East or west, we can now raise money from anywhere: Paytm's Vijay Sharma

Having Chinese investors does not mean the management is in some third party's control, VIJAY SHEKHAR SHARMA, managing director and CEO of One97 Communications (parent company of Paytm), told Deepsekhar Choudhury and Neha Alawadhi in an interview ahead of the company's mega IPO. Edited excerpts:  How do you look back on your journey leading up to India’s biggest IPO? When we started as a telecommunications services company, I had never imagined we would be doing India's largest IPO one day. Like the American Dream, I hope there is a slice of the Indian Drea.....
Having Chinese investors does not mean the management is in some third party's control, VIJAY SHEKHAR SHARMA, managing director and CEO of One97 Communications (parent company of Paytm), told Deepsekhar Choudhury and Neha Alawadhi in an interview ahead of the company's mega IPO. Edited excerpts

How do you look back on your journey leading up to India’s biggest IPO?

When we started as a telecommunications services company, I had never imagined we would be doing India's largest IPO one day. Like the American Dream, I hope there is a slice of the Indian Dream as well. In the past two decades, India has brought forward an unimaginable opportunity for technology (tech) entrepreneurs.

What will you say to a youngster in a small Indian town who wants to build a billion-dollar tech start-up? What were the biggest challenges for you?

If you don't take a chance on yourself, no one else will. You could just be the maverick the world has been waiting for. I think the biggest challenge has been to be part of a crowd and speak the same language. Do not fall into the trap of trying to fit in. Invest all your energies into building an incredible company. 

How has life changed for you?

For one, I have been asked to not tweet. Also, there is an important obligation of being a partner and non-executive chairman of a bank (Paytm Payments Bank). Now, I'll be governed by the Reserve Bank of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India.

Is there a timeline for hitting profitability?

We don't need a timetable. We are headed in that direction. Our costs are down and contributions up. India is a growth market and there is no reason why we should not invest more.

Do you see the Chinese investments in your company as a hindrance to the overarching India narrative?

It is now well-entrenched that we can raise money from anywhere - East or West. For a company like Paytm Insurtech that has not started operations yet, we have raised Rs 900 crore. Sure, we have Chinese investors. That does not mean our management is in some third party's control. We are glad to see umpteen investors keen to repose faith in us.

You said in a call on Thursday that Paytm Mall is a separate business and you are not investing in it. Would you like to say why it was separated and what's the strategy with that business going forward?

Payment and financial services meld well. The e-commerce business, with its logistical and investment requirements, is a different beast. We separated when the customer value and the kind of business we should include in the Paytm ecosystem was clearly identified. I think that was a wise decision on our part.

You are betting big on the small dukaandaar like a lot of other fintech businesses. What kind of average revenue per user (ARPU) do you have from small merchants and what is the contribution of this segment to your overall revenue? 

Our business-to-business customer base of 22 million won’t include even 1 million large companies. Any merchant receiving payments of Rs 10,000 per month could get a loan of Rs 2,000-3,000. We can make a commission on that for discovery since it is a valuable thing for a credit institution. Frankly, I think the value these small businesses bring is hidden very often and we have not yet calculated a number like ARPU.

How many of your employees will become millionaires after the IPO? Do you have a number in mind?

Although we don’t have a specific figure, I think the number of such employees could be in thousands. Also, Paytm is the only company to have given Rs 2,000 crore of liquidity to its staff through employee stock option sales and buybacks. That is not a small number, believe me.


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