The Bellwether Club: Umang Bedi on the changing face of leadership
The Bellwether Club is a new series at trica, in which I interview India’s most prominent new-generation entrepreneurs, business leaders, investors, and fund managers, to find out what makes them who they are. What are the qualities that make them exceptional leaders? How did they get through the toughest of challenges in their journeys?
The first guest at The Bellwether Club is Umang Bedi, co-founder of VerSe Innovation — the startup unicorn which powers content aggregator platform Dailyhunt and short-video apps Josh and PublicVibe.
I was excited to speak to him — Umang was the head of Intuit India when he was in his 20s, later headed Adobe and even Facebook, before joining VerSe as co-founder in 2018. In fact, one of my first questions about his professional journey was focused on his stints at Intuit and Adobe.
In what I think of now as ‘quintessential Umang energy’ he told me that he sees his career in his three phases:
- 1: as an engineer — the ‘Product guy’ at Sun Microsystems and Symantec Corp
- 2: as an accidental CEO — at Intuit, later Adobe and Facebook
- 3: as an entrepreneur — his favourite role so far.
“I learnt customer obsession at Intuit; building a jaw-dropping customer experience was of utmost significance there,” Umang tells me. He had spent more than two years at Intuit before he moved to Adobe as MD (South Asia).
With the kind of wisdom you gain from experience, Umang was more daring in this role. In fact, it was during his time that Adobe went from an old-school software company to a full-fledged subscription business.
“At Adobe, I learnt that you cannot preserve the status quo forever; sometimes you have to burn a bridge to go forward,” he says, adding that Adobe’s market cap went from $8 billion to $300 billion after this transformation that was led by global CEO Shantanu Narayen and executed on ground in India first. Several myths about Indian users not paying for SaaS were busted by Adobe back then!
Having headed such different businesses has, unsurprisingly, shaped Umang as a leader who appreciates the significance of a diverse team and a healthy work culture. He believes that if you want an innovation-driven culture, you have got to hire people that are smarter than you and empower them. “As a leader, I have to remove obstacles from their way and at times even get out of their way completely,” he says.
At VerSe, Umang is particular about building diversity and inclusivity at the workplace. He explains, “I look at diversity in terms of gender, sexuality, and beliefs. I am proud to say that we have 40% women in the company. For every role, men and women are paid equally. We’re better off than our peer group; but we are not where I want us to be. I want to see more women in top leadership roles. I’ve challenged my team to see if we can get there in the next 18–24 months.”
One of the outstanding qualities of any leader is the willingness to learn every day. This enthusiasm is obvious in Umang, as he tells me, “With so many things changing so fast, with the Metaverse and what have you… I’m getting a lot of reverse mentoring! The average age (of employees at VerSe) is 25 and the kids here have more ideas than I do. I’m just spending more time with millennials and the Gen Zs — engineers, creative professionals — and preparing the company for the next wave of Internet, so that we can capitalise on those opportunities.”
While wrapping up our hour-long conversation, Umang said, “A true purpose will inspire your team more than a business model.” This thought is going to stay with me for a while.
I shall see you in the comments section; don’t forget to share your feedback!