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Paytm: Starting India’s Digital Revolution


Can you imagine surviving a week or longer without your wallet? Perhaps yes, if your smartphone could do everything your wallet can.

Before 2010, millions of prepaid mobile users in India went through the hassle of going to a store to recharge their prepaid accounts. That common hassle was the first pain point digital mobile wallet "Paytm" went on to address.

The short form for "Pay Through Mobile," Paytm, began in July 2010 by Vijay Shekhar Sharma. He founded the company under the platform's parent organization One97 Communications, based in the northern Indian city of Noida in Uttar Pradesh.

When Paytm started, it allowed mobile users to top up their phone accounts without the need to step out of their homes.

Today, the fast-rising mobile wallet has become India's leading payments app. It powers more than 20 million merchants and businesses to accept payments digitally from more than 300 million Indians. Its mission is to bring 500 million unserved and underserved Indians to the mainstream economy.

But how did Vijay Shekhar Sharma succeed and become an inspiration for many new entrepreneurs?

Continue reading to unweave the inspiring story of India's second-youngest billionaire.

Paytm Founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s Humble Path to Success

Vijay Shekhar Sharma was born on June 7th, 1978, in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. He is the third of four children of his school teacher father, Sulom Prakash, and homemaker mother, Asha Sharma.

Born into a low-income family, life was never easy for Vijay while growing up. He couldn't speak or understand English. When he informed his mother he needed English classes to study engineering, she'd remind him about the family's lack of resources and his sister's upcoming marriage.

While starting college in 1994, Vijay realized that he needed to learn English urgently to grasp everything. So he set his mind to the task and taught himself how to read, write, and speak the language with the help of books, used magazines, and friends. Yet, unable to keep up, he had no choice but to stop attending college for a bit.

In 1998, through his hard work and dedication, Vijay eventually earned his B.Tech degree from Delhi College of Engineering (now known as Delhi Technological University). Before that, being an exceptionally brilliant student, he completed his schooling at age 14 in a Hindi medium school in the small town of Harduaganj, near Aligarh.

Vijay acknowledges Alibaba's "Jack Ma" and SoftBank's "Masayoshi Son" as his biggest inspirations. He also looked up to Hotmail's Sameer Bhatia and the company Yahoo.

In 1997, during his college days, Vijay aspired to work with computers in Silicon Valley. But he didn't have the finances to pursue that dream. So, Vijay did the next best thing - he taught himself coding and partnered with a friend to build a startup.

The startup, named XS Communication, was a success. It was a CMS (Content Management System) that publications like "The Indian Express" used.

In 2000, Vijay took a bank loan of Rupees 8 lakhs (about $18,000 then) at an excruciating interest rate of 24% to fund his business. But repaying that huge, burdensome debt required him to take up all sorts of odd jobs.

To make ends meet, Vijay would stay in an old Delhi hostel, skip meals, and walk to his work and meetings. Later in 2000, he established his value-added-services firm (VAS)— One97 Communications (Paytm's parent organization), to ease the burden further.

The Growth Journey

After a decade of further hard work, was launched on July 8th, 2010, under its parent company One97 Communications. The website aimed to allow people to do transactions online using their smartphones.

Paytm was the most convenient facility for making phone, electricity, water, and gas bill payments. The platform was a hit within the first few days of its launch. It eased people's lives by resolving the issues of society's poor and economically backward sections.

The company witnessed exponential growth from the time it started. Just a few years after its launch, Paytm expanded to include wallet services, banking facilities, credit cards, QR/PoS gateway, e-commerce facilities, and more to make life easier for people in India.

The Paytm App

The Paytm app was the first payment app to achieve the milestone of having 100 million users. With that, Paytm became India's most valued fintech start-up less than a decade after its inception.

Inching towards the end of the last Indian financial year (March 2021), Paytm had 1.2 billion monthly transactions. The company also had more than 150 million active monthly users at the time.

Paytm’s Sharp Rise

The sudden growth witnessed by Vijay Shekhar Sharma's company wasn't all intentional. India's 2016 banknote demonetization was a huge step toward digital India and boosted Paytm's sudden rise. After the Indian government announced the demonetization of all high-value banknotes on November 8th, 2016, Paytm usage and demand skyrocketed.

During the demonetization, getting hold of some cash for daily needs became a challenge overnight. However, thanks to Paytm, people discovered they could go cashless. As a result, in just 60 days, Paytm completed 600 days of work.

A year after the demonetization, in November 2017, Paytm users increased to 200 million. By 2020, with its then valuation of $16 billion, Paytm became one of India's most valuable startups.

Paytm IPO

Paytm's IPO (Initial Public Offer) was the biggest offered in the Indian share market. However, when the company got listed in the Share Market on November 18th, 2021, in the initial two days, the $2.5 billion Vijay Sharma-led Paytm IPO had an underwhelming response. Although, things began to improve on the third day.

After attaining a personal net worth of $2.4 billion following the IPO, Vijay's net worth is still around $1 billion today. Even with the fall in worth, that's a remarkable achievement for a simple boy from Aligarh whose first job paid him only Rs. 10,000 per month (equivalent to $125 today).

To this day, Vijay's simplicity is intact. He still loves to have tea from the roadside tea stall and shops for milk during his early morning walks.

Vijay Sharma was India's youngest billionaire in 2018 and is now the second-youngest billionaire in the country. Hence, making this a success story well worth telling.

Looking Ahead

Growing up, Vijay had to survive days without having proper meals. Instead, he often had to survive on a cup of tea and some cookies. But that didn't stop him from conquering his dreams.

Vijay is living proof that man makes his own destiny. One big lesson from this success story is that hard work and determination are the ingredients for great success. To achieve your dreams, you must gear up to face the most grueling challenges.

Today Paytm is available in multiple regional Indian languages. The Paytm app allows users to recharge their mobiles, pay bills, book travel, and buy movie and event tickets. Furthermore, users can make payments at stores, local shops, eateries, parking, tolls, pharmacies, and educational institutions with the Paytm QR code.

Paytm also provides financial services, allowing you to buy or sell Mutual Funds, Bonds, Shares, F&O, etc. The list doesn't end there. Paytm also provides a banking facility with the name Paytm Payments Bank.

Looking ahead, Paytm's 44-year-old founder wants to take the company further forward. Vijay is targeting dominating the mobile payments ecosystem. Expanding into the Americas and Europe is another near-future goal.