On the heels of Facebook's much-buzzed-about S-1, Yelp, another Bay Area tech company, is one step closer to going public.
The online review site, which is based in San Francisco, priced its IPO this week, and plans to offer 7.15 million shares for $12 to $14 each, according to its amended S-1 filing. Taken at the mid-point price, the IPO puts the company valuation at $778 million. In 2009, Yelp turned down a $550 million buyout offer from Google.
Founded in 2004 by Russel Simmons and Jeremy Stoppelman, who is now the company's CEO, Yelp has attracted some $55 million in venture funding from high-profile venture capitalists including Max Levchin, the Ukranian-born co-founder of PayPal. The IPO will be underwritten by Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Jefferies.
But Yelp's proposed IPO has received mixed reviews. Rocky Agrawal, a digital media analyst, recently called Yelp a "rip-off" for smaller advertisers.
"Yelp is charging small businesses 1,000-times the standard online CPM rates for local ads that appear on Yelp," he wrote in VentureBeat. "Even when compared to its own ads for national advertisers, the company is charging a 100x premium… Yelp's business model is closer to that of yellow pages companies: sell a questionable value proposition to many who don't understand what they're buying."
Here's a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from Yelp's updated S-1:
- In 2011, net revenue was $83.3 million; in 2010, it was $47.7 million.
- Significant risks abound: Since the company was founded, it has "incurred significant operating losses." As of December 31, 2011, the company had an accumulated deficit of approximately $41.2 million.
- The company may be going through somewhat of an identity crisis. "Our business may be harmed if users view our platform as primarily limited to reviews of restaurants and shopping experiences." Sure, the company has Yelp Deals, but aren't reviews its core competency?
- It seems the company is fearful of talent-poaching from nearby Bay Area competitors. "We rely on the performance of highly skilled personnel, and if we are unable to attract, retain and motivate well-qualified employees, our business could be harmed."
- Jeremy Stoppelman, the company's CEO, will take $300,000 salary.
- Company costs are soaring. In 2011, costs surged to $99.5 million, up from $57.2 million in 2010, driven mainly by a huge boost in sales and marketing ($54.5 million).
- As of December 31, 2011, "approximately 18 million reviews were available on business profile pages, approximately 5 million reviews were being filtered and approximately 1.8 million reviews had been removed from the platform." In other words, Yelp attracts plenty of reviews, but 10 percent of them are basically spam.
- Unlike Facebook, Yelp needs the dough. Their balance sheet shows they're running out of working capital, going from reserves of $29 million in 2010, to $19 in 2011.
- Yelp had 66 million unique visitors on a monthly average basis for the quarter ended December 31, 2011, up 67 percent from the same period in the prior year.
- There were 606,000 claimed business locations as of December 31, 2011, up 97 perecent from 2010.
- Yelp recognized revenue from about 24,000 active local business accounts for the quarter ended December 31, 2011, up 109 percent from the same quarter in the prior year.
- The company plans to trade on the NYSE under "YELP."