Profile: Boost eLearning

Startup offers Google training

Seattle company’s lessons aim to help users make the most of search queries

By JOHN COOK / P-I REPORTER

Google is by far the most used search engine in the U.S., with an estimated 7 billion search queries on the site last month.

But most people don’t know how to use Google to the fullest.

A new Seattle-area startup, led by five-time entrepreneur Victor
Alhadeff, is hoping to change that with a series of online training
modules designed to help people more effectively search for news
articles, research reports and anything else they want to find through
Google.

Boost eLearning offers 20 separate lessons that teach users skills
such as finding documents in specific file formats, looking for
information by date range and searching cached Web pages. The online
lessons, which cost a total of $29.95, range from five to 15 minutes in
length.

Alhadeff, who founded Egghead Software and Catapult Software
Training in the 1980s and the now-defunct Briazz retail sandwich chain
in the 1990s, came up with the idea after discovering that many Google
users were not finding what they wanted in a timely fashion. That was
the case for Alhadeff, who started to use new search tricks on Google
to find information about his recent bout with cancer.

To his surprise, no one had created an easy-to-use online training
program that discussed some of the basic search commands on Google.

"The fact is, most people are simply unaware of the full
functionality of the product," said Alhadeff, who created Boost
eLearning with his son, Jeffrey, and former Egghead Software executive
Gary Thede.

Alhadeff says that companies can save time and money with Google,
adding that it is the "kind of magic … you can accomplish" when using
handy search commands and tools. For example, Alhadeff offered an
example of finding information about The Boeing Co. in French
newspapers during the past few months. He then limited the scope of the
Boeing search to find PowerPoint demonstrations about the aerospace
company.

That sort of functionality could be of tremendous use to a contractor or investor conducting research on Boeing.

"It is all easy. It is just relatively unknown," says Alhadeff.

Google itself does try to make its product as easy to use as
possible, but Alhadeff said most formal training programs available
today are designed to teach people how to build ad campaigns rather
than find information.

Alhadeff concedes that there are few barriers to entry that would
prevent others or Google itself from launching a competing service. But
the 62-year-old entrepreneur says that’s the case with a lot of
businesses.

"By being first to market, by having a high quality product and by
providing high levels of service, I think you can build a brand and
establish yourself as a premier resource," he says.

It is unclear how many people will actually pay for instructions on
how to better use Google, but Alhadeff calls it a "virgin market" that
has yet to be tapped. And he says no one has really focused on
e-learning products for Google that help professionals do their jobs
better.

"Within a corporation, people are using Google every day, whether it
is sales, marketing, research and development, human resources and
recruiting," says Alhadeff. "The product is ubiquitous in its business
use, and yet people are not taking advantage of the functionality."

Alhadeff has self-funded the startup to date, noting that it is unlikely that the company will raise money anytime soon.

"It is a classic startup," says Alhadeff, who developed plenty of experience in the training market at Catapult.

That company, which grew to about $80 million in annual revenue and hundreds of employees, was sold to IBM in 1993.

Alhadeff doesn’t know if Boost eLearning could grow to Catapult’s
size, but he says the overall trends of online training are favorable.
With companies spending an estimated $55 billion on training and
looking at ways to make employees more efficient, Alhadeff says there
is plenty of room to maneuver.

"We think the Google piece of it is an overlooked piece," he says.
"People just take for granted that everybody Googles, and nobody stops
and thinks twice about the inefficiency in the process."

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