Octopart: The Search Engine for Electronic Parts

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Over the weekend, Startup School was held at Stanford University, put together by Paul Graham’s seed-stage venture fund Y Combinator. The event consisted of a number of successful entrepreneurs giving talks and wisdom to an audience of in-progress or future entrepreneurs.

One of the most interesting talks was given by Paul Graham himself, who talked about the act of ‘being good’ and benevolency in startups. In his talk, one of his main examples was a Y Combinator-funded search engine for electronic parts and industrial components called Octopart, which is being chased by industrial component giant Digi-Key for having their prices in their search results. Graham’s point about benevolency and Octopart was that if you try to do something valuable and good to the world and there are people trying to stop it, other people will try to help you. So, having only heard about them in his talk, I figured I’d do my bit.

Founded by a Boulder and two Berkeley graduates who opted to start a startup rather than pursuing their Physics PhD, Octopart is a search engine which targets a simple niche: electronic parts.

If you’ve ever had to look for electronic or industrial components on the Internet using Google, you would know it’s not a pretty experience. Finding the part you’re looking for is one thing, finding information on it is another, and finding a place to buy it is a wholly another. That’s where Octopart come in.

Octopart consists of two parts (if you can excuse the pun :-) ). Firstly, there’s the traditional search engine aspect, where you can type the name of or the type of part directly. The search results you get show all the corresponding parts that match your search and listings on places your can purchase the part, the price by ratio, and availability. Additionally, you can refine by manufacturer or supplier and sort through them by relevance, price, and availability.

Secondly, the homepage lists categories in the format of a hierarchical directory, which you can browse through to find what you’re looking for. From categories that range from ‘Amplifiers & Buffers’ to ‘Memory’ and ‘Microprocessors’, drilling down reveals the number of parts that are in the category, until you end up with the results page for what you’re looking for.

Octopart is no every day man’s game. Being more of a software than hardware fanatic myself (except for when it comes to gadgets), I think I’d find little use for it. However, that’s not to say that its target market is small or any less important. For anyone who works in the electronics industry or tears apart appliances in the weekend, I would imagine it’s an extremely useful, if not essential tool. It’s not going to conquer the world, but I have a feeling it’s going to do well for itself. After all, its founders are, indeed, the next billionaires. :-)

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