Many major corporations 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 reviews site is one of the few companies to cover travel expenses for employees and their family members who have to leave the state to undergo an abortion, a thorny topic that’s about to become the chatter of many boardrooms. If the Supreme Court overturns the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. If Roe falls, about half of US states are expected to ban abortion or impose stricter restrictions.
Antitrust reform is another big topic for 44-year-old Stoppelman, an outspoken critic of Google and what he sees as the company’s monopolistic practices. He recently spoke with The Associated Press about Yelp’s abortion policy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and antitrust laws. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: The company has come out very strongly supporting abortion rights. Are you worried it will put it in the crosshairs of conservative politicians, especially in light of what happened to Disney in Florida?
A: There is always a risk when you take a stand. But our calculus is: This is worth taking. It is very important for our employees, especially for our female employees. And I think it has quite broad support. I’ve seen polls suggesting that 70% of North Americans believe women should have the right to choose, along with their doctor’s cooperation. As a business leader, you often do things that somehow attract attention. If you feel strongly and feel that this is the right thing to do – and the right thing for the company – you just have to move forward.
Q: Why do you think many large companies have remained silent on this issue?
A: I think it is very disappointing, to say the least. If you go back to the Trump administration, there was a lot of advocacy from CEOs and the companies behind them. They spoke out on important issues, whether it was bathroom bills or small businesses trying to discriminate. Many companies were eager to get up. Perhaps what happened in the Trump era, there was an element of risk and government response. I think it created a bit of a silent effect when it comes to business leaders speaking up. I don’t think that changed our behavior.
But sure, many of the usual suspects have been quiet. Clearly, we have been speaking out on various social issues for a long time and remain involved. But we used to have many friends who spoke to us. And we want to encourage those considering it or who are on the fence to get involved.
Q: You have been an advocate of antitrust reform. What are the prospects for getting things done in Congress this year?
A: There are several bills currently pending in Congress. Very promising. And I think the general tone in Washington is a change from the past. We support a particular statement from US Senator Amy Klobuchar that is anti-self-preference. One of the most egregious behaviors of Big Tech is that when they have a competing property or product of their own, they step in and turn consumers away. And I think that’s very destructive to the competition. Looking at it through our analysis, we believe Senate Majority Leader Schumer has the votes to pass it. And he’s suggested that it will happen in early summer, so we’re looking forward to that. So we really think it’s time to take it to the floor.
A: Our big step was to go remote. So in 2020, we decided that Yelp would be remote first. Surprisingly, we may have actually succeeded. Our employees have a good feeling about it. There is more time for family and hobbies. And we’ve seen continued productivity.
That has been our big adjustment and goes well beyond the pandemic. I’ve tweeted – perhaps controversially – but I believe remote work is a better way of working. It is a better operating system for modern businesses. It is a disruptive innovation. Since industrialization, we have had one way of working: entering an office. The ride for Americans is, on average more than half an hour one way, unpaid. And that seems very inefficient and outdated. Admittedly, video conferencing only recently became a serious competitor to the traditional office. But I do think that more companies will embrace remote. The benefits are too great.
Q: And how do you anticipate the increase in COVID cases that will impact your business if Americans are hesitant to eat out? How do you expect the site to be affected?
A: We have seen a sustained recovery in the first quarter for restaurants and retail. If there is a terrible variant, people get scared and crawl inside. People go less to shops and restaurants. When it becomes safer, people will go outside more. This is evident from our data.
So it can have consequences for the company. But we’ve been in some recovery mode for a while now, and people are trying to get on with their lives and put the virus behind them. But it is difficult to predict whether the virus will really fadehe the background like other viruses or whether it ists what we did not expect.
One thing that has always been true about Yelp is that our platform is broad, so when consumer spending shifts, say, from restaurants to something else, that other category is often captured elsewhere on Yelp. We saw that during the height of the pandemic, when consumers were spending more time at home, they spent more on home services. Yelp has been particularly resilient during the pandemic and past recessions, thanks partly to our horizontal platform.