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Day in the Life: Kostas R, Public Policy

At Yelp, sales and engineering are our two largest departments, but many other folks are working hard behind the scenes to make Yelp the best it can be and look out for our users. Kostas Rossoglou is one of those people. As part of Yelp’s small but mighty Public Policy team, Kostas works to protect consumers through advocating for legislation in Europe. Based in Brussels, he is not only adept at reading policy proposals and legalese, but also has a long list of outdoor adventures and sports feats to impress any nature lover.

 

Q: What were you doing prior to Yelp? How did you find out about your current role?

I used to work for the main European consumer advocacy group (BEUC); it might sound like a funny acronym but at the end of the day, no matter how you pronounce it, it is all about consumer choice. I was leading the Digital team working on issues such as antitrust, copyright, privacy and electronic commerce, trying to put the interests of consumers at the forefront of public policy in Europe. One of my key achievements was the filing of a complaint against Google for its search bias practices. Yelp had filed a complaint against Google in the same case and I had the opportunity to meet with Yelp’s public policy VP to discuss the case. It was refreshing to meet with a company representative that had such a good understanding of consumer interests and had extensive data to back up policy initiatives. It was only a couple of months after my first meeting with Yelp that I found out about the EU public policy position to which I applied without second thought.

 

Q: Why did you choose to work at Yelp?

A firm believer in consumer empowerment, I have always considered Yelp as a great example of how technology can help consumers share information with their peers and how consumer reviews can influence business success. Information is no longer just a tool in the hands of organisations. It is also a tool in the hands of individuals. Consumers have acquired voice on a mass scale and are now able to express opinions, views and ideas with a broader audience. Consumer review platforms, such as Yelp, respond to consumers’ need and “thirst” for comprehensive, informative and comparative information about the pros and cons of different products and services and help them make better informed purchasing choices. Working for Yelp appeared as the normal thing to do after six years in the consumer advocacy world; Yelp’s public policy priorities match those of consumer advocacy groups putting consumers’ interest at the forefront.

 

Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?

First thing in the morning, after a quick training in the swimming pool or an early morning run, is to read the news from the EU press to check for updates from the European Institutions. My Tweetdeck is also a very useful tool to remain up to date with what is happening in the Brussels bubble. Depending on whether members of the European Parliament are in town, I would either go to the Parliament to follow the meetings of the relevant Committees or meet with policy advisors for coffee and chat over policy dossiers of interest. Lunch break is the time to meet with friends or with public policy colleagues from other tech companies to exchange views and hear what others are working on. After all, working in public policy is a lot about networking and being on top of the news. The afternoon is the time of the day when I dig into emails, work on policy papers and organise meetings. At around 6 p.m. Brussels time, I might enjoy a glass of wine or do some sports after work. Around that time I start receiving emails from the team in the US. It can be a challenge to make sure to respond to any urgent request after hours, but I am grateful for colleagues in the US being understanding and respectful of the time difference with Europe.

Bonding with a sled dog during an arctic adventure race.

 

Q: What’s your advice for someone who is interested in working in public policy?

Working in public policy can be an exciting challenge for anyone interested in the interaction between law, economics and politics. It is this interaction that makes it so difficult to explain what public policy is about. Public policy is essential for companies in order to defend and promote their core business model, but it is also crucial for policy makers who need the expertise and the technical feedback from stakeholders when deciding on a piece of legislation that will affect citizens and society as a whole. There are some rules to follow, irrespective of whether you represent corporate interests or the interests of civil society.

Rule number one: to be constructive. Identifying problems that need to be solved is important, but what really makes a difference is providing solutions.

Rule number two: know your topic. Although it is impossible to know every single technical detail of a policy file, it is crucial to have a thorough knowledge of the applicable regulatory framework and a good understanding of the technical aspects.

 

Q: What’s a favorite project you’ve worked on so far?

The ongoing EU probe into Google’s search bias practices is definitely a project close to my heart. My involvement in the EU probe started back in my consumer advocacy days, when I filed the first ever antitrust complaint before the EU antitrust authorities on behalf of a consumer group. All of the evidence indicates that Google is more interested in directing traffic to its own properties rather than answering the consumer’s question honestly by considering results from competitive sites like Jameda, ZocDoc, or Yelp.

In addition, Google’s behavior harms consumers indirectly through its impact on startups and innovation in Europe. Working at Yelp has allowed me to continue getting involved in this landmark case, the outcome of which has the potential to restore competition in online search to the benefit of both consumers and innovation.

 

Q: What are you up to when you’re not at work?

I have a passion for long distance running and I am a rookie triathlete. Until 6 years ago, I used to be an overweight smoker with no relationship whatsoever with sports. I discovered running the first day I quit smoking. Since then I have run in four continents and participated in races in in over twenty countries, including ten full marathons and a couple of triathlons. My next goal is to qualify for the Boston marathon and to finish an Ironman race.

I have also participated in a 300km winter adventure across the Arctic earlier this year together with 25 people from around the world. This was an unique experience that challenged the body and the mind. The views of the Northern Lights on the frozen landscape were worth every second of physical and mental exhaustion in the polar temperatures.

One of my best experiences so far has been my two-month solo trekking in the Himalayas. Although I was born and raised in Greece, I think I must have Nordic DNA as I prefer the winter and the snowy peaks to the Greek islands. Trekking in Greenland, discovering the Northern part of Alaska and running a marathon in Antarctica are on top of my to do list. Most people assume that you have to be superman, young and very fit but let me tell you that with proper training ANYBODY can run a marathon.

Kostas running the Geneva marathon in May 2017

 

Q: What’s your favorite thing about living in Brussels?

Brussels is the capital of Europe, home to both the EU and NATO headquarters. Medieval and modern architecture are only blocks apart. Brussels is a city of contrasts: a gray, bureaucratic town and a culturally rich city with spots of charm. It is a cosmopolitan city with a big expats community: More than 60% of Brussels residents are expats. This makes you feel less of a stranger and you get to learn about new cultures, interact and be friends with people from all over the world. Belgium is really at the heart of Europe, and from Brussels you can easily travel around. The Eurostar connects Brussels to Paris in 90 minutes and to London in two hours, while Amsterdam and Luxembourg are both about two hours away by rail.

 

Q: What are a few of your current favorite local businesses?

Running shoes are the most valuable accessory for runners. The right running shoes and sports gear is essential to achieve sports related goals. Jogging Plus, located in the European Parliament district, is like a runner’s paradise: shoes and gear for jogs, country hikes, trail runs. An expert team is ready to give advice and analyse the running needs of each and every client.

Long distance running can be tough on the body. To loosen up the muscles and joints and strengthen the body, I try to do yoga a couple of times per week. Yyoga is definitely one of my favorite yoga spots in Brussels. Yyoga is a contemporary yoga studio in the lively neighborhood of Saint Catherine in the city centre. A team of international teachers share their knowledge of various yoga styles. I discovered the Yyoga studio a couple of years ago and since then I have become a big fan.

The public policy team is just one of many departments that keep Yelp up and running. Are you interested in learning more about open positions at Yelp? Check out our careers page today.