Decoding the man behind Paytm – Vijay Shekhar Sharma
You enter headquarters of India’s most talked about brand, looking for the CEO. And, what do you see? He is sitting in an open-office amongst his colleagues. ‘Employee’ or ‘Worker’, he says, is an offensive term to address the dedicated team working for him.
We are talking about the man who broke the conventional concepts of cashflow, Vijay Shekhar Sharma– founder of the Billion Dollar tech giant Paytm.
Bumps on road, or a road on bumps
From a small town boy of Aligarh toCEO of Paytm, Vijay has indeed come a long way.So what led to such huge lap of luxury? Well, it’s this guy’s simplicity. When all the elements of planet earth seemed to be against him, he didn’t lose his focus. His whole life was a ball and chain, nevertheless, his success couldn’t alter the sober-minded attitude he has towards life.
Simarpreet Singh, in a privy interview with Vijay, had an enlivening experience listening to his childhood stories and college days’ struggle.
Vijay, very light-hearted and extremely jovial, was one of those geeks in his childhood days. His life took a one-eighty degrees turn when he came to Delhi College of Engineering. His life soon took a U-turn. From a prodigious Aligarh boy who had reached DCE at 15 years of age,he soon realized that he was an outsider.
There was not one, but many hurdles in his road to success.
1. Mother tongue Hindi couldn’t be of much help. His entire school education was in Hindi medium. For this reason, he could not appear for the subjective type examination of IIT entrance and such other competitive exams. He literally had to translate and re-study his engineering books from Hindi to English using Bhargava Dictionary.
Although this only added to his agility. Vijay can now read two books at a time!
2. Once a prodigy, now a back-bencher. Vijay was a whiz kid back in Aligarh. With a true disciplinarian for a father, Vijay had his family’s ethics and values deeply rooted in him since childhood.
He completed his XII by the age of 14 and was the youngest kid to enter College. He was an Engineer before turning 19! But English didn’t do justice to him. He didn’t understand what the teachers taught, hence couldn’t respond to their questions. Gradually he moved from first bench to the last.
3. The Wrath of College and hostel was beyond measures. He was young and naive to the extent that he took “oye” as an offense. Taking the leap from Aligarh to Delhi had its own repercussions for him. With no Ramesh-Suresh like friend by his side, he was on his own for most of his college life.
4. Job Placements was another nightmare. Vijay ended up with a few supplementaries in the freshman year. So,grabbing a job was basically out of the question. That was the time when he decided, “Why worry about job if you can build something which gives you stable income?”
When his batchmates were busy preparing for placements, Vijay was building a Company of his own, ‘XS’ being the name. A die-hard fan of Sabeer Bhatia and Yahoo in College times, Vijay learnt Software Coding all by himself. As he puts it, he has a dual Engineering Degree in Electronics and Computers. Unaware the grandeur of his success, he actually built a whole Content Management System of his own, back in College. His products were put to use by huge publications then, The Indian Express being one of them.
5. No funding, no concessions. When he set up One97, he had no Venture Capitalists to render help. The only money he had was the one he earned after selling off XS. Getting a fund was difficult to the extent that running a Company without it seemed easier.
But that was not the end of the war. His other 2 partners left One97. He was totally on his own.
6. No friend in need, no friend indeed. During his struggle, he was broke to the extent that he couldn’t afford a decent meal. He had to take food loans from his friends. “Two cups of tea”, he adds, “was perk in those days”.
7. Money is not everything, but it’s a lot. Bus ticket was a luxury in those times. Sometimes he even walked his way back home a good 14 kms! You could say that selling bus tickets on Paytm probably has an emotional touch to it.
He piled up a loan of 8 lakhs on his head while trying to establish One97, a pretty huge sum for someone from a middle class family. Not only that, he had taken the principal amount on 24% interest rate which made it even more difficult for him to pay it back. He had to take up petty jobs to make his ends meet; setting up LAN, delivering a lecture somewhere were few of them.
A journey from rags to riches
As the old adage goes, “If God brings you to it, he brings you through it”.
Vijay was loaded with conviction in himself and his team. He worked for his Company as if it were his oxygen, his salvation.
One97 is a pioneer in the Indian Telecom infrastructure. It dexterously works hand-in-hand with the Telecom operators to accentuate profits and Customer sustenance.
Who had thought, that some day, an invisible wallet, and soon to be a banking institution, will become the gospel truth of your financial life; that your online shopping mall will also serve as your savings account!
Paytm (Pay Through Mobile), the most sought after virtual online wallet which once catered to your recharges and bus tickets, now runs an entire marketplace under its wings. Paytm is a product of One97 communications, a product that has changed this Company’s face value. This product has successfully made its mark in the category of over 110 million registered users! As Vijay puts it, “I feel I am in my teens and Paytm is my infatuation”.
Paytm has augmented the growth of m-commerce industry in India. It claims to hold about 80% of the market share among the mobile wallet users in India.
The list of achievements this man owns is interminable.
- One97 is the forerunner of the Mobile Value Added Services Industry. The tailor-made mobile content and commerce services provided here are cutting-edge and unique.
Vijay gives due credit to his colleagues for his success. He believes he is nothing without his team. The fact that his employees share his vision and work dexterously to achieve them is, what he feels, the key to his success.
His belief is testified by the fact that after Paytm’s success, Vijay gave 4% equity to his team mates, roughly $120 m!
- Vijay successfully raised a capital of $575 million from Chinese tech giant Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. The two business partners are now great friends too! Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers).
Others topping the list of investors are Soft Bank Asia, Ratan Tata, Intel Capital and Silicon Valley Bank.
- Thrilled to build, Vijay envisions bringing half a billion Indians to the mainstream economy. The wide range of clientele circumscribed by this Company includes telecom operators, entrepreneurs, corporates, students and even shopkeepers.
When putting up Paytm, he first decided to create a round-the-clock customer support team. He was well aware of the fact that asking someone to keep his money with Paytm would require immense trust and credibility. So he made sure consumers’ grievances were addressed well on time.
- Paytm now possesses the permissions from the Reserve Bank of India! The payment transactions made on Paytm are way more than a couple of private banks combined together. In fact, you will soon be witnessing Paytm Banks being set-up across India.
Vijay promises to eradicate corruption from its very root. As he puts it, “Corruption is nothing but cash-flow. We aim to build a cashless economy. No cash, No corruption!”
So that is Vijay for you- modest, intelligent, ambitious and full of life. Despite the fact that he is leading such a large organization, he doesn’t stop living. He loves to be addressed as the Resident DJ at his office. He loves to listen and share his favorite tracks, Coldplay and Jim Morrison being a couple of his favorites. A wanderlust, a passionate music fiend and a complete Gizmo freak- he believes in running fast and breaking things. He religiously believes in the need for speed and quotes, “Every Company has a strategy. But if you don’t pursue it quickly, you become complacent”. And that is where the success becomes a distant dream.
He serves as a mentor for our youth. As he puts it, “I Invest in bus driver.I don’t invest in the bus or the destination.”