How a few former Pinterest search experts caught the attention of Biz Stone

Lance Riedel and Nigel Daley spent decades discovering search, but while working at Pinterest to launch Pinterest Shopping, they began to understand how search engines could perform personalized searches for online shopping.

Most people expect that shopping online involves typing in a keyword and then expecting a search engine, like Google, to do its magic and return a ranked result.

But the big magic they learned at Pinterest was how to use big language models and image identification AI to flip the script to tailor results not just by keyword, but by a person’s previous actions, Riedel told TechCrunch.

The more people interact with this type of search engine, the more it learns about their preferences, the better the shopping results.

They left Pinterest and started Vantage Discovery 2023 to offer this search engine to brands that don’t have the resources or expertise to do LLM and other forms of AI themselves.

For example, a customer with a history of interacting with BoHo clothing will get a significantly different result than a customer with a history of interacting with streetwear when searching for something like «dress for a fun night out.»

But the Vantage goes a step further with image recognition. The customer can also use their search engine to ask: show me more products like this to show the customer related products. Also, the search engine can access a person’s Pinterest profile to generate personalized shopping recommendations based on the items pinned to their board.

«At the core of our engine is a custom vector database, where we combine both semantic understanding of the user’s query and semantic understanding of the user’s personal style to retrieve the most personalized and targeted results in milliseconds across millions of items,» Riedel said.

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Lance Riedel and Nigel Daley, co-founders of Vantage Discovery. (Image credit: Vantage Discovery)

Like most commercially oriented search engines, the ranking of the results can be controlled by Vantage’s customer, which is a retailer or brand. «We can also re-rank results based on a custom model tuned to optimize our clients’ business metrics.»

The startup launched in early 2024 and works with customers including Cooklist, Koodos, and Bookopolis. Daley declined to talk about exact revenues, but said the company is generating revenue and is also «working with one of the largest retailers in the world.»

Vantage Discovery caught the eye of Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who is part of the company’s recent $16 million Series A round. And now he is a member of the board. This follows the $4 million in unannounced seed funding the company raised last year from Stone and Evan Sharp, co-founders of Pinterest.

“One of his other investments required an intelligence platform that supports RAG, search and new discovery features,” Riedel said. RAG is an extended search generation, a natural language processing technique that combines retrieval and generative AI models. «The biz was so impressed that they invested in our seed round.»

The funding round was led by Lobby Capital and also includes participation from LoveFrom’s Jony Ive, who was Apple’s former head of design, as well as Sharp, The Hive, Future Positive and Common Metal. In addition to Stone, Lobby Capital’s David Hornik, who has invested in companies such as Gitlab, and Evite, is joining Vantage Discovery’s board.

Meanwhile, Riedel and Daley said they are also interested in learning more about so-called «commodity tools,» which is how online stores or search engines rank results. They want to add a touch of artificial intelligence to it.

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«This is a space that’s been around for a long time with marketers putting their thumb on search rankings and influencing it in certain ways,» Riedel said. «It’s important and necessary for retailers, but we think we can take some of the hard work out of it.»

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