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Nasir and Matt welcome Alec Farwell of RevLeap to discuss why his company is being sued by Yelp and how you can support their cause.

Transcript:

NASIR: All right. Welcome to our podcast where we cover business in the news and add our legal twist. My name is Nasir Pasha.
MATT: And I’m Matt Staub.
NASIR: And we’re covering, I think – what is this? I don’t know if it’s our favorite topic or second favorite. I think we go back and forth between Uber and Yelp. But we’re covering Yelp today.
MATT: Well, yeah, I was going to say it’s been a long time coming. You’ve been harping on this issue for what’s seemed like years and years, but I think it’s only been maybe one year at most.
NASIR: Yeah, I think, on the podcast, for a year. But, I think, otherwise, it’s been definitely years, for sure.
MATT: It’s been a while since we’ve had a guest, too. I think this is going to be a pretty good guest to have because it’s a very interesting topic and a very interesting thing that they’re doing. So, we have Alec here with Revleap. For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, they’ve recently been involved with a lawsuit with Yelp. The difference here is they’re actually being sued by Yelp. I know, a lot of times, we talk about people wanting to sue Yelp. This is the flip side of it. So, Alec, it’s good to have you here.
ALEC: Yeah, thank you.
NASIR: So, as we know, just to kind of set this up a little bit, Yelp is a company that has plenty of reviews for small businesses and, as we’ve discussed in the past, once you have a bad review, it’s very difficult, and that’s actually published and actually part of the algorithm that they actually choose to publish, it’s very difficult to remove that review unless you can actually, if it’s a statement of defamation and you actually know the identity of the actual reviewer. Other than that, the Ninth Circuit ruled – I think it was, like, last year or so – that, even if Yelp is changing the algorithms and they’re fancy however they want to do it, even if they are extorting and basically taking in money from advertisers and putting those positive reviews up and those that don’t advertise, putting the negative reviews up, and vice versa, that’s okay. It was kind of a very controversial decision and I don’t think it was made in the way that necessarily Ninth Circuit intended to do. But that kind of ruling, I think, gave a little bit of strength or aggressiveness for Yelp to start going after other companies that actually service customers and service businesses that want to have a little bit more control of their reputation online. So, I may be mischaracterizing exactly what you do, Alec, so I don’t want to be the one to do that. Do you want to describe exactly how you service your customers and what you’re doing? Also, touch on what Yelp is saying about you guys.
ALEC: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I just want to first, you know, re-verify all the stuff that you’ve just said and I wanted to bring that up as well because, you know – and, keep in mind, this is all my speculation; I’m not entirely sure, you know, I’m not an attorney, you know, that’s your field but, you know – from what I can see, Yelp, right now, is trying to get the backing of our legal system to further establish control and dominance over everyone’s profile. You know, this win that they just had, this victory, this victory allowed them, essentially, they can do whatever they want. So, they can literally go up to someone and say, “Hey! You know, if you don’t pay us, we’re going to remove your good reviews,” and they can legally do that now, and correct me if I’m wrong, but that was my understanding of it. So, they have the legal leeway now to do whatever they want on people’s profile. With this lawsuit, my thinking is that now they’re trying to get the legal backing to not only be able to do whatever they want to someone’s profile once they reviews are there, but they’re trying to prevent business owners from even having the ability to ask their customers to leave them Yelp reviews. And so, the reason that I believe that is because, all we do, our business model, I’ll use an example like a dentist. So, say you go to the dentist and, you know, you’re checking out, you’re walking out to your car. As soon as you walk out to your car, you get a message on your phone to ask you to rate that experience with that dentist. You know, it’s a quick survey. If it’s a positive experience, then the very next screen you see is a login screen to Yelp and, you know, we ask you to leave that review on Yelp. You know, the obvious thing here is that, I mean, we’re doing all that we can to push a large amount of four- and five-star reviews to people’s Yelp profile. You know, our average client is somebody that, you know, they’ve been in business forever – you know, 30-plus years, you know, family-owned business, whatever it is, A+ on Better Business Bureau, five stars on Google, five stars everywhere else, you know. But Yelp has ten of their reviews and they are only showing their two negative reviews and, you know, a lot of times, these aren’t even from real customers. So, you know, that’s my belief on it and that’s what we do with our company.
NASIR: Yeah, and I think that’s been our experience as well as far as what do you do if a competitor has one of their customers or even the competitor themselves post a bad review on a small business website or a small business Yelp page and, somehow, it still falls within the content guidelines and, for whatever reason, Yelp’s algorithm decides that it’s a good review, there’s very little recourse from the business’ perspective. And so, I’m not asking you to necessarily give your secrets away but how do you do it? How do you approach your clients and help them out in this regard?
MATT: I mean, the bottom-line here is that – you know, not to get too technical about it but – I mean, the bottom-line here is that, you know, if you post enough four- and five-star reviews to somebody’s profile, you’re going to get some of them that are going to stay on the front page. And so, that’s kind of the bottom-line. I mean, the issue in general is that, you know, a lot of times, people that are unhappy are going to be the ones that are leaving the reviews. You know, most businesses, you know, 99.9 percent of the customers are very happy with them. We just have to get those people to express their feelings about that business. Once we’ll do that, you know, they can leave that positive review on Yelp and, you know, if we can do that, you know, ten times a day, that’s ten positive reviews to get posted to Yelp. So, even if nine of them fall off, that’s still one positive review a day that gets posted to the business and we do have some technical things that we can do to help the reviews stay on the front page. There is a lot of things that we can do but one thing is it’s not guaranteed, as always, just like anything in life.
NASIR: Sure.
MATT: And so, obviously, Yelp isn’t too happy with this, you know, looking at how they did file a lawsuit against you guys. You can tell me the extent that you can here but, you know, when they caught wind of what you guys were doing, you know, did they try to reach out to you or did they try other tactics to just shut you down completely? What was that sort of communication between you and them?
NASIR: Yeah. So, in the original stages of the company, you know, we used to call ourselves yelpdirector.com which, you know, obviously is not the right thing to do, legally. We were probably operating for a week and Yelp contacted us and said, “Hey! You know, you guys need to stop calling yourself yelpdirector.com. That’s violating trademark,” or whatever. And so, we immediately took down the website and we rebranded the company as Revleap which is what it is now and we continued to operate. You know, Yelp, what they’re doing, if you read through the lawsuit, they’re trying to say that we are, like, the Yelp Director website, but we’re not. I mean, we’re Revleap Incorporated and they’re trying to do this, I believe, for trademark reasons because, you know, if we put up a website called yelpdirector.com or we call ourselves that, I think, legally – and you can correct me if I’m wrong but – I think that we’re violating at that point. But we put those things down. So, our original messages with Yelp, you know, they were a couple of years ago – yeah, it was two years ago now – and they were asking us to remove that website, Yelp Director, which we did. Since then, you know, they’ve now contacted us again with this lawsuit.
NASIR: Pretty sharp stick with a lawsuit and this kind of reminds me – Matt, remember when we covered Skiplagged? Alec, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that story or not but that was a young gentleman that started a website that really disrupted the market in finding those hidden city fares and he made some mistakes too as well but he got the gambit of Orbitz and – was it United? – one of the airlines, I can’t remember who, that went after him with a lawsuit and a lot of the allegations were, you now, intellectual property infringement, trademark infringement, and things of that nature, even interference of contract – very similar way. I think, from a public’s perspective, everyone saw it as, “Okay, these big guys are going after a company that’s just trying to provide a service to consumers.” I think, in your respect, it’s something similar and, just like Skiplagged, they did a FundMe campaign for their legal defense because, you know, you’re going to have to defend a lawsuit against Yelp and that’s pretty expensive. And so, you’ve done the same thing as well. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that experience?
ALEC: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as soon as we found out about this, it was pretty obvious that we were about to go to war. You know, everybody keeps calling it David and Goliath and I guess that’s a good analogy. So, yeah, we put up a GoFundMe campaign. I mean, we essentially immediately started getting people that were supporting our cause and we haven’t raised the kind of money yet. It’s only in the ballpark of $2,000. But we also haven’t been advertising it that much. But kind of the interesting thing to me was that, if you just read on all of the social media everywhere, I mean, people are just really rallying for us, you know, because I think they understand how ridiculous this entire thing is.
MATT: Yeah, definitely. As Nasir alluded to in the beginning, it’s a topic we’ve talked about many times and not just with us but various businesses and our clients as well. We’ve heard a lot of unhappy experiences with Yelp. So, you know, I think what you guys are doing is a beneficial thing and, obviously, Yelp isn’t going to see that because it’s cutting into their potential, I guess, to make money the way they’ve structured things in the past by having businesses pay them to look better than they might actually be. So, where do you see this kind of going? Obviously, you hope you raise a good amount of money and have money to pay the lawyers to defend this or come out with a successful result. Where do you kind of see things playing out?
ALEC: I’ve now become an expert on all of this law – or not an expert but I’ve definitely read up on it – and, you know, even with the extensive amount of research that I’ve done on this, I still am a little bit unclear on everything. So, I mean, this is a legal contest so, for risk of sounding a little bit stupid, I don’t even want to try to talk legal talk. I think the biggest thing here, you know, I mean, obviously, we want to be able to keep the company, you know, at the end of the day. I believe that we’re going to have the money to pay for the attorneys. You know, we’re going to need a little bit of help through GoFundMe, if anybody can help, and the reality here is that, you know – correct me if I’m wrong or tell me if you agree on this or not but – my thinking with this is that Yelp is truly trying to use the legal system right now to further their grip and control over their ability to manipulate everything on their website with these business owners. So, if they win this case, this is going to give them the ability to be able to stop business owners from asking their customers for reviews which is going to relinquish the last shred of control that a business owner has over their Yelp profile.
NASIR: I think that’s a great insight and absolutely true. I think there’s a lesson to be learned here. I mean, obviously, we’re not representing you, I’m not even speaking directly about your company but, just in general for all small businesses or all businesses that are entering into a market that, you know, even if you’re on the right side of things, you know, even from a moral perspective, you’re providing a good service and so forth, sometimes, that’s just not enough because the law can be used by anyone and, whether it’s because an employee that is alleging some kind of harassment case against one of your supervisors that may or may not be true to Yelp going after you for things that may or may not be true, but really aggressive legal tactics that is just the tool in business and can be really troublesome for businesses that have to defend a lawsuit that cost a lot of money. In Yelp’s case, for them, it’s also a PR war. In their blog, when they announced the Revleap lawsuit, I even think they painted you guys as this reputation management company that is often associated with a scam. Even in their complaint, kind of adds some fraudulent allegations that are so easy to do without much proof behind it because they don’t need to say that. Once it’s in the complaint, once it’s filed, your business is already tarnished, and whether it actually is true or not, well, no one really cares at that point.
ALEC: Right. Absolutely, yeah. I remember, you know, I found out about this lawsuit because a reporter from, I guess, PCWorld had called me and they said, I remember, they said something along the lines of, “You know, Yelp is accusing you of hurting business owners.” My literal reaction was I laughed and I said, “What?” and he showed me the link and I started reading and I started reading it and I laughed. That was my reaction. I just laughed and I said, “Wow! This is ridiculous!” Like, the way they tried to reframe the entire thing was really just kind of funny and I think anyone with half a brain is going to be able to look at this and realize exactly what it is. You know, I realize this is a legal podcast and I don’t want to say too much here.
NASIR: Yeah, absolutely. Let us bash Yelp on your behalf because we have no problem doing that. I mean, just look at… I don’t even want to link back to their official blog page because it’s just a joke but, you know, they say that, in their last paragraph, “We hope that taking action against Revleap will put a stop to their misleading practices and also help businesses distinguish between companies that are playing by the rules and those that are using Yelp’s name to make a dollar by taking advantage of unsuspecting small business.” Again, you know, they’ve used their words very carefully in a matter that they wouldn’t open themselves up to necessary defamation claim – again, this was all approved by an attorney and it looks like it was posted by the VP Communications & Public Affairs person, Vince S. Just that statement alone can be cringing if you’re looking at it in the context of every small business or business that contacts us that are complaining about some post that is a complete lie that was posted by a competitor, that was posted by a customer that didn’t even patron their service or product, or a good review that is all their good reviews are being hidden. You know, who’s the real victim here and who’s the real culprit? Yelp painting it as a picture as if they’re fighting the good fight in the moral is, you know, very troubling.
MATT: Right. Absolutely. You know, what I really hope is everyone in the business world understands exactly how ridiculous this is. The thing with me is that I’ve been talking with people that are just regular consumers. They don’t know businesses and stuff like that. I start educating them a little bit on Yelp’s practices and how, like, our average client is somebody that really deserves to be five stars. But, for whatever reason, you know, Yelp is removing all of their good reviews and most people don’t even realize that Yelp is removing good reviews. They don’t even know this stuff exists. The bottom-line here is, you know, small business owners, you know, they are the backbone of this country. They provide a lot of jobs for people and I think that, if the average consumer realized this, you know, Yelp is literally destroying small business owners I think that, you know, a lot of people would, you know, if they were educated about this and saw exactly what Yelp was doing and it was brought to light, I would hope, you know… and I’m just going to stop talking because I don’t want to say too much.
MATT: You’ve been fine.
ALEC: Yeah, but I think you guys get the point.
NASIR: All our listeners are business owners practically, as far as I know. If you’re not a business owner, then stop listening because this isn’t for you. No, I’m just joking. How can these guys help you? Besides the moral support, what are some other things that they can do?
ALECL: So, we have a GoFundMe campaign. You know, you can go to gofundme.com/revleap and any business owner that donates, we’re going to give you a free month of our service, and that’s the biggest thing, you know. If you can help with donations, that’s the biggest thing. Also, you know, I mean, I’ve been getting tons of emails just from business owners all around that have been showing their support, you know, offering ideas and posting it on their blogs, all that kind of stuff. I mean, we’re fighting this fight and, you know, however Yelp wants to paint it, the reality is, you know, of course, you know, we’re fighting this fight for ourselves but we’re also fighting this fight for you guys also.
NASIR: Yeah, very good. You know, you guys know, you’ve heard us speak of how much litigation costs and, you know, to be frank, a lawsuit like this can easily put a small business out of business. I mean, it happens all the time and we deal with our clients all the time. The question is, especially if you’re being sued, you know, what is the cost benefit analysis of defending this lawsuit? Because, worst case scenario is you spend all this litigation fees and you lose and you’re back to even a worse position than where you started. And so, those kinds of conversations are very difficult. I don’t know what their legal strategy is going to end up being. But, in any case – and I don’t want to give into too much detail with that but – in any case, I think every business can understand that this is a fight that is on behalf of those that are disenchanted by the Yelp process.
MATT: Absolutely. Thank you!
NASIR: Yeah, thanks for joining us. All right, guys. Well, that’s our episode for the day. Again, check out our show notes for some of that information at legallysoundsmartbusiness.com. Thanks for joining us!
MATT: Yep, keep it sound and keep it smart.

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