Jeremy co-founded Yelp Inc. in July 2004 with former colleague and friend Russel Simmons. Prior to Yelp, Jeremy was the VP of engineering at PayPal. He left PayPal in the summer of 2003 to attend the Harvard Business School. Upon completing his first year at HBS, Jeremy joined an incubator started by Max Levchin (co-founder of PayPal) for a summer internship. It was there that he was reunited with his old colleague Russel Simmons and the two teamed up to create a vibrant community around local information. Jeremy holds a B.S. in computer engineering from the University of Illinois.
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Nine years ago I co-founded Yelp, a website that helps you cure the munchies at 3am -- and find all kinds of local businesses. Ask me anything about me, the origins of our website, the PayPal Mafia, my vizsla Darwin, what it’s like to build a company and take it public, why I don’t have a corner office, or my opinion on refined sugar (hint: don’t love it).
Edit: Thanks, Reddit. I've got to go feed Darwin, but this has been fun!
What are your thoughts on the claims that Yelp is holding positive reviews of businesses hostage and and not allowing them to be public/viewable?
There has never been any amount of money you could pay us to manipulate reviews. We do have an algorithm that highlights the most useful and reliable reviews on our site which is about 75% of contributed content. I started Yelp to solve my own need of finding a great doctor, obviously we needed to protect consumer against fake reviews and spam to make sure the site is actually helpful (anyone remember CitySearch?). That's why we pioneered the development of a review filter, a technology that other competitors like Google have since tried to mimic.
Are you now regretting your decision to have this AMA?
Absolutely not. I should have done it years ago, keep the questions coming!
Is this independently audited?
Yes. This was recently examined in an HBS study. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2293164 (See section 3.4) ... You can also run a test yourself on Google to see if advertisers are given preferential treatment. For example: https://www.google.com/#q=site%3Ayelp.com%2Fbiz+%22yelp+sponsor%22+AND+%22this+place+sucks%22 (Why are these advertisers not "deleting" the negative reviews if this is a feature they've supposedly paid for?)
How is $30k a fair salary to pay employees in San Francisco (the highest cost of living in the country)?
I assume you're talking about the compensation for a local sales rep? There is commission on top of that, 30k is just the base.
Can companies pay for positive reviews?
Certainly shady businesses or "reputation management" firms do sometimes try to buy reviews. However we are constantly pursuing them with our own undercover sting operations. When we find businesses guilty of trying to purchase reviews we warn consumers by posting a consumer alert on their page and revealing the evidence http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/technology/yelp-tries-to-halt-deceptive-reviews.html
Holy hell, I ask that in damn near every AMA I see and no one ever answers it.
... I don't know how to respond now. Thanks?
You're welcome. What'd you have for breakfast???
hi. How are you doing today? Also, what did you have for breakfast this morning?
Coffee, 2 eggs, and half a cantaloupe.
I am a big fan of yelp and use it all the time. But there are a couple negative comments about your company that I'd like you respond on. To be clear, I hope these aren't true because I use yelp ALL THE TIME.
thanks for doing this AMA!
Taking this a different direction than most are in the thread...
What's your favorite place to get takeout?
It used to be Burma Superstar until they had a bit of an "E. Coli problem" :S
Are the reviewers on yelp your customer? Or are they your product?
I can never figure that out.
Internally we refer to the Yelp community as "the source" (lifted from the newspaper world's - protect your source) which means we must protect and nourish the community lest we lose everything. Without Yelpers there is no company.
Seems like a lot of hip internet companies were founded by Stanford/Harvard dropouts. You got your degree from Illinois. Any advice for CS students out there itching to make it big?
For me joining a fast growing startup (X.com which merged with Confinity/PayPal) gave me invaluable experience both in coding and later engineering management. I also built an incredible network of colleagues and saw the entire company lifecycle from young promising startup to public co. I think if you can spend a few years at a fast grower with a great "promote from within" culture that's a good risk-reward balance. The Zuck and Gates undergrad dropout approach is certainly a risky one. I dropped out of business school, don't think that really counts ;)
Seeing all of the negative responses in this AMA by people thinking that Yelp is somehow corrupt, I'm curious to know about the craziest response you've ever gotten from a business owner! Any stories about confrontation by Yelp users?
Also, what is your favorite flavor of Pop Tart? (Was curious to see what a non-sugar-lover would say in response... kale sounds about right)
There is the story of a business owner who decided to swing by a reviewer's home to "discuss" a review, but ended up leaving with the police instead. http://www.inc.com/magazine/20100201/youve-been-yelped.html Another very public example of the wrong approach to candid feedback would be Amy's Baking Company in Phoenix, a recent star of Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares and the first business Gordon has ever quit on http://www.businessinsider.com/kitchen-nightmares-amys-baking-company-2013-5. As for Pop Tarts, I already mentioned I was anti-sugar so I guess it'd have to be kale and whole wheat... do they make those?
Jeremy- can you explain how the PayPal Mafia came to be and how you being part of it has helped Yelp succeed?
My best guess as to why so many folks from the early days of PayPal (the so called "PayPal Mafia") went on to great success was because while most Internet companies tanked in the aftermath of the dotcom bubble, PayPal succeeded alongside eBay. So a number of talented people learned how to build and grow websites, got capital, and were ready to do it again from around 2002-2005 a time when few others were working on entrepreneurial endeavors. Max Levchin gave Yelp it's first million dollars, so yeah the Mafia ended up being critical to Yelp's creation. Also a number of our first hires were Paypal people too.
What's your single most important management tip, and who/where did you learn it from?
This one I got from PayPal, but I'm a strong believer in doing 1 on 1 meetings with each of my reports every week. Sometimes I feel like the company's psychiatrist, but I do feel like listening to people and hearing about their problems (personal and professional) cleans out the cobwebs and keeps the organization humming.
Where'd the name come from?
Short, memorable, and rhymes with help. http://www.quora.com/Yelp/How-did-Yelp-get-its-name
Are there any hilarious reviews that have stuck out to you over the years?
Have to say this particular listing sticks out in my mind. Here's a particularly noteworthy review about Bicycle Shorts Man: http://www.yelp.com/biz/bicycle-shorts-man-atlanta#hrid:_N_QKPOcF5o3CNLg5HJvKA
What's been the most unexpected change for you in going from a start-up to a big publicly traded company?
I guess the biggest surprise is how little has changed. I still spend a ton of time with product and engineering, we do seem to get a lot more press attention these days, but perhaps most fortunately I haven't had to invest a lot of time with Wall Street (if you pardon the pun)... our CFO Rob Krolik handles most of that.