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What do Yelp and Twitter have in common?

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Earlier this morning I opened my laptop after a long break and learned that Yelp(s YELP) has gone public. Much like LinkedIn(s LNKD) and Pandora(s P), it is one of those early Web 2.0 companies that has found its way into the market, benefitting from the halo effect being cast by the forthcoming Facebook IPO. Yelp’s IPO is vindication for Roger McNamee’s Elevation Partners, which plowed $100 million into the travel and food information company, once it decided to pass on a $500 million buyout offer from Google. (Yelp is valued at about $900 million and has raised $96 million in the IPO.)

It is good news for founders Jeremy Stoppleman and Russel Simmons, both ex-PayPalers. It is good news for PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, who provided initial funds for the company.

David Galbraith

However, in the celebrations and CNBC interviews, I hope to God that one of these Yelp executives remembers David Galbraith, who was also one of the co-founders — and, if my memory serves me right, is the guy who came up with the idea of Yelp, including the name. Levchin and Stoppleman had wanted to do something with “local.”

David is an architect by training and was co-founder of Moreover with Nick Denton, the founder and owner of Gawker Media. He later moved to San Francisco and dabbled with many ideas, including Yelp.

How do I know? Because I was there from the very beginning. Dave and I talked about Yelp quite a few times. He was passionate about the idea. But some back-room drama ensued and David left. Apparently, he fell out of favor. Also, the fact that he was not part of the PayPal alumni couldn’t have worked in his favor.

He moved to New York and started Wists — a wish-list-making web application much like Pinterest.

Galbraith, however, is a perfect example of what is a common (and growing) practice in Silicon Valley, something folks in our industry should be ashamed of — airbrushing history. Today there is a lot of talk about Twitter and its initial public offering, and it reminded me of Noah Glass, one of the key contributors to the idea of Twitter. I remember talking to him outside Ruby Red Labs at a party about Twitter. I don’t remember the exact conversation — I was a little tipsy and so was he — but I did end up writing a blog post about Twitter and accidentally launching that company. In the history of Twitter, he is not even a footnote.

History, they say, is written by the victors. Well, it was written by the victors up until the arrival of the Internet and the personal publishing on the web. Why? Because before the Internet, the guys who controlled the media controlled the messaging and how “reality” was created. Everything else got “massaged” out of existence. The Internet is changing that and allowing reality and alternative storylines to exist alongside the air-brushed version of the stories.

And for Dave, some of us have not forgotten. Now come up with something brilliant.

Bonus read: What Yelp’s IPO means about the future of crowdsourced media.

15 Responses to “What do Yelp and Twitter have in common?”

  1. I’m very touched by this post OM. But to be a big boy about this, and hopefully to help other entrepreneurs, if real estate is about location, startups are about execution, execution and execution.

    So if anyone is interested, here’s my take:

    I’m good at spotting trends and product ideas, because that’s what the skills of being an architect for 11 years give you when translated to tech (web companies should hire more architects, they are wasted on buildings). But ideas are two a penny, making them into businesses, the 99% perspiration, is what matters, and that’s where Jeremy Stoppelman has done a superlative job with Yelp. Yelp wasn’t my idea, even though I was looking at local too within the incubator Yelp came out of, in fact not sure Yelp was anyone’s idea really, it morphed as it grew. It was started on the premiss of: look Yellow Pages suck, dead trees, and worth more than Google ad market, it was always going to be about execution).

    Yes, Wists is like Pinterest, but there’s a difference, Wists is an obsolete piece of pre-Ajax, pre-SNS crap – written largely by myself (although originally and non-crappily written by Yaroslav Faybishenko) to teach myself to program, as amateurish as if I’d tried to lay a brick wall rather than do what I’m trained to – design it. Pinterest, on the other hand, is a good product – I shouldn’t have lost my nerve and maybe I could have gathered the resources to execute as well as they have, but that’s my fault.

    And yes of course it does hurt to be forgotten or not as successful as your peers, but if you believe in free markets and entrepreneurship as drivers of successful innovation – then this is what its about, its what I signed up for.

    My wife is giving me grief about the colander on my head picture, nobody gets to be a success looking like that. Hopefully I can prove her wrong ;-)

    • Yelp executives and investors are understandably too busy to read this and recall (or find out) who came up with the idea to focus on “local” and wrote scrapers analyzing Craigslist in the early spring of 2004, and showed the scraper data to Max.

  2. Excellent article, Om. It’s a great counterpoint to Internet companies’ public personae of utopianism, i.e. the “we’re going to change the world and not be evil about it” speeches. It’s no surprise to hear that entrepreneurs can be vicious to each other no matter what the industry. I guess Facebook isn’t the only one who threw a co-founder under the bus on the way to glory.