From the age of 11, Alkis Pananakakis had a deep affection for the U.S. and for all the incredible, inspiring things happening here.
In particular, he was motivated by the fantastic stories surrounding legendary tech entrepreneur icons like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg.
Eager to share his own ideas with the world, Pananakakis started working toward the life he wanted. By the age of 16, Pananakakis had learned to speak fluent English and had also earned five diplomas.
Turning his attention to computer science, he founded a social media startup by the name of Gospic, which attracted the attention of one of the biggest tech accelerators in the Balkans. Soon after, Gospic became one of the most popular social platforms in Greece.
Already a successful entrepreneur at such a young age, Pananakakis was finally presented with the perfect opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming a leading tech innovator in the San Francisco Bay area, the longtime hub of the world’s largest and most influential tech companies.
Pananakakis was appointed the CEO of Vuel LLC. In addition to developing the competitive social media app Vuel, the company provides UI/UX design services to prestigious clientele.
On the strength of his success here in the U.S., Pananakakis was approved for an O1 visa, which is granted to individuals of “extraordinary ability.”
But as Pananakakis stressed during our recent conversation, this is just the start of his journey as a tech entrepreneur.
With Pananakakis’s help, we’re going to walk you through what he’s currently working on, his insights on today’s tech landscape, and his plans for the future.
Part of a historic tech movement
The past twenty years have been a fascinating time for the rapid advancement of tech, both in terms of hardware and software. But equally interesting is how Silicon Valley essentially created its own cultural identity within that time.
The success of highly-innovative brands has generated a tangible sense of energy and enthusiasm specific to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area as a whole.
Companies in this region, both big and small, have become trendsetters for startups all around the world, and they have inspired countless entrepreneurs and innovators, Pananakakis included.
So what was it like for Pananakakis to set foot in this mecca for tech? As he explained to us, actually being there has offered a new point-of-view.
“The world of startups always fascinated me, and being deep inside that world, you get a whole different perspective.”
Relocating to the Bay Area has given Pananakakis a front-row seat to the impressive work happening there, and it has also provided a different view of the individuals behind that work.
“It’s incredible to be surrounded by so much brainpower. We all know that people in tech are smart, but you don’t really realize just how smart unless you’re there. You have all these incredibly smart people working towards a common vision in order to innovate and help progress humanity. It feels amazing to be a part of that.
Decades from now, this little corner of the world will certainly be seen by historians as the home of one of the most significant tech movements in history.
Virtual tech communities
Despite the unique feel around Silicon Valley, Pananakakis also emphasized how that sense of energy and community is no longer limited to physical space.
Safety measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic (quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing, work from home ) have accelerated changes that have been in motion for years.
Virtual spaces, and the virtual interactions and collaborations they facilitate, were rapidly normalized during the first year of the pandemic. Pananakakis noticed that first-hand as the tech/entrepreneur community that previously operated in real space within Silicon Valley, quickly dispersed to an increasing number of virtual spaces in America and around the world.
“I see a lot of companies starting out where the founders haven’t even met each other in-person or raising seed funding from Zoom without ever having met with their investors. I believe this trend is going to become more and more prominent, especially as our technology progresses and these experiences become more similar to actual human interaction. With time, the borders of Silicon Valley will open up to the rest of the world.”
There’s no telling how long it will take for this transition to go into full swing, but it’s definitely moving faster than it might have been had the pandemic never occurred.
Really, this transition serves as further evidence of the tech community’s ability to adapt quickly to fast changing environments.
Current work with Vuel
Now it’s time to look at what Pananakakis has been working on as the CEO of Vuel LLC. But first, a brief explanation of the Vuel app itself.
Inspired partially by the core ideas behind Gospic, Vuel lets users challenge friends to one-on-one video duels.
Users decide what each specific challenge will be. For example, they might challenge each other to sing a song or pull off a certain dance move. Each person posts their attempt, and whichever video gets the most votes in 24 hours wins the duel.
Adventurous users can even get matched up against random users on the platform.
A core motivation behind Vuel is to bring a game-like competitive element to social media, and Pananakakis sees Gospic’s success as proof that this concept can be extremely successful.
“The long-term vision of Vuel is to become the destination for social media competition and fun. The success of Gospic validated my idea that there is room for this market, where we gamify how people communicate. We have many ways to communicate, send a message, or share our photos, but we don’t have a way to play a simple game while we’re away from each other.”
But Vuel LLC is more than just the app. The company also provides boutique UI/UX services to various clients, both established companies and startups.
Sure. Vuel, the app, is one focus of Vuel LLC (the company) and the other focus is applying the software and UI/UX design expertise that I have to help other companies improve their interfaces and bring their ideas to life.
“As the CEO of Vuel, I noticed an opportunity in the UI/UX design market. There are more than 3,000 new apps released every day on the App Store and a significant number of engineers who build them. However, there is a strong demand and a shortage of companies that provide UI/UX design services.”
The decision to focus some of Vuel LLC’s efforts on UI/UX helped the company become profitable almost immediately.
“This move enabled us to help countless companies design amazing products, and since we are a U.S.-based company that doesn’t outsource services to other countries, we also help strengthen the U.S. economy.”
Both the Vuel app and Vuel LLC’s UI/UX services have proven Pananakakis’s ability to identify and capitalize on market opportunities. But current successes haven’t prevented Pananakakis from planning ahead to bolster future successes.
Looking to the future
Pananakakis has extensive plans for Vuel’s future efforts. Specifically, he recognizes the impressive potential present in many emerging technologies.
But it all starts with continued growth for the company and bringing in more talent that can contribute directly toward these goals.
“The future looks bright. The goal is to keep growing the main UI/UX design business of Vuel LLC and use the cash flow to grow the company and hire more people. We aim to invest in more R&D and other projects as we grow. For example, we are exploring many promising technological trends, such as blockchain, AI [artificial intelligence], VR [virtual reality], AR [augmented reality], and more.”
With the Metaverse concept attracting so much attention and inspiring so much discussion in the tech community and beyond, many of these specific technologies will likely remain relevant for many years to come, and they will also likely contribute to the formation and refinement of the kinds of virtual spaces Pananakakis mentioned earlier.
Reflecting on success
Towards the end of our conversation with Pananakakis, we tried to focus on how he views his successes.
We wanted to know whether they motivated him, whether they changed his perspective on any current projects, and just what it feels like to know that these ideas have reached so many people.
Pananakakis explained that one of the most satisfying parts of these successes is knowing that the work has made the world a bit better.
“I believe one of the greatest pleasures of watching a project becoming successful is seeing that your vision had a positive impact on the world. Tech companies are unique in that each one of them has a different vision for the future. Once a project becomes successful, it validates that vision, and all the people who had faith in that vision receive an unparalleled emotional reward.
This remains a consistent source of motivation for Pananakakis: knowing that these projects deliver more than what you can see on the surface.
Maybe this has even been one of the factors behind his success, knowing that innovation is often about much more than the sum of its parts.