In continuation of the previous article of “IIT BHU Alumni Startup Showcase Series” and as the closing post in the 3-post series celebrating International Women's Day (Life at IIT (BHU): The Female Perspective; Celebrating the Women of IIT BHU), we present you with the journey of an Alumna of IIT (BHU), who has made her mark in the Indian FinTech market and has become an inspiration for millions.
ZestMoney is India’s fastest-growing consumer-lending FinTech company which employs Artificial Intelligence, digital banking, and mobile technology to make life more affordable for millions of Indians. Founded in 2015, ZestMoney is a payment platform that enables customers to buy high-priced items on EMI without using a credit card. It has raised over $83.4M over 9 rounds of funding (lead investors include Goldman Sachs and Primrose Hills Ventures). With more than 6 million registered clients and successful partnerships with big names like Apple, Amazon, Flipkart, Google Pay, among thousands of others, ZestMoney was selected as a 2020 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum.
ZestMoney’s Co-Founder, Chief Operating Officer (COO) & Chief Financial Officer (CFO)- Priya Sharma is an IIT (BHU) Alumna (Metallurgical Engineering, 2001) and was recently listed in the Top 30 FinTech Influencers and Top 100 Women in Finance in India. Last week, Priya answered some of our questions about her life, the Indian FinTech market, and entrepreneurship culture.
With this brief background, let us dive into her detailed story:
With an MBA from London Business School, a B.Tech from IIT (BHU), you have worked for Deloitte, Merrill Lynch & Wonga. But before all of it, what was your childhood like?
Both my parents were teachers, so I was brought up in a house filled with books. Even today, my love for books is undeterred; I’m currently reading ‘Good Economics for Hard Times.’ Growing up, I also enjoyed sports which gives me my competitive spirit. Throughout my school life, I strived to be the best at everything I did.
What are some special memories of your time at IIT (BHU)? Did you have any favourite hangout spots?
I thoroughly enjoyed playing basketball in college; I even represented BHU in the nationals back then. The friends I made in college are still very close to my heart. We usually hung out in the girls’ hostel; I vividly remember the Sarojini Naidu Girls’ Hostel. At the time when we were in college, girls didn’t go to Limbdi Corner much, so we frequented Musha’s (smiles).
After you graduated from IIT BHU, how was the transition from college life to the ‘real-world’?
My first job was at Sapient, an American company that had recently expanded to India. They were hiring young graduates from IITs, so I got to work with like-minded people; it was almost an extension of college. But on the other hand, since it was a smaller workplace, there was no place to hide. I threw myself at the deep end, and my experience at my first job taught me lessons that I carry with me to this day.
What helped you realise that FinTech was your calling?
When we graduated, there was no such thing as “FinTech” (laughs); the concept and the realisation came much later. In those times, the Software Industry was booming, and that is where I started off, professionally speaking. But, I always felt drawn towards finance and things became much clearer after I got my MBA and got to work for Merrill Lynch and Wonga.
What was the vision behind ZestMoney?
Around 2011, e-Commerce in India was on the rise; Flipkart being the major player, Amazon India had not launched yet. Even though online shopping was pretty exclusive in its early days, we could sense something big was on its way (smiles). Wonga was revolutionising mobile consumer-credit in the UK and we saw an untapped opportunity in the Indian market. The only source of formal loans at that time were banks with their endless paperwork & ‘80’s style’ (laughs), and credit cards charged exorbitant fees on late payments. So, after studying the intricacies of the Indian market for years, we launched ZestMoney to make affordable consumer credit more accessible and mobile for everyone.
You co-founded ZestMoney with your colleagues at Wonga. How important are teamwork and collaboration, especially when it comes to start-ups?
EVERYTHING. I cannot stress this enough, but teamwork and collaboration are everything in start-ups. There is no room for ego; you are a team, that’s it. The utmost goal for any start-up is to make the consumers fall in love with you and one person cannot possibly pull that off on their own. Without teamwork and collaboration, the company is disjointed, everyone’s working in silos, and ultimately, the consumers are unhappy. Teamwork is everything.
ZestMoney has partnered with big names like Apple, Amazon, Uber, Flipkart, and it featured on Google Pay last year. What does the road ahead look like?
It has been quite a journey. People want credit, especially when it comes to expensive electronics instead of a lump-sum payment, so Apple was a big deal for us. We’ve also partnered with Ed-Tech companies like upGrad to make quality education more accessible to students who would normally have trouble getting credit cards or bank loans without a credit history. ZestMoney will keep growing with more online and offline partners. Our goal: You’ll see us everywhere (smiles).
When we learn about the gender pay gap and systemic sex-based promotional practices in the workplace, it feels extremely unsettling. As a woman who has been in the industry for so long, what’s your take on this?
The pay gap and systemic promotional practices become more pronounced 7-10 years into your career. There undeniably is a glass ceiling for women in any industry, but we see many women breaking it, especially in the Indian finance sector with names like Chanda Kochhar, and Kalpana Moraparia. More and more start-ups are now hiring people solely based on their skills, and many companies are recruiting diversity. The situation is far from ideal, we need more women in the workplace, be it in Tech, Finance, or Science. We need to talk about gender disparity more often.
You are the COO & CFO of a leading FinTech company and were recently listed in the Top 30 FinTech Influencers in India. How has your experience at IIT (BHU) helped you in reaching these milestones?
I am not afraid to be the only woman in the room (laughs). IIT (BHU) has given me my own voice, my place in the world. Playing basketball for the university enhanced my competitive spirit and gave me a winner’s mindset. The resilience and patience I learnt in Banaras have been key in shaping my career. I am not afraid of diving into the deep end and I owe that confidence to IIT (BHU).
After almost two decades of experience in the industry, what is the one thing you wish you knew while you were still in college?
I hate to give a cliché answer (laughs), but it all works out. I remember being very anxious about everything back in college, always contemplating what might happen, what won’t. So, the one thing I wish I knew in college, and what I want all the students out there to know, is that it all works out in the end.
This article has been prepared by Saumya Mathur (Biochemical Engineering, 2025)
IBGAA has initiated a dedicated IIT BHU Alumni slack workspace for various interest groups (#channels). These slack channels will create a platform for student-alumni as well as alumni-alumni interactions which will nurture and strengthen their bond. For further information regarding joining this slack workspace, please check out this link.