Many big companies have chosen to remain silent on the abortion debate, but Yelp and its CEO Jeremy Stoppelman have chosen a different path.
The San Francisco-based online review site is among the few companies that cover travel expenses for employees and their dependents who must travel out of state to obtain abortions, a hot topic that is on the about to become the chatter of many boardrooms if the Supreme Court overturns the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade. If Roe falls, about half of US states are expected to ban or further restrict abortion.
Antitrust reform is another hot topic for Stoppelman, 44, who has been a vocal critic of Google and what he sees as the company’s monopolistic practices. He recently spoke with The Associated Press about Yelp’s stance on abortion, the COVID-19 pandemic, and antitrust law. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: The company has come out strongly in favor of abortion rights. Are you worried this will put him in the crosshairs of conservative politicians, especially in light of what happened with Disney in Florida?
There is always a risk in taking a stand. But our math is: This one is worth taking. This is really important for our employees, especially our female employees. And I think he has pretty broad support. I’ve seen polls that suggest that north of 70% of Americans think women should have the right to choose, with the cooperation of their doctor. As a business owner, you often do things that grab attention in one way or another. When you’re convinced it’s the right thing to do – and the right thing for the business – just go for it.
Q: Why do you think many large companies have remained silent on this issue?
I think it’s really disappointing, to say the least. If you go back to before the Trump administration, there was a lot of CEO and corporate advocacy behind them. They were speaking out on important issues, whether it was toilet bills or small businesses trying to discriminate. There were many companies that were eager to get up. Maybe what happened was in the Trump era, there was an element of risk and reaction on the part of the administration. I think it created a bit of a silence effect when it comes to making the voices of business leaders heard. I don’t think it changed our behavior.
But certainly, many of the usual suspects remained silent. Obviously, we have spoken out for a long time on various social issues and we continue to be involved. But we used to have a lot of friends talking with us. And we would like to encourage those who consider it, or on the fence, to join us.
Q: You have been an advocate for antitrust reform. What do you think are the chances of getting something done in Congress this year?
There are a number of bills in Congress right now. Very promising ones. And I think the general tone in Washington is a radical departure from the past. There is a particular bill by US Senator Amy Klobuchar that we support, which is anti-self-preference. One of the most egregious behaviors of Big Tech is that when they have a competing property or product, they step in and drive consumers away. And I think that’s very destructive to competition. When we look at it through our analysis, we think Senate Majority Leader Schumer has the votes to pass it. So we really think it’s time to bring it to the ground. And he suggested that it will happen in early summer, so we’re looking forward to that.
Q: The administration has said there could be around 100 million cases of COVID-19 later this year. How do you anticipate this will affect the business?
Our big move was to go remote. So we decided in 2020 that Yelp would be remote first. Surprisingly, perhaps, it was really successful for us. Our employees feel very good about it. There is more time for family and hobbies. And we have seen continued productivity.
This has been our great adaptation and one that will extend far beyond the pandemic. I tweeted – perhaps controversially about this – but I think remote work is fundamentally a better way to work. It is a better operating system for modern business. It is a breakthrough innovation. Since industrialization, we have had only one way of working: entering an office. The drive for Americans averages over half an hour each way, unpaid. And it seems very inefficient and outdated. Granted, it’s only recently that video conferencing has really provided a serious competitor to the traditional office. But I think more and more companies will embrace telecommuting. The benefits are too high.
Q: And how do you anticipate the spike in COVID cases will affect your business if Americans become more reluctant to go out to eat? How do you think the site will be impacted?
For restaurants and retail, we saw a continued recovery in the first quarter. If there is a terrible variant, people get scared and huddle inside. People will go to shops and restaurants less. When it becomes safer, people go out more. It shows up in our data.
This can therefore have effects on the company. But we’ve been kind of in recovery mode for a while now, and people are definitely trying to get on with their lives and get over the virus. But it’s hard to predict whether the virus will really fade into the background, much like other viruses, or have some new twists we didn’t expect.
One thing that has always been true about Yelp is that our platform is broad. So when consumer spending shifts from, say, restaurants to something else, that other category is often captured elsewhere on Yelp. We saw that at the height of the pandemic, when consumers spent more time at home, they tended to spend more on home services. Yelp has been particularly resilient during the pandemic and past recessions, thanks in part to our horizontal platform.
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Post expires at 10:51pm on Friday June 24th, 2022