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Will Yelp Give Goldman Sachs and Citigroup 5 Stars For Its IPO?

Fun fact: yours truly used to be a hardcore Yelper, ranked San Francisco’s funniest Yelper for a good year and a half before I gave up and quit the site. God that makes me feel like a loser. As it should.

Anyway, here’s my issue with a Yelp IPO… Yelp should have quit way back when I did. The window of opportunity, in my mind, has long passed. Maybe in 2007 Yelp had a chance to blow it up but how are they even relevant anymore? Beyond the rabid fan base and drive-by Googlers, I’d say no. They blew a Google deal. They totally bit off the foursquare formula when they should have come up with it first. They still don’t have a money-making plan, as far as we can tell.

So here’s the really crazy part: according to DealBook, Yelp has brought on Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to help with its IPO. Did Jeremy S. suffer from brain-eating food poisoning?!

The offering, which is expected to value the company at $1.5 billion to $2 billion, will probably come to market in the first quarter of next year, a person close to the company said. Yelp is expected to file its prospectus by the end of this year.

In recent months, Yelp has openly telegraphed its intention to go public. At a technology conference during the summer, Yelp’s chief executive, Jeremy Stoppelman, said the company was still pursuing an I.P.O. but did not have a set time line. In late July, in a move that many interpreted as another step toward the public markets, the company hired a chief financial officer, Rob Krolik, who helped go public in 2004.

Just last year, Stoppelman said Yelp likely wouldn’t go public for years, while it took $25 million in funding from Bono’s Elevation Partners. Remember, Elevation Partners also bought a 25% stake in Palm – anyone remember them? Anyway, earlier this year, Stoppleman proudly declined additional financing and announced that “an IPO is back on the table” for Yelp.

Fun fact: GS and Citi also worked on Groupon’s IPO, with Goldman serving as one of the lead underwriters.

But Yelp is no Groupon (that might be a good thing). The seven-year-old start-up has yet to prove how it can make money, outside of shaking down companies and forcing them into sponsorships. Oops, did I say that out loud? I meant through “advertising” revenue from sponsoring companies interesting in “creatively shuffling” their negative reviews.

The sad part is Yelp has an extensive team of writers in its users, and they are constantly creating free content (some of them are not too shabby, either) yet it still cannot figure out how to make money off that. What on Earth is an IPO going to change about that?