It was the year 2014, we had just entered the final year of college. Everyone was preparing and praying for a good job. Paytm was visiting our college to hire business analysts. My best friend was the placement coordinator for our batch, and he asked me to sit for this company. I always had an interest in tech startups and mobile apps, apparently that interest was instilled in me because of my dad’s business. He owns a mobile shop, and thus I had been playing with mobile phones since 2002.
I hadn’t prepared much for the test, but somehow I was able to qualify the written test. Then came time for face to face interview and man that was tough. The interviewer was Mayank Dhingra, then AVP of growth at Paytm. He asked questions related to statistics (Mean, median, Standard Deviation etc.) and I knew nothing. I thought I will not be qualified for this, but somehow conversation went to Paytm App and I pointed a couple of things which were wrong in it and how I would improve them. I also compared the Paytm App with other apps around that time and suggested how we can make the homepage personalized to each user. Mayank was impressed, and he said, I can never be a business analyst, but I have qualities that of a Product guy, and that was the beginning of my life as a Product Manager.
“Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.“
I joined Paytm on 22nd June 2015 and as every college graduate, I was excited, nervous, anxious and scared. There were total of 22 people who were hired from undergrad college that year. Out of those 22, after having an interview with Vijay, CEO of Paytm, 2 were sent to payment division as product managers. I was one of them.
We met Prerna Kalra, my first manager and one of the smartest persons I have met, the depth of knowledge she had for payment industry was just outstanding. We also met Nitin Misra, VP of Payments at Paytm, he guided us with few websites and articles to learn about the industry. Based on my interest and empathy for users, I was given a small product inside Wallet App, yes at that time Paytm Wallet App was separate from main Paytm App, stay tuned for the story on how and when it was merged.
Wallet App at that time had around 200k downloads, work was going on QR code-based payments and Transfer to bank at that time. I met my engineering team 4 Android developers and 2 iOS developers. I started the competitive analysis by analyzing all the consumer payment apps in the world, made a roadmap of what could be built into our app and also started learning about Product Management, UX, App development via online courses. How to write PRD’s, How to do stand-ups, What is agile, What is scrum, How to measure and How API’s work, I learned all these.
At that time, I didn’t know formal words for what I was doing, I was just doing what I felt write for users and give my best to improve the product and user experience. I will not go into details about everything but would give one example which I didn’t know what I was doing but now I know it is called user testing and MVP. When QR code was to be launched in the Wallet App, I got an APK of the build and shared with few of product people in the company and my friends. I printed my QR code and pasted at our cafeteria and requested beta testers to do payment at cafeteria using QR code and share feedback with me. I used to go every evening to ATM, withdraw money of all the payments and give to Sonu, our cafeteria manager and that’s how he became our first merchant of Paytm QR code, rest is history with more than 7 million merchants now Paytm has basically changed how people pay in India.
We launched QR code and transfer to bank on 15 Oct 2015. That was my first product launch in career and am lucky that my first product launch was so successful. There were small funny stories like me sweating and panicking while uploading the APK to Play store, but now I smile while looking back.
With the help of a strong tech team, backend support and very aggressive sales team, within 6 months were able to acquire 100k merchants for QR code-based payments and App installs reached almost a million users. In Feb 2016 by seeing the numbers increase every day, we knew we were on something big. Our management decided to make QR code-based payments big and make it more prominent in the Paytm App i.e. home page, where it is today. This redesign, along with few other products was launched in the first week of April 2016 after so many design changes, feedback from the product team, direction from management, extra hard work of tech team and regressive testing by QA team. The product was completely new with a new design for QR code-based payments, transaction history (which was renamed to Passbook), add money flow and request money. There were two new products added in this which were Offline Payments and Paytm Assist. Offline payment was interesting where you could pay at merchants without having internet and Paytm Assist helped user in completing transactions by assisting them at bank pages.
By this time I had learned a lot of things at Paytm by working with some of the best product managers, a great team which became more like a family and an even better manager. I learned team management from her and use those skills while managing people now.
We were also working closely with Alipay team and understanding the Chinese market. I had by this time became better with the understanding of app development and design. I did a few courses and now had a good reputation with my tech team and design team. I used to spend most of my day with tech and design. I used to go out and observe people use Paytm to make payments, get their feedback and improve. I also was constantly receiving customer support emails and checking app reviews. I learned that more than data, it’s important to listen to the user and if you keep the user in mind, everything else will follow.
“Keep user in mind and everything else will follow.“
Paytm was a fast-paced place and as Vijay had given the motto, Go Big or Go Home, we were going big. The feeling of working at Paytm actually gave a sense of making a dent in the universe. The market was changing, user base was growing and we were launching new features with every release.
It didn’t come with challenges though, I would particularly like to mention 1 instance which almost gave me a feeling that I am not gonna survive.
“Hello, World Push” – Once while testing how to send money via chat, one of my team members sent push notification “Hello World” to users. It was a genuine mistake and I should not have shared production access, but what had happened couldn’t be changed. I was still a fresher, date was 23rd Oct 2015. I could have panicked and lost everything. Twitter was flooding with people mocking us. I went to my team, we sat together and started posting good things in reply like – “Thanks Paytm for making my Friday.”, “I may not have a GF, but I have Paytm, Hello Paytm” etc. slowly this became trending now and by end of the day, it gave Paytm a positive social media marketing.
I learned a few things that day –
1. Teamwork – if you have a strong team, you can face the challenge and survive.
2. Leadership/Ownership – Things go wrong, but you need to stand for the team and take ownership of your product.
3. Calm – Panicking won’t help, be calm and this shall too pass.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.“
I was learning a lot at Paytm, from a fresher out of college, now I had a fair understanding of Product Management, Design, User Experience, Mobile Developments, Sprint planning, Payment industry and how to work under pressure. It was September 2016 when our team was given Paytm Payments Bank project, it was the next big thing Paytm was preparing for and we were excited. It was something to be built from scratch but also with consideration of current wallet system. I was responsible for front end development and designed the whole flow for account opening, passbook, security and add balance.
We also, launched Paytm merchant SDK during the same time, which was the first time when we made a native JS SDK for third-party apps. One of the biggest of these was IRCTC, yes Indian Railways, which had millions of transactions per day. We had to be PCI DSS certified for this SDK and also, it was a project with high peak traffic because of Indian Tatkal booking.
With a growing user base, I learned, with great power comes greater responsibilities. Now every single feature I launched, a single change I made was impacting 10’s of million users. Any mistake will result in millions of dollar of revenue loss. But this taught me how to handle things at scale. The pressure of working during that time prepared me to work at any organization and at any scale. With the speed of Paytm, if you are not releasing something big every month, it felt an unproductive sprint.
“With great power comes great responsibility.“
In November 2016, the things changed, Government of India announced demonetization. Paytm overnight became a necessity of Indian people. Our numbers were skyrocketing, we were seeing 10 times the traffic, sometimes even more. Things were crazy. I had to launch features in weeks now, instead of months. I salute the tech team, who worked so passionately. There was an adrenal rush at that time, you can feel it in the air in Paytm Office. We launched Accept Payments and Nearby Merchants the first week, where you could accept payments from other people and also discover nearby merchants. I cannot share details but I am lucky to have the experience first hand then.
I had been working on Paytm Consumer payments for almost 18 months by then, I wanted to try something new and thus planned to move away in January 2017. I shifted to Paytm movies and also started doing research on food delivery and local entertainment product at Paytm. I learned how a movie booking and food delivery works. In March 2017, I was reached out by Airtel Payments Bank. I met Dhiraj Sharda, he was CDO there and I was impressed by him in the first meeting. So I decided to leave Paytm and join him at Airtel Payments Bank to provide banking to tier 3 cities in India.
I can never forget Paytm and cannot thank enough for giving me the opportunity to make some amazing products. I learned so much there and I think, there could not have been a better place to start my career. I still have so many memories and friends there. Whenever I am back in Noida, I try to meet people there, our team still is like a close family. We are going next week to Cambodia next week, as of this writing, even though we all are in 3 different countries. Our manager now has her own startup, Daalchini, and shares updates with us whenever she reaches a milestone. Still, whenever I land in India, it gives a feeling of pride to see Paytm QR codes and people paying through it. We enabled people who couldn’t afford POS machines, to accept payments. I thank Vijay, our CEO, Nitin Misra, my VP, Prerna my Manager, Renu Satti, Rahul Saini our Design Sarpanch, my tech team, my QA team, my design team, my fellow product managers whom if I start naming the post will never end. Wish Paytm all the very best and success.
So to summarize my experience at Paytm –