Yelp CEO: Yep, Google can be pretty evil

Jeremy Stoppelman, speaking during a Business Insider conference, adds that doing anything local takes depth and time.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
3 min read
Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman speaks during a Business Insider conference today in New York. Dan Farber/CNET
NEW YORK--Sure, Google can be pretty evil, Yelp Chief Executive Jeremy Stoppelman said.

Stoppelman, speaking here today at a Business Insider conference, responded to a question from Nicholas Carlson, Business Insider deputy editor, about whether Google is evil. While he didn't straight out call the larger company the devil, he did say that Google has some evil business practices, such as ranking its reviews higher than those from competitors like Yelp.

Stoppelman said that any disruptive businesses, like Uber and Airbnb, are guaranteed backlash, and government and business entities shouldn't necessarily be allowed to limit those businesses. However, Google's practices are likely "worth taking a look at," he said.

"If you happen to be the gateway for the vast majority of users on the Internet and you restrict information and put your house property ahead of everyone else, you potentially harm consumers," Stoppelman said. "We can all agree that's probably not a good thing."

Google declined to comment.

Yelp's problems with Google have been well documented. The company spurned a takeover offer from the search giant several years ago, and it has criticized Google for using Yelp reviews without providing credit. In addition, Stoppelman testified in Congress a year ago that Google didn't play fair with its search results. The Federal Trade Commission has been investigating those complaints, trying to determine if Google ranks search results from its own products higher than those of its competitors.

Meanwhile, Stoppelman said that doing anything local doesn't happen quickly. Yelp was founded about eight years ago, but only went public earlier this year. By comparison, other local advertising and offer companies like Groupon turned to the public market much more quickly after their founding. Groupon in particular has faced concerns about its growth and strategy in recent months.

"Doing anything in local requires depth," Stoppelman said. "And depth takes time. One of the key insights we had early on was we focused on a city-by-city approach."

He noted that Yelp quickly realized that it wouldn't be easy to generate revenue through advertising. That's why it quickly moved to a subscription-based advertising product from its earlier plans for focusing on performance-based ads.

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman speaking at a Business Insider conference. Dan Farber/CNET
Stoppelman noted that most businesses were basic Internet users and were uncomfortable with performance-based ads. Instead, they preferred paying fixed rates for a certain period of time.

"They were used to something fixed fee, a set-it-and-forget-it model," he said.

Yelp, which went public in March, has grown quickly, but it also has long faced doubts about its ability to survive as a standalone firm and maintain its brisk growth. Competition is also a constant concern, with the company rivaling larger companies like Google and startups like Foursquare. The latter company earlier this monthlaunched a rating system to compete with Yelp.

While it seems that Foursquare is treading on Yelp territory, the competition goes both ways. Yelp revamped its site in August to highlight social connections. The new feature includes a news feed of sorts that shows friends' activity on the site, including comments, check-ins, photos, and tips. Yelp also recently rolled out in-app restaurant menus for its mobile users.

Stoppelman today noted that Yelp is "in the midst of a really big transformation" where mobile becomes a bigger part of the business.

"In 2008, Yelp was a Web site with a little app. Now Yelp is an app with a really big Web site," he said, adding that five years from now, mobile likely will be even more important.

"We are a mobile first company," Stoppelman said.

He added that it's hard to say what tangential businesses Yelp will get into but noted "it's fair to say we're really focused."

"In a lot of other companies, we're seeing a lot of pivots, a lot of transitions and concern about the core business. We're lucky not to be in that circumstance right now Our core business is strong, and people are writing more reviews than ever. We're still very much focused on what we've been doing. We are still managing that transition, but we're lucky enough to not have to change an engine mid-flight," Stoppelman said.
Updated at 3:55 p.m. PT with Google saying it declines to comment.