Arūnas Umbrasas: Freedom at Vinted is Challenging but Engaging
Arūnas Umbrasas‘ career path at Vinted has taken him from working as a data scientist in Special-Ops to leading Trust & Safety as a Director of Data Science & Analytics. Arūnas tells us about his journey to becoming a director, and what he thinks it takes to succeed at work.
Hi Arūnas! What’s your “becoming part of Vinted” story?
I joined Vinted back in 2019, and luck played a significant part in it! Up until then, my career was in consultancy-type roles. I was looking for an opportunity to move from consulting to a company where I can deliver consistent impact and see projects through from beginning to end.
I met for an interview with Artūras, the Head of Strategy & Analytics at the time. One homework assignment and one try-out later, I got invited to join as an individual contributor. I knew very little about Vinted before the interview, and was pleasantly surprised to find such a great company hiding right under my nose in Vilnius!
Was managing a Data Science team at Vinted your first leadership position?
I became a team lead after a year of working with Vinted, as the company was growing rapidly and a new organizational structure was taking shape. It was my first real leadership position, even though I had experience leading projects and ad-hoc teams as a project manager. But the aspects of long-term people leadership were quite new to me.
Was it hard adjusting to having a permanent team that you lead?
My first months as a team lead were stressful and awkward. On the bright side, this lack of experience, coupled with the immediate responsibility of a battlefield promotion, was very motivating. Since then, I have read books and taken courses on management, made many mistakes, and collected tons of feedback. Ultimately, it’s about reading a bit, working a lot, reflecting, and improving!
So far, what do you think is the key to leadership?
To me, leadership is all about caring and taking ownership. To achieve great results, you need great people and processes that enable them - and we have both at Vinted. As a leader, you have to be ambitious and result-oriented, but also care about the people you work with. We’re all in it together and it’s important that everyone is engaged and enabled to aim high and deliver impact.
Ultimately, I think there is no silver bullet to leadership – it’s challenging, you inevitably make mistakes, and you never stop learning. Vinted has been a great teacher, because it's an environment that provides loads of responsibility, freedom, and opportunities to learn, both through mistakes and successes.
What does a typical workday of a Director of Data Science & Analytics look like?
Getting things done and abusing coffee are the only things that are routine about my day. Typical activities during the week will include 1:1 meetings with my colleagues, planning and strategizing sessions, as well as analysis and problem-solving. The Trust & Safety domain is still growing, so figuring out organizational structure, ownership, and having interviews with candidates are tasks that I also engage in fairly often.
Is there anything in particular that motivates you to start work each morning?
It’s the combination of difficult challenges, pressure, and smart colleagues. At Trust & Safety, our mandate is to keep Vinted and its members safe from increasingly sophisticated fraudsters. There’s always something to do and the right solution is not obvious, which keeps you on your toes. The nature of this work is that it’s adversarial and never fair: the attackers can be smarter than you, there’s almost an infinite supply of them, and they stand to gain disproportionately large rewards. The landscape is also ever-changing: you might be proactively improving your defensive tools & processes one day, but a vulnerability in the system will put you into reactive mode the next day. I can’t imagine work that’s more fun than this!
Vinted is all about sustainability. How is Vinted’s mission important for you?
I truly believe that Vinted can make a positive difference by enabling a way to trade second hand that’s both convenient and sustainable. The mission is close to my heart: I tend to avoid frivolous purchases, only buying what I need, and trying to buy high-quality, durable items that last long in order to minimize waste. I also believe in consuming ethically-made items: goods made from sustainably sourced materials, without animal cruelty, and produced by workers making a fair wage.
What principles do you apply to your mission as a Director of Data Science & Analytics?
Working in Trust & Safety, it’s important to be ambitious, accountable, and analytical. We try to be forward-looking but remain flexible. Incidents in Trust & Safety are unpredictable by definition and an attack during the weekend can ruin your carefully crafted plans. Still, we don’t take this as an excuse and try to have ambitious targets for how safe and resilient the platform should be - and we stick to these targets regardless of circumstances.
To succeed in an environment like this, we look for people who welcome a challenge. We also take care of each other - it’s a marathon, not a sprint - so balancing intense work with rest is critical. To that end, we collaborate closely, prioritise prudently, and lend each other a helping hand when times get tough.
You‘ve told us a lot about the importance of growth and making an impact. Are these the things that give meaning to your job?
Yes! To me, meaning comes from having the right direction, opportunity to grow as a person, and working with great people. Vinted offers all of it - our mission is ethical and inspiring, but also achievable, and I get to work with amazing people every day!
By the way, do you use the Vinted app?
Yes! I both buy and sell items!
At work, we‘re most likely to see you in meetings. What would we find you doing during your free time?
It depends on whether you catch me on a weekday or my days off. After a busy workday, you’ll find me reading or catching up on some Netflix, but I also try to hit the gym every evening! On weekends, I’m very likely to go running, hiking, or attending endurance events like Bebro Kelias and Alfa Run during the summer.
It sounds like you‘re an outdoorsy person! Where’s your favourite place in the world?
It must be Iceland. I visited it years ago, and was fascinated by the country’s nature and infrastructure. It’s cosy, there are landmarks on virtually every kilometre of the country’s excellent roads, and the landscape is just out of this world! Not to mention the Blue Lagoon!
It was a pleasure talking to you, Arūnas. What piece of media could you recommend to anyone who has read this article and shares some of your interests?
For all the petrolheads out there, I would recommend a YouTube channel called RegularCars. An anonymous ex-English teacher runs it. He reviews regular cars – old, beaten-up, affordable, loved or hated – but driven by ordinary people. What’s fascinating about this channel is that someone with a literary education creates its content. His reviews gloss over the technical details of cars, but drill down into the socio-economic context of the time when the vehicle was designed and produced, the feelings that these used cars evoke, and the portraits of their current owners. The humour is the best I’ve seen in an automotive channel. Through references to transcendentalism and romanticism, the author will explain why when people see a Ferrari they will want to know about its owner, but they usually only care about the car itself when they see other such exotic vehicles.