I found that algolia is incredibly expensive or did I miss something

I am still not clear about how they count a request, for example: typing “NEW YORK”, will it be counted as 1 or 4 requests (each key stroked each counted)?
Is there a best practice for personal projects or start up?

Yes, if you’re using the instantsearch library for your site search, Algolia will make one query per keystroke. With the free tier, you get 10k queries per month – which is enough to get something up and running, but probably not enough to run a production site.

There are a few options here – if this is an open source project, you can apply for the DocSearch (for documentation/blogs) or Open Source programs to get additional free units.

We’ve been thinking about a startup program, but nothing I could really speak to right now. It certainly makes sense and I’d love to hear what would help you.

I think ultimately, if you’re a for profit business --especially a startup – it comes down to how important search is to what you’re trying to accomplish, the impact it will have on customer conversion, and the ROI of buying it metered vs other approaches.