How Umesh Sachdev wants to transform the AI business with Uniphore

Ritu Jha-

Umesh Sachdev is a self-confessed serial entrepreneur and the co-founder and CEO of Uniphore, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company focused on conversational artificial intelligence (AI) and automation across the enterprise.

Sparked by his vision to use technology to help bridge the gap between the human voice and modern machines, Uniphore has morphed into a hypergrowth startup that has changed how businesses operate and solve complex enterprise customer service challenges.

As one of the fastest-growing companies in the AI space, Uniphore’s pioneering work has transformed how business enterprises harness the value of conversations with their customers to create a future-proof customer experience – for every industry.

Uniphore has over 750 employees and does business in the US, EU, Asia, and Latin America. The company has raised $610 million to date, and its valuation has climbed to $2.5 billion. Sachdev spoke to indica about startups, India, and the future of AI.

He is in no rush to get his Unicorn listed and says that he will do it when the time is right.

Sachdev said: “If you look at any software enterprise, 50% of the global market is in North America and the remaining 50% is in the rest of the world put together, including Europe and Asia.”

Sachdev said for software business, North America is the place to be. “It is very likely that other software firms too will come to the same conclusion that I did, that your largest market is going to be North America. If that is the case, you have to win in this complex market. It is both competitive and rewarding. You need to be agile and flexible to make quick moves.”

But, the US was not his favorite destination from the outset. “Somewhere along the road, it became clear that you can be a good company. But if you want to be a big, prominent company in your space, you have to be an industry leader in the US,” he said.

He added, “India is a good market and we have a big presence there. We have 350 people working in India and customers. But succeeding in the US is very different than
succeeding in India.”

Uniphore was founded in 2008, and while it was being incubated at IIT Madras, Sachdev had to deal with his share of challenges. “My co-founder and I were studying together and we had developed a project. We took part in a business plan competition and won it. Then we got exposed to UC Berkeley. We met venture capitalists at an early age and got exposed to entrepreneurship.”

Uniphore’s product is conversational AI. It uses speech recognition, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing for the computer to understand what we are saying in whatever language. “For instance, if you talk to
a call center person and sometimes you feel like, why is this person not understanding what I want? We have developed software that sits on the side and listens to what the customer wants, and tells the call center executive – “here’s the solution”. It’s a big market, and call centers employ 13 to 14 million people. But it’s scaled up linearly. You need more calls to be handled. You add more people. Whereas in the future, AI will play a big role.”

He has offices around the world in Israel, Spain, Japan, India, and the US. You see global cultures and learning and experience have helped us mature.”

On Unicorns in India, Sachdev is bullish. It’s a sign of the market maturing that India is No 3 behind the US and China. Half of the unicorns in India are consumer start-ups that are either doing e-commerce or providing payment services for Indian consumers and that market is just about scratching the surface.

“India’s GDP is still low, so as it rises the start-ups are likely to do even better,” Sachdev said. The other half of those 100 Unicorns in India are B-to-B start-ups, which are
companies in India that have built software that can be sold globally. Again, if you see the history of this, for the last three decades first India became big in services, then India became the back office of Cisco and Target.”

Now, he says, “They all set up their back office and engineering offices in India. Which means that through this process we started to create strong engineering culture in India. The third generation of people like me has taken that engineering culture and built products in India which are being sold around the world. And, so a lot of us have become unicorns now.”

He added, “Unicorn is an evaluation, it’s just a scorecard. It’s a representation that your business is doing well. So, an investor comes in and gives you a certain multiple of revenue or whatever and says your valuation is over a billion dollars. I’m bullish on India. We’re just scratching the surface. In my opinion, in the next three, the number of Unicorns in India is likely to jump from 100 to 500.

Here’s what Sachdev thinks start-ups can do to the economy and where the government should step in: “Whether it’s the US or India or any other country, everyone is focused on ease of doing business. Everyone is beginning to recognize that start-ups are the job engines for the future. These big companies are no longer adding jobs, only the start-ups are. As they grow, as they become Unicorns, they start adding jobs. For any economy to succeed, it will have to rely on start-ups to create jobs. If that is true, then any government’s policy should be to aid more start-ups, to make it easier to get more youngsters to become entrepreneurs.

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