta search engine.

  10. aonojung says

    Thanks for the update. I am trying to post again since my previous comment was swallowed up into the dark abyss :)

  11. WAO says

    I’ve never liked Cuil. It did not give me any relevant result in Hebrew and as far as I learned had issues supplying relevant results in English as well. The user interface was very intresting though – It’s funny that I see many similarities in the way Google instant preform to the way Cuil had suggested relevant phrases

    • wsd says

      you can’t tell your users not to use back links there posts…maybe some of them use it for seo but a lot of time the links are relevant some how to the post and it can help the users that browse on the post…think about that :)
      So under your policy, why would anyone comment if they can’t back link? The engine tanked and investors got burned, tough shit, do your due diligence.

  12. Pawsville says

    I notice a year or so ago after we bought a keyword that the site changed completely. I was pissed. Then I notices the search engine technology (instant results based on character entry) was showing up on Google. To me it appears that they either sold their technology, it was stolen or usurped in come way, or Google found their own way of doing it. Either way we were screwed out of our “investment”. Good thing it wasn’t that much money – but I wish I had it back now…

    • says

      The instant results was never “new” technology – there had been demos for years – plus they didn’t have their own index – it relied on Google returning results quickly.