On the eve of Paytm's debut, a look back at some of VSS' iconic moments

From supporting women to chasing your passion — here's a quick rundown of some iconic things Paytm Chief Vijay Shekhar Sharma has said over the years.
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You can love it, you can hate it, but you can't escape it.

That was the sentiment in the Indian markets and the startup landscape on Thursday, November 18, when fintech giant Paytm marked its debut on the Indian stock exchanges at a 9 percent discount to its final IPO pricing.

The almost $2.5 billion IPO is historical not only because it was the biggest stock market bid in the country so far after Coal India but also because it was among the first ones from a roster of iconic tech startups to chart a path to the bourses.

The legacy Paytm leaves behind as it graduates to the stock markets from the startup ecosystem is the story of a finance company that harnessed the power technology to disrupt an industry that was known for its slow turnaround, archaic practices, and aversion to innovation.

Paytm has also birthed hundreds of mini startups either via former employees, who went on to work on more innovative technology — startups that Paytm itself regularly funds — or even directly, thanks to Founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma (VSS), who has a penchant for supporting innovations through not just funding, but his personal time.

When Paytm began operations in 2009, it was essentially a mobile recharge company. There wasn't a vacuum that was waiting to be filled by a fintech startup; there was no need for it at the time. But, by 2016, when demonetisation essentially took currency notes out of circulation, Paytm grabbed the opportunity to propel its use case.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder, Paytm

Here's a quick look at 10 iconic moments in Paytm and Vijay Shekhar Sharma over the last decade, including some of his exclusive interactions with YourStory.

Business model dhoondna matlab Bhagwan ko dhoondna

Taking the stage at the Internet Day event organised by TiE in Delhi-NCR in 2019, VSS answered a question he'd always been asked: What is Paytm's business model?

The Paytm chief chuckled and answered that Paytm's search for a business model was perpetual: Bhagwan ko dhoondne ke bararabar ka search hai (it's like searching for god).”

Not one to be restricted by strict labels or to be put in a box, VSS added the biggest business tycoons in India are looking for a business model.

"As soon as you have a fixed business model, you are destined for death," he said.

Building an internet ecosystem

When VSS took the stage at TechSparks 2019, he outlined his vision for Paytm succinctly: "Over a period of time, we will be an internet ecosystem in India with the largest pool of users," he told YourStory in response to a question around the fintech startup's interest in getting into gaming and content.

He added he 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 said.

Shradha Sharma, YourStory in conversation with Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Paytm at TechSparks 2018

Indian startups more exciting than Silicon Valley

“I honestly don’t find Silicon Valley exciting anymore. I think the excitement is a lot more in this country and Asia. Silicon Valley companies are learning from startups in this part of the world, which is also one of the reasons these companies are far more exciting,” Vijay told YourStory on the sidelines of entrepreneurial networking summit, India Internet Day 2019, organised by TiE.

He added, however, that Silicon Valley had “access to capital and talent at a bigger and better scale,” the likelihood of startups succeeding there is still higher than anywhere else.

But the competition, too, is stiffer there, the maverick entrepreneur said.

Waging a war against Google App Store

VSS has been quite vocal about his rejection of the fees Google Play Store charges app operators, saying the fees are "costlier than the business tax on India's internet ecosystem."

He launched Paytm Mini App Store — a platform inside the fintech giant's app that lists applications of other companies — in response to the debacle over Google's fees, and especially after the internet giant banned the app from its Play Store, citing gambling laws-related violation.

Exciting growth for India

India is in an exciting phase of growth, and the economy is expected to add $2.5 trillion in the next 5-10 years, VSS said earlier this year at a youth conclave organised by IMC Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

"If this country's economy is $2.5 trillion today, in the next 5-10 years, you will see another $2.5 trillion. It took 70 years for us to make $2.5 trillion... Now, only in 10 years, all that history will be recreated and doubled," he added.

His advice to budding entrepreneurs was that if they feel strongly about something, even if it feels small, they should do it.

"When somebody makes you feel that you're solo... that's just the way you handle adversity. And, once you are a success, all these adversities will become folklores, so you should never feel bad about it," he said.

Strong feelings about technology

VSS obviously is a supporter of tech, having built a tech company himself. But he never fails to stress the importance of using tech to bridge divides.

He has often and repeatedly said tapping wide distribution networks is no longer a limiting factor for businesses, and tech eliminates a lot of discussion and deliberation around the advantages and drawbacks of starting a business in any country.

"Everyone has a common platform, and new business models are coming up. It's going to disrupt the existing business model, reduce costs, and change the world forever. Technology coming through digitalisation and through Information Technology is changing the world, and, in fact, many industries," he said.

Started with Rs 10,000 per month

VSS always acknowledges his humble roots. In a recent interview with Reuters, he recalled how his father used to tell him to shutter his company and find a job, even if it just paid him Rs 30,000 — all because he couldn't land a marriage prospect.

"Families of prospective brides would never call us back after finding out that I earn around Rs 10,000 a month. I had become an ineligible bachelor for my family," he told Reuters.

VSS, who hails from a small city in Uttar Pradesh, often acknowledges his roots and the struggles of the common man — and that has been central to the way he builds solutions to this day.

"If you're not the customer, don't build it," he says.

Three phases of growth and path to profitability

In an exclusive interview with YourStory, Paytm said the first three years were all about finding the right product-market fit. The next three were about revenue and monetisation. The last phase will be about profitability and free cash flows.

"We are in the second phase of that journey. In 2015, we started deploying QR codes, and by 2018-19, completed our product-market fit. Now, 2019-20 onwards, we are monetising," VSS told YourStory in 2020.

The product-market fit has been sorted out, and the next two years will be about monetisation and expansion, VSS said.

The entrepreneur said Paytm could swing to profitability by 2022.

Women play an important role in the economy

In Verizon Media's MAKERS conference, VSS said, “As an economy, we won't grow if we treat every woman by default as a homemaker, especially if their constructive inputs are not taken into consideration."

"If we believe that India will be a $5 trillion economy soon, I call upon every woman to be the biggest contributor," he said, adding women going out to work should be a revolution that we bring in this country.

He also said in separate appearances that women empowerment should be a mainstream agenda for all of us and not just a couple of associations.

Conviction in self

At YourStory's TechSparks event in 2018, VSS recalled how the success of the Bansals of Flipkart lit a fire in him to do something big.

“Many said you don’t have an MBA in your team, how will you build a brand? Jab Bansals [of Flipkart] ne century maar di, people would tell me. 'You can’t raise money, Vijay.' Woh baat maine dil pe le li… Isliye aaj Jack Ma, isliye Masayoshi Son, isliye Warren Buffett. Dekho main kahan se paisa leke aaya,” he said animatedly.

However, he is quick to acknowledge the "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" that knocked at his door.

"I do not think my rigour or energy is any different from anyone else’s in this room. It’s just that I recognised my opportunity,” he said, adding:

"You cannot fear the big companies and give away your opportunity to someone else on a platter. If you are ready to fight the war, let me tell you there are 10X more resources available. So, if you don’t take the chance to go big, you are definitely going home."

Edited by Suman Singh

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