Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma.
In five years, Vijay Shekhar Sharma has converted a start-up (albeit a well-funded one) into a billion-dollar company, Paytm. He has also just spent over Rs 200 crores for the title sponsorship of the Indian cricket team.
The road to such immense riches was, at least in parts, littered with rags.
"I had days when I didn't have money for dinner. Let's say having two cups of tea was a perk for me. I couldn't take the bus so I walked to save Rs 10," he says about an earlier venture that flamed out.
The 37-year-old now operates from the Delhi suburb of Noida, headquartered in an office buzzing with a young team and plastered with quotes from The Doors
' frontman Jim Morrison, among others.
Mr Sharma spent his childhood in Aligarh, then enrolled at the Delhi College of Engineering, when he was just 15. But pretty much everything was lost in translation. He neither spoke English nor understood it. "I tried doing everything in Hindi, but the language of the people and in the classroom was English. It was a Taare Zameen Par
moment for me with alphabets flying around."
Embarrassed and unable to keep up, the teen who had always been a front-row student moved first to the back of the class and then stopped attending lectures altogether. "It was very horrible, emotional, and also very tough. I was truly in no man's land. But I had a single mission - there's no way out."
So he taught himself English using dictionaries and poring over second-hand magazines. It was the mid-90s and copies of Fortune 500 transported the teen to a new world - that of Silicon Valley and the internet. He felt he belonged there, but as was the case so often in those years, there was a major obstruction. "There was no way I could have gone. I remember the IIM fee was Rs 2,30,000! So this was the underdog movement for me, I said, 'one day I will be worth enough to hire these people'".
While still in college, he created a company that included a search engine, sold it, then set up One97, which provided Value-Added Services or VAS like premium or paid content to mobile phone operators. The future looked bright and then the stock market crashed. That's when bus-rides became a luxury and tea a treat.
Then, in 2010, he launched Paytm, an online payment platform. And it all came together. 4,000 employees now, an online wallet that is near ubiquitous and a full-blown e-commerce site.
Among his investors are Jack Ma of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Ratan Tata.
"It doesn't matter whether you are from a small or big town. It doesn't matter at all. You need sincerity. Either you're in or out," he says with the decisiveness that rests on a body of success.
He has a young son, but says it's age (remember he is all of 37) and not parenthood that has mellowed him. Just barely. He jumped out of a plane recently for a thrill. Other adventures include investing in new businesses.(Disclosure: Vijay Shekhar Sharma's One97 is an investor in NDTV's Gadgets 360.)