Forever Five Stars: My Thoughts as a Former Yelp Elite

An Elite event in San Francisco, 2010

Over the weekend I watched Billion Dollar Bully, the Yelp documentary by Kaylie Milliken, for the first time.

I was a Yelp employee in 2008 (but couldn’t stomach the cold calling), an “Elite” from 2010-2014, and am still friends with some of the first upper-level employees, former community managers, and fellow Elite Squad members. There’s a lot of truth, but also a lot of misunderstandings in the film. It broke my heart to hear the stories of people who suffered from their treatment of the company, but I want to reflect on the good it has done, too.

Everyone has their own feelings about Yelp, especially business owners, but I can say that of my 492 reviews and 837 local photos, I write to share positive or constructive feedback to help small businesses grow- not to hurt them. I met some wonderful people at Elite events in SF and NYC, ate a lot of amazing food, and had tons of laughs. I learned about places I never would have been before, and was able to share my experience with the community.

I left San Francisco in 2011, a year before the company IPOed– so I can’t say how the culture changed after it went from a startup to a public company. Nevertheless, I still see a huge value in real people writing real reviews. What I don’t believe in is pressuring businesses owners to spend money that simply isn’t in their budget, not giving them the ability to remove their listing, or living in so much fear they feel the need to buy fake reviews from people who hardly know their business.

I definitely don’t think most Yelpers are out to get people- it’s usually the faceless reviewers with 0 friends (I have 850) who cause the trouble. It’s a shame some people ruined it for the rest of us.

So why do I still write on Yelp, you ask? Although I am no longer incentivized to write reviews as there’s no Yelp Elite community in Northern Michigan (plus my status was dropped my second year in New York City), I think it’s important to share my positive experiences, show potential customers what my own experience looked like, and to engage with new businesses. It always makes me smile when a business owner writes to thank me for my review, or recognizes me when I come back into their establishment.

Whether people still use Yelp to find a new restaurant here or not, I always am sure to take a photo of my meal, share my thoughts, and help others find my favorite hidden gems, too.

Yelpers in the East Bay, 2010

Our Differences Bring Us Together

o (1)

For years I compared myself to other people and their achievements.

I remember being surrounded by my boyfriend and his friends while living in San Francisco, feeling “less than” because they all had MBAs and advanced degrees.  I was envious of their grad school bonds, longing to have something more for myself in California.

So, I started studying for the LSAT.

Did I really want to become an attorney?  Not really.  However, I thought I needed a fancy title or a degree to prove I was smart.  That I was strong.  That I was worthy.

I ended up taking the test, not even wanting to go to law school.  I knew in my heart I was meant to do something creative, but I lacked the confidence to put myself out there.

I left San Francisco in 2009, only to return again eight months later.  This time around, however, I didn’t strap myself down to a relationship- but I did start a blog.

A lot of people didn’t understand my city shenanigans or the purpose for my writing.  Nevertheless, it gave me the confidence I needed to start to put myself out there.  I connected with Yelp reviewers, entrepreneurs, and startups.  I went to fun restaurants and worked all sorts of events, from Shecky’s Girl’s Night Out, WonderCon, and the Cannabis Festival.  I started to learn I didn’t need a degree or title to do what I love. 

I could simply be me.

59996_867008970128_407665_n

It’s hard to believe this all started ten years ago.

I’ve kept in touch with the friends I’ve made in California, whether they’re still in the city or have done something different with their own lives.

I’ll forever be grateful to the people who believed in me and saw my power before I saw it on my own.

We can compare ourselves to other people all day long, but the key is knowing who you are as a person and what to you want.  Our differences are what make the world go round, whether you’re saving lives, raising a family, or running a company.

The beauty in our differences is what can connect us, help us learn, and grow as human beings.  I may not have chosen to help people seek justice in the legal system, but I do know my own experiences help other people gain the confidence to pursue what’s in their own heart.

BB05F01E-2ACD-4C8B-92DE-CB00D6801CA8 (1)

Vanilla

25360_784777407838_3345426_n

Nine years ago, I worked at a software company in San Francisco.

I got the job through a temp agency and quickly converted to a full time role I probably didn’t deserve.  Being an office manager wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I did enjoy spending my time blogging, writing Yelp reviews (I had just become “Elite”), and gossiping with my friend Sonny about my dating and drinking life.

I lived for going out, meeting new people, networking, and documenting my adventures on the internet.  I used Blogspot at the time, and I thought my mishaps were of the genius variety.  I was certain there was more for me than a job at a front desk in SOMA, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get there.

So I went out.  A lot.

To fill the work day, I obviously needed a work crush.  When you’re 25, what job is complete without a work crush as a distraction?  I vividly remember the cottonmouth feeling of arriving on Bagel Wednesday after a long night out in the marina with my friend Mary, sweating out vodka and maybe even tacos, preparing the breakfast delivery for a team of data security engineers and executives.  I’d toast a bagel for myself, feeling partially sick as I swallowed my coffee, only to see him walk into the office kitchen.

I immediately became much too chatty, telling him all about my escapades and hinting at inviting him out with us.  He was a gentleman- a Kennedy type from Austin with an MBA- and I was certain he would see past my childish antics, realizing I was a serious writer and potential rising entrepreneur.  I mean, didn’t he see my Yelp reviews?

Nevertheless, I would go back to my desk, and Sonny would swing by and cheer me up.  He, on the other hand, adored my drunken tales of Chestnut and Fillmore Street, Taco Tuesday at the Bluelight, and which Ivy League school my latest conquest was from.

“You have special powers,” he would say.  “Men love you.”  I was extremely pleased to hear this from a 40-something gay man.

“So why doesn’t he come out with me?”  I asked Sonny.  He just smiled.

“He’s far too vanilla for you.”

I had never heard this before.

2010 was the last year I thought my reckless drinking and behavior was somewhat normal.  I was also in deep denial.  However, Sonny’s comment struck a chord.

I may have entered the decade thinking there was something wrong with me; and there was. Obviously, the Kennedy-esque work crush wasn’t interested in a hard partying 25 year old.  Nevertheless, thanks to Sonny, I discovered that maybe he wasn’t what I wanted, either.

I may not drink or go out looking for men these days, but I will never lose my quirks.  They’re what makes me me. 

I entered the decade thinking I needed to change for other people, but I’m leaving it knowing that the only person I needed to change for was myself- and no matter what I became, vanilla wasn’t meant for me.

I am definitely more of the Superman or Neapolitan variety.