Life at hibu

An outdated business model? Image courtesy of Scorpians and Centaurs (Creative Commons license)

An outdated business model? Image courtesy of Scorpians and Centaurs (Creative Commons license)

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for almost a year now, and the relaunch of my blog is a great opportunity to get it out there.

I've done some editing to make it more relevant to today, but the main points still stand up.


About 18 months ago I decided to leave hibu. This was a difficult decision to make as I got on well with my colleagues and especially with my team.

I'd been working with hibu (or Yell when I joined) since 2008 as a developer. During these four and a half years I was with hibu I worked on a lot of different projects. Many of them were around collecting and storing data about our advertisers. I also worked on maps, content management systems and vertical channels. I learnt a lot throughout my time, and the experiences are something which I've grateful for.

I made some mistakes during my time but I was always keen to learn from them and I didn't want me or my teams to repeat them.

So, why did I leave?

In my eyes, the Yell business model is broken and isn't getting fixed anytime soon. Revenues were declining and the share-price was dropping faster. This indicated that I wasn't the only one that thought that the business was in trouble. It was common knowledge that print was dead, and digital wasn't growing fast enough.

As a I was a web developer you are probably thinking that we didn't do enough to ensure that the business could turn around. In a way, you're right.

Other companies were operating in Yell's primary domain of business search. Google was a massive competitor but it also provided most of the sites traffic.

Smaller, more focussed companies were coming up fast and taking Yell's user base. Yelp replicated the model, but had better reviews and more user content. Trip Advisor trumped us when it came to restaurant and hotel search. MyHammer and Check-A-Trade took some of our share of users for tradesmen.

What was Yell's response to all this? To be honest, I wasn't sure. The company changed it's name to hibu. Changed the board. Cut costs through redundancies. Added some new priorities (people want websites). Run a project for a year without releasing it to the public. Cut more costs through redundancies. Local newsletters (I'm not joking).

And through all this Yell.com didn't have any significant changes. We swapped one mapping provider for another. We tinkered around with the user interface. But we didn't do anything to try and win our users back.

Our legacy codebase was holding us back. Too much technical debt had was present and it meant our cycle times increased. Every change we wanted to make meant diving into a hornets nest and ensuring you didn't get stung on the way back out.

It wasn't just our code though, our product needed improving to match our competition.

Our reviews experience was poor. User content was absent and we just didn't have the depth of information on businesses as our competitors. Everyone knew that the experience sucked, but we felt trapped by our legacy code and legacy processes to do anything about it.

We were too busy fighting fires and building workarounds for questionable sales models.

This annoyed me, as I didn't want to work at a place where I couldn't make a difference. The lay-offs took the life out of the department. The atmosphere got worse with rumours of another round of redundancies. It was at this point I decided to leave.

I'd be lying if I said that this was the hardest decision I'd had to make.

Sure enough the rumours were true and a couple of weeks into my three month notice period hibu announced the redundancies. The development team got hit hard. I could understand and agreed with some of the reasoning behind the choices. It made it a difficult place to work for those couple of months.

After I left along with those affected by the latest lay-offs several of my ex-colleagues also decided to leave. As expected by many hibu went into Administration.

Looking back now it's easy to say that it was all mapped out there from the start. The share-price dropped like a stone all the time I was there. I don't remember ever hearing a positive announcement from the senior management.

Whilst we released more often, the changes we made seemed to have less of an impact. The visitor numbers increased but I don't think it was through the things we implemented. It was our persistence to improving our search engine rankings that I believe caused the spike in visitors.

I'm not bitter about my time at hibu. As I said, I learnt a lot whilst I was working there and met people who I can now count as friends. I'm not sure what the future brings for hibu, but I hope that the people I've worked with get to do whatever is best for them.