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July 07, 2008

Yelp Goes to Google: Marissa Mayer

Posted by Connie Chang

L When Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President of Search Products & User Experience, isn't managing and overseeing their product release process, she's on the quest to becoming Yelp Elite. Yelp's own Connie C and Nish N met up with Marissa at the Googleplex, which they discovered is truly one of the happiest places in Silicon Valley.

Connie C: Tell us something about yourself we can't find out on Google. Something really juicy.

Marissa M: I'm a veritable expert on Priceline-ing in San Francisco. Four years ago, I decided that it would be better if I started spending more time in the city on the weekends. It would get me out more and spend less time at work on the weekends. Larry and Sergey were telling me that I work too many hours, and dared me to stay in SF each weekend. So the way I did it was through Priceline.com by putting in low ball offers. I'd go out more and through this whole process I became an expert on SF Priceline-ing. I mapped out and analyzed all kinds of Priceline cheats and workarounds. For example, if you bid on a 4-star hotel in the Union Square area and your bid is rejected, you can add the Civic Center area (which has no 4-star hotels) and bid again on the same set of hotels with a slightly higher offer -- which you aren't supposed to be able to do.

Nish N: What are some of the hotels that you really scored with?

Marissa M: I stayed in The Stanford Court in Nob Hill, Grand Hyatt in Union Square, Hilton, Hotel Triton, and Hotel Adagio.

Nish N: You were one of the first employees at Google, having been with them for nearly a decade now. Before there was the Googleplex - with over 17 cafes to dine at - what were your favorite lunch spots in the area?

Marissa M: Andale was a big favorite of ours.

Nish N:
Did we hear correctly that you have one here?

Marissa M: We do, we're keeping the tradition alive! We also liked Pluto's, Pasta? and the Whole Foods deli. Overall, University Avenue has a great feel; there's a bunch of great restaurants and places to eat that are close together. It's amazing that such a small city like Palo Alto and small downtown area has so many great restaurants. Actually, that's what inspired the cafe set-up that you see here. Basically when we moved here from Palo Alto to Mt. View, we were suddenly like, "Wait, where do we go?" We did Waiters on Wheels for a while and then we hired a chef so we'd have a continuation of the good food we had on University Avenue. Of course as we grew, and we could actually branch out, we started offering an array of cafes. The goal was to create a place that had as much choice and variety that was as good as University Avenue.

Nish N: What's your favorite cafe here?

Marissa M: I'm partial to Charlie's. If you really like organic food, No Name Cafe has great organic food. And from a novel aspect, there's Andale. It's a trip to go to a chain you go to all the time and have to pay for lunch, and then it's in your office building and it's free.

Connie C: Your work schedule must be pretty intense. Where do you like to go to wind down after a hectic week?

Marissa M: I like to hit the Sports Club LA after work on Fridays. I can get a nice long run or swim in and then take a sauna before going out.

Nish N: Happy belated birthday! How did you celebrate?

Marissa M: I don't like odd numbers, 33 for example. I was going to keep things low key this year but as you know, I love movies. I actually organize movie outings for Google. I was at the movies one day and I walked out and saw the poster for Sex and the City. You know how you spot your own birthday? So there it was on the poster: May 30th. It was my actual birth date. It turned out that my boyfriend was going to be out of town so I thought, Why don't we just have a big girls night where were all go to Sex and the City? So, I was putting it together and I have a few gay friends who were like, "Well, this isn't fair. Stanford Blatch would get to go." So I decided ok and they came. We did an hors d'oeuvres hour at my apartment in the city. My favorite part of it was that we had a foot loose camera. There was a station set up where you could go and pose with your feet and get a picture of your shoes. The idea was that everyone was supposed to wear their most fabulous shoes. For women, you never have enough excuses to wear great shoes.

Yelp_003 Connie C: Tell us more about the company movie outings.

Marissa M: Well, it started out when we were small. On Friday nights, George Herrick and I would pick a movie and ask who wanted to go. We did that for 5 or 6 years running. Then when one of the Star Wars movies came out -- it may have been Star Wars Episode 2 -- we went and bought a whole bunch of tickets. The manager saw us and asked if we wanted to buy all of the tickets in the theater. Our company was about 500 people at the time so we though we could probably use all 330 seats. It was this great company outing. So, what we do now is once every 6 months, we pick a big blockbuster on opening day and give people the afternoon off to go see the movie. We actually just did this a couple weeks ago for Indiana Jones. The movie outings have become really big now because we send 11,000 people to the movies. Because Googlers had to be spread across Silicon Valley, we had some at the AMC Mercado 20, which is just a really great facility with Dolby surround sound and some digital screens, and also at the Century 9 Cinemas in the Westfield SF Shopping Center.

Connie C: Your cupcake and frosting spreadsheets have gained quite a bit of notoriety. When you're not baking your own, where do you go for cupcakes that are just as meticulously made as yours?

Marissa M: I Dream of Cake. My business partner Shinmin Li, while she usually focuses on wedding cakes and larger sculptured cakes, makes the best spice cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting you'll ever have. There's been one place I've been meaning to try on University Avenue called Satura Cakes. Satura just rolled out this new concept of "Cup-cakes." They're not necessarily even cakes, but they're creating these cup-sized desserts. I've seen them a couple of times and they look delicious.

Connie C: We've seen you gracing the pages of several magazine wearing designers like Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera. When not out painting the town, where do you shop for that casual elegant look? Any secret shoe shops?

Marissa M: I can't give away my secret shopping spots! But, I can tell you where I get my clothes and shoes cared for because there are a few places that do a great job: Town & Country Cleaners for dry cleaning (they have a plant right on the premises), Zvart's Alterations (great professional tailoring, done quickly, competently, and at reasonable prices), and Paul's European Cobblery on California Avenue in Palo Alto (if you need a shoe reheeled, they'll do it in an afternoon). I used to live near California Avenue and there's a great shop there called Leaf & Petal and they stock AG Jeans, which are my favorites.

Connie C: You must have spent a lot of time on University Ave. while you were at Stanford, and you now own a home in Palo Alto. What are some spots downtown that you've frequented over the years?

Marissa M: I live close to University Avenue now so I'll walk over there and grab food at University Coffee Cafe, Il Fornaio, Zibibbo, and Krung Siam, which are some of my favorite places. I'm a huge fan and have been for 15 years of Palo Alto Creamery. It's great for a late night dinner experience (pineapple malts aren't on the menu, but they'll make them for you if you ask) and Gelato Classico is perfect for a small, delicious dessert after dinner (be sure to try the Bavarian Mint or Burgundy Cherry). Apparently, their Ginger gelato is amazing and this Gelato Classico is one of the few in the area that actually stocks Ginger gelato.

Connie C: You live between Palo Alto and San Francisco, right? Have a distinct preference for either?

Marissa M: They both have their own personalities. I like Palo Alto during the week and San Francisco during the weekends.

Nish N:
You’ve been dubbed the “high priestess of simplicity,” since your job revolves around keeping Google’s home page elegantly sparse while remaining highly functional. Any tips for our product team to change Yelp in one way?

Marissa M: The reason to keep things simple is because it makes it fast for the user -- faster to load, faster to look at, read and understand. So, since speed is everything and I'm a self-professed search addict, I would make Yelp's search a lot, LOT faster. 

Yelp_002 Nish N: Google is one of main ways people find out about Yelp. What would you say makes Yelp relevant?

Marissa M: I really like restaurant reviews on Yelp because not only do you get sense of the decor, the service, and the general quality of food, you get recommendations and observations on specific dishes from real customers. I find that I order better after I've read a Yelp review. Like, at Live Sushi in Potrero Hill in the city. It turns out that a few of their dishes are actually live. They have this amazing sea urchin presentation which actually comes out with the whole purple spines and the eggs are striped over the top and is the most dramatic meal I've ever had in SF. I wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't read about it on Yelp. Those are the types of little tidbits you can get off a Yelp review that you can't get off of other reviews.

Connie C: What was the last thing you googled?

Marissa M: There are two. First: Chrome tangle -- I love the way it's both a toy and essentially a piece of art. I searched for it on image search to show a friend what they look like. The second: The Lost Episode Guide.

Nish N: And the last place you looked up on Yelp?

Marissa M: Spruce, and to see reviews on Secret Agent Salon. I have been going to Melissa Wagner there for highlights for 7 years. She does an amazing job. She said "Yelp is absolutely amazing." 80% of her referrals come from Yelp. She's great. I hesitate to even say anything because she's so good and I'd hate for it to be harder for me to get an appointment.        



great interview + tips from marissa!

i'm at the apple store on university right now (while my daughter is at bing nursery school at stanford). i'm so excited, we're going to google for the 1st time this weekend for DooF-a-Palooza :)

google is so interesting + helps me answer my daughter's interesting questions, like what's up with blowhole's, what does my brain look like? how do the leaves grow back on the trees? what's inside the earth?


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