But I'd like to think that if you could find a way other than ads, you'd take it in a heartbeat, even if you made less profit, but as long as you could be self-sustaining. Is that true?
I have a very strong opinion about advertising and its effects on the web. I would love to hear your feedback on them:
Also, would you consider providing some kind of paid model in addition to ads? I use DDG dozens of times per day as my primary search engine; I would happily pay for it. I realize that model doesn't scale to the entire world, as only a fraction of people will pay, but do you have some way for people who like what you're doing to pay you a modest amount, with as little friction as Patreon and similar?
The problem with paid is three-fold. We're a for-profit company so don't want to come off as taking donations like a non-profit. Second, we don't want to collect personal information. So we could do something like bitcoin but that isn't exactly low-friction :). Third, it is promoting that it exists. We have a hard problem getting the word out about anything not on the SERP and we wouldn't want to put it there.
Open to other ideas though.
I do understand your concern about not wanting to appear to take donations, though. I just wish I had some way to pay you for your service that doesn't involve viewing or clicking on ads.