Yelp, Inc.

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Yelp, Inc.
TypePublic company
Traded asNYSEYELP
IndustryBusiness ratings and reviews
FoundedOctober 2004
HeadquartersSan Francisco, California, United States
Key peopleJeremy Stoppelman, Co-founder/CEO, Russel Simmons, Co-founder/CTO, and Geoff Donaker, COO
Productsweb based urban guide
RevenueIncrease US$ 232.988 million (2013)[1]
Employees1,984 (Dec 2013)[1]
WebsiteOfficial website
 
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Yelp, Inc.
TypePublic company
Traded asNYSEYELP
IndustryBusiness ratings and reviews
FoundedOctober 2004
HeadquartersSan Francisco, California, United States
Key peopleJeremy Stoppelman, Co-founder/CEO, Russel Simmons, Co-founder/CTO, and Geoff Donaker, COO
Productsweb based urban guide
RevenueIncrease US$ 232.988 million (2013)[1]
Employees1,984 (Dec 2013)[1]
WebsiteOfficial website

Yelp, Inc. is a multinational corporation headquartered in San Francisco, California that operates an "online urban guide"[2] and business review site. Yelp was founded by Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons in 2004. The company's Yelp website began as an email service for exchanging local business recommendations and later introduced social networking features, discounts, and mobile applications. Yelp Inc. has extended its services to Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe.

Google Inc. offered to buy the company in 2009 but Yelp Inc.'s management team and board of directors failed to reach an agreement on the terms of the sale. Yelp Inc. received $130 million in venture finance as a privately held company and began public trading of its stock on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012. The firm acquired Qype, its largest European rival, in 2012 and the online reservation company, SeatMe, in 2013. The company's rating system and tools for filtering reviews have been the subject of controversy and litigation.

History[edit]

Founding[edit]

Yelp Inc. developed out of the business incubator MRL Ventures.[3] Stoppelman proposed a website where users could ask friends for their recommendations on local services via email[4][5] and Max Levchin agreed to invest $1 million in the project.[6] MRL co-founder, David Galbraith, who had instigated research into a Yellow Pages style Internet product, came up with the name Yelp,[7] and the project was launched in 2004.[3]

Market expansion and proposed buyout[edit]

Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp Inc.

Yelp Inc. obtained $5 million in venture funding from Bessemer Venture Partners in October 2005 to fund expansion into the New York City, Chicago and Boston markets.[8] In October 2006, Benchmark Capital made a $10 million investment,[9] followed by a $15 million investment from DAG Ventures in February 2008.[10][11] Yelp Inc. reports they received $100 million in venture capital from Elevation Partners which was used towards sales staff expansion and employee compensation.[12]

In 2005, Yelp Inc. began adding social networking features to its website[13] and formed a group of super-users called the Yelp Elite.[8][14] The number of reviewers grew from 12,000 in 2005, to 100,000 in 2006[8] and by 2007 the website had one million user-submitted reviews of local businesses.[13] By 2008, website traffic had increased to fifteen million visitors per month.[15] Yelp websites were launched in Canada (2008),[16] the United Kingdom (2009),[17][18] France (2010),[19] Germany (2010),[20] Spain (2013),[21] Australia (2011),[22][23] Denmark (2012),[20] Turkey (2012),[24][25] New Zealand (2013), Brazil (2013) and the Czech Republic (2013).[26]

In December 2009 Google entered into negotiations with Yelp Inc. to acquire the company,[27][28] but the two parties failed to reach an agreement.[29][30] According to The New York Times, Google had offered "more than $500 million" but the deal was derailed after Yahoo offered $1 billion.[31] Tech Crunch reported that Google refused to match Yahoo's offer. Then, Yelp Inc.'s management team and board of directors could not reach an agreement on the terms of the sale and both offers were abandoned.[32]

Acquisitions and public stock offering[edit]

Yelp Inc. began a service called Yelp Deals in April 2011,[33] but by August it was forced to cut back due to increased competition and market saturation.[34] In September, the Federal Trade Commission investigated Yelp Inc.'s allegations that Google was using Yelp web content without authorization and that Google's search engine algorithms favored Google Places over similar services provided by Yelp.[35][36] That November, Yelp Inc. filed for an initial public offering (IPO) with the Securities Exchange Commission.[37][38] On March 2, 2012, the company's stock began public trading on the New York Stock Exchange at a share price of $15 and the company was valuated at $898 million.[39][40] The $110 million raised in the company's stock offering allowed for further expansion in U.S. and international markets.[20]

In 2012 Yelp Inc. made an agreement to acquire its largest European rival, Qype, for $50 million.[41][42] The following year, Stoppelman reduced his CEO salary to $1, and began receiving compensation exclusively through his stock options.[43] Yelp Inc. acquired the start-up, online reservation company, SeatMe, for $12.7 million in cash and company stock in 2013.[44] Yelp Inc.'s second quarter 2013 revenue "exceeded expectations" but like some other technology start-ups, the company was not yet profitable.[26]

Administration[edit]

As of 2013 the company's headquarters were located in a 150,000 square-foot office in San Francisco.[45] It maintains sales offices in New York City,San Francisco, Scottsdale, Arizona, Hamburg, and London.[citation needed] Its corporate culture allows informal dress and has a non-hierarchical structure with egalitarian desk arrangements in a large, central room.[20] Employees at all levels of the company are encouraged to speak out at organizational meetings.[26]

Internet services and features[edit]

Search engine[edit]

The company's website provides a search tool by which visitors can access business reviews for companies that provide specific types of products and services in their area.[46] Listings are accessible on many mobile devices[47] and include stores, service companies, cultural venues and public places.[48] Business owners may submit information to update their business profile.[49]

The company released an application programming interface API in August 2007, which gave developers the ability to use data from Yelp's business listings in third-party applications.[49] As of 2008, the web site listed 4,000 reviews for restaurants in San Francisco and was active in 18 other US based metro areas including Boston, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., San Diego, and Los Angeles.[50] That year, Yelp Inc. introduced its first iPhone app[51] and added website features that enabled business owners to manage aspects of their listings.[49][52] In August 2009, Yelp released a groundbreaking update to the Yelp iPhone app with a hidden Easter Egg feature called Monocle.[16][53]

In January 2010, Yelp Inc. instituted Internet "check in" features[54][55] and in June, incorporated the OpenTable restaurant reservation feature into its website.[56][57] In 2013 the company added food ordering and delivery options[58][59] and restaurant hygiene inspection scores.[60] The company's website content was integrated into the mapping and directions app of Apple's September 2012 release of iOS 6.[61] The company reported in November 2012 that 45% of its web traffic came from mobile devices.[62] and their website was attracting more than 100 million unique visitors per month as of January 2013[63] with 30% of its web traffic being attributed to the "mobile web".[64] According to the founder of Sterling Market Intelligence, Yelp Inc.'s website is "one of the most important sites on the Internet, for both business owners and consumers."[20] Yelp had an average of approximately 120 million monthly unique visitors in Q4 2013.[65] Yelpers [Yelp users] have written over 53 million local reviews.[66]

Advertising[edit]

The company's primary source of income is through business advertising on its Yelp website, including preferred search result placement and special listing features.[67] As of August 2013, 80% of Yelp Inc.'s revenues were being generated through merchant profile enhancements and advertisements on its website. Another 15% of its revenues were attributed to advertising accounts with national companies.[20][68] In 2013, advertising was growing at a rate of 77% per year[68] with about half of Yelp Inc.'s staff working in advertising related positions.[26] Paying advertisers can never change or re-order their reviews.[65]

User reviews[edit]

Yelp Inc.'s website encourages visitors to review and rate businesses using a 5-point rating system.[49] The company uses a filter designed to isolate fake reviews.[69][70][71] As a result, 25% of user reviews are stored in a secondary location on the website.[69] This filtering system disqualifies suspicious users reviews from being used in the calculation of a merchant's star rating on the Yelp website.[72]

In September 2012, two economists from the University of California, Berkeley surveyed 300 restaurants in San Francisco, California, and correlated their evening reservations rates with their rating on the company's website. Using online reservation data from July 2010 to October 2010, they concluded that an upgrade from 3.5 to 4 stars caused an increase of 19 percentage points, in the sellout rate for 7pm bookings.[73][74] That same month, a paper circulated by an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, using data from all Yelp reviewed restaurants in Seattle, Washington during the period of 2003 to 2009, concluded that a one-star increase in a restaurant's Yelp rating led to an increase of 5% to 9% in revenues.[75] Reviews trended 85% positive according to a survey of CEOs[76] and are thought to come primarily from the 26–35-year old demographic.[77]

Social networking[edit]

The company's website contains a discussion forum[77] and other social networking features.[76][78] It offers "praise and attention" to user reviewers plus special status and social events for its most popular, prolific and "elite" members.[4][8][14][79][80][81]

Controversies[edit]

Allegations against Yelp[edit]

Throughout much of its history there have been allegations that Yelp Inc. has manipulated their website's user reviews based on participation in its advertising programs.[82] The media reported complaints from businesses in August 2008,[83] February 2009 and March 2009.[84] Yelp's COO responded by saying "advertisers and sales representatives don't have the ability to move or remove negative reviews.[85]

In early 2010, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Yelp Inc. alleging its service representatives asked a Long Beach veterinary hospital to pay $300 a month for advertising services that included the suppression or deletion of disparaging customer reviews.[86] The following month, nine additional businesses joined the class-action lawsuit[87] and "two similar lawsuits" were filed.[88] Yelp Inc. denied that its sales force was "strong arming" businesses and in April altered its "review policy," added new web features to deter misconceptions,[88][89] and stopped offering business advertisers the option to bring a positive review to the top position on their web page.[90][91] In May the lawsuits were combined into one "potential class-action lawsuit"[92] which was dismissed by San Francisco U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in 2011.[93]

In July 2013, the plaintiffs in the San Francisco case, filed an appeal [94] and the International Business Times reported that criticism continued outside the courtroom and was "rampant on the Internet and [in the] social media."[94] The article also reported that the Federal Trade Commission had received almost 700 complaints against Yelp in the prior 4 years.[94] In August, Yelp Inc. launched a series of town hall style meetings in major American cities to address misconceptions amongst local business owners.[94][95] That year, a California court upheld Yelp's right continue to use their "aggressive"[69] and "automated review filter" designed to eliminate false or inappropriate business reviews using undisclosed criteria.[96]

As of late 2013, Yelp had an A-plus rating with the Better Business Bureau, of which it was not a member. It had 1,181 closed complaints during the prior three years.[97]

Allegations against business owners[edit]

Yelp Inc. has expressed dissatisfaction with business owners who have solicited reviews from friends and associates[98] or paid for "fake" reviews.[99] In October 2012, Yelp implemented a system to "uncover companies that purchase[d] fake positive reviews"[100] and ABC news published a list of companies who had offered to pay for positive reviews on Yelp Inc.'s website.[100] In October 2012, Yelp Inc. placed, 90 day, "consumer alert," possible paid review, warnings on its Yelp website for 150 business listings.[101]

In June 2013, Yelp Inc. filed a lawsuit against BuyYelpReview/AdBlaze accusing the company of "selling Yelp reviews from unknown accounts to unknown third parties."[102][103] In September, Yelp Inc. filed a lawsuit against a San Diego attorney who had previously led litigation against the company, alleging that the attorney "had his employees write his [company's Yelp] reviews, and that he belonged to a cadre of lawyers who reviewed each others firms" on Yelp's website.[98] Yelp assisted the New York State Attorney General in an investigation that led to $350,000 in total fines for 19 companies "that were writing fake reviews for small businesses that paid them."[69][104]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]