Embracing competition to remain ahead of the game: Razorpay’s Shashank Kumar at Startup Spin

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Sports has proven time and again to be one of the great teachers in life. From teaching us to remain calm in high-pressure situations to making quick decisions, sports teaches important lessons, develops skills, exposes character, and requires certain personality traits; and business is no different. The antics of entrepreneurs can be strikingly similar to athletes, and this is exactly what cricket presenter and host Vikram Sathaye aims to extract from AWS Startup Spin - a show hosted in association with AWS, George P Johnson Experience Marketing and Bald Head Productions.

In the sixth episode, Shashank Kumar, CEO and Co-founder, Razorpay, speaks to Vikram about the importance of practice, how his friendship blossomed into partnership, and how competitors help to bring out the best version of ourselves.

Lessons from sports

A table tennis player for over 10 years, Shashank says that the speed of the game leaves little room to think; and the more it is played, the better one becomes at fast decision-making. He says, “Acquiring any skill takes time. You have to practise and get better, and business is no different. As we learn more, we get better, but the best part is that you have to do these things continuously.”

He adds that as Razorpay scaled, they have always strived to figure out how they can perform faster and better, which in turn proved to be a major competitive differentiation for them in the market. “That is linked to how youthful we are, and how we take on every situation successfully,” he adds.

Shashank further highlights how table tennis helped him embrace competition. “At the end of the day, you can win or lose, but you feel good if you’ve given your best. You feel good about moments when you play well, and life is full of those moments,” he says.

Individualistic culture and friendships

After going to the US, Shashank realised that the only difference between people there and those back home was the fact that the former wouldn’t want to settle for anything less. “The US, in comparison to India, is very individualistic. The good thing about an individualistic culture is that you really want to give your best,” he says.

Indians settle for things that give them temporary satisfaction, feels Shashank. Talking about his friendship with Harshil Mathur, his Co-founder and long-time friend, Shashank says that contrary to popular belief, doing business with friends is the best.

“One reason why I didn’t want to work in a 9 to 5 job is that I didn’t want to work with people I don’t share an emotional bond with. The best part about working with friends is that you know and complement each other well,” he says. Drawing a parallel with table tennis, he recalls how playing doubles with a friend once enhanced his performance and improved cooperation.

Partnerships and communication

Shashank says that when they had started the business, they were turned down by every bank as most people were unaware of a payment gateway.

“Banks always look for a good partner. They usually ask you if you have enough domain expertise, and look to be safe. We were practically asking them to take a risk, and eventually, we were able to convince them that while we have inadequate work experience, what we were trying to do was phenomenal,” he recalls.

Most people look for safety in a partner. “To this day, we also search for similar things. But when we had to look for our tech partner, there were very few names that inspired the trust and stability that AWS did,” he says.

Talking about the importance of communication skills, Shashank says that the learning he derived from sales during his initial days as an entrepreneur was immense. Every time he went to a new customer, he experienced a new story and a new angle according to which he had to modify his communication style.

Although Shashank never dreaded public speaking, he admits that going up on stage and engaging the crowd was a different ballgame altogether. He eventually realised that stories are the best way to engage people, as everyone has certain experiences that they can relate to when they listen to stories.

“I worked very hard on how I can tell my stories that people can relate to, and I’ve always wanted to be truthful and authentic. But you have to find a way to communicate it and inspire people, and over a period of time I learned how to do that, which made me a better person and a better leader,” he says.


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