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Dance of the damned: Is the Paytm founder celebrating too soon?

business Updated: Jan 23, 2017 12:37 IST
Sunny Sen
Sunny Sen
Hindustan Times
Paytm

Vijay Shekhar Sharma takes a selfie with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav after being honored by him with Yash Bharati Samman(PTI)

At 38, Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s energy level is palpable, as he danced on “Malhari”, the song from actor Ranveer Singh’s movie Bajirao Mastani, at the annual Paytm event.

But Sharma forgot that in an era of internet, on which Paytm’s business depends, nothing his private. Leaks are random -- anyone can take a video or a picture from the mobile upload it. The same thing happened at the annual party.

While many would call it an “oops moment”, Sharma, founder of Paytm went with the flow, and has grabbed unwanted attention.

He shouted from the stage “Yeh hai Paytm (this is Paytm)... Jo humare sath nahin woh royenge (those who aren’t with us will cry),” a video uploaded by OfficeChai shows.

Targeting other startups, Sharma said that what Paytm did in one year others couldn’t do in 10 years. All this was fine until, the founder shouted B********, a commonly used North Indian slang that defines an incestuous relationship with ones sister.

Paytm was the single largest beneficiary of prime minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation, which weeded out 86% of country’s currency notes in circulation. Paytm’s userbase has hit 160 million, as people used the mobile wallet as a cash alternative.

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While there is nothing wrong in celebrating, but, critics said that being cool and casual has its own problems, if not handled well.

“There should have been a little more caution. In the startup environment there are two constituencies -- internal and external. The internal is young and aggressive, and the external is completely different. At this time he phases criticism, and the key question is on corporate decorum, and is its too early to celebrate,” said brand expert, Harish Bijoor.

Globally, young companies such as Facebook, Apple, and others have had founders who comes across as casual, but have maintained the dignity of the brand. In Sharma’s case that is being questioned.

In fact, just after the dance video went viral, Sharma’s energy levels were compared to former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer’s.

Ballmer, though in the later stage of his stint at Microsoft, sobered down, but during the first few years dance made him infamous. People called him a “monkey”.

Sharma knew that damage was done. But he had to amend things. In a social media post he wrote, that the things were put “out of context”.

“On the day, I was hugely energized by the infectious spirit of thousands of our team mates who work so hard everyday to serve our merchants and customers. I come to work everyday for their remarkable energy and commitment and wanted to communicate to each of them that they are appreciated and their efforts are making a difference. It was a celebration, not of our performance, but of the hard work and sincere efforts, of each of our team mate and partners. In retrospect, I could have chosen some words better. I have never taken anything for granted and won’t ever either,” Sharma wrote on Facebook, on Friday.

Sharma comes from the town of Aligarh, and rose to become one of India’s most known startup faces in the past couple of years. His Hindi medium schooling and his initial days of hardship, have often taken been important content in umpteen number of stories written about Paytm and Sharma.

But, Paytm’s success is yet not proven. “It is too early to rejoice... It will take a lot of time to prove the company’s longevity and sustainability of the business model,” said Sanchit Vir Gogia, founder and chief analyst of Greyhound Research.

Bijoor has other worries about Paytm. “Brand dignity should never be shaken or stirred,” he said.