Heavy drinking, sex tapes, and a pyramid scheme: Yelp insiders speak out about the company's high-pressure sales culture

  • Yelp's sales team has a hard-partying, high-pressure corporate culture that features sometimes-problematic behavior, insiders said.
  • Business Insider spoke to 21 current or former Yelp employees about the company's sales practices and culture.
  • Some sources said they felt pressure from their managers to interact with sexually inappropriate customers.
  • Some Yelp employees have been accused of defrauding their employer, and others were embroiled in a "pyramid scheme."
  • Illicit sex tapes have also circulated among employees, and workers have been fired for inappropriate behaviour.
  • Read Business Insider's full investigation into Yelp's sales organisation »

A female Yelp employee was on the phone with a small business owner, making a sales pitch for Yelp's advertising services, when the man on the other end of the line announced that he planned to masturbate while thinking of her.

Her manager urged her to continue with the sales pitch.

The crude behavior was all the more reason for the saleswoman to take the business owner's money, she recalled her manager saying — "because he's gross." Multiple other Yelp insiders also said they either felt pressure to interact with sexually inappropriate business owners or witnessed other reps doing so. (Earlier this summer, Yelp announced a plan to blacklist abusive businesses after years of reps experiencing racist and sexist abuse.)

It's just one example of the intense pressure employees in Yelp's sprawling local sales organisation say they face. Business Insider has spoken to 21 current or former employees of the company for a recent investigation into Yelp's sales practices and culture. These sources painted a picture of a culture that's part boiler-room and part fraternity house, where a stifling pressure to hit sales targets is always in the air.

"Everything is dependent on my success with revenue," said a current Yelp employee. "If I'm not closing, I'm treated like I mean nothing to this company and my self-worth suffers immensely." A dozen current or former employees felt that the stress of working at Yelp had serious deleterious effects on their mental health, including depression, anxiety, or breakdowns. 

Sources said that an aggressive make-the-sale mentality manifests itself in other facets of the culture, where — at least before the pandemic — the ranks of young, single employees would sometimes blow off steam in after-hours bacchanals marked by heavy drinking, hookups and sometimes inappropriate behavior.

In New York in 2019, a male rep had sex with a manager from another team and, without her knowledge, recorded a video of the act and circulated it around the office. He was fired after Yelp became aware of the incident, a spokesperson confirmed. (Videos of two employees from Phoenix engaging in a sex act and of a San Francisco employee masturbating have also been shared among employees. Yelp previously said it had no record of these incidents.)

A long-time training manager responsible for on-boarding new hires in the Chicago office was let go in 2019 after a group of women came forward with claims of repeated sexual advances towards new employees. 

"The sales tactics and the training … play hand-in-hand with sexual harassment, and party-hard atmosphere, that exists in company culture," another current employee said. "No means no … does not exist in our sales tactics." 

In early 2020, workers in Yelp's Chicago office became embroiled in a "pyramid scheme" called the "Blessing Loom." Some managers were asking employees to give them $100, with the promise they would make $800 themselves down the line by soliciting donations from others. The managers were disciplined, including demotions and pay cuts, though none were fired, Yelp confirmed.

Some Yelp employees have also apparently defrauded their employer. A few reps have been accused of signing up businesses using their own credit card (or a friend's), then cancelling the advertising package before it gets charged, while pocketing the commission for a "successful" sale. At least five people have been fired after being accused of this behavior in the Phoenix office over the last year and a half, including the top performing rep in the office, and employees have also been accused of doing it in Chicago and DC, sources said.

Yelp said it has no tolerance for fraud and fires employees who engage in this behavior, and that sexual harassment and other violations of its code of conduct are also not tolerated.

"Most sales reps at Yelp operate with the utmost professionalism and many have built thriving careers at the company lasting years, with some elevated to leadership and executive roles," Yelp's spokesperson said. "However, as with any company that has thousands of employees, there are instances of violations to our Code of Conduct. We take these violations seriously, investigate any such reports, and take necessary disciplinary action, up to and including termination."

The spokesperson added that Yelp also takes mental health very seriously and offers employees a range of support.

"Sales can be a challenging job, but it can also be rewarding if it's something you love to do. While many people thrive in sales, we recognize that it might not be the right career path for everyone. That holds true for any type of sales role anywhere, not just at Yelp," the spokesperson said. 

More than a dozen sources also said they personally felt pressure to mislead business owners, from loosely explaining how Yelp's products function and exaggerating those products' efficacy, to purposefully obfuscating how billing works, and inventing stories about their own identities and backgrounds. Some admitted that they had knowingly sold to people who didn't understand what they were buying. Others said they witnessed their colleagues act in ways they considered duplicitous. And more still said they fielded regular complaints from angry business owners who felt misled by other Yelp employees.

Read Business Insider's full investigation into Yelp's sales team »

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