The Story of Vijay Shekhar Sharma - India’s Coolest CEO

Publish On: 16 Jun, 2019 11:00 AM | Updated   |   SJ Desk  
The Story of Vijay Shekhar Sharma - India’s Coolest CEO


e must never belittle ourselves or let our humble roots define ourselves throughout our lives. Just like how a seed once planted has the potential to grow into a majestic tree, we human beings can attain great heights through hard work and talent. You are going to read one such success story today.

PayTM is one of India’s most widely used financial apps. From paying bills, transferring money to friends and family, paying salaries to booking tickets, the people of India nowadays rely on PayTM for their everyday transactions. In fact, the app is widely considered to have brought a kind of revolution in the online payment services in India. Remember during the demonetization days, PayTM served as the go to app for users and businesses alike?

But this is not the story of PayTM but the inspiring story of the man who conceived it all. The man behind the platform is its founder  Vijay Shekhar Sharma, who is an expert in the field and well known as India’s youngest billionaire. Plus, he is counted among India’s coolest CEOs. If you are wondering how did he make it all possible, then check out his inspiring story below.

Humble Beginnings

This success story is truly Bollywood material. Vijay Shekhar Sharma was born in Aligarh, and in his own words had a very “normal” Indian childhood. He was very shy and studious and attended a Hindi medium school in his hometown. He once admitted to being so shy that when guests came home, he would hide inside the house, and his mother would refer to him as the “shy bahu!” He came from a typical middle-class background where academics were everything, and no one gave much thought to starting a business. 

Vijay was a brilliant student who was interested in subjects outside his school syllabus too. this led him to reach Class X at the age of 12. By the time he joined college (Delhi College of Engineering, now known as Delhi Technological University), he was only 15. The story now gets interesting. He had a tough time in college; not with academics like most people do, but with seniors and peers. Coming from an environment where even casual slangs were seen as insults, he found it difficult to deal with the intense ragging. 

He also had a bit of difficulty adjusting to the English-speaking environment, since he had had an entirely Hindi medium education till then. He used to be the first bencher, but when the teacher asked him a question in English that he did not comprehend, he was mocked by his classmates. Extremely embarrassed and demoralized, Sharma moved to the last bench to draw less attention to himself. 

However, he was determined to learn English and began reading various newspapers and magazines to improve his grasp on the language. It was on his reading journey that Sharma came across the inspiring stories Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, which got him interested in the vast world of Silicon Valley.

Vijay eventually came out of his shell and found himself among a group of like-minded companions. His brilliance began to be made note of. While still a student, he started the website along with his classmate Harinder Takhar, which he later sold for a whopping $1 million! Mind you, all this while he was in college. was purchased by the American giant Lotus Interworks for Rs 1 million. With these earnings, the humble Sharma bought a colour TV for his family, a facility they didn’t have till then.

Small Steps to Big Results

Vijay didn’t always have the pocket money to splurge on whatever he wanted, so he used to buy magazines second hand. He found out about Silicon Valley through one such second-hand magazine that happened to come his way. He was immediately inspired and even went through a period of wanting to study at Stanford because many Silicon Valley greats had studied there. However, he eventually decided to stay in India.

He started working in a job with four other friends and they began to make a handsome salary. However, something was missing; in his own words, Sharma “wanted to fly.” He gave up his huge salary saying it was a “golden handcuff,” and decided to do something on his own that would give him the freedom to be his own boss.

The Birth of PayTM

In 1997, Sharma launched one97 Communications, which was to later become the parent company of PayTM. It provided mobile content in India during an era where people were just getting the hang of using basic phones. It allowed users to share cricket scores, jokes, ringtones, exam scores; the mobile entertainment and information of the pre-smartphone era. 

The company faced a setback after the 9/11 attacks because American investors were no longer interested in foreign companies. This was a period of struggle for Sharma, as the company ran out of funds and his business partner abandoned him. However, the business eventually picked up, with new investors pumping in Rs 8 lakh, and buying 40% of the company’s shares. Soon, One97 hit the jackpot after selling 10 million ringtones in a single month. In the year 2007-08, the company made an impressive turnover of 11 crores, and this multiplied by 20 over the next four years, pulling in a whopping 220 crores. 

After doing that for many years, Vijay still wanted more. So to adjust to the 3G boom in 2010, PayTM was born, and since then there has been no looking back. Getting the capital to build PayTM was difficult, as investors were not willing to finance it. However, Sharma somehow managed to build up 5 crores and in 6 months kick-started his new enterprise. The simple mobile app has grown and expanded rapidly over the past nine years, and today brings easy financial access and transactions to millions of people in India. 

Nowadays, PayTM is India’s go-to app for movie tickets, travel, small and large money transfers, and has even set up portals to collect donations for states suffering from natural disasters. As a testament to its success, PayTM has drawn in a whopping 78 million orders! When Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the surprise decision to demonetize India in 2016, PayTM founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma stepped in to help more Indians use the PayTM app to handle their payments online instead of relying on liquid cash. He has contributed significantly to the “digital India” movement.

India’s Coolest CEO 

When you think of the youngest billionaire on the 2017 Forbes list and a man who is often featured in top magazines like India Today, you might think of a serious guy in a suit sitting alone in a glass cabin. Well, that’s exactly what Vijay Shekhar Sharma is NOT. He sits in a regular cubicle along with the rest of his employees in his colourful office. Meetings are scheduled with a wave of the hand- not the way you would expect things to work in one of the highest valued companies on the stock exchange! He is the “office DJ,” and knows his way around catchy tunes. And no, he doesn’t wear a suit!

Sharma is also extremely cool with his co-workers. In fact, he refused to use the term “employees” in an interview and referred to them as his equals. There are several online testimonies from people who have worked with him stating that he is extremely humble and down to earth, and always has a calm and unruffled attitude. 

His smiling face makes him appear very approachable even to the newest trainee, and he has none of the airs and graces that usually go along with the position and stature he has achieved. In his interviews, we can sometimes still get a glimpse of his old shyness. However, when it comes to celebrations, he doesn’t mind doing bhangra and shaking some thumkas in the middle of the PayTM headquarters! He has proved that you don’t need to be stern and unapproachable in order to be a serious businessman.

Every day, plenty of people in India leave their homes with hope in their heart to achieve something great. In fact, PayTM CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s story should be an inspiration to every Indian with big dreams. With 10 million subscribers and 35 million monthly users, PayTM is one of the most successful businesses in India today. 

Sharma serves as an example that it doesn’t matter if you are from a small town, or you can’t speak English, or you are the youngest in your class. Once you find your dream and pursue it with passion, you can reach great heights. We sure hope that some of our readers also go from being the youngest kid in their class to India’s youngest billionaire, in the future!

Feeling inspired after reading Vijay Shekhar Sharma's story? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.