TechSparks 2019: Vijay Shekhar Sharma enthrals crowd with his wit; spells out vision for Paytm
At TechSparks 2018, Paytm Founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma (or VSS, as he's popularly known) put on a heady show replete with sharp witticisms, interesting anecdotes, Jim Morrison quotes, and much more.
It was no different at YourStory's flagship annual tech conference this year.
Besides being at his candid and performative best at TechSparks 2019, VSS made ample references to the Bhagavad Gita and the Shastras (holy texts), when asked about rising competition in India's payments business and in other segments like online ticketing.
"You can't really fight your own [friends] in the business," VSS said, referring to Arjun's dilemma in the Mahabharata, and to BookMyShow Founder Ashish Hemrajani, his dear friend. (Paytm competes with BookMyShow in the online ticketing industry.)
"Our ticketing business is profitable. We sold 100 million tickets last year, but no one sees us as competition there," Vijay stated.
While talking about the evolution of the Indian startup ecosystem since the time he launched One97 (Paytm's parent company) during the dotcom boom, VSS said,
"There has been a leap of mindset since the time we started. Back then, there was no investor. Today, you can build anything in India. If you're an Indian entrepreneur, you can get a meeting with any investor in the world."
He further went on to acknowledge the stellar role played by Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal, and Ola's Bhavish Aggarwal in the evolution of the Indian internet. He added,
"I've said this before that everything that has happened on the Indian internet is because of the Bansals and Bhavish. I am in the shadow of these giants in my journey from 'Zero to One'."
'Zero to One' is a coinage dear to entrepreneurs across the world, and is borrowed from Peter Thiel's book on building startups for the future.
Vijay also added that earlier most Indian entrepreneurs were keen on making Indian copies of already established businesses in the Silicon Valley. "But now there is a wave of authentic businesses from India. Look at Sharechat, Razorpay, and some others," he said.
Paytm's future and 'big company' dreams
When YourStory Founder & CEO Shradha Sharma asked VSS about Paytm's future and its ongoing diversification into areas like content and gaming, he noted,
"I don't follow the fintech industry. I follow the journey of a customer. Over a period of time, we will be an internet ecosystem in India with the largest pool of users. It has happened in the US and in China."
But, when it comes to payments - the core of Paytm - it can be an arduous task.
VSS lamented that payment companies in India are subject to far more scrutiny than traditional banks. "We are judged very harshly. But that makes us work harder." But it is not just regulations that stall success.
"Payment is a no-margin business. Money will be made on content, commerce, and advertising. And then, we will build financial services on top of that," VSS revealed.
Paytm, of course, has an enviable list of investors from Alibaba's Jack Ma and SoftBank's Masayoshi Son to Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett. And besides the investment dollars, VSS has picked up "signature learnings" from these heavyweights. "I realised that Jack Ma is not a tech guy. He is a people guy. He gives a lot of attention to organisation structure. We're trying to do that too."
VSS dreams of building Paytm into a "big company", one that can impact a billion people, and make a revenue of $100 billion; one that can be spotted anywhere in the world.
"My legacy is the work I do. I wish we are identified in the world as a big company. As Jack Ma and I keep messaging each other, We could be heroes... just one day," he signed off to thunderous applause from the crowd.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)
YourStory's annual extravaganza TechSparks brings together the best and the brightest from the startup ecosystem, corporate world, policymakers and, of course, the investor community. Over the past decade, TechSparks has grown to become India's most loved tech and startup platform for knowledge sharing and networking. A big thank you for all your support over the years and a big shoutout to our sponsors.