It offered a variety of digital services before moving into payments in 2014, just as millions of urban Indians began shopping online. Two years later, India’s banks created the Unified Payments Interface, a tech umbrella to help banks and fintech startups create services quickly, and the government eliminated high-value currency notes, turbocharging demand for Paytm’s services. Sharma, a self-described hippie who loves to sprinkle U2 and Pink Floyd lyrics into his conversation, now has backers including Alibaba’s Jack Ma, SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son, and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett.
Paytm is the market leader in India, where KPMG sees digital payments growing at the fastest rate of any country, with transaction value rising at an estimated annual rate of 20.2% from 2019 to 2023. But competition is heating up as Google, Walmart, and Facebook jump into India, wielding cashback offers to lure customers. Meanwhile, the government has proposed scrapping fees on digital payments, Paytm’s core product. In an interview in Delhi, Sharma described his career and how Paytm is adapting to India’s changing market, cutting annual expenses 45% and preparing to raise new funds to accelerate the next phase of growth in smaller cities.
SARITHA RAI: What led you to digital payments and e-commerce?
VIJAY SHEKHAR SHARMA: I grew up in a small town called Aligarh where I studied in a very basic H