Yelp posted the first quarterly profit in its history last week, 10 years after Jeremy Stoppelman 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.
Skeptics initially scoffed at the idea that people would feed Yelp free reviews of local businesses. Today, Yelp packs 61 million reviews of merchants in 27 countries and attracts nearly 140 million monthly visitors.
Stoppelman, now 36 and the company's CEO, recalls that many technology observers were incredulous back in 2009 when he and his backers rebuffed a buyout offer from Google for a reported $500 million. Yelp now boasts a market value of about $5 billion.
Stoppelman mused about Yelp's past and present during an interview as the San Francisco company prepared to celebrate its 10 anniversary.
Q: What was it like when Google tried to buy you?
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, 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. 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: 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.