It took just one meeting, two phone calls to seal landmark Paytm-Buffett deal

Berkshire Hathaway’s investment in Paytm gives the credibility that a digital payments business can make money, says One97 Communications’ Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Photo: Mint

In the first week of February Paytm’s founder and chief executive officer Vijay Shekhar Sharma met board member Mark Schwartz in Canada. Schwartz, who’s also on the board of SoftBank Group Corp., had a proposal for him. Schwartz wanted to introduce Sharma to the world’s most renowned investor, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Sharma jumped at the opportunity and a few email exchanges later Sharma, Schwartz and SAIF Partners’ managing partner Ravi Adusumalli (Sharma refers to him as a co-founder), were on a flight to Omaha to meet Todd Comb, an investment manager at Berkshire Hathaway.

It was a snowy winter afternoon, coincidently Valentine’s Day, chuckles Sharma, while narrating the story. Sharma met Comb at Berkshire’s office.

The meeting stretched beyond the scheduled one hour to three-and-a-half, and everything from the weather and personal achievements to the Indian payments ecosystem and favourite cuisines were discussed.

“One meeting and two phone calls later, the deal was done,” said Sharma, in a telephonic interview on Tuesday. Edited excerpts:

What interested Berkshire in Paytm?

Probably, the scale and execution of the company.

What does Berkshire bring to the table other than the brand name?

They have global financial services experience. Todd is a banking, fintech and payments expert, and his experience will help us understand how the rest of the world is doing in the digital payments business. With Berkshire, we have a new vantage point on our capital table and business model. I can also say comfortably that this investment will put to rest all doubts about our ability to make money…. It gives credibility that such a business can make money.

Do you have plans to take this business global?

Right now the focus is India, as the India opportunity is huge. If we do great in India, we can be good in other geographies too.

Is Berkshire Hathaway looking at other Indian companies for investments?

Not that I am aware of. Our conversation with Todd has been around Paytm and the Indian payments ecosystem.

Any particular reason why Todd led this deal and not Mr Buffett himself?

We met Todd and did not meet Warren. He could take call. I don’t know of their internal process. Also, Todd has done other payments deals.

We hear this is a small cheque. Will Berkshire pump in more money?

We could not pick all the money that was offered. Berkshire wanted to invest more than what we have accepted. We did not think it was the right time to raise more money and dilute further, as we already have sufficient capital in the bank.

What is Berkshire’s expectation from Paytm?

To build the dominant and biggest financial services company in India.

What does this deal mean for the Indian start-up ecosystem?

It is an acknowledgement of Indian start-up entrepreneurs’ journey and the fact that they are creating something unique. Our industry has finally matured from strategic investors to more serious financial investors. Indian technology companies are finally getting identified. This is a very big endorsement that India has the opportunity to create world-class global companies.

This article was first published on livemint.com