What's Behind Yelp's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

3 min read
This story originally appeared on Fortune Magazine

“This year hasn’t gone as smoothly as anticipated,” Yelp founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said on an analyst call on Tuesday.

That was an understatement. The online listings site has had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Its shares are down 56% in 2015 so far, and down 64% in the past 12 months.

On Tuesday, the company reported its Q2 2015 earnings; they were not good. The company’s revenue grew by 51% but it saw quarterly net revenue of between $139 million and $142 million, which missed the average analyst expectation of $152 million. It also had its slowest sales growth of any quarter in the past four years. Shares fell 16% in after-hours trading, and are down 28% in the past 24 hours, at the time of writing. Its market cap is down to $1.8 billion.

Back in May, Yelp explored the idea of a sale, and reportedly hired Goldman Sachs as banker on a potential deal. Shares briefly popped on that news. But Stoppelman has twice turned down big offers in the past from the likes of Google and Yahoo, and as we wrote in May, he is likely to avoid selling as long as he can. Indeed, earlier this month the company halted its sales plan and dismissed Goldman, causing shares to drop again.

In addition to the disappointing earnings report on Tuesday, Yelp chairman of the board Max Levchin resigned his post. Levchin, a cofounder of PayPal (where he became close with Stoppelman), personally gave Yelp a big chunk of its seed capital early on, and has a conference room named after him at Yelp’s headquarters. He said he is leaving Yelp to focus on his new company Affirm. But the timing does not look good for Yelp.

Yelp also said that its team of salespeople will grow by 30% this year, not the 40% the company had planned. Yelp’s business model depends on successfully convincing small businesses to pay for Yelp’s services, and its sales team are the soldiers that cold-call such businesses. Two years ago, Stoppelman told Fortune that the company was aggressively ramping up ad-sales staff, aiming to get more local businesses to pay rather than use the site for free. At that time, it had just launched Yelp Platform, which lets users order food directly from the app and yields insights Yelp then offers to restaurants, for a fee. But sources say that small businesses, especially older ones that haven’t traditionally used the Internet for their marketing, still don’t see the value in Yelp.

The company’s bad week and bad year has yielded harsh headlines like “Yelp is crashing” and “Yelp earns just one star.” The earnings miss, stock tumble, and departure of Levchin add up to a slew of bad news for the once-hot online listings startup. Stoppelman said this week that he remains “optimistic.”

Years ago, the founder ignored the advice of personal confidantes like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel when he declined acquisition offers. Amid so much bad news, can Stoppelman continue to avoid selling Yelp?

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