Dailyhunt’s Journey – Part 1

Watch Time: 30 minutes

 

In today’s Matrix Moments episode, we have Virendra Gupta ( Founder, Dailyhunt ) and Umang Bedi ( Co- Founder, Dailyhunt ), with Vikram Vaidyanathan ( Director, Matrix Partners India ). We talk about the dynamics of their partnership and also the cover the changing face of...

 

In today’s Matrix Moments episode, we have Virendra Gupta ( Founder, Dailyhunt ) and Umang Bedi ( Co- Founder, Dailyhunt ), with Vikram Vaidyanathan ( Director, Matrix Partners India ). We talk about the dynamics of their partnership and also the cover the changing face of content consumption in India, and how Dailyhunt has been at the forefront in each of these changes. Tune in. 

Salonie:

Hi and welcome to Matrix Moments, this is Salonie and in today's episode, we aim to uncover the journey of building Dailyhunt, India’s leading, content, and news aggregator platform. Their also pioneers in local language content and distribution space. Joining us in this discussion are the founders of Dailyhunt, Virendra Gupta, and Umang Bedi, as well as, Vikram Vaidyanathan, Managing Director at Matrix Partners India. Viru and Umang’s successful partnership as co-founders is a well-known and a well-celebrated fact. We talk about the dynamics of their partnership and also the cover the changing phase of content consumption in India, and how Dailyhunt has been in the forefront in each of these changes, key milestone, and strategies that shape their journey as well as the longterm vision for the company, we cover all of this on more in this episode. Tune-in to part 1.

Vikram:

Hi everyone. It's my great pleasure to welcome the founders of Dailyhunt, Viru Gupta, and Umang Bedi. I love hanging out with them and it's a shame that it's taken me this long to get them out on a podcast. It's probably because they had like a big 18 months, very successful but also super busy. So that's why I think it's taken me time to get them on the podcast. But good to have you guys are finally here and I'm really going to touch upon the journey of how we created this wonderful partnership in this podcast. Quick introduction, Viru, grew up in small-town, India across Rajasthan predominantly ended up at IIT Bombay started his career, with stints at Trilogy, Airtel, Onmobile, but honestly, he founded this company I think 13-14 years back, and I think that's his life. And I don't think he can remember life before being a founder at all. So welcome Viru and his partner in crime Umang Bedi, also grew up all over India and started his early career - I actually had to brush up before the podcast at Sun Symantec and so on, but he was one of the youngest country head or perhaps the youngest country head at ­­­­Intuit, continued to do that at Adobe where he was again the country head and ended up with a big job as head of India at Facebook. And then I remember making this intro between you both and then you guys dated or chatted for like a year before it became this relationship. And I always view this relationship like khumb ke mele mein bichade hua bhai and suddenly come together and  then they came together, and that's the relationship today. So, tell me how this happened. Maybe Viru, start with you on how the beginnings of this partnership happened?

Virendra:

Thanks, Vikram, and just taking off from how we introduce a Umang. So Umang was CEO you at the age where I didn't know what meaning of CEO was. So, when I met him, he told me that he became CEO at age 27. So I didn't know what the full form of CEO was at the age of 27, so coming back to the question which you asked, so Vikram, you were a part of the journey that, we took early bets on local language and mobile-first, and from 2012 to 2016, we were growing pretty nicely because India was growing at a certain pace in local language. We were building our business silently and it was not too sexy to be in the local language space. Right. We all knew that in the longterm it would pay off, but India was growing at its own pace. Then in 2016, Jio happened, right. We all know what Jio did, the local language became very sexy and user base in the local language suddenly grew up and the market became very attractive for both Chinese companies and companies from US and unfortunately, we were caught in a bit of an unprepared time during that period. And during that period, Facebook was growing very, very heavily and videos was growing and some other things which we all spoke about during that period. And that's where I got introduced to Umang. And my objective of meeting him was to learn, what the hell is he doing in Facebook to kind of grow it 2X 3X and so on and so forth. And honestly, we didn't meet on a zoom. Otherwise, this partnership would not have happened. We met face to face, he was having chicken, I was having paneer. Then I met him for the first time I dressed up nicely. And learn some English words because I was supposed to meet Facebook CEO. And the moment I met him, he started in Punjabi and Hindi. So, I think, it says that if you start well, half of the battle is won, right?

So, we established a pretty good friendship in some sense there. And we spoke very honestly about what each of us is doing and what each of our companies is going through. And I think that honesty, that openness became the fundamental thesis of establishing a connect with each other. And we continued to remain in touch with each other. We continue to exchange notes. He was looking at what we are doing in local language. I was looking at how he's growing the user base and revenue to 3X and Umang Bedi being Umang Bedi, he was looking for an entrepreneur itch, which I could guess after a few meetings. And as we started meeting each other and dating each other, if I may use that word, it was a very soft topic and you couldn't touch it very easily. Only when he said that he is already taking a leap of an entrepreneurship and he had started a company in B2B space, I kind of said him, look, bro, India is a land where the big daddy's are ruling the space and in the space we are operating at and Dailyhunt is a consumer internet business and that's where the heart of Umang is and Umang dwelled on it, he thought about it and then we took a holiday in Goa. And finally, I think that's where the deal was sealed, if I may use the word deal.

Vikram:

I’m going to come back to that holiday in Goa later.

Virendra:

But look broadly, I've just let it roll.

Vikram:

So, Umang how did this work from your end, you are at this bandwidth point with Facebook and then this company which you've heard about, but don't know that much about, suddenly this matures into this kind of relationship. 

Umang:

Yeah, no, I think let me start by saying that the first time I met Viru, three things struck me about him, which is very different from most founders I've met during my tenure at Facebook or at Adobe, or before that. I think the first one was, Viru is one of those extra humble visionaries, okay. He bet on mobile only when the whole world was flip-flopping between mobile and desktop. And he bet on local language, both of these were highly unsexy decisions, back then, Right. And while he never admitted, he obviously said I stumbled upon it Umang, and it just happened in the course of time. It takes balls to make those early bets, right. And that struck me with the factor of humility. Those are the three things, right. Making these two big bets and being extremely humble in that process. And what I realized in my journey of 20 years as a corporate slut, if I could call it that, you ended up having fun, but there came a point in time when you weren't creating value or most organizations for multinationals are reduced the go-to market org's and influencing some form of policy. You're not really making impact on product. You're not really driving key decisions that you could or should be doing. And that gave me an entrepreneurial itch. I turned 40 looked at myself in the mirror didn't like, who I saw, was 140 kilos, was not having fun was spending half my time convincing corporate in terms of PowerPoint and was just not enjoying myself. So, I decided at the flip of a switch that I'm going to give up probably the best paying job in tech. One of the most admired companies in Facebook and say, let's restart, right? And drive a mental, physical, and transformational journey on the business around being an entrepreneur. Now, that sounds nicer, rosier, sexier now, but if you ever start as an entrepreneur, it is hard, right? Even the basics of the building blocks are hard. I think what happened with Viru and me was a culmination of a vision around three things. The first was, this is a big boy space, like Viru said, it's dominated around the world by two large behemoths. And so, what does it take to create a large multi-billion dollar digital media company in a market where the behemoths are present? It hadn't been done before, barring in China. And foolishly, we thought that we could go down the journey and do it because of the early foundation that Viru had built on Dailyhunt with the local language base, Right. And so, we said, let's go deep on the local language, but let's come up with that clear vision as to why are we doing this right. The second bit, which I think he very clearly hopped upon was brutal intellectual honesty. What are your goals? What are my goals? Whether it is spiritual, emotional, financial, short term, long-term, it was all out in the open, right? I mean, there was this complete trust whether it was in Hindi, Punjabi, or with profanities, within, I think that trust was built very early. And I think the third thing if I could call that out was Viru struck me as a founder who didn't suffer from "founder-itis". And let me explain what I mean by that, Right? Most founders are, it's about me, I know the vision, I know the product, I know the tech and I know the market and the sun shines on the ground that I walk on, Right. that's what I call founder-itis

Vikram:

I'm going to use it, founder-itis, haha

Umang:

But Viru, it takes a lot of confidence and a lot of self-belief to welcome a brother later in the journey, Right. And to have that trust and it's easier said than done. All of this is angrezi and English, but Viru actually walk the talk, he brought me on as a partner, was open enough to take these big bold moves, was very open to having me involved in every key decision. And I think that's the foundation. Once you get that chemistry growing, the history of the company, the growth, all of that follows, but I think that chemistry or that bond that trust and not suffering from founder-itis and having that ability to bring on a brother and that relationship has grown. So, I think those are three very special things about Viru and let me be honest, he made my journey as an entrepreneur, he mollycoddled me into it, but I had to go and set up a company and do the whole nine yards. So it was, it was kind of a blessing in disguise that worked both ways.

Virendra:

Absolutely.

Vikram:

I'll just comment on this founder writers and I've always found this remarkable word about Viru, where he extremely secure in his skin. And he would say, I don't know this, and there must be somebody who knows this much better than I do. Let me go find that person. And I think that's a very, very powerful quality. I'm going to come back to this Goa holiday. Which is not actually a Goa holiday, Umang was on holiday with his family and Viru said this is the time, he said he was going to go to Goa and make his decision, let me also go to Goa and Viru dint take his family, he just went on his own. So, talk about, did that pursuit help, Umang, I don't think he pursued even his wife in that manner, pursued in Goa and that until she said, yes.

Umang:

It's a funny thing, I have to narrate this. I came to the meeting dressed very casually and Viru actually had a blazer on, and then of course he got rid of it, but it was really, really sweet. Just showed him and it showed that he want to go that extra mile to make this mission happen. Right. And I think the foundation, barring the Goa bit and everything, but the foundation that was laid in, I remember 2017 September, I resigned from Facebook. I was with company till end of December 2017. 18 is when I came on board early on with and it was Christmas day. So definitely remember, Christmas, December 2017, when Viru and I met, I think it was historic in its own way because I think we got to understand, had tough conversations. We spoke about what all we could do. And I think that's the foundation, Vikram. Viru is such a cool guy, he never go about saying it. He's just the most amazing friend and partner I could have ever dreamed of asking.

Viru:

Likewise.

Vikram:

So, tell me little bit about, what was the toughest conversation? And people expect, getting someone like an Umang Bedi on board, the toughest conversation would be about money, but it wasn't. I know that wasn’t actually the toughest conversations. What was some of the toughest conversation on role definition? How did you build that trust and maybe gave us a sense of that one conversation that in your mind was the toughest?

Umang:

So, I think we started off on a little bit of a where the company was going through a transformation period. And we realized that we had very big growth ambitions, very big plans, which needed us to be all in, but our ego, if I could use that topgun dialogue, our ego is writing cheques that we could not cash because we weren't flushed with funds. And we were going about a pretty dicey fundraise process at that point of time. And I think this wasn't a conversation. It was kind of implicit, Viru, I don't know if you remember but, when Viru and I got together, we had this assumption that we are raising a whole lot of money and we're going to go all guns blazing. And we realized that that money wasn't there in a month's time. So, I think it was a test of our commitment to each other. I remember Vikram, over a drink, you telling me that you thought I wouldn't be there. I wouldn’t have last out. And, I'm sure Viru had his own doubts early on, but I think we both came together and said, heads down, let's fire the banker, let's do this ourselves. Lets raise the capital. And irrespective of what we have, we're going to make it work. I don't know if it was a tough conversation or it was just left unsaid or, Viru would love you to chime in. I think that was an early start, that just showed off our commitment to each other. 

Vikram:

So I'm going to come back to this, on going to war together. But I will come back to it. Viru from your end what was the toughest part of the convincing Umang to join at that point? 

Virendra:

So, we’ll come to that part, which Umang referred later on. But if you had say pre-Umang coming on board, see, I think one of the toughest on conversation one needs to have for such decisions is not with somebody else, but with himself or herself. Because having a conversation with somebody else is very easy, If you are clear that what do you want from this relationship? Why are you doing this? And simply find that thought process is not easy by the way. It's very easy to say that, but it's not easy. So far you can reflect on it, introspect on it and be clear. You remember, we had this conversation that we were meeting a lot of people by the right, and not for this thing. But Hey! we need to grow the company, but you remember, we said I can't put a finger on it. Why this is not what I'm looking for. You know what I mean? This person will still do what I'm asking to do. And I think this is the conversation Vikram, we had while a lot of times, right. When you're meeting a lot of other people. So I think it's as a person who's responsible for at that point of time for making right decisions for Dailyhunt and what is required for business, and what you can do and what you can't do. I think you’ve resolved all that thing in your mind very clearly. And if you're able to relate to the person, that's what can get a person like Umang Bedi, excited about coming on board, right? Because there's no job spec, honestly, there is not role spec. So in my mind, that's a big thing.

Vikram:

I'll tell you a few things that at least I remember from that period of time because Viru was talking to me on the other side. One, I think the heart to heart conversation that you had, and it seemed very fluffy, but it is actually the heart to heart on what each of you wants to do in life and what each of you wants to achieve in life, I think that helped.

I think the second word being said just being very clear and just laying it all out on the table. And now that I know both of you much better, there's nothing left unsaid. And there was nothing left unsaid in those conversations at all. I would say it is a big deal for a founder. Like for Viru to actually say I'm going to carve out a lot of my role to Umang, and he just did it very easily because he was just so clear in his head. And like Viru said, we weren't actually looking for an Umang Bedi, Right. We were looking for head of marketing, head of salespeople, all these heads, but you saw Umang and you almost created the role for Umang, versus like finding the person for a box. I thought that was fantastic. How did the org take it? There's a big disruption, there's one boss, and now there are two, how did you communicate, and I must tell all of our listeners that today if I talk to one of them, it's like talking to both of them, because I know as soon as I tell one something, it will go to the other immediately. And that's how it works - which for me is beautiful, but I can see for the org, it might have taken some time to get there in and also that transition period, must've been tough for the org.

Umang:

I don't know, I'm reflecting on it, but I think one thing that worked was never imposing my multinational view of the world, onto the company, like Hey, I came from Facebook or from Adobe, and this is what happened there, and this is the way to get things done. I think that was something that it's not me inherently as my nature, but I don't think I ever did that. And I think in the first one month of just learning because the first one month was learning, what's going on, you never impose that point of view. You just maybe ask a question or go little deeper or think about Viru and I catching up on the side. So I figured it was very seamless. I know Viru may have enabled a whole bunch of things on the back end, but I felt it was like, I felt at home on day one. I remember calling Viru, even before coming to office on the first day saying, dude, I just love this batch. I don’t know if you remember that Viru?

Virendra:

You put up a post on Twitter as well.

Umang:

Yes I put out a post on Twitter as well. So, it was just - not that our logo is the sexiest in the world. It was just a feeling of, this is my baby now, and I think you can own it that way and reflect it in all your conversations, that this is ours, with genuinety, right? Because all the good results are yours, all the bad is also yours. You can't run away from it. And so if you carry that equally on both sides, I think there is genuineness that gets created and the org realizes it. And then they know the Viru and my relationship is something that no one can really play with because we're so open and close to each other, that there never would be any of that. I think that was very foundational in the beginning. I don’t know Viru, what do you think there.

Vikram:

Viru, I don't know if there are other sort of almost like mechanisms or design principles that you thought of at that point in time that, we'll be in meetings together, make sure that everyone is taking into confidence of this transition plan, whatever that was. And maybe it's really instructive for young founders to hear about that.

Virendra:

So, Vikram, I will break it into two phases, I mean, one is when the person just comes in and one is when the person is operating, then they're two different things, right? So when the person just comes in, I think the one thing was that the whole org was super excited because everybody had seen the growth of Facebook, Umang had led it. Everybody was dying to copy what Facebook had done and learn and wanting Dailyhunt do well. So that was, I think that was the one key thing. And second thing was Umang himself, Right? While he has a suaveness of an MNC and a big company, but he's very entrepreneurial in his mindset, very hands-on. So the organization felt they're speaking to somebody like them. They're not speaking to somebody unlike them. And I think that's the biggest beauty about Umang, where he has seen big boys, he has set up shop for the big boys in India, led them to a growth, which of course couldn't have been done if he was not entrepreneurial in his mindset. And I think that's what went very well with our org. So that's the starting point, second point is I think our org feels the same way as you feel that if they call one of us, they will hear the same thing, you tell us anything, it will go to the other guy. I think it's the same principle. Like you're convinced that this is what is happening. Even the guys in the team are, there'll be few things they will hide, small petty things. That's okay. That's part for the course, but broadly all big things, they know that it's going to seamlessly flow through each of us. That's the initial part, and look in the initial part, you got to play your, who's front-ending who is back-ending in certain discussions. And that comes very naturally if the intent is to make it work and in this to make sure that it’s right thing for the company you take on the flat decisions and go ahead.

Vikram:

Yeah. So I'm going go back to that, going to war together. I do think it was like a defining moment for you guys. And I think it was week two, week three, because the term sheet signed, it fell through. And suddenly it was a true entrepreneurial fight for survival. How important was that being in the trenches and seeing that commitment for Umang, for him to say, this is my co-founder and both of you to go through that?

Virendra:

Look, honestly, I think that was a big defining moment, and the term sheet was from one of the biggest guy in the world, right? Whom everybody aspires to get money from, and the deal fell through due to unknown reasons. To me, the defining moment was how bad Umang Bedi felt, what action one takes is, okay. But I think he took it so personally, he took it more personally than I took it. And to me and to the organization and to everybody, to all of you as well, I think that was a watershed moment, where the trigger, I mean that incident, what triggered him clearly showed the mental ownership he had for this business. It clearly showed the feeling and the emotion that he had for this business and for all of us. And I think that was a big, big watershed moment.

Vikram:

That's actually well put, having got to know Umang, when he takes things personally, a lot of profanity comes out and then he is just an unstoppable force, that you go through. And that's the first time that I saw that unstoppable force. Umang, I know like today you love Dailyhunt as your own. And how important was that trigger point for you in converting what was like maybe affection into like love? 

Umang:

Yeah, no, no. I think see that trigger point was personal because it was going to hamper our plans and we had, we come to what we had done, but we had redefined the mission of the company and we were making some massive big bold bets on the foundation that Viru had built in the last few years. It was a very pivotal moment where had we not gotten over that hump, we would never get to those plans - if you know what I mean? Right. So, the, I think the learning there was, and I remember Viru and me saying, Hey, you know what, we're going to jump on a plane, no business class. We're going to fly economy all over the world, if we have to, but we're going to ensure that we raise this capital. Right. And I remember times were tough, and Viru was like, Hey, you go for this one and, there was a complete trust in enabling that. I think for me again, that shows the ability to trust someone else. I don't know if I would have been able to do it. That's the awesomeness of Viru, that happened very seamlessly. Maybe we didn't have money to get on a plane, right. Because we were conserving every rupee and maybe I don't know, but Viru will give you all his humble answers. But just think about it from Viru’s perspective to trust a guy flying halfway across somewhere to go and raise capital. And  if I was successful or not, I think that's, that's another story, but just to trust, for me that was a very big between. The second thing that I think worked really well was our pivot. In terms of a transformation on top of Dailyhunt, wherein our first version, we were the largest vernacular focused indic news article. And he said that we want to become the AI-driven content discovery platform for Bharat. And what that really meant is we wanted to be the largest digital media platform focused on local languages. We needed to drive the discovery of content, socialization, and consumption of content. That's not just informational but it is engaging and entertaining. And so we had to explore content, we to explore genres, we have to drive a new fleet architecture. We have to drive a new discoverability, algo at the back end. We have to drive more video, wehad to drive hyper-local. And on top of all of this, add a whole bunch of monetization, right? Because we are only in business till you can make money. And so we had those plans but we had no money, it was putting the first step then try and capitalize the business. And at the same time get the team motivated to move towards this journey. And I think that those two were the big watershed moments. And I felt very much at home. I remember after 20 years I got into the economy section of a flight and Viru and I took several of them together. And, we slept like a baby, even there. Like it didn't really change because the beauty for me is I get onto a plane and Viru knows this, by the time it's pushing back, I can knock off no matter what, I'm in the middle row of economy or in the first row of first-class, it doesn't matter. I think that humility on both sides, to acknowledge we never said yaar, ki business kyun nahe ja raheho. These were very unspoken conversations because we knew what was our cash in the bank into, where are we going to stretch it? So, you don't even go into those petty things. Those are the larger than that on both sides, right?

 

 

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