Yelp Files IPO, May Achieve $2 Billion Valuation

on November 17 2011 4:55 PM
Yelp boasts more than 22 million reviews, 61 million monthly unique visitors and 529,000 business pages.
Yelp boasts more than 22 million reviews, 61 million monthly unique visitors and 529,000 business pages. Reuters/Robert Galbraith

Yelp, the online reviews site for local businesses, officially filed its initial public offering with the SEC Thursday. The San Francisco-based company hired Goldman Sachs and Citigroup Nov. 9 to lead the public offering and intends to go public sometime in the first quarter of 2012.

Yelp hopes to raise $100 million, but given that Yelp once rejected a $500 million acquisition offer from Google in 2010, an IPO could value the company at more than $2 billion.

The filing comes two months after Google acquired rival Zagat for $175 million from its co-founders.

Founded in 2004, Yelp has already raised more than $50 million from VCs, including Benchmark Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, DAG Ventures and Elevation Partners; Bessemer owns 22.5 percent of the company, Benchmark owns 16.2 percent, and Elevation, whose principals include Irish singer Bono, owns 22.4 percent. Yelp CEO and co-founder Jeremy Stoppelman owns 11.1 percent of Yelp's outstanding shares, while Max Levchin, Yelp's first investor and the co-founder of PayPal and Slide, owns 13.8 percent of the company.

Yelp's filing with the SEC reveals that the site boasts more than 22 million reviews, 61 million monthly unique visitors and 529,000 business pages. The site has helped many small businesses gain traction online, but Yelp largely makes it money by selling ads to these local businesses. Yelp also makes some money in brand advertising, partnerships, and other services such as Yelp Deals, its Groupon-type service for daily discounts. The company did not state whether or not it has a profitable business model, but in the first nine months of 2011, Yelp lost $7.6 million; in the first nine months of 2010, the company lost roughly $8.5 million.

Yelp has been contemplating an IPO for a long time. In April, Stoppelman told the Wall Street Journal that his company intended to go public, and had already begun its search for a chief financial officer with IPO experience. In July, Stoppelman found his man and hired Rob Krolik as the company's CFO. Prior to joining Yelp, Krolik helped Shopping.com go public in 2004.

Yelp could be encouraged by the recent slew of successful social media IPOs. In May, business networking site LinkedIn enjoyed a tremendous IPO. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company originally priced its shares at $45 each, but as LinkedIn began trading, shares surged to above $90 per share and settled in the $80 to $85 range, roughly double their offering price. The IPO made LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman a billionaire.

Groupon, the Chicago-based daily deals giant, finally went public Nov. 4 after several delays. Groupon pegged its opening share price between $16 and $18, but within its first minutes as a public company, shares soared to about $28. Shares have settled around $25, and the company's market value is nearly $16 billion, even though its June filing with the SEC stated that the company was still not profitable.

Yelp is in good hands with Goldman Sachs, who handled other successful IPOs of Microsoft, Yahoo and Groupon. The company has not released a schedule for its roadshow.

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