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

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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.

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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.

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