I have not yet had the good fortune of meeting Jeremy Stoppelman but when I do I think I'll say -- nice game....and I'll mean it. Jeremy and his team have done a nice job and did the following things better than Judy's Book (my company):
- Yelp focused on a younger demographic : we were focused on the soccer mom and Yelp focused on the younger twenty something generation. When it comes to user generated content (and social networks), it turns out that the younger the consumer the better! There's a reason Myspace is filled with teenagers: younger people feel more comfortable contributing and sharing online then their older counterparts. It's a generational comfort with technology thing....plus they have more time.
- Yelp focused on the restaurant category first: they had yelp doggie bags in San Francisco that they gave out as a promotional item. I'm not sure how successful that promotion was (i.e. I don't beleive they do it anymore)but it reveals that they understood that the restaurant category was where consumer willingness to write reviews, consumers search activity, and consumers daily life converged to meet local search.
- Simply put, they out-marketed us. They managed from early on to make their customers feel loved. They were the first site (amongst Judy's Book, Yelp and Insider Pages) to focus on getting consumer photos up on their site. This was a very powerful marketing tool. They were aggressive at experimenting with parties and alcohol and building an offline community with their community. They made joining yelp a bit of a fraternity/sorority....in a good way. Their marketing efforts for a small company were better than ours.
I still have lots of questions for Jeremy about how he turns his site into a money making business. That said, Jeremy and his team have a good game and have the best shot at executing on the original idea of a community directory.
As Judy's Book evolves and relaunches this quarter, you'll see that we're headed in a different direction than we were previously. We've ceded the directory business to other companies, including Yelp. We didn't do this because Yelp won (though, they were getting more consumer traction) -- but rather because we grew highly skeptical of the community directory business direction as the basis for a successful profitable business.
Judy's Book's new direction includes a real revenue model -- and a different set of challenges. I feel confident that we learned lots of lessons about user generated content, local search, and business in general that will help us succeed going forward. Anyone that thinks this start up thing is easy (particularly in local search), feel free to contact Jeremy or I ....we'll both tell you otherwise!