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Yelp acquires Pittsburgh startup Nowait for $40M

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, March 1, 2017, 11:57 a.m.

Yelp, best known for its restaurant rating app, bought the Pittsburgh restaurant waitlist startup Nowait for $40 million, Yelp announced Wednesday.

The acquisition builds on an $8 million investment the San Francisco-based Yelp made in Nowait in August that allowed diners using Yelp's app to see restaurant wait times and add their name to the waitlist through the Yelp app.

"We've had a successful partnership and we're excited to align fully with Yelp to drive even faster adoption. Together we'll have the leading waitlist system in the restaurant industry paired with the largest engaged consumer base," Nowait CEO Ware Sykes said in a statement.

Nowait will keep its staff in Pittsburgh, the company said. The Oakland-based company had 60 employees as of August.

About 4,000 restaurants in the United States and Canada use Nowait.

About 24 million mobile devices used the Yelp app during the final quarter of 2016, the company reported.

"Nowait has quickly become an important feature for Yelp users and a valuable addition to our overall restaurant offerings. With this acquisition, we'll make even bigger strides in the restaurant industry by allowing Yelp users to more quickly move from search and discovery to transacting at a local business," said Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp co-founder and CEO.

Nowait was founded in 2010 by Robb Myer, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate.

The Pittsburgh Technology Council named it "Startup of the Year" in Pittsburgh in 2014.

Nowait was one of the first companies to come through the Pittsburgh-based Innovation Work's startup accelerator, AlphaLab.

"When Robb Myer, the founder, had this idea, we didn't know how big it could be," said Terri Glueck, director of communications and community development at Innovation Works. "It's really amazing to see the way these companies take off."

Other AlphaLab alumni companies to be bought by big-name firms include Powered Analytics, which was acquired by Target in 2014; Shoefitr, which was acquired by Amazon in 2015; and FreshTemp, which was acquired by Minnesota-based tech giant Digi International. FreshTemp digitizes temperature readings for restaurants and was part of the first class of AlphaLab's hardware accelerator spinoff AlphaLab Gear.

Big name buyers

More than 50 Pittsburgh technology companies have been acquired over the past six years. Nielsen Holdings, which compiles data on what people watch, listen to and buy, last month bought Rhiza Inc., a Shadyside firm specializing in media and consumer analytics software. In November, Facebook acquired FacioMetrics, a CMU spinoff that makes facial recognition software that can animate and manipulate photos.

Acquisitions between 2011 and 2016 totaled $7.7 billion, according to a report prepared by Innovation Works and Ernst & Young LLP . More than half of that was generated in 2015 when the French technology services company Capgemini bought iGate, which was founded in Pittsburgh but headquartered in New Jersey, for $4 billion.

"Target, Ford with its latest deal, Uber, Amazon, Apple, Google, there are now household names that are seeing a lot of value created by the technology grown here," Glueck said.

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