Yelp Product Pitch Challenge

Here is the challenge: “Use your best storytelling skills to put together a 5-minute pitch on how you would accomplish one of these 5 things.
● Grow the number of transactions on Yelp: ordering food, requesting quotes, or booking reservations.
● Make Yelp more ‘sticky’ for users.
● Increase biz owner claiming rate on Yelp.
● Improve the clickthrough rate on Yelp’s local search ads.
● Improve Yelp retention for a specific demographic (e.g. moms, vegans).
Imagine your audience is a small group of engineers and fellow product managers who volunteered to listen to your pitch and give you feedback during Hackathon. How do you make them believe?”

Hi, Yelp! For the challenge, I’m going to be ambitious; I’m going to increase the number of transactions on Yelp for ordering food and increase user retention among college students and university staff. In this blog post, I’m going to discuss what the business problem is, how we can solve it, and why it is important for us to solve it.

Current Problem

I currently attend Virginia Tech with about 31,000 other students. This year, Virginia Tech had the largest ever freshman class consisting of a whopping 7075 new students. This created a large administrative hassle for the university, and the greatest pain can be felt in our dining halls. With the influx of new students, our dining halls are simply struggling to accommodate everyone in a timely and efficient manner. For every meal I’ve gotten this week, I have had to wait in line for about 40 minutes. Just yesterday, I stood in line for a salad for about 35 minutes, and the line went outside the dining hall. Between balancing classes, extra curricular activities, exercise, and my personal life, it’s been an extra hassle knowing I have to plan my meals well in advance as to not waste time waiting in long lines.

This was my view of the salad bar line as I made it inside.
The long lines also made it difficult to move between different vendors.

The influx of students is not only a problem for other students, but also for employees. After speaking with friends and supervisors who work in the dining halls, they also wish that there was an easier way to optimize the dining hall operations; to be frank, they are overwhelmed.

How Can Yelp Help?

Yelp can create a food order placement & analytics service tailored for university dining halls (starting with universities in the United States) within the Yelp app and website, and drastically reduce the time spent in line waiting to place an order. By partnering with universities, we can get the menu and pricing options from each dining hall, and through the Yelp website or mobile app, allow students to place orders, track the status of their orders, and have them pay for their order securely by linking their university meal plans, all through a single service. Furthermore, the data analytics suite will enable universities to collect information to improve their operational efficiencies. Finally, we can enable students to provide honest reviews of and offer feedback to their dining halls. With this comprehensive software service, we can significantly improve the overall dining experience in universities, all through reducing long lines, lowering operational costs, and increasing the number of transactions for ordering food and the number of college students and university staff who use Yelp. Of course, we will also make money from this; Yelp can monetize this service through a subscription-based model by charging univerities yearly, charging per transaction, or taking a small percentage from each transaction. Given that this service leverages many of our strengths such as tracking business analytics, leaving reviews, and having a terminal for secure payments, Yelp can also adopt much of its existing infrastructure for the service’s implementation.

Why Should Yelp Care?

College students are an important demographic in the market. Currently, there are approximately 20 million college students in the United States alone. Since 2000, the percentage of the traditional college age group between the ages of 18–24 has increased from 35.5% to 40.5%, and this is just for one age group. University education is becoming a requirement for being successful in the modern workforce, and thus more and more people are pursuing this form of higher education. While college students may not be the highest earners in the market, they are the most brand loyal, and building and maintaining an excellent relationship with them is crucial in increasing the likelihood that they’ll use Yelp in the future for other needs. After all, these millennials spend an average of 44% of their budget on food. Through this service, we can continue to build Yelp’s brand image among college students and increase college student acquisition, engagement, and future retention.

Although university enrollments are increasing, universities aren’t necessarily equipped to handle the influx of new students, especially in dining halls. Many universities will choose to expand academic and residential facilities before choosing to expand dining facilities, so even with the increased enrollment, the dining halls and its resources aren’t high priorities. However, with this service, Yelp can improve the quality of service and operations in dining halls, and the overall dining experience, all without having universities having to physically expand their dining halls.

A wonderful dining hall experience is a key part of boosting student recruitment in a university; about 80% of admissions staff across many universities have concurred with that statement. Excellent dining hall experiences are also essential in retaining students and keeping them happy. Regardless of background, interests, majors, etc., students will eat on campus frequently, and enhancing this experience is crucial in keeping students happy and optimistic about attending their respective university. Happier students can lead to more successful graduates, which in turn bolsters a university’s reputation.

Key Product Features

Here are the essential high level features we should build into our service.

  • Placing food orders.
  • Tracking food orders.
  • Notifications when food is ready for pickup.
  • Secure payments linked to students’ university meal plans.
  • A data analytics suite for university staff to view data points such as: number of transactions per day, revenue, expenses, peak hours of operation, and recommendations on how to improve operational efficiency, such as forecasting demand for certain menu items (leverage machine learning to build this feature).
  • Allowing students to post reviews of their dining halls.
  • Allowing university staff to view and respond to student reviews.

End-to-End User Experiences

For this service, there are two main users: college students and university dining hall staff. Each of them are going to benefit from the service but will have different end-to-end user experiences. For this pitch, I’m going to focus on the main mobile user experience.

Here is a potential end-to-end user mobile experience for a college student:

Launch Yelp app -> Select university -> Authenticate with university login portal (can save these credentials), Select dining hall, Order meal and choose when they want to pick it up -> Securely pay through meal plan and receive a confirmation code -> Gets a notification for pickup -> Verify their identity through the confirmation code and pickup their meal.

Here is a potential end-to-end mobile user experience for university staff:

Launch Yelp app -> Select university -> Authenticate with university login portal (can save these credentials) -> Get analytics on all the dining halls and recommendations on how to improve operational efficiency.

Key Performance Indicators

Product managers are responsible for building stellar products, and the most important thing they can do to ensure the success of their product is to build in ways to measure the success of their product. By building in ways to measure KPIs, we can track the product’s health, and see whether the initial value proposition for the product was realized, and to what extent. Here are the KPIs we should track for our service.

  • Daily & Monthly Active Users (DAU/MAU): By monitoring how many college students and university staff are using our service, we can see if they are getting tangible value from our service. The higher this is, the more value we are delivering to our users.
  • User Acquisition Rate: Once students and university staff use our service for the first time, how often are we able to make them consistent users and extend this service to other universities?
  • Monthly & Yearly User Retention Rate: This is an important metric to track for long term success for our service since it reveals to us if we are consistently delivering value to our users. We want to track how many universities continue to use our service monthly and yearly, and ensure that this number is high. If not, we will want to identity user pain points and course correct.
  • User Engagement: To track user engagement, we have to identify how students and university staff are using our service. For example, how often are students using our service to order food? How often are students leaving reviews? Which analytical data are university staff utilizing the most? How does engagement differ between universities? These are some of the factors we’ll need to track to understand what appeals to our users the most and how we can continue improving their experiences.
  • User Sentiment: While retention rate is a hard metric that measures the value we provide to our users, there is no substitute for what students and university staff are saying about our service and asking if they would recommend it to others. Understanding their sentiment can localize problem areas in our service and allow us to continually improve it.
  • Average Revenue Per User (ARPU): We want to deliver the best value to our users, but we also want to make money. This metric will allow us to measure how efficient our revenue stream is.
  • User Acquisition Cost (UAC): Acquiring new users is great, however we want do not want to lose money while doing so. If getting a new university to adopt our service costs more than revenue it can yield us, then we know we need to make adjustments such as lowering this cost, increasing the average revenue per user, or even reevaluate if it makes sense to adopt them.
  • Team Morale: This is the most subjective metric to measure, but it is an essential metric nonetheless. Whether or not our team is happy and satisfied with what they are working on significantly impacts the quality of their work. My senior director of business development at Qualcomm would always start our team meetings by asking “Is everyone happy and having fun?”. By maintaining a high team morale, we were able to consistently perform well. In short, a happy team is a productive team.


Yelp’s mission is to connect customers to businesses and help foster that symbiotic relationship. While this relationship isn’t the traditional customer and business relationship, it’s nonetheless a crucial and lucrative one to forge and improve. Universities aren’t always the best connected to their students, especially regarding dining services. With our help, universities and their students can become better connected. Together, we can transform university dining experiences all across the United States, and then across the world.