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Paytm Labs Canada: Interview With CEO Harinder Takhar

@SidnChips

HARINDER TAKHAR, CEO of Paytm Labs in Canada, is known to wear many hats. When One97, the company that owns Paytm, was founded in the year 2000, Takhar joined his former batchmate from Delhi College of Engineering and Paytm founder, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, to take charge of business development as well as product management. Takhar later went on to work at Nokia in Finland and Research in Motion in Canada.

In 2011, Takhar came back to join Paytm as its first CEO. In 2014, when San Francisco-based Uber began its operations in India, Takhar was instrumental in cracking the deal to integrate Paytm wallet with the ride-hailing company exclusively in India.

Takhar went back to Canada in 2014, this time to head Paytm Labs, the fin-tech company’s Toronto-based R&D arm. Siddhartha Sharma caught up with the affable Harry, as his friends call him, for a freewheeling chat.


Siddhartha Sharma: Hello, everyone. I have with me Harry who is the CEO of Paytm Labs in Canada. Paytm. Canada. Why?

Harinder Takhar: Canada is one of those undersold places and I think we stumbled upon it. Especially Toronto. This city has a lot of banks and a lot of insurance companies and really cool universities that produce kickass talent.

Paytm Labs Canada

S: Paytm has always been for putting a cashless society in place. So, what are you doing in Canada? Nobody uses cash here.

H: That is a very good statement. It’s a myth that no one uses cash here. I have a personal philosophy. I haven’t kept cash in my wallet for the last 12 years. It causes me trouble but I have stuck to it. But it’s tough in Canada. If you go to a retail store, even an organised retail store, they won’t accept your credit card if the purchase isn’t above $25. So, I don’t think cash has really gone away. The credit cards that people use or the digital payment methods that people use are so expensive. The average coffee shop pays 2-3% [in transaction fees].

Given that this is 2018, the PoS (Point of Sale) machine costs anywhere between $1500-2000 here. I just don’t understand that.

I have a personal philosophy. I haven’t kept cash in my wallet for the last 12 years. It causes me trouble but I have stuck to it.

S: That’s the reason why the greatest financial transaction tool that you have is your mobile phone. Right?

H: Yes, and we think that for the merchant and buyer or even if I have to give you money, why should I have to buy a $2000 PoS machine? Our handsets are smart enough. I think they’re smarter than the machine.

When I first came here and when I used to take a cab back home in the evenings, the driver would ask if I would be paying by cash or card. And if you said card, the driver’s face would fall. I found out later that he would have to refuel at the end of the day and he would only get the money from the card after 15 days or even a month later.

India has a better solution than this. The guy gets the money after an hour or even by next morning. Here people get their money after a month. Uber has done something smart here. They give the money three days later. I mean, there is still a gap of three days! And coming from India, knowing that everything happens in real time; if you transact through NEFT, you instantly get your money. Same with Paytm. It just sounds non-intuitive.

Paytm Labs Canada

S: Nowadays, every big tech company has a thing called labs. What do you do here?

H: We build solutions for the future and these solutions take time. So, [Paytm] Labs is a slightly decoupled place where you can say that you work on a solution for a while and you know you will fail a few times and we’ll take a longer time to arrive there but we better start now because if we don’t start now, it’ll be a problem later.

I realised very early on that I wanted horizontal growth. That is, if I have done something in India, it’s a challenge to do the same thing in Canada. It was very exciting for me to see how I would connect the dots between the two countries.

S: What are Paytm’s plans in North America?

H: What we’re aiming for is that more consumers open our app and transact on a regular basis. So, this is a starting point for us no matter what we do.

And that’s what we did in India in the first few years as well. In India, we were into mobile prepaid recharges. Here it’s a different use case. No one does prepaid [mobile recharges] here. Everything is postpaid. It’s a high-trust economy. Everyone has a lot of bills—insurance, electricity etc. There are regular, scheduled payments where the vendor says you take the car, leave your card details here or I’ll send you an invoice. It’s totally fine. So, everybody has a bill, has multiple bills. Between five and fifteen, I would say. So we started a bill payment service. On day 1, we had 5000 billers in the country which includes your credit card bill…

S: Five thousand is a good number.

H: On day one we had. So now we’re at 13,000-14,000 billers.

Harinder Takhar, CEO of Paytm Labs Canada

S: What are your personal challenges?

H: A lot of people are motivated by the thought of vertical growth. That they were a manager, now they are a senior manager etc. I realised very early on that I wanted horizontal growth. That is, if I have done something in India, it’s a challenge to do the same thing in Canada. It was very exciting for me to see how I would connect the dots between the two countries.

S: Any message for the Indian consumers out there?

H: I think Indian consumers have humbled us in their adoption of digital tech. And sitting in Canada, I can very easily say that if you want to see a good example of payment tech, you should go to India. So, I think we have done a good service to not only ourselves as Indian consumers but to probably the people of the world. They have an example to look up to.

S: Thanks for joining us. All the best.

H: Thank you.

(Vijay Shekhar Sharma is an investor in Otus)

— ENDS —

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