Razorpay's Karate Kid: Harshil Mathur


Harshil Mathur, Co-founder and CEO of one of the most promising and upcoming payments firm, Razorpay might not seem combative by nature. And yet, behind that cool and calm demeanour is a Black Belt in Karate.

Harshil likes to call himself an ambivert, a person who has a balance of both extrovert and introvert qualities. As we meet at Razorpay’s office, Harshil takes me through all the brick-breaking and bike-riding stunts, which his passion for Karate has made him do.

Harshil Mathur: Karate champion

The kaleidoscope of time

When asked how he got into Karate, Harshil explains that his love for the sport started in school. “In the third grade, we had to choose a hobby to pursue,” says Harshil. “My father chose Karate among the sports that were offered and later, we performed many stunts as a father-son duo.”

But Harshil’s mother did not like the idea of such a violent sport. “My mother was a typical mum, who would never appreciate Karate and was always over-concerned,” he remembers. “She would never turn up for the fights and competitions.” Whenever he spoke about pursuing Karate, she would say, ‘Koi zarurat nahi hai (there is no need)’.

However, his passion for Karate continued all through his school days till he graduated from IIT, Roorkee. Karate has always motivated and inspired Harshil. “The competitive spirit of a tournament can give you quite an adrenaline rush. But the best part about the sport is that you have to stay calm. Otherwise you can make a lot of mistakes and lose the fight. So, even when someone is hitting your face, you cannot lose your cool,” he says.

The ability to stay calm in all circumstances is an attribute that entrepreneurs need, especially when he or she goes through the rough tides of entrepreneurship. So, over time, Karate taught Harshil the ropes of entrepreneurship.

Start with the basics

“I am never ashamed to say that I’m a black belt in Karate,” states Harshil. “It is this achievement that helped boost my confidence over the years. I was a really shy kid when I was growing up. In class, I had a thousand doubts, but I would never ask my teacher or my classmates anything because of my shyness.”

And if you were an introvert kid while growing up, you’d know that shyness is usually the outcome of fearing judgement.

During his college days, he was expected to give lectures as he was the head of the student software development cell. 

Persistence is key

It was only a high level of persistence that helped Harshil win a silver medal in Karate at the national level. 

But in 2006, the tides changed. Just when Harshil seemed to be on the top of his game, he got hurt. During the second fight in the Nationals, he got hit so hard by his opponent that he almost collapsed. 

“In Karate you are not supposed to harm the other person, otherwise you get penalised during the fight. But in this case, I got so badly hurt during the tournament that I was unable to even get up. So, I was automatically disqualified. That was the moment I learnt to face failure.”

Though he lost a year recuperating because of the incident, Harshil went on to bag a silver medal in 2008.

“Failure is a part of any journey and you will face a lot of failure. But you have to learn to not give up. You need to stand up and remember to be persistent. We experienced all this while running Razorpay during the first few months,” adds Harshil. 

Training and accolades as a school boy

Keep calm

However, persistence is not the only lesson that Karate teaches you. Another important lesson, and perhaps, the most important one of all, is learning to stay stress-free, even in the face of adversity. This comes only through practice and meditation.

“They teach you how to meditate while teaching you Karate,” he explains. “And I still actively pursue meditation because running a startup is a rather chaotic ride.”

Harshil finds it hard to spare 15 minutes of peace in the day to meditate and bring his focus back to the bigger picture, but he tries to find some time at the start of each day, right before he leaves for work. Sometimes, the practice is repeated during the day, on stressful days. 

“Meditation helps me get over deliberating about the day and helps me carve the larger vision for the company. Nowadays, I think about where I want to take Razorpay in the next ten years,” he explains.

Composure can take you far

Harshil says that if it wasn’t for meditation, entrepreneurship have remained a distant dream. Success wouldn’t have happened for this Forbes ’30 under 30’ founder.

“It took me three months to realise my dream of starting up. My meditation sessions gave me clarity. I realised that I could always go back to getting a job, but I might not get the opportunity to startup again. And that helped me to jump in,” he adds.

Harshil is always critical and analytical, a bit of an over-thinker on bad days. However, the traits that set him apart are composure, focus and perseverance. Meditation also helped him overcome his short-temper and his inclination to worry.

He continues to contribute to the Karate and Taekwondo scene, making it a critical form of self-defence, by supporting various academies and investing time and capital in them.

Here’s wishing more Zen to Razorpay’s secret Karate Kid, Harshil Mathur!



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