Vijay Shekhar Sharma had a great 2016. The payments platform that he founded, PayTM, was already chugging along and adding to its user base over much of the year. Then demonetisation hit India and suddenly PayTM was everywhere. The company bought ads the morning after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the currency exchange move and quickly move to become almost as identified with demonetisation as the government.
In urban parts of India, PayTM is now instantly recognisable, even if people don’t actually use it. The company recorded 1 billion transactions in 2016, and saw its user base grow by 45%. In December alone, PayTM claimed to have 80 million active customers. It also now has a licence to be a payments bank.
So it’s no wonder that Sharma is charged up. His company began as a payment platform seven years ago but bumbled around for a bit as regulatory and technical challenges came in its way. Funding from China’s Alibaba, and the need for Uber to find a non-credit card option after regulatory changes, threw the company a major life line, leaving it perfectly poised to ride the demonetisation wave.
A video from PayTM’s annual office party (Revolution 2017) uploaded by OfficeChai, shows an energetic Sharma promise everything short of taking over the world to his employees from a stage that would look at home in a music concert, complete with multiple screens and spotlights. “Humne kuch socha, humne kuch socha, humne kuch socha, aur saala doosron ki pant geeli nahin hui to kya socha? (We thought of something, but if it doesn’t cause our competition to wet their pants, have we thought at all?).
The performance instantly prompted comparisons to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, whose energetic appearances on stage in front of employees turned into viral videos.
But too much public scrutiny might also be somewhat infelicitous for Sharma. PayTM’s close association with the demonetisation move has inspired criticism and questions about how safe and reliable the platform is. An advertisement soon after the demonetisation move, which seemed to make light of those without cash, had to be altered after very vocal backlash. That the company is partly owned by Chinese investors has also become a talking point and could at anytime turn into a bigger matter, thanks to India’s suspicion of anything coming from its less-than-friendly northern neighbour.
At least in his employee-facing avatar, though, Sharma doesn’t seem to be fazed. “Jo humare saath nahin wo royenge.” Those who aren’t with us will be left crying!