Search Startup Gjirafa Scores $2M To Bring Albania Online

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Google has search all sewn up, but that’s not necessarily the case in Albanian-speaking countries. Or so says Mergim Cahani, co-founder and CEO of local search startup Gjirafa.

Not only has his company developed an Albanian search engine, which overcomes some of the complexities and uniqueness of the Albanian language, but it’s also tackling the region’s search engine chicken and egg problem: much of the information that users typically search for doesn’t yet exist online.

To solve this problem, Cahani and his team are literally going out and capturing a plethora of information that exists solely offline and moving it online. To begin with, that’s meant digitising fragmented and disparate bus timetables, but Gjirafa’s longer term and more ambitious plan is to digitise the whole country, including creating a Yelp-style database of local businesses and venues — the majority of which currently have zero presence online.

Or another way to think of the startup’s mission is akin to what Google is doing with Street View, periodically sending its Street View cars out to photograph and capture location imagery. But in Gjirafa’s case, the data it’s capturing is things that those of us who live in more developed internet economies take for granted.

To help with that mission, the startup has picked up a $2 million Series A round led by San Francisco and Prague-based Rockaway Capital. The new funding is to be put to use “growing the Balkans’ internet economy” by digitising and indexing information in Albania and Kosovo, and in turn aims to make Gjirafa the regional leader in search, e-commerce, and online advertising.

Noteworthy is that the startup’s existing investors include U.S. angel investor Esther Dyson, Credo Ventures Partner Ondrej Bartos (Disclaimer: Credo Ventures led the round in my now defunct startup), and Roland Berger Managing Partner Philip Staehelin.