Guess who I had breakfast with on Wednesday morning? Jeremy Stoppelman. No, not some random with the same name; it was the man himself, the co-founder and CEO of Yelp.

Yelp.com.au launched at 6am Wednesday morning and so I was invited to join Jeremy with several other bloggers, for an intimate breakfast and Q&A.

Held in the penthouse of Fraiser Suites, we were treated to a delightful buffet of fresh fruits, yoghurt and bircher muesli.

Breakfast at Fraiser Suites penthouse

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Yelp is a pretty deal overseas. With claims of more than 61 million monthly unique visitors on the website, over 5 million monthly unique visitors on the mobile apps and a database of over 22 million reviews, I’ve heard nothing but positive raves from friends who have used Yelp to discover hidden gems during their travels.

It all has to start somewhere
For Yelp, it begun in 2004 when Russel Simmons and Jeremy Stoppelman (both early PayPal employees) were looking to build the next cool consumer internet website. Their research into the local classifields arena led them onto Craiglist and Yellow Pages – directory style listings where Jeremy says, was an uneven playing field. Advertisers are able to pay more for a larger ad.

The more preferred and trusted method, however, was word of mouth. People asking friends and friends of friends.

Thus they set out to bring word of mouth to the internet.

Yelp’s launching strategy
Jeremy laughs as he reminisces about how he originally thought that nobody was going to review for fun.

Assessing the failures and successes of other start-ups, it was clear that Yelp (which was almost called Yocal!), needed to start small. They aimed to penetrate in one part of the US.

It took almost three years before Yelp became ubiquitous in San Francisco.

Eyeing the Australian market
With the infrastructure in place, Yelp has since expanded across the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain and Italy.

Their strategy for growth has been to focus on the community and expanding organically in key urban markets, hence it is no surprise that they’ve been eyeing the Australian market.

This expansion into Australia is the first time Yelp has launched with a media partner. (They’ve partnered with Sensis.)

Why?

Jeremy says that it is trickier here to get access to get accurate local listings. He also mentions the benefit of leveraging on Sensis’ ad sales team’s existing relationship with businesses around Australia.

During this launch, Yelp will be focused on Sydney and Melbourne. They’ve already hired a community manager in Melbourne and are still searching for the right candidate in Sydney. The Australian chapter of Yelp launched with 1 million pre-defined listings – although I question their tactic of hiring “scouts” to verify and pre-populate the site with reviews.

Jeremy Stoppelman at Fraiser Suites penthouse at launch of Yelp Australia

Australians are already sharing tips and rants online via sites like Urbanspoon, Eatability, FourSquare, WOMO, Vogue forums, and Whirlpool forums.

How is this any different?

Well, where Eatability fails, Yelp is determined to get right. In 2005, Yelp increased the reliability of its reviews by developing an algorithm which filters spam/fake reviews.

Unfortunately though, Yelp does not embrace bloggers as Urbanspoon have but I do not believe it is a key to its success.

With the infrastructure to be more relevent and more accurate, all it needs now, is quality reviews – the good and the bad.

Plus their augmented reality app is a pretty nifty gadget too!

Jennifer Lam with Jeremy Stoppelman

What does this mean for restaurateurs?

A study by Harvard Business School concluded that a one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a 5-9
percent increase in revenue! I think that statistic alone, is enough reason to push restaurateurs into unlocking their Yelp business page.

Yelp is definitely going to change the way Australian consumers discover new restaurants to dine at (or even help search for a better dry cleaner or hairdresser). Every small business will now have an online presence whether they like it or not. How they manage it is another story.

But the question is, will you sign up to Yelp and share reviews?

I have.

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Jennifer is the founding blogger of I Ate My Way Through (originally, Jenius.com.au). Growing up in the multicultural melting pot of Sydney’s Inner West as a second generation Australian (of Vietnamese refugee parents of Teochew Chinese ancestry), Jen has always had a deep curiosity about global cuisines, culinary heritage and the cultural assimilation of immigrants. For Jen and her family, food is always at the centre of all celebrations, life events and milestones. A lover of the finer things in life, as well as cheap eats, her blogging ethos is all about empowering and inspiring people to expand their culinary repertoire. When not running her two companies (she is also the Managing Director of The Bamboo Garden online marketing agency), Jen can be found exploring old-world charms at vintage markets and delving into local eats around the world. She has a weakness for fried chicken.
  • Adam

    Of course, there is another place where Sydney’s best food is shared, with a strong and growing community. It’s not quite a restaurant review, which is why you might not have mentioned it?
    Anyway, obviously I’m talking about Foodspotting. From my point of view, the best part about foodspotting is that it is always positive and friendly – people are encouraged to post only the food they have enjoyed – and it is dish-centric, where you can find that one dish that is great, even if the place isn’t. It’s a fun community with a broad focus across all parts of Sydney. Oh and of course it’s best when used on mobile devices.

  • To be honest I don’t think I’ll bother setting up an account on Yelp.
    I’m sure it’s a great service, and I’ll keep an eye on it, but just like Google+ & Facebook, my outlook is “Really, how many of these sites do we need?”. These days with Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Urbanspoon and my own blogs, I feel like all I do is update services. As nice as they may be, I don’t need more!
    I always said that I’ll continue to use Facebook until a sufficient amount moves to Google+ and a critical mass is achieved. I’ll say the same about Yelp & Urbanspoon.

  • Jen

    Oh yes! My bad for forgetting about FoodSpotting! I agree – it’s great that the app focuses on the dish versus the place. Looking forward to attending another FoodSpotting Eat-Up in the new year!

  • Jen

    It helps when the services interconnect – e.g. one post can publish to other sites, but otherwise, I too fall behind updating all these social networks!

  • I had a look today and there are so many Sydney reviews already… how did they get there? Could people review Sydney before they launched here?
    I am undecided.. I really like being able to read the blog posts via urbanspoon so this will probably stay my favourite

  • Jen

    That’s the part I have a problem with. They hired “scouts” to pre-populate the site with reviews before the launch.