Opinion | A lean start-up manager in more ways than one
Umang Bedi on the process of shaping up his company, its space—and himself
The chief executives featured in the Head Office always embody growth, but in this case, my subject has made it a point to shrink. We are in a bare-bones meeting room, with just a round table, meeting chairs, a cabinet and white boards, in a compact commercial building in Bengaluru’s Koramangala neighbourhood. A computer case and a bottle of protein shake powder are the only signs of life in this generic workspace.
“I use this room when I’m here. I’m often in office for two-three days in a week at most, and more than half of that time, I’m with my teams, where I bounce around the meeting rooms closest to the team I’m working with. I also work out of our Gurugram and Mumbai offices occasionally or am out on the road meeting external stakeholders. I don’t have another room for myself. I have meetings here or outside (in the brightly coloured breakout area next to the meeting room). And I take this with me wherever I travel,” says Umang Bedi, president of Dailyhunt, a digital media app, pointing to the protein shake powder.
The bottle is small, but significant. It captures Bedi’s physical downsizing, a 60kg weight loss journey towards becoming a physical personification of a “lean start-up”—a management term that applies equally to Bedi, to his workspace, and to the company.
First, Bedi and his personal shrinking process. Having held senior management roles in the Indian operations of three technology companies in succession, including Intuit, Adobe and Facebook, Bedi found himself facing a moment of truth that led him to two conclusions: He did not want to work for anyone else anymore, and he needed to regain control of his health. Bedi left Facebook in December 2017 and in February partnered Virendra Gupta, who had founded Verse Innovation, the digital services company that acquired Newshunt, which was renamed as Dailyhunt.
With a stake in the business, Bedi embarked on a huge lifestyle shift.
“My weight loss journey is from 140kg at its peak to 79kg today. It has happened in phases largely across the last two years, with the last six months being really intense. I turned 40 in September 2017, and I think I may have gone through a mid-life crisis, where one thing that hit me was: Am I really going to take care of my health? Am I going to be around to enjoy what one has been working for? Am I going to be able to spend more time with my family?” he says.
A new health regime “became a way of life”, in terms of food, exercise, sleep and time with the family. “I eat more quantities than ever before, it’s not that I’m starving myself, but I eat the right food at the right time, including protein shakes. All of this was aligned to the timing of my leaving the corporate world to turn my focus towards my entrepreneurial venture at Dailyhunt,” he adds.
Bedi turned this personal lean mission into an “analytical science”, where he signed up for three fitness apps to “obsessively” measure and record all aspects of his lifestyle, in conjunction with an online personal trainer based in Dubai. “If you don’t measure it, there’s no way you can find out how effective it is,” he says, showing me the apps. The granularity of recording data seems suited for a professional athlete, not just a fitness enthusiast.
Second, the space and his work style. “The obsession of getting really lean, in terms of one’s outward portrayal, is reflected back on to how I work,” Bedi says. The workspace reinforces this idea—it is as basic as it gets. “We have 400 people between this building and the one next door, and there are others in our office in Indiranagar. We’d love to have them in one facility, on different floors. A warehouse with cement floors, maybe,” he says, adding that the hunt for a larger facility is on. As an entrepreneur, he is also content to shrug off other luxuries of the multinational lifestyle, such as business-class overseas travel.
Third, the business itself. The lean start-up concept, developed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries, encourages young companies to continuously iterate their business models until they find a viable product-market fit, while using the least amount of resources in this process. Even though Dailyhunt is now one of India’s largest apps and not, strictly speaking, a start-up, Bedi wants to retain the frugal mindset of a fledgling organization. “In multinationals, there is a lot of wastage of resources. We need to prioritize. We can try and solve 20 problems, or we can prioritize our resources into solving three problems really well.”
Taking a cue from Ries’ “lean start-up” playbook, Bedi is nudging Dailyhunt to pivot from a local-language news aggregator to a highly localized and personalized, yet large-scale, content offering. “Can we pivot the whole platform to being an experience that’s deeply immersive in terms of content creation and consumption? Local language gives it immense reach and engagement, because that’s when it becomes relevant to the ecosystem that we’re creating for the non-English speaking audience,” Bedi says.
Once again, data reflects scale and drives viability. “We’re at 108 million monthly active users, it’s doubled in the last six months. We collate close to 200,000 new pieces of content every day in different languages. And we have built Artificial Intelligence and machine learning algorithms that work across 50 disparate algorithms to really drive personalization at scale,” he adds.
Commentators question whether Dailyhunt’s momentum can be sustained, or if it can fully realize its ambitions of being a giant localized Indian content play, able to take on a YouTube or a Facebook, for example. Bedi is also known as one of corporate India’s most effective salespeople, with a pitch-perfect plan to support the company’s grand ambitions. And the monthly growth numbers—anywhere from 12- 20 million new users every month, he says—speak for themselves.
But, more than anything else, I’m swayed by the personal fitness screenshots. Clearly, here is someone who understands how to leverage data to significantly move the scale, in the right direction. For himself, and hopefully the business.
Aparna Piramal Raje meets heads of organizations to investigate the connections between their workspace design and working styles. She is the author of Working Out Of The Box: 40 Stories Of Leading CEOs
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