Despite the importance and influence social media sites have had on the way we journey through the world, as businesses, they are almost universally failures.
Yelp was founded in 2004, and went public in 2012, boosted by the millions of people who were using the site to rate local businesses and read those ratings. Prior to the IPO the company raised $56 million in venture capital investments. The IPO brought in an additional $107 million. Still not able to switch to black ink after all this time, a secondary stock offering raised $250 million. Yet, profitability remained an elusive dream.
Before we judge Yelp to harshly, this is a good moment to point out that profitability for social media sites is the exception and not the rule. Today there are only two such online platforms that can be said to make money rather than lose it. Those two are Facebook, which took years to reach profit-making status, and LinkedIn, which has a paid pro subscription, making it less dependent on advertising. You will be looking long and hard to find another social media company that is in this exclusive club. Not YouTube. Not Twitter. And not Yelp.
Now Yelp is looking for a buyer. But its prospects are not good. This is a quote from the company’s annual report:
“We expect that our revenue growth rate will decline as a result of a variety of factors, including the maturation of our business and the gradual decline in the number of major geographic markets, especially within the United States, to which we have not already expanded.”
Over its lifetime Yelp has raised a total of about $400 million from investors. The company has a market value of $3.51 billion, and in 2014 they did manage to eke out a profit for the first time in their history. Over its lifetime, however, Yelp has reported a total of $34 million in losses.
Who will buy this company is yet to be seen. If they do, it will be not as a source of income, at least not soon, but as a way to provide this service to its otherwise loyal customers.