Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday in Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
“I knew I would build a company and a product that would be useful to people and stand out in the market,” says Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder, One97 Communications, that incubated Paytm – a payment gateway that has secured funding from Jack Ma of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Ratan Tata. A topper all through school to a backbencher in his engineering college, Sharma speaks of grim times as a collegian in Delhi. His grades were disappointing – this after having to take the vice chancellor’s permission to get admission to Delhi School of Engineering as he was just 15 years of age. In a tête-à-tête with Firstpost, the 36-year-old shares his amazing journey that he knew would see him to the top.
Excerpts from the conversation
You started engineering course early at 15 years of age. What were your goals?
I was a topper in school and finished school when I was 13 years old. I finished Class XII and got admission to engineering college when I was just 15. So I had to leave Aligarh, where I grew up, for a big city like Delhi and was alone there. I did my schooling with Hindi as the language of instruction. So, when I came to Delhi, I found it difficult to cope with English. I come from a lower middle class family – my father was a school teacher and the sole earning member. I have two elder sisters and a younger brother. Mother was a home-maker. So, for me, the goal while joining engineering college was to finish the course and take up a job that offered Rs 10,000 as salary. That was a big enough dream for a boy like me from Aligarh then.
When did that dream change?
In the initial days, when I started attending classes in engineering, I used to sit in the front bench. I had always sat in the front bench in school. That changed one day when the teacher asked me a question in English. I could not understand the question as I did not understand the language. After that day, I retreated to the back bench. I would be bullied by classmates. I was fortunate to be living in a hostel while in College. My friends there were quite protective about me. They helped me to be confident and stand up to others in class.
The 1990s were the time of the Internet. I used to read newspapers and magazines to learn English. In a magazine I read about Silicon Valley. I was intrigued. I spent time in the computer centre in college and dreamt of becoming a Sabeer Bhatia. I realised that instead of taking up a job, it would be better to create something in India.
You started a company while in college.
Yes! To hell with these classes. I can build a company with the help of the Internet, I decided. During my third year, a batch mate, Harinder Takhar and I got together and built this company called Xs! Corporation. It was a web portal that offered web-guided services, including web directories, and was also a search engine. We got seed money worth Rs 20,000 from Individual Angel Investor, a New Mexico-based venture capital fund. We roped in two more of my batch mates into the venture. I finished college in 1998. Between February-May 1999, our turnover was Rs 50 lakhs! I sold the company in 1999 to Living Media India, which is now the India Today Group for half a million dollars and split the money between the four of us.
What did you do with the money?
The first thing I did was to buy a colour TV for my family. We did not have a TV. I surprised my mother by buying her saris. Father had taken loan to marry off my sisters. I was able to repay that. Finally, we were loan-free! I saved some of the money, too. My parents did not understand the work I was doing but they were glad I was doing well.
When did you start Paytm?
After selling the firm I worked for a while but soon got bored of it. I had Rs two lakhs and along with a colleague, Rajiv Shukla, co-founded One97 Communications Ltd, a mobile value-added services company. We decided to call it One97 as that was the directory enquiry service number of BSNL. Then 9/11 happened and the business crashed. My partner left. I had no money. I started using public transport, lived on two cups of tea -- it was hard times again. My father asked me to take up a job. I was 25 years old and the family wanted me to get married. But no one was willing to marry me!
I took up a job as a consultant to sustain myself. With smartphones becoming popular, I decided to do something around it. I always wanted to impact people’s lives. So with Paytm, a mobile wallet, launched in December 2010, we have done away with plastic money. You can access Paytm through smartphones or on our website. At present, we have 50 million consumers doing 60 million transactions a month and would like to touch 100 million consumers until end-2015. We hope to touch 10 billion in 2016-17.
You have energy expending hobbies like bungee jumping, sky diving, river rafting.
Yes. I love speed. Everyone wants to do his best. However, I believe, it is the speed of execution that makes the difference. I love to live life in the fast lane. It is exhilarating to fall through the sky at 350 km per hour. I also listen to music, be it Norah Jones or Noor Jehan, rock, New Age, Cold Play. You can’t discriminate between music.
What do you dream of now?
I believe, If you are at it, you should get it. I believe in Aham Brahmasmi -- I am the creator. I am of the opinion that life got better with mobile payments. Cash creates corruption in the economy. E-commerce can help to remove that. I dream of the day our company can help half a billion Indians.
Updated Date: Apr 17, 2015 18:01 PM