Yiannis Velissarakos is co-founder of PersonSpot, a social publishing application that lets people publish magazines dependent on what they identify with on social media, discover, or create.
Velissarakos, who co-founded Greekworks, an online magazine, is an entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in multinational start-ups.
WashingtonExec asked Velissarakos about his decision to become a social media entrepreneur, branding, and where the industry is headed. Read on below for more about this local tech entrepreneur.
WashingtonExec: Please tell us a bit about yourself, and your new company, PersonSpot.
Yiannis Velissarakos: I’ve always been the kind of person with a drive to create and organize things. I remember myself as a little kid trying to put bits and pieces together to make my life and my family’s more efficient and better. Since moving to the States in 1990, that drive came out stronger. I’ve since launched a number of companies developing content management systems, online bookmarking tools and online magazines. I’m now the CEO of PersonSpot which I co-founded with Angelo Kostopoulos in 2010. PersonSpot is a social branding application that targets individuals and organizations that look to express, promote and define themselves, or their business, by becoming the publishers of their own personal or group online magazines. Each magazine is essentially a collection of articles on specific topics or interests. Publishers can create original articles or curate others coming from their social media feeds, PersonSpot subscribed magazines and the Web in general. Currently the company operates in the consumers market and plans to expand its reach into the enterprise market in the near future.
WashingtonExec: What is a social magazine?
Yiannis Velissarakos: Let me start with an example. We all know how a print publication operates. In its most basic form, there is a publisher, at least an editor and some journalists. The journalists create their stories and go out to discover some others, the editor selects or edits the stories and the publisher publishes the magazine. PersonSpot magazines are based on that simple idea. You create stories yourself, or you can select some of those discovered by your friends on social media channels. As an editor and publisher, you also create and promote your own individual or group magazines, with your friends and colleagues being the journalists.
A “social magazine” can include stories that have been discovered, or are being discovered, by your social circles. Publishing interesting stories to your “social magazines” allows you to enhance your social profile and instantly showcase your expertise.”
“Social magazines” can also be used by organizations and enterprises alike to either publish stories created or discovered by their customers, or promote their business via the magazines of their customers.
WashingtonExec: What are some of the PersonSpot tools you like most?
Yiannis Velissarakos: This is a tough question. I love all of our tools. Each one of them serves a specific purpose. But if I had to choose one it would be our “Spot it” tool, which is an add-on to a Web browser’s toolbar. Let’s say you are surfing the Web and you come across an interesting article. You can launch the “Spot it” tool, which allows you to simultaneously publish the article to one or more of your magazines, select the photo that goes with the article, edit parts of it, record comments and share it with your friends on social media channels. I do believe our “Spot it” tool, along with our “one-click” publishing feature, is one of our most powerful features.
WashingtonExec: Why did you want to start a social media company?
Yiannis Velissarakos: It never crossed my mind that I should specifically launch a social media company. However, I always wanted to find solutions to my personal needs and wants. Solutions which could make my life easier and could then be sold to others. In 1998, I had a date with my then girlfriend and current wife. I wanted to show her a cool site that I had discovered before I left my office. I had bookmarked it in my PC but at that moment I was using hers. I wasn’t able to remember the URL no matter how many times I tried. Just before giving up she asked, “Is there any way you can tap into your office bookmarks and view them here at home?” Needles to say, a few weeks later I had launched an online bookmarking service.
In recent years, I found myself having trouble keeping up with the mass amounts of e-mail and social noise, and was troubled by the fact that there wasn’t an easy way to permanently archive and/or share the content that I was mostly interested in. Every time I shared content, I had to do it on multiple platforms, multiple times and it mostly went unnoticed by the majority of my colleagues. Knowing that others likely had the same issue, I was convinced that there had to be a better way to let others know about my current interests and efficiently collaborate with them. I eventually came to realize that I had to come up with a single application that would allow me to easily read the most interesting content from a number of sources, archive it and present it in a way that others could find it. The idea of publishing my own magazine online was a natural fit.
WashingtonExec: Why is personal branding important?
Yiannis Velissarakos: There are hundreds of thousands of people out there in the same field as us. Potentially, they can apply for the same job as us at some point in time. But have we really thought about the factors that differentiate us from them? Why should someone hire us, or do business with us and not somebody else? They can’t really tell who we really are by simply looking at our resumes or portfolios. I believe the differentiating factor is knowledge, and the way this knowledge is presented to or shared with others. Knowledge is valuable to us and that same information can be important to others around us as well. PersonSpot allows us to build magazines where we publish stories about our current interests and areas of expertise, thus giving everyone the opportunity to not only have fun and encourage creativity, but to also build self-worth, credibility and differentiation amongst peers.
WashingtonExec: What are the benefits and challenges of moving into an enterprise market?
Yiannis Velissarakos: The superior user experience and advanced services, which are driving the growth of consumer products, are beginning to have the same effects on the enterprise market as well. We want to be part of the “Consumerization of the Enterprise” and free employees from having to use boring, poorly designed software. We are planning to benefit from the vast array of opportunities by offering similar products and services to both consumers and businesses. PersonSpot can quickly and cheaply open up new channels to our enterprise customers by allowing businesses to engage and interact with consumers who are members of PersonSpot. With that said, our biggest challenge will be just that – introducing PersonSpot to businesses. We won’t want to lose momentum with individual consumers, so we’ll have to work hard to bridge the two markets and illustrate how they can benefit from one another.
WashingtonExec: What would you say to people who think we’re becoming an atomized culture, with so many social media platforms and people staying in their own niches? Do we hear enough about new things or ideas?
Yiannis Velissarakos: I would simply ask them to reconsider because our culture is the most informed one in the history of mankind. We owe that to the fact that we are all well connected to each other and are able to discover, share and collaborate more than ever before.
Yes, we do hear a whole lot about new things or ideas. The problem is that we don’t hear about good things anymore, or things that really matter to us! PersonSpot comes to solve such problems. We can now create or curate content and publish it to our magazines, informing our friends or colleagues about everything that really matters to us and them.
WashingtonExec: With 15 years of entrepreneurial experience, what advice do you have for people who want to start their own companies?
Yiannis Velissarakos: Have principles, passion and drive in what you do. Sell products or services that you as a person, or company, would use or buy. Get ready to challenge sanity at some point along the road which, contrary to popular belief, can be very lonely. Most important of all, try to surround yourself with quality people that you get along with and have the same goals as you do. Select your partner(s) and employees very carefully. Those will be the most important asset of your company.
WashingtonExec: What do you think is the greatest risk an entrepreneur can take?
Yiannis Velissarakos: It’s when you try to define or craft a new market. You can offer a solution to a problem but the market may or may not be ready, or does not really understand the solution or the problem. In that case, it’s up to you to apply your best entrepreneurial skills to create strategies that will move the market towards what is being offered and avoid the risk of being rejected.
WashingtonExec: If you could connect to anyone on PersonSpot, living or dead, who would it be?
Yiannis Velissarakos: PersonSpot is all about sharing knowledge and how this knowledge makes us all better. There is a young boy who constantly reminds me that knowledge does not necessarily come with age. He tends to show me on a daily basis how simple things in life can make you happy, and in the end, a much better person. That’s my oldest son, Nikos.