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DuckDuckGo draws $100M from Internet pioneers, but don’t expect a fancy HQ

DuckDuckGo raises $100M, Century Bio goes public

Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo. The no-tracking search site, founded in 2009, is based in Paoli.
Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo. The no-tracking search site, founded in 2009, is based in Paoli.Read moreYouTube

DuckDuckGo, the Paoli-based search engine that vows not to track users or sell their data, is preparing to launch a full-scale desktop browser, among other products, now that a squad of internet pioneers has bet $100 million on its success.

Founder Gabriel Weinberg started the firm in 2008 with capital raised by the sale of the social-media firm he ran as an MIT student. DuckDuckGo has grown to 129 employees, many of them software developers who work remotely, away from the company’s modest headquarters in a rowhouse-sized office building on Paoli Pike, a block from an Amtrak-SEPTA station.

» READ MORE: Start-ups, venture capital investors flood post-pandemic Philly

As a private firm, DuckDuckGo doesn’t publish financials. But last week Weinberg posted online a brief report: The company “has been profitable since 2014 and today our revenue [from site advertising sales] exceeds $100 million a year, giving us the financial resources to continue growing rapidly.”

According to the StatCounter tracking service, DuckDuckGo was the No. 2 mobile search engine in the U.S., after Google, over the 12-month period that ended May 31. It’s a distant second place, with 2.2% of the U.S. market, vs. a commanding 94% for Google. But that’s still many millions of searches. And DuckDuckGo is now ahead of Yahoo!, Microsoft’s Bing, and other engines run by much larger companies.

DuckDuckGo has a still smaller share of the desktop search market, which it will tackle directly with its new browser. Weinberg says the company trails only Google in mobile searches in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.

Halfway through his note, Weinberg posted his company’s list of new investors, who have bought out some of DuckDuckGo’s early employees and first-round backers. These new investors include Tim Berners-Lee, the Oxford-trained, Boston-based computer scientist credited with inventing the internet’s World Wide Web, Mitch Kapor, founder of Mozilla (home to web browser Firefox), and Brian Acton, founder of WhatsApp, which was acquired by Facebook for $22 billion in 2014.

Weinberg is a familiar figure in global, internet-privacy circles. He has testified in Congress, encouraging government officials to break up Big Tech giants such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook, which Weinberg and other critics say use market powers to squeeze out competition.

» READ MORE: Biden elevates energetic critic of Big Tech as top regulator

But new investors won’t translate to a bigger hometown corporate profile for DuckDuckGo. Company officials say there is no prospect of a fancy, larger headquarters, out in the Great Valley, or in town.

”Everyone will continue to work remotely,” as most did before COVID-19, with just that little office hub on Paoli Pike, said spokesperson Kamyl Bazbaz. “We’re hiring people from all over the country and all over the world; we have no plans to make changes” in the physical footprint.

Biotech bubbles on

Philadelphia biotech firms with big brains but few or no products ready to sell continue to pull in millions through initial public stock offerings (IPOs):

Philadelphia-based Century Therapeutics, which employs more than 100 under CEO Osvaldo Flores and develops cancer therapies from stem cells, expects to raise more than $240 million from its IPO last week. That sum includes a follow-up deal with investment bankers that should close next month, after setting an initial price of $20 a share.

Two smaller start-ups that went public in February, David Baker’s Center City-based Vallon Pharmaceuticals, which is developing an antidrug abuse treatment, and Virpax Pharmaceuticals, Anthony P. Mack’s non-opioid painkiller development company, have both been trading below their IPO prices in recent weeks, which is not unusual in today’s speculative investment market for biotech-based cures.