Qihoo raises $25M for new Web 2.0 search engine

qihoo.bmpQihoo, a fast-growing but controversial Chinese search engine for Web 2.0 content, has raised $25 million more in a second round of venture capital from credible U.S investors.

This is significant because Qihoo has launched a new kind of search engine, dedicated to Web 2.0 content — focused on blogs and forums, for example — that has seen its traffic spike in China. Page views have grown from tens of millions of page views a day, to a hundred million page views by the end of this year, the company says. If true, after a mere year’s operation, Qihoo is about a third the size of Chinese industry leader Baidu. The funding brings Qihoo’s total to a whopping $45 million, a significant amount of capital for a Chinese company.

Hongyi Zhou1.jpgThis is a victory for Qihoo’s chief executive and founder, Hongyi Zhou (pictured left), who has come under fierce personal attack from Jack Ma (pictured below), chief executive of rival, Alibaba. We reported on the controversy here, and many people told us Zhou’s fight with the Ma would tarnish his reputation — because of Ma’s clout. Alibaba operates its own search property, Yahoo China, which has sued Qihoo, and has been readying a suit against Zhou directly.

However, U.S. venture capital firm Highland Capital Partners has braced itself and taken the lead to invest in the company. Also investing are Redpoint Ventures and existing investors Sequoia Capital China, CDH, Matrix Partners and IDG Ventures. Sequoia and Matrix have historically been among the best performing venture capital firms. As reported, Alibaba and Yahoo exerted pressure on investors, including Sequoia, to avoid backing Qihoo. VentureBeat reported that Yahoo’s co-founder Jerry Yang and Sequoia’s Michael Moritz were even forced to a meeting over the dispute.

jackma1.jpgVentureBeat just spoke with Dan Nova (below) of Highland, who will be joining Qihoo’s board. Nova is experienced in search, having co-founded Lycos and invested in Ask Jeeves. His firm has traveled frequently to China and met with more than a hundred companies there, Nova said.

He said ironically, the media attention generated by the Ma-Zhou fight has not hurt Qihoo, rather helped it.

“This is a classic David versus Goliath story,” he said. “The more press we continue to get, the more traffic we get — the traffic is through the roof.”

nova2.bmpHe hopes the legal disputes can be resolved, he said. “They didn’t serve the purpose they’d intended, which was to make investors nervous about investing in Qihoo,” he said of Alibaba’s legal moves and other threats.

Nova said he is not concerned about potential lawsuits. Zhou is not a liability, he said, noting that Zhou has demonstrated his prowess and integrity by founding search company 3721 (later bought by Yahoo), and by the fact that his backers at 3721 (IDG, for example) are backing him again at Qihoo. “He’s a rock-star among Chinese entrepreneurs,” Nova said.

He said Qihoo is pioneering a new kind of search, focused on unstructured, user-generated content of the type found on blogs and Chinese online bulletin boards, which is more dynamic, and something Google’s Blog Search has been patchy at, he said. He said Qihoo’s architecture is its secret sauce, but that it takes the best of Digg, Google and Technorati and rolls them up into one. He said Qihoo is not trying to duplicate Google’s main engine search, but that the Chinese users are interested in lighter subjects, such as lifestyle and entertainment — a strength of Qihoo, he said. (Politics is avoided for obvious reasons).