Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Sunday, August 31, 2014 at 8:00 PM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments
  • Print

Yelp CEO reviews his own business after 10 years

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman mused about Yelp’s past and present during an interview with The Associated Press as the San Francisco company prepared to celebrate its 10th anniversary.


The Associated Press

Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp co-founder and CEO

Background: Before founding Yelp in 2004, held engineering roles at PayPal from 2000 to 2003, ending as vice president of engineering.

Stake in Yelp: Owns 4.4 million common shares, worth about $362 million.

Education: B.S. in computer engineering from the University of Illinois

Source: Company reports

advertising

SAN FRANCISCO — After Yelp posted the first quarterly profit in its history last month, the online business-review site got panned on Wall Street. The company’s stock plummeted 11 percent the day after the results came out, wiping out its gains for the year. (It has since recovered from that recent low of $66 to close Friday at $82.)

CEO Jeremy Stoppelman didn’t seem disturbed as he sat down to discuss Yelp’s evolution in the 10 years since he began working on a way for people to share recommendations about local merchants with Russ Simmons, a fellow engineer he met while working at PayPal.

Stoppelman, 36, probably wouldn’t be running Yelp if he had paid more attention to the opinions of outsiders than his own insights.

Skeptics initially scoffed at the idea that people would feed Yelp free reviews of local businesses.

Today, Yelp packs more than 61 million reviews of merchants in 27 countries in a service that attracts nearly 140 million monthly visitors.

Many technology observers were incredulous in late 2009 when Stoppelman and his backers rebuffed a buyout offer from Google for a reported $500 million. Yelp now boasts a market value of about $5 billion, even after the recent sell-off spurred by concerns about Yelp’s slowing growth amid competition for online local-advertising revenue from the Internet powerhouses such as Google and Facebook.

Yelp’s success has left Stoppelman with company stock worth more than $350 million. Many other investors have profited too: Yelp’s shares have more than quadrupled from their March 2012 initial public offering price of $15.

Stoppelman mused about Yelp’s past and present during an interview with The Associated Press as the San Francisco company prepared to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What was it like when Google tried to buy Yelp?

A: It was an emotional decision. Yelp is my baby, so I wanted it to be in a place where it was going to thrive. As it became more of an auction process where it felt like there was blood in the water and the sharks were attacking, it just felt like it wasn’t going to end up with Yelp in a good spot.

Q: You got a call from Steve Jobs during this process, right?

A: He was very anti-Google, as it turns out. He was pretty upset with Google. (Jobs had accused Google of stealing ideas from Apple’s iPhone to build Android, a rival operating system for mobile devices). He felt that Yelp was a great company and wouldn’t be a great company if it fell in the hands of Google.

Toward the end of our conversation, I had to go into complete ‘fan boy’ mode. For someone like me, who had spent a lot of time trying to build cool technology products, it was literally like talking to a god.

Q: You live and work in San Francisco. What do you think about the backlash against technology’s impact on the city in terms of real-estate prices?

A: Most cities would be falling over themselves to have the problems we have right now, which is like: “Oh my, we have too many jobs and people’s compensation keeps going up, so therefore people can afford to pay more to obtain housing.”

The other misperception is that everyone working in tech is a millionaire living in luxury condos and there is nothing left for anyone else. The reality is the majority of our employees are making anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000. If you look at it, we are just like every other company. As rents go up, it hurts people here, too.

Q: Where do you stand on another hot-button topic: the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley?

A: If we are focusing on technology jobs, meaning software-engineering jobs primarily, by the time you are talking about a company, you are talking about the end of the funnel. The funnel begins in high school, really, or even earlier maybe. If you want women and minorities to succeed all the way at the end of the funnel in a tech job, you have to increase the numbers starting at the top of the funnel, at the earliest age, and then make sure they stay in the funnel and get all the way through.

Certainly, tech companies should feel bad about it, and all the tech companies have been aware of this problem. They have been trying to address it somewhat, but there is a bit of a limitation of what you can do because fundamentally you know if women aren’t entering into software-engineering programs in great numbers, there’s not going to be great numbers working at Google or Yelp or any tech company.

So the most impactful thing is to work on math education and then hopefully try to steer more young people toward computer science. (Yelp hasn’t released its breakdown on the diversity of its workforce of about 2,000 people, but Stoppelman says the company eventually will).

Q: Do you still write reviews yourself?

A: I do. I just did three or four today. I am at 1,214 reviews as of today. I was on a trip in Aspen, and I just gave a one-star review to this French restaurant. They gave us a hard time. We actually had to walk out. I didn’t even get to the food.

Q: What do you use when Yelp isn’t available?

A: It happens a decent amount. I was in Croatia last year and there is no Yelp. So, I think you end up in this pre-Yelp world of looking inside the business to see if it’s busy, or you ask the hotel concierge.

Q: Clearly, you believe people are more likely to have a satisfying experience in a world with Yelp to help guide them.

A: No question.

The beauty is when you go on a road trip. Prior to Yelp, you would never have the confidence to veer off the highway and go that extra two miles into town and try out a place.

And now you can actually read all about it and understand why you might want to do that rather than just hit the McDonald’s and keep on going up to Tahoe or what have you.



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

Also in Business & Technology

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Seattle Sketcher Book

Seattle Sketcher Book

Take home the Seattle Sketcher's latest book! Available now.

Advertising

Advertising


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►