It was early 2005 when Jeremy Stoppelman and his co-founder re-launched Yelp.
They totally nixed the original concept of the site, which was essentially an email-based recommendation service, but kept one unexpectedly popular feature that let users write public recommendations. This was the foundation of the new Yelp.
Within hours of the new site going live, Stoppelman was shocked to see that, in addition to his mother and closest friends, new users were finding their way fast. “They were real life users, and they were contributing,” Stoppelman said, speaking Thursday at the DEMO Fall 2013 conference.
In front of a crowd of eager ears, the entrepreneur recounted this time in the company's history to prove a point: You don't know jack about your customers--until you meet them face-to-face.
It was around the time of this influx of users that Yelp's marketing director told Stoppelman he should go meet the new users face-to-face. But Stoppelman wasn’t keen on meeting any of them. After all, he was an engineer. “But [my marketing guy] dragged me,” Stoppelman said, “kind of kicking and screaming, to meet these people.”
“I was expecting tech early adopters, and what I found was really these kind of urban early adopters,” Stoppelman said.
They weren’t the type who sat behind their computers all day long. In fact they were quite the opposite. They were seeking activity, they wanted to learn what the newest coolest local business was, and they liked getting their opinions published online.
This face-to-face meeting turned out to be the first of many, and the so-called “Yelp Elite Squad” of early adopters attended many subsequent parties.
Stoppelman said he was glad for these get-togethers. He was able to see his local community of users grow right before his eyes, and he got the chance to learn who they were.