We talked to Ati Bakush founder at Ekoru.org about Ekoru Ocean Search Engine and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ati Bakush: We have all adjusted to life in the “new normal”. We have four children aged 11 and under at home who are kept busy with schoolwork and activities. We are lucky in a sense that even though they are isolated from their friends, they have each other to play with. We try to keep them physically active with some time set aside each day to play outside and keep them moving.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Ekoru.org.
Ati Bakush: I’m originally from Australia, and spent 20 years on the internet and telecoms industry, developing software for mobile operators and Internet service providers in Southeast Asia and Latin America. Part of this included the development of search engines for mobile operators which was a useful experience when we decided to start Ekoru.org. My wife Alison had a career in public relations and marketing with stints at Ogilvy and Nike, which rounds up our skill sets nicely. I take the lead with the technical side of things while she functions as Communications Director for Ekoru.org.
Growing up in Perth, Western Australia, I spent most of my time in and out of the Indian Ocean and the Swan River, making marine conservation an issue close to our hearts. The problems of plastic pollution and ocean acidification will soon reach a tipping point from which it will be difficult to return. As a result, we’ve made ocean conservation our primary cause by partnering Big Blue Ocean Cleanup and Operation Posidonia.
We started Ekoru.org out of our growing concern for the environment, which was becoming an increasingly important issue for us because of our children. Living in Southeast Asia, we’ve had to endure the annual Sumatran fires, many of which are started as a cheap means of clearing land for new palm plantations. This blankets the region in thick hazy smoke for weeks at a time which has an adverse effect on the respiratory health on many people, including our children. Over time I continued to ask myself, “Can I do more? Can I do something which is better?”. I wondered if I could apply my skill and experience to something that would positively impact instead of making more money for billion-dollar companies.
We wanted to find a way to turn an everyday activity, such as using a search engine, into an environmental activity. While search engines are free to use, they also generate revenue, which is what has allowed Google to become one of the most profitable companies in the world. By donating 60% of our revenue to our ocean conservation partners, every search by our users helps remove the plastic and replant ocean seagrass.
How does Ekoru.org innovate?
Ati Bakush: We listen closely to our users and the ocean conservation community. In addition to providing search services, we’re dedicated to highlighting worthy ocean conservation causes and ocean-friendly bads. We are promoting ocean conservation affiliates through our website, and our cleanup map recognizes cleanup efforts by grass-root conservations around the world.
We constantly seek out partnerships which can add value to our service and users. Recently we’ve integrated with what3words which allow any location in the world to be defined by three simple words instead of GPS coordinates. As of now, Ekoru.org is the only search engine that allows queries of what3word addresses to be entered directly.
Recently, we rolled out a customizing feature for Ekoru users whereby you can change the color on your search page from a range of ocean-friendly colors. That is a first for a search engine.
We’re working with a number of software providers and platforms to integrate Ekoru search into their products to allow them and their users to also support ocean conservation. Similarly, we also work with businesses to help them introduce Ekoru as a search engine to their staff and customers allowing them to help our ocean while they work from home.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ati Bakush: Fortunately, we have a distributed team and partners worldwide, so working remotely and communication via video conferencing has been the norm. In that respect, it’s been business as usual for us. As more people are spending time at home, Internet usage has gone up. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of users installing our browser extensions and overall traffic. Using Ekoru.org as their search engine has been a great way for users to contribute to ocean conservation while staying at home.
What are the challenges you’ve faced?
Ati Bakush: Surprisingly, our biggest challenge has been letting users know they have a choice. Many users are unaware that they have a choice beyond the default search engine bundled in their browser. Tailoring our communications to inform users about their ability to choose is something we discovered was effective. We also found that word of mouth from users was vital to spreading our message. We’re fortunate to have a supportive user base who go out of their way to spread the word.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Ati Bakush: Knowing when to decompress and have private or family time is important. We keep ourselves entertained by watching films and playing competitive games of marbles and checkers. Since holidays aren’t possible at the moment, we try to holiday at home. I make time to read every day, which I find is an excellent way to imagine other things and clear the mind.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ati Bakush: The search industry is unique in the sense that it has multiple participants who all share a single competitor, specifically Google. All participants are effectively attempting to obtain market share, not from each other but from Google. It’s hard to think of a sector where we’ve seen such comprehensive global dominance with a single-player having an almost absolute monopoly. Google’s position is so cemented that each of their independent competitors is no more than a rounding error to their overall traffic. Every success by other search engines is also a success for us as it helps loosen Google’s grip on users and let’s more users know they have a choice.
Your final thoughts?
Ati Bakush: We’re grateful to our conservation partners who work towards a cleaner and healthier ocean. Equally important are all of the volunteers worldwide who get out there to clean their beaches and waterways in their spare time. We’re proud to be offering users an eco-friendly search engine which provides users with an alternative and allows them to search and help the oceans at the same time.
Ocean Affiliates – https://www.ekoru.org/affiliates/
Ocean Cleanup Map – https://www.ekoru.org/cleanup/
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