In 2005, when Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s parents wanted to get him married, they couldn't find a match. Sharma was a struggling businessman and his income was a deal breaker for any prospective in-laws. Then, one day, his current father-in-law came to meet him. Though he seemed interested, Sharma had little hope. And, as expected, there was no word from him for a few months. The meeting, however, proved lucky. Sharma’s business had started to pick up. By the time of their next meeting, Sharma was doing considerably well. “Lady luck smiled on me,” he says.
Yes, luck has been on Sharma’s side. The founder of Paytm, an e-commerce company, now has a payment bank licence, a sponsorship deal for BCCI matches and an investment from Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company. Sharma, however, wants more. His latest target—have half a billion Indians use Paytm’s wallet by 2020.
The entrepreneur came from a humble background. Till 2000, his Aligarh house did not have a colour TV. The first thing he did after selling his first venture was to pay off his father's loans, buy a TV for the family and a sari for his mother.
And, since Paytm became popular, his parents have enjoyed an elevated social standing. “They frequently get requests to arrange match tickets,” he says. “I get hoards of resumes every day from relatives, some known and some not so known. I have to ask someone to scan and filter them.”
The early hardships taught him to enjoy life more. His Facebook profile describes him as “resident DJ” at One97 Communication, the parent company of Paytm. Sharma is a music lover and, during a recent trip to New York, he stood in Central Park from 4pm to 10pm, watching Coldplay, Pearl Jam and Beyonce perform live. “After that, it felt like my legs were broken. But that was an experience in itself. I had the luxury to be on stage with them for a few minutes,” he says jubilantly. But it's not only western music that makes him happy. “For me, classical music is a lullaby,” he says. “It puts me to sleep. Every night before sleeping, I switch it on and it’s so soothing, it just calms me down.”
Sharma is slightly eccentric and is possessive about his earplugs, charger cables and ink pens. And, he can visit five countries in five days without getting tired. Actually, the longer the flight, the better. It gives him the time to catch up on music, TED talks and reading. As we speak, I notice his phone cover—a colourful one, the kind teenagers buy. “It might be a childish thing to do, but I love buying phone covers with beautiful prints and colours. I change it quite often,” he says with a wide grin.
Sharma is a little overweight and, when his wife teases him about it, he is ready with a list of excuses. His favourite hobby is swimming, but there are no heated swimming pools for Delhi winters. Gymming is a no-no because he cannot exercise in a closed environment. And, as for running, there is too much air pollution in the capital. A foodie, Sharma relishes Mexican and Italian cuisines, and his favourite eateries are Big Chill, The Great Kabab Factory and Dakshin. “Over the years, I have realised that being a foodie is not such a good thing, especially as you age,” he says.
Weekends are spent watching recorded videos of comedian Kapil Sharma and the sitcom Two and a Half Men. He also uses these days to play with his three-year-old son. “My son is fascinated by the take-off and landing videos of airplanes. So, we watch them together,” he says. “I always keep an eye out for interesting live events happening in the vicinity. Sometimes, we go there.”
Being an e-tailer, Sharma loves shopping and it gives him an insight into the buying habits of consumers. The medium, online or offline, does not matter. He is as excited about deals as a college goer and proudly shows off his new trousers, from shopping website Zovi, which he got for 0699. All his home décor shopping—table cloth, showpieces and curios—are kept in his office as home décor for home is chosen by his wife.
A seeker of knowledge, Sharma loves being in the company of intelligent people. “Somewhere in me, there is this thought that I have not learned enough,” he says. “So, I read a lot. The best way to learn is to meet new people and I enjoy doing that.”
One of his dreams is getting a Stanford University degree. Not to add to his educational profile, but because he wants to observe the American college system. “I have always been fascinated by the ‘billionaires under 30 list’. I could not make it to that list. But, one of my desires is to be in the ‘billionaires under 40’ list. Again, not to flaunt money or affluence but to show that India can also produce one,” he says candidly.
VIJAY SHEKHAR SHARMA, 37
Company: Paytm (started in 2010)
Valuation: Rs.2,500 crore
Hobbies: Swimming, music
Quote to note: One of my desires is to be in the ‘billionaires under 40’ list to show that India can also produce one.