PhonePe’s Rahul Chari shares why compassion combined with passion helps build companies that stand the test of time

Earlier this year in March, digital payments platform PhonePe faced a major outage for nearly 24 hours after the Reserve Bank of India put a moratorium on Yes Bank. PhonePe, which was using Yes Bank’s services until then, worked overnight to ensure that all its services were up and running within a day. Just as it overcame this challenge, the COVID-19 threat began to grow larger. With regular commerce slowing down, people needed to meet essential requirements such as mobile recharges, grocery purchases, bill payments. Even with its teams working remotely, PhonePe was able to bring new offerings to the market in time and ensured zero disruption throughout the lockdown. In just three months since the startup faced its biggest ever outage, PhonePe processed more than 2 billion digital payment transactions worth Rs 3.5 lakh crore.


When viewed in the light of how Rahul Chari, Co-founder and CTO, PhonePe, defines success, this achievement takes on even more significance.

“Success for me has always been about making a positive impact at scale,” says Rahul. “We are a large and diverse country with over 1.3 billion people. To reach a vast section of people in a small period of time, we need to apply a lens of scalability to everything. The current pandemic has not changed this thinking for me.”

As with every entrepreneur who hustled through the unforeseen challenges of the pandemic, Rahul agrees that COVID-19 did create a moment of truth for him, forcing him to make challenging choices. He explains, “For some companies, the only choice left was downsizing. But that, naturally, has a cascading impact on people and their families. We, however, chose not to downsize any part of the business and instead focused our efforts on the future initiatives so that we can build value at a much faster pace when things return to normalcy.”

Rahul affirms that not only do entrepreneurs have a responsibility towards the company and its people, they also carry a social responsibility, especially when their platforms touch the lives of millions of people. “Since entrepreneurs are creators of products and services, they do exert a good deal of influence on society at large. And, this influence should be used in positive ways to improve the lives of people.” Rahul says that this compassion, combined with passion, helps build companies that stand the test of time. “Every single act of compassion helps build trust with stakeholders that pays dividends in the long term. Even small acts of compassion and transparency go a long way in building brand and employee loyalty,” says Rahul. He points out that very often compassion is confused with vulnerability, and in many cases seen as a sign of weakness. But he reiterates, “While one doesn’t need to be vulnerable, one definitely needs to be compassionate. This is especially true for every individual as much as it holds true for leaders.”


Unlike many who believe that the way to success begins with studying in a premier institute, Rahul bucks the trend. Even after getting admission into IIT, he chose a non-premier institute to pursue a subject that he wanted to learn more about – computer science engineering. Today, as a serial entrepreneur, and as a leader steering a large organisation, he walks the talk, focusing more on the skills of his team members rather than the tag of where they have studied or their designations at work. He believes that in this journey to build, and to create impact, it is important to accumulate skills and learning that make a person a well-rounded leader – a philosophy that he is vocal about.

“I believe growth in a role must be measured only through the lens of increasing scope and impact. Titles, for me, are functional and designed to denote the applicability of a role rather than seniority. Growth is never goal oriented. It’s more a pursuit of excellence. This relentless pursuit to grow and excel is what defines a man of character for me,” he says.

Rahul has never shied away from choosing the road less travelled – be it opting to work in a startup even when he had the choice to pursue his PhD at Purdue or go back to work with a Silicon Valley giant or leaving the dollar paychecks to return to India to work on a startup. He believes that this journey to solve challenges at scale began with his parents letting him be and trusting his decisions and have been instrumental to what he achieved over the years. That’s why the values of compassion and transparency are ones that he identifies with closely. He says, “Being transparent and real with people is the most effective way to build trust.” And, that value is what makes a Man of Platinum, according to Rahul.