Saurabh Jain, VP of Paytm, took out time to speak with us on his exceptional career journey. His professional journey is worth a read as it exudes the importance of motivation, perseverance, and passion in life.
Let us take you through the wonderful insights we received from Saurabh Jain.
Please tell us a bit about your background as a student.
I was a good student in school. However, I never came first in my class. Usually, I used to be at the 6th position.
There is a theory of multiple intelligence that I recently read about. It talks about linguistic intelligence and logical intelligence. So, I can say that I was actually less interested in linguistics and more interested in logical subjects. I was always good at subjects like science and maths.
Coming from a commerce background, how did you enter the tech industry?
I wanted to create a video game when I was in class 7. So, I started learning C programming a year later, in class 8. Later on, in class 11, I also learnt about Artificial Intelligence.
My father was a renowned CA. He passed away when I was in 10th standard. My mother wanted me to pursue CA as she felt if I choose engineering, there was no surety in which city I would get admission. I also realised that opting for Commerce would allow me to take out time and focus on what I wanted to do (coding). On the other hand, if I would have taken Science, I would have to focus a lot on entrance exams like IIT JEE. So that's how I ended up becoming a CA.
Unfortunately, the education system in India is such that there was no concept of choosing Commerce with Computers. So, after finishing school, there was no way of becoming an engineer because I had not taken up Science in school. However, I have always been interested in tech-related activities, and have relied on self-study to learn the same.
Is it true that you never worked as an employee before joining Paytm?
Interestingly, Paytm is my first job. Before that, I was involved in handling multiple startups. In fact, I was always very clear that I will begin my career with a startup. So I started building my startup, called SKJ technologies in 2003, 6 months before completing my CA. I was one of the first entrepreneurs in India who started Mobile App Development.
I used to worship Bill Gates when I was in final years of school and in college. I was running the biggest and the most popular Bill Gates Fanclub in the world at that time.
As a Consultant Startup, we worked with many companies including Blackberry and Nokia. Our main task was to add value by hosting events and help companies formulate strategies. So, you can say that I have worked as a Strategy Consultant.
My association with Paytm also started as a consultant. Then, in 2018, it formalized into a fulltime job. So, Paytm was my first official job.
You are a CA by profession and now a VP at Paytm. How did it all take place?
Like I mentioned earlier, I decided to take up CA as it seemed the right option at that time, and because it would give me time to focus on what I loved - Coding. My father had a CA office, which I continued running for a few years post his death. Simultaneously, I began my startup. However, once the startup got some hold in the market, I closed down my CA practice.
Because I was one of the first few people to get into Mobile App Development, I met Mr. Vijay Shekhar in 2005. At that time, he was supplying content to mobile telecoms. So, I had an acquaintance with him before joining Paytm. Interestingly, my startup had also built a game and some applications for Paytm. I continued building some very good clients during that time such as Topper Tv, Nokia, etc.
In 2010, I started an initiative called OpenClass community for developers. In fact, what I am doing in Paytm is directly related to that. During that time, I faced a lot of challenges in recruiting people for my startup as it was very difficult to find good candidates. It was even more challenging as mobile app development is a niche area.
So, I decided to solve this problem first. As I had already worked as a corporate trainer, I decided to teach and train students. However, I decided to do it for free or for a nominal fee of Rs. 50-100 (for refreshments). I also took help from my friends who were at senior positions in the industry in the training of candidates. Moving forward, we started getting sponsorships from companies like Blackberry and Nokia.
In one of the events for Blackberry, I had organized a Hackathon where students from OpenClass had participated. Mr. Vijay Shekhar was the judge at the event, and he was actually very impressed with the quality of the candidates. So, somehow this thing resonated with him and he offered me to join Paytm. However, because I was a startup founder, I was not sure about joining a job at that time. This was around 2012.
Then, for the next 4-5 years, both of us got busy in our own businesses. Mr. Shekhar received funding and Paytm became a unicorn. I also got occupied in my own startup and later on joined as a co-founder in another startup.
Reconnecting with Mr. Vijay Shekhar
Later in 2017, once Vijay messaged me and asked me to come and meet him. We started discussing a lot of ideas, and Vijay actually liked my ideas. Some of those things have now been executed in Paytm - Build for India.
The work culture at Paytm
Initially, I was a bit skeptical about joining Paytm full-time because I had always been an entrepreneur. So, my journey with Paytm began as a consultant. However, after 5-6 months, I saw that the work culture at Paytm is very good. So, I realized I would be able to work here full-time.
Working on the gap
During my OpenClass initiative, I had worked with colleges and interacted with many professors. I understood that there is a lot of gap between what the industry seeks and what is taught in the colleges. Unfortunately, nobody from industry goes and helps the colleges to modify their curriculum. On the one hand, everybody in the industry is focused on solving their own KRA, while on the other hand, the colleges are just focused on the traditional curriculum. However, there are professors, college administrations, and students who want to build exciting stuff. Unfortunately, nobody from the industry goes and mentors them. So that’s why in Build for India , one of the key focus areas is on mentoring students. Here, we focus on supporting and helping such candidates.
What would you want the job seekers to know about the culture at Paytm?
There are two important things that I would like to share with job seekers regarding the Paytm culture.
Fast and dynamic environment
At Paytm, the rate of change is very fast. The whole environment is fast and dynamic. So, one thing which job seekers should be willing to do is to quickly adapt to the change and be able to work in a challenging environment.
Autonomy and self-learning
Paytm has a flat hierarchy. The environment is such that many times you have to take your own decisions. As no one micromanages activities, one should be very good at taking initiatives. And taking initiatives also requires self-learning. For instance, sometimes people think that I am an engineer so I cannot do marketing or I am an MBA so I can't do coding. However, you have to be a very good self-learner if you want to join a company like Paytm or any other startup for that matter.
At Paytm, there are no cubicles or glass doors. Just walk and talk to anybody at any time. So, the culture is very open, easy, and different in that sense.
What is the most exciting part of your job? And the most difficult one?
There are two things actually. One is being able to work with a dynamic person like Vijay, and the second is that I am able to interface a lot with students and people in academia. This way, I get a lot of opportunities to bring about a positive change in the country.
As for the difficult part, I feel a lot of travelling sometimes can be very challenging. Frequent travelling to tier 2 and tier 3 cities becomes difficult because of less connectivity or busy schedules.
Also, interestingly, I am sort of an introvert person. I am someone who enjoys coding and isn't much of a socializer. However, in this profession, I have to travel and meet a lot of people. Initially, for a few months, meeting new people used to give me tough times because I never interacted with so many people before. Also, even though I didn’t have much of stage fright, however, if you are talking in front of 2000 people, you have to be careful. In that way, it was a little bit tough. However, now I have got used to it speaking in front of 200-300 people every day.
What is that one thing that you wish you had known when you started your career?
Books have been an important part of my journey. I have read 175 books in the last 5 years. Had I known about these books and read them at the start of my career, I feel I would have been more successful today.
Initial years of building my startup were extremely difficult. Unfortunately, I did not know anything about Agile, Product Management, User Experience, Growth Hacking, etc. That's why my first startup was quite challenging from the product point of view. Had I known about these concepts at the beginning of my career, it could have allowed me to scale up my startup much faster.
You wrote India’s first book on Mobile App Development. What was your inspiration for writing that book?
I have always been a self-learner and an avid reader. I was also very focused on writing a book. So, when I started Mobile App Development, I came to know that there was no book available in India. There were only a couple of books available worldwide which were relatively expensive. So, I saw a niche there.
I wrote the book more out of passion and because there was a direct need, which I could see that I could fill.
The book, Mobile Phone Programming, is based on J2ME technology. It was published in 2003 by BPB Publications, the biggest computer book publishers at that time. The second edition came in 2006, which is a revamped version, almost like a completely new book. While the first edition was 200 pages long, the second edition contains 450 pages.
There must have been times when things were not right. How did you deal with failures?
I had lost my father at an early age. The first 10 years, after his death, were very difficult. However, gradually over a period of time, I became more optimistic. There is a saying that Andhkaar ke baad kabhi na kabhi toh savera hoga hi. I think that is what kept me going. Since then, I have always maintained an optimistic mindset. More importantly, my mother’s support in my life has been extremely crucial. It would be right to give the credit of my success to her positive mindset, which made it less difficult for me to cope up with difficult situations. She always used to tell me Lage Raho Munna Bhai.
Who is your biggest inspiration in life?
My parents have been the biggest inspiration for me. My mother always supported me, and I am very close to her. My father had an entrepreneurial side as well, which inspired me a lot.
What advice do you have for the youth of India?
One of the main things for a successful career is self-learning. These days things change at a fast rate, and you must stay up-to-date with the latest happenings in your field. So, always focus on learning new things.
Another important thing that the youth must understand is that do not focus on a job role, instead, focus on solving a problem. Problems are solved by building solutions. So go ahead and build new things and learn from your experiences.
I have seen a lot of people in Paytm who had their own startups and were acquihired. So if you try and do what you love, even if you are not successful, one day you can hope to be acquihired or prove beneficial to the people around you in some way.
Do not let the fear of failure bog you down. If you believe in something, go ahead and work for it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are exclusively of the interviewee. A few minor edits have been made by the Naukri Content Team.