In a recent interview with India Today, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, now one of India’s youngest billionaires and Founder of Paytm, remembered his days as a student and the struggle that he went through during everyday classes.
He recollected his years as a college student in Delhi, sitting in the front row of class and staring blankly at his teacher, who was teaching in a language. Despite being the only student from his school to qualify in the competitive exam and getting admission in DCE, he faced a language barrier in the new city. Since he had a Hindi-medium education background until high school, it became a struggle for him to understand the lessons which were majorly delivered in English.
He grew up in Harduaganj, a small town near Aligarh, with his father (a school teacher) and mother (a housewife). As he met with a language barrier in his engineering classes at the Delhi College of Engineering (DCE, now Delhi Technological University), his life in the premises became intimidating for him. He suffered from anxiety, the feeling of being an outcast, suffered a lack of friends and worried about getting a decent job.
He said, “I was the second engineer to graduate from my school. The first was in 1964. I see myself as an underdog, I was not supposed to be here. In school, I read a lot of books in the library; I read a lot about the glory of India but also realised that the glory was in the past.”
“I believe that whatever comes my way, whatever I do, is part of god’s plan. If there is a challenge [before me], I am meant to solve it. Whatever comes my way is a tool or a resource for me to fulfil my purpose. It is surreal to believe that I am here,” added the tech-entrepreneur.
Shy and overwhelmed, he spent most of his time in the library or the computer lab. “I didn’t understand what the teacher was saying in the classroom. I never felt one with my peers. I couldn’t speak or understand their language. I was a failure in my class but a hero in the lab. I started to worry about whether I would get a job. I went from being a school topper to failing in subjects because I couldn’t understand the language.”
But what inspired him amidst this chaos were the stories of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, who had made it big without a college degree. He got encouraged to start something of his own and even started a company out of his hostel with his few friends, named XS Corps. Their business card carried the address of their hostel and a phone number for the DCE’s computer centre.
Later, he went on to grab an on-campus job. “I took the job with the clarity that I had to learn how to run a company, like understanding what departments exist, etc. I did three stints in different companies, learning different aspects of running a business," he stated.
Rest is history when, in 2001, he took an Rs 8 lakh loan and started One97, the parent company of Paytm. In 2010, he launched Paytm. In 2014, the company launched Paytm digital wallet. In 2016, demonetisation happened that helped Paytm grow tremendously. In 2017, Paytm became India’s first payment app to cross over 100 million app downloads.
What does his story teach us? That no matter how big a failure you may think you're in school, your determination to polish yourself afterwards and perseverance towards that mission is all that matters.