Exclusive: Qype reveals global traffic and plans for social

Last week I met with Stephan Uhrenbacher, the founder and chairman of Qype, the European startup which competes most directly with Yelp in local reviews and listings. He revealed to me some exclusive information about where Qype is now.

In Jan 2009 Qype had 8m uniques across Europe. As with Yelp, Qype members evaluate businesses, places or services such as bars, restaurants, stores, petrol stations, nurseries, doctors, pet shops or sports clubs. Today it has 17.7m uniques and the split is now: 5 million in germany, 4 million in the UK and 4 million in France. Spain is on 1m uniques. It now has reviews of 450,000 businesses in Europe from over 50,000 cities. Currently Qype has more than 10,000 businesses each month that sign up across whole network.

Here’s a picture of Europe in 5-star reviews across Qype’s networks:

At the start of this year Uhrenbacher, who remains Qype’s largest private shareholder, moved to a back seat on the board after deciding to bring in Stephen Taylor, a former Yahoo! Europe head honcho, as CEO. But that doesn’t mean he’s not still going around talking about it. Unlike some European founders who cling on to CEO status long after there is any point, he’s embracing the role of Chairman and using it to talk up the company.

Qype launched in Spain a year ago and Brazil. Do they have plans to launch in the US? The simple answer is no – although Uhrenbacher didn’t say this explicitly Qype’s strategy is clearly to surround Yelp around the world and prevent it from getting in to those markets. So far in Europe at least the strategy is pretty much working.

Brazil has no actual Qype people on the ground but is now on a million uniques without any marketing. Community marketing – like Qype events – are done in its core European markets. Italy launched 3 months ago but is already bigger than most Italian restaurant sites, says Uhrenbacher.

Qype is therefore one of the few European-born user-generated-content startups to now be in more than one market. There are of course others like DailyMotion, but few have achieved this.

In the UK Qype competes with TrustedPlaces, Spoonfed and a handful of other players, as well as Yelp. But only Qype has motored on traffic. According to Alexa Qype is 4 times the size of Yelp and growing faster.

It’s not a defintive guide by an Alexa ranking search show Qype is doing very well against competitors in the UK. In Germany Uhrenbacher says they are larger than the yellow pages in terms of traffic and the same size at UK’s Time Out site.

While Qype is multilingual, it treats each localized version as its own site. You don’t run across a review in French if you’ve specified your preferred language as English. The Qype Radar app for the iPhone and Android devices shows nearby businesses and uses GPS.

In terms of monetisation Qype doesn’t give out numbers but it has a strong sales team in Germany and is growing in the UK and “both are profitable”. “So now we’re in a phase where we have the traffic and are now looking at monetisation and hope to see a lot of work around engagement,” says Uhrenbacher.

This will mean ways to interact with Qype like “I’ve been there” or “want to go there” or meet up with other people.

Whoa! Hold on that sounds like they are going to take a leaf out of Foursquare’s playbook.

Uhrenbacher says no. “We won’t evolve into a game but be more ‘lightweight social’, around a place. We’re not looking to replace social networks themselves.”

That’s pretty much the focus for Qype. Uhrenbacher does not want it to become so social or so game-driven that Qype forgets its about content and reviews of places.

“If you look at the big picture you have Google and Facebook as the two biggest players online today. In ‘local’ you always have a mechanistic approach from Google – as in I want to find a place where you know the name or a generic name. Then you have what people actually do. Facebook is always about what are you doing? Plancast was funded by Facebook’s fund for instance. But Qype’s approach – at the strategic lievel – is what is good and who likes this place? That is our positioning. Neither Google or Facebook can do this well.”

He says the social graph does not define this kind of thing. Google can only get there by aggregating absolutely everything. And it is still hard today to find where your friends have been on facebook and what they think about those places.

What about gaming on top of the Qype system, a la Foursquare?

“We are very interested in other ways to interact around places and of course the Foursquare game has shown people like to do this. The challenge is to come up with something that does not dilute the original usefulness of what we are doing. So either someone could do it on our API but the ultimate would be something which still has meaning and content value. Just saying I’ve been there or I have been somewhere more than someone else stretches the sharing element too far.”

Uhrenbacher points out that although gaming and realtime appeals to some markets, ‘asynchronous’ reviews which are 6 months old are still just as valid if you are looking for a place which serves good food. “Saying I’ve been here more often than you is realtime – but with no point,” he says.

Many people are talking about vouchers being the end-game for local plays, but as Uhrenbacher says “Right now you have 10 German startups with voucher systems and that’s not the problem. It’s connecting the businesses with the consumers. Businesses need to be educated about it – that’s a marketing exercise not a technical exercise.” In other words, unless you are prepared to go big on marketing, tech companies are approaching the issue from the wrong angle.

And what of Uhrenbacher? He is now hunting for aspiring founders to launch new business ideas out of his Upspring vehicle.