Shamsher Chandel, Opinion@Hush Post: Aligarh city is a coordinate for 36 lakh of its population. A city as big as Luxembourg but relatively lesser known even in India. Many South Indians wouldn’t be able to place it on the map. Growing up in the late 1980s was a certain boy called Vijay—Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Aligarh and Vijay have no similarities except for the anonymity the two share. While the former is one among hundreds of small towns of India, the number of Vijays in India could equal the entire population of Aligarh.
A typical characteristic dream of a small town boy growing up in the 1980s would be to go to Delhi or Mumbai, join a multi-national firm or if you are too good, aim for the West – The Silicon Valley.
Paytm owner, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, a bright young boy from Aligarh always stood first in his class, in a Hindi medium school. And he passed his higher secondary when he was just 14. Despite a constant impediment called English, which was the medium of instruction, he still managed to get 47th rank in Delhi Engineering College. But that’s where this bright boy started losing out due to his English. He tells as much in an interview in a typical Delhi backstreet lingo: “I had a supplementary in the first year of college…Mere saath kela ho gaya tha (meaning thereby results were below expectations).” But he got back at it. His trick was simple: He would read a Hindi version and simultaneously read its English translation, and he soon learnt to read two books at a time.
Delhi gives expressions like dog-eat-dog a positive connotation, there are many to drown you rather than groom
Most of those who leave smaller towns for bigger avenues are out of teenage, infant-adults, who are learning to toddle in the big bad world. And their notion is that people are out to welcome them. They have heard stories of big cities, where there is dog-eat-dog competition, which is given a positive connotation, not realising that as youngsters, there would be many to drown you rather than groom you. Vijay Shekhar Sharma was amidst such people in Delhi.
He could not make it to his dream destination, the Silicon Valley. That is when he thought he will not get into the rat race of becoming an engineer. He entered a different playfield. Internet had just born worldwide. And Sabeer Bhatia was the new Indian middle-class hero.
Vijay was broke but not broken. He shared the steely resolve of the door locks manufactured in Aligarh
Things started looking brighter when he began One97, the parent company of Paytm. Vijay Shekhar started experimenting with the three basics of internet – content, commerce and advertising.
But setting up his company proved to be the darkest moment in his life. Soon, Vijay was left bankrupt by his partners, with whom he had begun a business.
In 2005, he raised an amount of Rs 8 lakhs through his venture, of which too, he was cheated. He was broke and devastated but still not broken. Something steely remained in him. As many who know him say, came from the DNA of the town, he belonged to — the strength or the steeliness of the door locks manufactured in Aligarh.
Vijay did not give it up easily. He lived in a hostel near Kashmiri Gate, skipped meals, took long walks to reach his workplace.
Go big or go home
But the big moment came in 2011 when he decided to pitch the idea of entering the payment ecosystem to his board members. They were not convinced, as he blabbered about betting the company’s money on a non-existent market, people started nodding a no one after the other.
In Vijay Shekhar’s own words, who always lived and liked to live by adages and one-liners, wrote down on a wall: Go big or go home.
The next he put 1 per cent of his equity, which was about $2 million around 2011, on the table and said, “This is for all of you, if I waste the money that we put on the site.” He adds, “There is no fun in doing what others ask you to do, the real fun is in doing what people say you can’t do.”
It is with this belief that the first avatar of Paytm — Pay Through Mobile — was born which many thought was a copy of the short form called ATM.
After building a giant of a company, maintaining it is an even bigger task. It cannot be done without good teamwork says Vijay Shekhar. He ensures that the right people are taken onboard who share a similar passion. For this reason, he has given 4 per cent of his equity to the team, which in current value terms is about $120 million.
“I have given more to my team than any amount of salary cumulatively taken in so many years,” Vijay quips. And he does this because he believes that many true fighters go down fighting. But that does not mean they didn’t belong there. It is in order to assuage the feelings of such have-nots that he shares his equity with them.
Mera Naam Vijay Shekhar Sharma, baap ka naam…
Vijay Shekhar Sharma has gone through so much that he is a genius who happens to be an entrepreneur. He could have been a genius anywhere else. He is a DJ, some bit of an actor, a super mad guy in the likening of Amitabh Bachchan’s character in Agneepath, where the superstar puts one of his hands on the back of a chair and blurts out his name in sheer confidence. And Vijay Shekhar Sharma replicates Amitabh well in a television interview when he blurts out the Amitabh dialogue — Aaaeey….Mera naam –Vijay Shekhar Sharma, baap ka naam, SP Sharma, maa ka naam, Asha Sharma, gaon Aligarh bla bla bla…”
The ease of his demeanour doesn’t show the madness one bit in him. He sounds informal and modest. And in that tone, he talks of a cashless India. He says, his dream is to bring half-a-billion Indians to the mainstream economy. His dream is to build India’s first $100 billion firm.
When India saw some of the first ATMs in the country, Vijay Shekhar Sharma was engineering his way out of failures and partial successes till he engineered something which could replace ATMs — a smartphone-enabled Paytm, for cashless transactions.
As a side observation, when someone who lived in the 1960s, said to you, “I started my business with just Rs 10 in my pocket,” and wins an appreciative nod from youngsters of today, spare a thought for this genius, who had the same amount in the 1990s – Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the newest bizkid on the block. Today, he has 10 zeros more to the amount and to use the Indian expression — the meter is down and running.