Meet the boy who's cheesing off Google

Nov 25 2012 14:02
Sizwe sama Yende, City Press

Andries van der Merwe created a programme called Doogle to help unemployed people market themselves. (City Press)

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Johannesburg - Andries van der Merwe has got Google executives in a knot after launching a website to help jobseekers market themselves online.

A right turn at a T-junction outside Middelburg, Mpumalanga, leads you away from ugly coal mine dumps and on to a rugged road that snakes through an idyllic, mesmerising landscape.

Drive 10km down the hill and you reach a gorgeous valley dotted with thatch-roofed houses and a resort.

Welcome to Presidentsrus, the little corner of the world from which one high school dropout is sending shock waves through Google’s Silicon Valley corridors.

Andries van der Merwe (23) has drawn the ire of Google Inc by creating “Doogle-It”.

Found at www.doogle.co.za, the website was started, Van der Merwe told City Press this week, to help jobseekers market themselves online and look for jobs.

Now Google is insisting that Van der Merwe shut down the site entirely and cancel its domain name because it’s too similar to theirs. If he refuses, the company will sue.

Google’s South African lawyers, from Adams & Adams, said their client had instructed them not to comment on the matter.

The young man who caused all the trouble is dumbstruck by the furore his business has caused. He’s also wryly amused by it all.

Van der Merwe, a former newspaper vendor and self-taught software developer, built Doogle over two years using a second-hand computer in his father David’s home office.

He received Google’s letter of demand “with a smile” three weeks ago, and the international headlines about the possible court spat have seen Doogle receive two million hits since the story broke.

He and his laywer, Emmie de Kock, are preparing for what De Kock calls a “David vs Goliath battle”.

“I wonder why they didn’t come two years earlier. I’ve worked so hard for this and have never taken time off,” Van der Merwe says pensively, shaking his head.

He gazes out of the window, then says: “There’s a river there. That’s where I fish just to survive.”

David van der Merwe, who has been doubling as his son’s publicist, says: “Google’s request is unfair. It means he must start his life again after putting in everything he had. At 11pm you’ll find him on his computer and at 7am he will still be there.

“I think they’ve been monitoring him all along and might have seen something in this venture.

“He tried to register many different domains but they were already in use. He then came up with Doogle.”

De Kock said she was waiting for further instructions from Van der Merwe. “We are in the process of consulting with our client on how we intend to respond. The services provided by Doogle-It are distinguishable from the services of Google in a sense that Doogle-It provides online search facilities on its website for specific directories.”

Van der Merwe has not made any money from his venture – not yet, at least.

The idea for Doogle came to him during daily street conversations with jobseekers in Witbank. At the time, Van der Merwe was selling copies of Afrikaans daily Beeld, and he often chatted to unemployed people who walked the streets of the city looking for work.

Van der Merwe says: “They said they wanted a database where they could upload their photos and job descriptions for (employers) to browse. You don’t find that anywhere. With Doogle-It, they can sit at home and save their taxi money for food.”

It hasn’t been an easy road for the young man. He quit school when he was in Grade 8 to go and stay with his mother. At the time, he says, he wanted to get away from his “strict” father. Eight months later, he was back.

“That’s being a teenager,” he says now.

His dad adds: “He thought I was too strict because I was pushing him too hard to do well in school.”

- City Press

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