HOW VSS BUILT PAYTM INTO A MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR STARTUP IN INDIA
Indian startup founders have taken the world by storm in recent years. Today' I'll be writing about one such iconic founder: Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the man who built Paytm, which is valued at $16 Billion as of June 2020. It's not just about the dazzling valuation though; Paytm has played an important role in the digital payment revolution in India.
Vijay was born in a small town outside Aligarh and was a topper in school. His family had limited financial wealth; his father was a school teacher who believed that tuitions weren't the right thing to do. After completing school, Vijay moved to Delhi to study in famed Delhi College of Engineering.
This was when he faced a major challenge – he could not read and write English well as he had studies in Hindi medium. He tried to get better at English, but his grades were obviously affected. This began to lead to him losing interest in academics, and ultimately he stopped attending classes.
Even then, he had big dreams, specifically to go to Silicon Valley. He didn't waste the time he got by skipping classes and turned into an entrepreneur. With a few friends, he built a content management system (CMS) that would later be used by a couple of prestigious newspapers too. He cleared his college examinations and during this time took up a job at an MNC for a few months, after which he quit to start his own company with some friends.
This was when things he faced some incredible challenges. The company went bankrupt and he was conned of his equity share in the company.
At one point, he also ended up with a loan of INR 8 lakhs. A huge amount for a common man back in the days, he had taken the principal amount at 24% interest, which got him into a vicious cycle of unpayable debt.
But Vijay was not someone who would give so easily. He moved to a hotel near Kashmiri Gate in Delhi, skipped meals and walked to work. He took up petty jobs to make ends meet, setting up LAN connections, delivering guest lectures and so on.
This is what real entrepreneurship looks like, at least during some stages in life. Not the rosy picture shown on TV channels.
Things began to get slightly better when he started One97 (parent company of Paytm). The company tried to leverage 3 elements of the internet – content, advertising and e-commerce.
There were ups and downs, but the breakthrough came in 2011 – when despite opposition, he convinced the board members to enter the payment ecosystem. This is when Paytm as we know it today – (PAYment Through Mobile) was born.
The rest is startup history and Paytm has never looked back till now.
One of the keys to Paytm's success in the initial stages was the importance given to customer trust. A 24*7 customer service center was built. They also created a presence on Twitter and Facebook, so any customer could approach them easily. According to Vijay, trust is the secret formula which helped Paytm win in the crowded space of payment providers.
As Paytm grew from strength to strength, it also raised funds from marquee investors such as SAIF partners, Ant Financial, Softbank, Berkshire Hathaway and others. Vijay believes that treating and working with investors as true partners is the best way for growth.
The same approach is reflected in his treatment of the Paytm team, who have been an essential part of Paytm's success. He has shared a percentage of his own equity with team members, which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars in current value.
Having seen some really difficult times in life, he values those who have worked hard to help him achieve his vision.
Vijay has big plans for the future. Vijay’s dream is to bring half a billion Indians into the mainstream economy. His dream is to build India’s first $100 Billion startup, a company that would make the nation proud.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma's journey teaches a few things that we should never forget:
1. If you choose to follow your dreams, you will face difficulties that you did not anticipate. It will be painful, but it will also give you a chance to learn more about yourself and to create your own story.
2. Education and technical skills are important for success. But there is a huge role played by personal resilience, motivation and integrity. These aspects should be given importance in life.
3. Once success is achieved, make sure you acknowledge and reward the people who helped you get there.
4. Sometimes life is unfair. You may be cheated by people close to you or suffer a setback for no fault of yours. But your energy and passion are your strength, they can open any door for you in life. Don't give up on yourself.
This is the story of the man who built of one India's most impactful startups despite coming from a humble background and facing some crushing challenges in his early career.