E-commerce search developer Twiggle adds Alibaba as an investor

Twiggle, a Tel Aviv-based startup that is developing a new e-commerce search engine, announced today that it has added Alibaba Group as a new investor. Alibaba’s funding counts as the second tranche of Twiggle’s Series A round.

The size of Alibaba’s contribution wasn’t disclosed, but TechCrunch has learned that it brings the entire amount of funding Twiggle has raised since its launch to just under $20 million. The first tranche of Twiggle’s Series A, announced last month, was $12.5 million and it previously raised $2.2 million in seed funding. That means Alibaba invested about $5.3 million. Alibaba had no comment.

Twiggle, whose other backers include Internet conglomerate Naspers and Yahoo Japan, will use the capital to grow its research and development team. The company’s goal is to develop an e-commerce search engine that delivers more accurate results than current options while allowing shoppers to write queries in conversational language (for example, “I want a two-door fridge that doesn’t make too much noise which is also white, which is new, has great reviews, and is a good value for the money” instead of “double door refrigerator”). It is working on products for desktop, mobile, and voice-based searches.

Twiggle was founded in 2013 by chief executive officer Amir Konigsberg, who was one of Google’s first employees in Israel, and chief technology officer Adi Avidor, formerly a lead software engineer at Google Israel. It has already struck deals to be integrated into several major e-commerce sites this summer, but hasn’t revealed exactly who its clients are. It’s reasonable to assume, however, that they will include platforms owned by its investors Alibaba and Yahoo Japan, as well as other Naspers portfolio companies (which include Flipkart, Avenida, and OLX).

Some of these businesses compete with one another. When asked in an email how Twiggle will deal with possible conflicts of interest as it draws on data from different sites to build its knowledge graph, Konigsberg replied, “We are uniquely aware of the value that companies place on the privacy of their data and work with utmost respect for this information while ensuring the highest level of transparency.”

In addition to its funding from Alibaba, Twiggle also said that it has added Udi Manber to its board of directors and Noa Ganot as vice president of product. Manber, who has previously served as chief scientist at Yahoo, vice president of engineering at Google, and CEO of A9.com, Amazon’s search subsidiary, is “a legendary figure in our industry,” says Konigsberg. Ganot was formerly head of product at eBay Israel.