Yelp Turns 10: From Star up to Online Review Dominance
A look at the dramatic history of Yelp.
by Hillary Dixler Canavan @hillarydixler Aug 5, 2014, 9:30am EDT
Yelp's San Francisco O ice. | Photo: Yelp
In 2004, two former PayPal employees, Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons, raised $1 million in funding for a glori ed "e-mail circle" that allowed friends to directly swap business reviews. ey called it Yelp. Now the sometimes maligned site celebrates its 10th anniversary with a staggering valuation of $5 billion and some 130 million unique visitors each month. eir shares are hovering at about $68 today.
Yelp's aggressive growth can be traced back to its incredible success in fundraising as well as to its continuously evolving services. Its tremendous reach today comes as a result of a decade of establishing itself as a leader in the eld of local community coverage. Along the way, Yelp has dodged extortion allegations, walked away from a half-billion purchase oﬀer from Google, and gone public.
Yelp shows no signs of slowing. CEO Jeremy Stoppelman tells USA Today that he sees Facebook as his "wild card" competition and that Yelp's next task is to convince business owners that the company is on their side: "We're determined to do better at showing business owners how we can help them grow and, in turn, savvy businesses can take action based on our feedback and raise their game."
Below, Eater takes a look at the dramatic history of Yelp:
Russ Simmons and Jeremy Stoppelman. [Photo: Jeremy Stoppelman/Facebook]
July: Stoppelman and Simmons co-found Yelp while involved in the entrepreneurial incubator MRL Ventures. Stoppelman describes his inspiration in the Wall Street Journal: "I got sick and needed to see a doctor. Back then there was very little information on the Internet; it was frustrating. We realized the best way to nd a doctor, or other services, was by word of mouth." MRL Ventures invests
$1 million in the San Francisco-based company.
Stoppelman describes how Yelp got its name in the company-produced video below. e name is "short," "memorable," and ties into what the site does because Yelp sounds similar to "yellow pages" and "help." He also goes into the company's origin story:
October 13: Yelp launches, based around the concept of "e-mail circles" and asking friends for recommendations. Here's how a PBS "I, Cringely" blog post describes it:
"Here's how Yelp! works. Go to the web site (it's in this week's links, but I'll just bet you can guess the URL without even looking) and sign up for the service. Tell it what you are looking for (a plumber), put the need in some context (for my broken Jacuzzi bathtub) and give it a location (Charleston, SC). en Yelp! expects you to tell it the e-mail addresses of a couple people whom you would contact with the question yourself if this service didn't exist. at's all.
en Yelp! sends e-mails to the folks you have listed along with any other people in its database who are in the same geographical area and/or have expressed opinions on similar queries. Part of what Yelp! does, too, is to ask these people if they can recommend yet another person who might better know the answer. en Yelp! monitors and compiles the responses and makes some eﬀort to get back to those who don't reply. Eventually, a list of resources is sent back to the original questioner along with information gleaned from other databases about how to reach these people and maybe even how to be a better-informed consumer."
February: Yelp launches a revamped version of its site "that let[s] users share their reviews" and the Yelper of today is born.
e New York Times explains why the revamp made Yelp stand out from a pack of local review sites like Citysearch and Angie's List:
"What Yelp did diﬀerently than these others, as Jeremy Stoppelman, the site's co-founder and chief executive describes it, was to spend most of its energy attracting a small group of fanatic reviewers ... It didn't subordinate the users' contributions to professional reviews, as on Citysearch, or to directory information, as on yellow-pages sites. Instead, it structured the site to motivate people through the praise and attention that their reviews receive from others."
Stoppelman would later tell the WSJ that this was the moment when he started to feel the site might really take oﬀ.
November: Yelp receives $5 million in Series B funding from Bessemer Venture Partners, the rst of many investments from the venture capital rm.
Summer: By the Summer, Yelp has "amassed 100,000 reviews and [is] attracting more than a million users a month" according to data in Inc.
October: Yelp raises $10 million in funding from Benchmark Capital. VentureBeat reports data from Yelp putting unique users for September at 1.5 million, a 200% increase from the month prior.