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Yelp Gets $25M Lift From Elevation

Lost amid all the iPad hoopla, local review site Yelp just closed $25 million in Series E funding from Elevation Partners. The deal also includes a provision in which Elevation -- a new investor -- would buy up to $75 million of stock from "vested employees and other eligible shareholders."

"The infusion signals that Yelp intends to grow on its own, rather than as part of Google or another big company," write The Times' Bits blog in reference to Google's failed attempt to but Yelp for over $500 million last month.

So, along with securing its position as an independent player -- at least from Google -- the deal also makes Yelp more like Facebook and gaming company Zynga in once crucial sense.

"Besides being a fast-growing, venture-backed Internet company, the local-business review site has opted to receive an investment from a private equity firm that gives its employees a chance to partly cash out -- and the company more breathing room to remain private," writes The Wall Street Journal.

"The liquidity they provide allows us to delay pushing to the public market and be more long term and flexible over the next few years," Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman tells the Journal. "Now we can set a schedule when that makes strategic sense."

Industry blog TechCrunch first broke news of the new investment from Elevation earlier this month, but put the total at closer to $50 million.

Despite a perception among some analysts that Yelp's popularity has peaked, Elevation seems convinced that its best days are ahead. Online review sites "are a very valuable content asset to have," Marc Bodnick, a managing director and co-founder at the firm, tells The San Francisco Chronicle. "They have a lot of growth ahead of them in lots of different directions."

Google, for its part, continues to explore the world time-sensitive, location-based consumer guides. Earlier this month, it made its related "Near Me Now" service live on iPhones and Android smartphones, which helps users retrieve timely information on nearby services and establishments.

Further complicating matters, AT&T just announced imminent plans to launch -- a new social recommendations site designed to help people hunt down the best local businesses using recommendations from friends and family.

According to BusinessWeek, Yelp plans to use the funding to go after a larger share of the local online ad market, which is expected by Borrell Associates to rise to $14.2 billion in the U.S. in 2010 -- from $2.1 billion in 2004. "The investment helps Yelp remain independent while bulking up abroad and trying to fetch a higher valuation later."

Read the whole story at San Francisco Chronicle et al. »

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