Posted on 8 June 2015
Alex Kontos is taking on the internet giants by creating a viable rival to Google’s search engine by offering privacy online and opening new revenue streams for charities.
What started out as a teenage hobby in his bedroom is rapidly becoming an influential presence on the internet and a serious rival to the main players.
Alex, from London, was frustrated by the slow speed of web browsers, describing it as “like driving a sports car that was stuck in second gear” so started coding a superfast browser from his bedroom.
He released his high-performance Waterfox browser to the world in March 2011. Today, Waterfox has more than 4 million downloads, spanning 180 countries.
The 20-year-old electronic engineering student has just completed his finals at York and is now preparing to move to Jersey to develop the search engine, Storm.
He conceived the business model with venture capitalist Andrew Crossland, and the company’s new chief executive, Kevin Taylor, former CEO of internet security giant Symantec.
With Storm a small percentage of any purchases made with participating e-tailers is given to a growing list of charitable organisations. The charity will share a proportion of that commission with Waterfox and Storm to fund their on-going operation.
“I’m moving to Jersey to join the team and develop the search engine. It’s a big change in my life,” he said. “We’re about to launch the search engine at the beginning of June.
“At first it was a hobby. I wanted to see if it was possible but after I saw that people wanted something different it went from there. Even if it didn’t offer much, people just wanted it anyway and I was the only one widely distributing it, making it easy for everyone to use, so that’s how it started.”
He said it was important his project had an ethical dimension.
“I suppose the end goal is to give to charities. It might seem a bit tame but it’s just an easy way of people not having to go out of their way to support charities. I want users to feel it’s a brand they can trust. Have their privacy in mind. I genuinely care about what people think.”
He says he will now be seen as a competitor but believes his service can go “hand in hand” with his rivals.
“If people want to use their normal searches on Google but want to purchase something then they can use it through Storm,” he added.
And his message for other would be entrepreneurs: “Perseverance. Time will tell how you feel about your product or your idea. No matter what people said I just carried on developing it and it’s taken me to where I am today.”
“This has been the most stressful time in my life, developing this as well as studying. I don’t know if I could do that again.
“I would come home from lectures and just work, work, work. It ate into my social life at university but I managed to reach a balance and I think I came out alright.”
Last year, the enterprising student received the prestigious Duke of York Young Entrepreneur Award for Waterfox .