Amazon Quietly Buys a Startup To Make Alexa Smarter

Amazon.com Inc. acquired a Santa Barbara data analysis and search engine start-up in May to help improve its Alexa virtual assistant and other services, according to four sources familiar with the deal but unauthorized to discuss it.

The previously unreported acquisition of Graphiq Inc. and its more than 100 employees has given Amazon a new Southern California outpost. It recently began looking to hire additional software developers and data associates in Santa Barbara to work on Alexa.

Investors in Graphiq made out with more than they put in, according to a source, suggesting the deal was worth at least tens of millions of dollars. Another source estimated the deal’s value at $50 million. Amazon and Graphiq declined to comment.

Founded in 2009 as FindTheBest, the company sought to collect and organize details about products, places and people to simplify online research.

Graphiq Chief Executive Kevin O’Connor has said he came to the idea after struggling to find a reliable way to compare ski resorts while he planned a vacation and colleges as his son eyed further education. He wanted to see key information such as prices, hours and ratings in one online spreadsheet. Data came from public sources, employees and users. The company started generating revenue by selling ads alongside its tables.

The company later introduced features to tailor comparisons around individual preferences. And it launched websites and apps focused on specific topics such as technology, genealogy, real estate and government data. They draw millions of monthly readers.

Graphiq not only created a large, internal content development team, but also developed graph and chart tools so that news partners such as the Los Angeles Times, Reuters and the Associated Press could provide interactive visualizations in their articles.

Last month, Graphiq announced that features for news publishers would no longer be available after Friday. A company spokesperson last…