NEW YORK: Ori Allon came up with a search technology better than Google's when he was a 26-year-old PhD student at the University of New South Wales. But now he reckons he's on to something that's on a whole new plane compared to today's Silicon Valley giants.
He's cagey about many specifics but the idea, Urban Compass (tagline: Search. Explore. Decide), was good enough to raise $8 million in pre-launch financing late last year from heavyweight investors.
Allon, now 32, says he turned down far more money than that, and even at $8 million it is thought to be the largest seed stage investment in a start-up made in 2012.
Partly, it's his pedigree - he sold his search technology, Orion, in 2006 to Google, where he led the team that integrated it into Google's core search engine by 2009. Now millions use his technology every day.
The who's who of the tech world had courted him for months, and one of those suitors, Microsoft, funded his next company, Julpan, which sold for tens of millions of dollars a year and a half ago to Twitter, where he then led the engineering team in New York.
He says he tried to retire, travelling to Brazil for two months, but now he's back. His company, Urban Compass, was a mere thought bubble last year but he plans to scale up to over 100 employees by the end of the year.
"I want to help with the most important decisions you have to make throughout the year, and I think a lot of data is missing right now," he said from his office in Lower Manhattan.
"Google is doing a great job with the Street View but it's nothing compared to what's out there, they don't really cover each one of the buildings, what's in there, in the restaurants, in the bars, in the apartments in the buildings.
"There is so much data out there that is measurable that is not online."
Unique for a technology company, he is hiring dozens of "neighbourhood specialists" who will not only help him collect this data but also "provide services" to users of the product on the ground. Building the underlying technology is a team that includes some top engineers poached from Google and Twitter.
Part of the technology will be related to housing - Allon recently poached a top New York real estate executive, Gordon Gollub - but he said it would be much more than that, only he's not revealing any more now so as not to tip off competitors.
He's starting with New York, but said Sydney would be one of the first cities he rolls it out in once he's proven the model.
He said he would launch Urban Compass to a select group of testers in April or May but the wider public would be able to try it by the US summer.
He compares the promise of the technology with the experience of using Google for the first time, when people realised there was a whole sea of information out there to tap into beyond the meagre selection of web pages available on early web portals.
"There's a lot of companies and apps out there that don't do much, they're just time-wasters... another social network, another filter for pictures, a way to take videos - cool, but does it really help you?," he said.
"I want to do something that actually brings more technology into the real world. The vision is pretty big."
Helping him open doors and realise that vision are a coterie of high-profile investors including Founders Fund, Goldman Sachs, Thrive Capital and the chief executive of American Express, Kenneth Chenault.
Allon, who has triple citizenships in the US, Australia and Israel, describes his technology as an "operating system" or platform that at launch will have one main application but will be rapidly expanded.
"It's not an incremental change, it's not like we have better reviews of restaurants, no, it's way bigger than this," he said.
Allon is now living the dream, investing his money in several start-ups and, for fun, he's also in the market to buy a bar.
Only a small percentage of entrepreneurs create successful start-ups even the first time, but Allon has almost knocked it out of the park three times in a row.
He credits his success in part to his high technical knowledge, having gained a bachelor's degree, master's degree and a PhD in computer science in Australia, with enough coding knowledge to code his entire Orion search engine himself.
He recalled how Google had sent two of its top engineers to see the search product, which he ran out of a small room at UNSW, and after 30 minutes playing with it one turned and asked, "how did you do it?". The next day he was invited to fly first class to Google's headquarters in Mountain View to show it off to the top brass.
He's yet to show his latest creation to Google ("It's way too early for that") and this time he plans to build a world-changing company as opposed to being acquired.
"But anything can happen," he said.