Diversity In Entrepreneurship: Yiannis Yiakoumis (Selfie)

Diversity In Entrepreneurship: Yiannis Yiakoumis (Selfie)

June 28, 2021

The Bowery Capital Team launched a blog series titled “Diversity in Entrepreneurship”. Throughout this series, we discuss with Founder/CEOs in our portfolio the impact diversity has had on their startups and careers. This blog series is just one initiative we are taking to better educate ourselves on diversity-related challenges and under-representation among high growth startups. We strongly believe in the power of representation and hope that through storytelling we can help encourage and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders in tech. You can check out the introduction to the series here.

For the next installment of this series, we sat down with Yiannis Yiakoumis, Founder & CEO of Selfie Networks. Selfie Networks is a horizontal software business that commercializes research on net neutrality and network personalization to build partnerships between application providers and mobile operators. Yiannis founded Selfie in 2016, with prior engineering experience at Google and Juniper Networks, as well as research at Philips Research and Industrial Systems Institute. Yiannis graduated from Stanford University with a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, followed by a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

What does diversity mean to you?

I believe in accepting people as they are and encourage learning about different cultures and ideas. While Selfie is currently a small and lean team, I think it's important to surround myself with people that represent the world we live in so that I can better understand it.

How has diversity played a role in your career? How has your background shaped the progression of your career and startup?

I see diversity as a two-sided coin. On the one side, folks that are different in one (or more) dimensions - be it gender, social, ethnic, sexual orientation, etc. On the other side, there are folks who you share similarities with which can bring you closer. My national background is Greek and I have been fortunate to have direct access to a strong Greek tech community both as a student and a founder. The latter has been beneficial to Selfie from a funding perspective as two of our angel investors also share the same ethnicity as me (one even being a fellow Bowery founder).

What challenges have you faced within the entrepreneurship and venture community?

On a personal level, I am white, straight, male, and have a PhD from Stanford; this directly puts me in a "favored" position within the start-up community. If I were to pick one challenge, being an immigrant (and non-native English speaker) can occasionally be disadvantageous . I've been in situations where I was not quick to react to a brilliant jerk, or not expressing certain (non-professional) aspects of my personality, and language was part of this. I've met many many folks at Stanford who came across as having very narrow personalities, not because it was their choice, but primarily because of a language and culture barrier.

From a company perspective, I think everyone aspires to build a diverse team that enables individuals to thrive, but it doesn't just happen by itself. As most companies in our size (<10 people), we don't have HR, formal processes, or even enough people to be diverse, but at the same time it's much easier to maintain a good view of what is happening across the board. I personally use a mix of decency (i.e., make sure we are not hostile to anyone), awareness of my ignorance and personal bias, asking advice from friends or taking the extra time to think through things when it's not clear what to do, and copying best practices from other companies that are easy for us to replicate. We still have a long way to go to being a truly diverse company.

Given the diversity statistics of the tech industry skewing towards predominantly white and male, what advice would you give to someone trying to get involved in the startup ecosystem that comes from a diverse background?

Do it and don't be afraid to bring your whole self to it. Start-ups want to build a strong culture and attract the best talent, and you can be a catalyst.

If you liked “Diversity in Entrepreneurship” and want to read more content from the Bowery Capital Team, check out other relevant posts from the Bowery Capital Blog. Look out for more content on Diversity in Entrepreneurship from us in the coming weeks.

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