E-commerce operator Naspers led a $12.5 million investment that Twiggle will use to expand globally.

(Bloomberg)—A Yahoo Japan-backed Israeli startup, Twiggle, has lined up a funding round led by Naspers Ltd., the Cape Town, South Africa-based group known for its early investment in Chinese e-commerce site Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Twiggle, a web- and mobile-based service focused on search, aims to license its software to leading online retailing companies around the world and will use the $12.5 million in funding to expand globally.

Using machine learning, artificial intelligence and natural language processing coupled with a deep knowledge of e-commerce, Twiggle says it has brought sales consultancy to the virtual shopping experience. Search for the best laptop and Twiggle will try to understand what “best” means—highest screen resolution, most memory, or longest battery life, among other features.

“About 25 years ago when Amazon started, they did something amazing—they gave everyone the possibility to shop from home,” Twiggle CEO and co-founder Amir Konigsberg said in an interview. “But what they took away is the salesperson expertise.”

Twiggle plans to partner with Naspers’ companies and license its technology to other large e-commerce platforms and is coming to market as global online sales continue to climb. Naspers owns 34% of Chinese Internet operator Tencent, a major investor in JD.com, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2015 China 500. Consulting firm A.T. Kearney forecast in a recent report that global online sales would reach nearly $1 trillion in 2015, growing to $1.5 trillion by 2018.

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Investors confident

Konigsberg met his co-founder Adi Avidor at Google Inc., where they both worked 11 years ag—Konigsberg in emerging markets operations, Avidor as a lead engineer working on products such as Google Now.

“I have been passionate about search for a long, long time,” Konigsberg said. With more and more people using a variety of devices and employing concierge services like Magic and Operator to make purchases, time is ripe for a new kind of search engine, he added.

Paul Solomon, a spokesman in Israel for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, declined to comment.

With competitors including not only Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2015 Top 500 Guide, but also International Business Machines Corp., Oracle Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc., Twiggle can’t expect a smooth road to success. But the company, and its investors, are confident.

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“The elephant in the room is always going to be Google and Amazon,” said Konigsberg. “I get asked, are you really going to build a technology that competes with them, and the answer is yes. Not with their whole business, but something very specific which we know how to do very well.”

Other investors involved in the funding round include Yahoo Japan, State of Mind Ventures and Sir Ronald Cohen.

“Twiggle is setting a new industry standard for e-commerce search and discovery, redefining the sector with a search platform that will bring unparalleled precision and accuracy,” Larry Illg, chief executive officer at Naspers Ventures, said.

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