Vijay Shekhar Sharma Attacks WhatsApp’s Payments Product, Gets Trolled By Fellow Entrepreneurs Instead

Last week, WhatsApp’s payments launch had most entrepreneurs raving about how it would revolutionize payments in India. WhatsApp impressed nearly everyone when it revealed its clean and slick payments interface, and people could see how WhatsApp would quickly take over the country’s digital payments landscape. But one person who doesn’t seem to be particularly enthused about WhatsApp’s payments launch is Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma.

Sharma today attacked WhatsApp for its payments launch, claiming that the company was using “cheap tricks” to promote its payments product. “After failing to win war against India’s open internet with cheap tricks of free basics, Facebook is again in play. Killing beautiful open UPI system with its custom close garden,” he tweeted.  Sharma also shared a link from a publication he’s a part owner of, The Ken, which had written an article attacking WhatsApp.

Sharma’s grouse appears to be that WhatsApp doesn’t seem to be fully complying with UPI’s regulations. In particular, WhatsApp’s iOS app currently doesn’t allow users to send money to people with UPI ids that are outside WhatsApp. WhatsApp’s Android version, on the other hand, does let users send money to any UPI id, but the article claimed that the option was hard to find. In essence, Sharma seemed to imply that WhatsApp was making it harder for people to send money outside the WhatsApp ecosystem, a move that’s against the inter-operable interface UPI was initially designed to be. Sharma hinted that this could hurt all Indian startups in the space.

But while Indian entrepreneurs had ganged up together against Facebook when it had tried to push its Free Basics product in India, Sharma found no solidarity from the community over this issue. Instead, he was widely trolled by other entrepreneurs for his stance. Among his loudest detractors was Bipin Preet Singh, who runs Paytm rival MobiKwik.

“Those who live in glass houses..” tweeted Singh, hinting that Paytm didn’t exactly run an open platform itself. “Those complaining abt Whatsapp are the same folks who refuse to entertain neutral payment options(like MobiKwik )on their own ecom websites/apps and instead promote only captive wallets. A standard of interoperability should incl wallet acceptance as well,” he said. Singh seemed to say that since Paytm didn’t allow users to pay by MobiKwik on Paytm Mall, it hardly had a right to complain about WhatsApp making its option to send money to other UPI providers slightly hard to find.

FreeCharge founder Kunal Shah didn’t mention Paytm explicitly, but hinted that companies that were likely to be affected by WhatsApp’s payments launch would try to brand it as anti-national, as they didn’t have a chance to win against it on merit.

And PayU CEO Amrish Rao snidely remarked that “Chinese companies” were trying to paint WhatsApp as anti-India. Paytm’s biggest investor is Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. “If you can’t beat them, bitch them,” he tweeted.

 

He also said that WhatsApp and UPI were being unfairly targeted, and joked that even billions of dollars were scared of great UX. WhatsApp has a slick user interface that allows users to attach money to messages, just like users attach photos and videos.

It’s unclear what caused Sharma’s rant against WhatsApp. WhatsApp doesn’t appear to be a walled garden —  its Android app already has an option to send money to any UPI handle, and its iOS app, which is in beta, is expected to add the functionality soon. But it would be natural for Paytm to be rattled by WhatsApp’s payments launch — with Whatsapp now providing seamless peer-to-peer payments, there’s no need for users to go to Paytm to transfer money. A poll conducted by OfficeChai on Sunday showed that over 70% of respondents would prefer using WhatsApp over Paytm for making payments, and other polls had given similar results.

This could mean a big hit to Paytm’s core peer-to-peer payments business, and with WhatsApp business also slated to launch in the coming months, Paytm could see many of its business transactions also move to WhatsApp. And like Kunal Shah said, branding WhatsApp as anti-national might be the last resort for Paytm if it hopes to compete.

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