I have been planning to write about India’s tech ecosystem for some time. The delta of knowledge it required overwhelmed me more often than not. Not only the ecosystem is far bigger than ours. Also, unlike Silicon Valley, I don’t know much about it. So even if on weekends when I managed to squeeze some time, I quickly gave up because I couldn’t figure where to begin. The answer, however, came from an unexpected place.
This is not the first time I heard praise for an Indian startup though. But I have a personal history with Paytm. Seeing what it has become gave me chills. Plus, it made a lot of sense as a follow up to my article on SimSim.
Back in 2013, I pitched Paytm for Pakistan to Plan9. Obviously, I didn’t make it. And I didn’t pursue it myself too. The idea of an app for mobile top-ups was intriguing back then—if nothing else. And it was the result of my own personal frustrations rather than a Paytm inspiration. I actually didn’t know Paytm existed until a few days later.
My family and I used a combination of 2-3 different telecom operators and a couple of them were not on-board with SCB’s online banking. Also, it was a value-added service back then. Telecom operators used to brag about it i.e. you can do mobile top-ups using this bank and that. So not only there was no bank offering top-ups for all operators, they were not planning to do either because they were seeking partnerships (read easy money) in a typical incumbent fashion.
I was more than sure I wasn’t the only facing this problem. So having a mobile app that can solve this all made a lot of sense. Not so surprisingly I wasn’t alone. Vijay Shekhar was three years ahead of me. Paytm, for the most part, was still a top-up service in 2013. It was tiny compared to the behemoth it has become now. On that end, I cringe what a lost opportunity Easypaisa has been. I vouched for it to be a separate company more than once. Here was a product way ahead of the competition and one that had the MVP built in. And yet they kept it tied to their own service for God knows what.
Today like Sriram said, Paytm is everywhere. From cucumber to Gold, you can buy anything and everything without carrying cash or leaving your couch. It also got little help from the government last year when it started demonetizing 500 and 1000 banknotes. And while banks and telecom operators in India have caught up but not before Paytm captured a large portion of the market. And now it’s on a head-on competition with them by offering services previously reserved to banks.
Paytm Inbox is just like their banking service, a fend off strategy to keep WhatsApp Business at bay. I won’t be surprised if WhatsApp gets a tough time here. Albeit all the Facebook money, they still have to work upwards. Paytm, on the other hand, will be pushing from the top.