The Potent Lesson In Understanding How Yelp Learned To Listen

The key to any relationship is communication, right? Yelp founder Jeremy Stoppelman on why it’s the same for you and your users.

The Potent Lesson In Understanding How Yelp Learned To Listen

The story of Yelp is one of not-quite-foreseen potential: as CEO Jeremy Stoppelman will say, the company launched as a way to ask people for recommendations of where they should eat, shop, and hang.


It was the perfect idea, the founders thought, for they were harnessing word of mouth, one of humanity’s oldest technologies–though one that no one online had harnessed quite cleanly enough. It was a perfect idea.

Then their user base plummeted.

Yelp knew not what to do. The next step was not clear. But buried deep within their analytics, a glimmer of hope appeared: the people who had used a buried feature that let you write reviews–without being prompted by another user–had comparatively insane engagement.

As a nimble company does, Yelp re-organized themselves in order to do what their users–through their data–were asking them to do: create a forum for reviews. They did. And now Stoppelman’s being put on our cover.

In other words, the prodigious Yelp learned to swallow its pride.

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As Stoppelman tells the Big Stage, this is a cautionary tale for budding entrepreneurs. “You’ve gotta be flexible,” he says, noting that the place where he sees startups fail is when they have a specific idea and implement it, only to find that it doesn’t fit the market. If the company doesn’t go to where the market wants them to go–as a lean startup might–they’ll crash before they can fly.

That flight, Stoppelman says, comes late: with almost every successful company he’s encountered, they have a story of thinking they were going to do one specific thing before realizing that there was an adjacent opportunity and then taking the “right turn at the eleventh hour” to survive.

So even at launch, you have to be mindful of unforeseen opportunities, Stoppelman says:

“You have to be looking for that when you get started. There’s so much excitement when you come up with a new idea and start to pursue it, but you can’t put the blindfolds on, keep your eyes open and make sure you identify those opportunities”

Hat tip: The Big Stage From NYSE

[Image: Flickr user Richard Eriksson]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.