Sunday, March 8th 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of ‘International Women’s Day’ and we’re celebrating it with the inspirational startup story of Swati Bhargava, Co-Founder of CashKaro
A curious father called up his 16-year-old daughter saying, “Why don’t you apply for this scholarship by Singapore Airlines? They’re selecting 22 students from India to study in Singapore who have secured more than 85 per cent in their 12th grade.”
The girl hailing from a small town in India was nervous because nobody in Ambala had ever gone abroad to study but her father insisted on her applying. The bright child got selected for the programme but it was a tough decision for the family to send their daughter abroad at such a tender young age.
“My family and friends got together for dinner to decide whether I should go to Singapore or not. In the end, they thought it was a good opportunity knocking on the door and I am glad I went with my family’s decision of studying in Singapore,” explains Swati Bhargava, Co-Founder, Cashkaro.com, a leading cashback and coupons site in India. In her current role, Bhargava is leading the marketing team and spearheading the expansion of CashKaro into different verticals. She has successfully managed to bring over 500 e-commerce partners on-board including Amazon, Myntra, Yatra, Jabong.
Bhargava believes that entrepreneurship is like marriage; unless it’s a very straight ‘Yes,’ the answer is a ‘No.’
I wanted to be an IFS officer
Bhargava was a talented girl with huge interest in extra-curricular activities such as debates and dramatics. She was good at mathematics and loved playing with numbers.
“As a child, it was my dream to study at the prestigious St.Stephen’s college in Delhi University. I wanted to become an Indian Foreign Services officer because the word ‘Foreign’ attracted my attention. But people told me that if you become an Indian Administrative Services Officer then it is even more prestigious so I decided to study and become either an IFS or an IAS officer,” explained Bhargava.
Ditching the love for Oxford University
“We grew up learning from the Oxford Dictionary and ever since I had learned about the university it was named after, I decided I wanted to study there,” said Bhargava. However, when she got an offer to study at the famous university, she declined it preferring the London School of Economics (LSE), because LSE gave her a higher scholarship and in those days, it was very expensive to study abroad. The love for London made her more excited to study at the LSE. She graduated from LSE with an Honours in Mathematics & Economics in 2005.
Leaving the lucrative job of an investment banker
After her summer internship at Goldman Sachs in London, she was offered a full-time role and joined the company immediately after her graduation. Bhargava worked in the credit structuring and sales team within the investment banking division for 4 years. She then moved to the executive office where she managed the client engagements and relationships for the Co-CEOs of Goldman Sachs International, Richard Gnodde and Michael Sherwood. Working closely with the senior management boosted her confidence and enhancing her communication skills.
Bhagava left Goldman in 2010 to start her own enterprise, Pouring Pounds, a B2B Cashback business in the UK in July 2011.
Bhargava met her husband and co-founder Rohan Bhargava in London. “I had common friends with Rohan and once he invited all his friends to have home-cooked Indian food. We always craved Indian food, and in want of free food, I also tagged along. After that, we started going to his place quite frequently. We became friends before we started dating and we slowly realized that we can spend our lives together,” she said.
The unmatched enthusiasm of Rohan has always been an inspiration for Swati. “Being an entrepreneur is not easy, but if you have the right partner you enjoy the journey as much as the destination,” she said.
The dynamic duo used the website Quidco in UK for cashbacks and they loved the concept. The strength of the idea drove them to this business and they started Pouring Pounds, a B2B Cashback business in the UK in July 2011.
Never be afraid of your idea
Committed to helping consumers save, Pouring Pounds started gaining significant traction in the UK. But it was always difficult to find the ideal partner for expansion. Bhargava was confident about her business idea and so she wrote to Metro, a free newspaper circulated in the tube and read by everyone in London. “We had no contact but I wrote to the common e-mail addresses and after the third or fourth time, we got a response from them. We signed our first contract with Metro and the rest is history,” she explained.
As an extension of Pouring Pounds in the UK, the duo decided to play their trump card in their homeland in April 2013. Bhargava knew that consumers in both countries behave similarly because everyone loves savings. She knew that people will do transactions even for a little amount of cashback. Hence, the duo launched the business with a team in India with the two of them being in London.
“In July, I was having coffee in Starbucks London with a friend. We were discussing the immense potential of a cashback business in India. And I thought, it’s time to go back and launch this in India,” she said. Bhargava discussed it with her husband and decided that they needed to raise capital to expand into India.
Closed the funding round in 48 hours!
“I sent out an email to four of my friends regarding some help with the angel funding round for CashKaro. We were looking to raise US$250K and by the end of the evening, I had about 20 responses from people who were interested. After having back-to-back meetings in 48 hours, we closed a round of US$750K.”
According to Bhargava, people were mainly interested in the business because the Indian e-commerce market was booming and this model was tried and tested in the UK. “Moreover, we as Indians love savings, hence the idea clicking,” she added.
Uniqueness of an idea
The growth of affiliate marketing comes from the growth of e-commerce. According to Bhargava, e-commerce in India is worth US$15 billion and affiliate marketing stands at US$1.5 billion but in five years, she predicts it to be a US$10-15 billion market.
There are plenty of deal websites in India but Bhargava feels that the main difference is that CashKaro not only features coupons but also offers cashbacks. It has also launched price comparison and product discovery on the portal and Bhargava claims that there are no other websites doing everything together. “Many other cashback sites in India have come up after copying us but we don’t consider them as competition,” she added.
In the near future, Bhargava plans to enhance the product, go mobile, and then look at international expansion. Southeast Asia is an important market for CashKaro.
Challenging to get the right talent in India
Bhargava feels that the biggest challenge is to get a good team. “It is difficult to have access to the right talent in India because colleges don’t train students well on the social skills. And in an online business, there are very few roles that don’t need good communication and social skills. This is lacking in the Indian education system and I strongly feel that schools should train the students better towards communication skills,” she stated.
Bhargava also believes that managing a work-life balance as an entrepreneur is always challenging.
Safety is the biggest problem for women entrepreneurs in India
People still think that women lack the interest for a career in technology. However, this inherent myth is slowly shattering as more and more women like Bhargava are proving their mettle with a wealth of skills and knowledge.
Pranoti Nagarkar Israni who invented Rotimatic (automated roti-making machine) has always been an inspiration for Bhargava. “We have been friends since college and she always had an entrepreneurial bug in her. When you trust your idea, it only takes courage to take that plunge and Israni helped me do it,” she said.
“I have faced problems being a woman but I have never cared about it. When people meet you, they doubt your capabilities but that is the time when you have to speak up be confident about your idea,” she said.
In India, safety is a big challenge for women. Traveling alone is not generally preferred by women in India as opposed to other countries. “I believe this in an issue but it is not a deal-breaker by any means,” she added.
Networking can help build great brand ambassadors
According to Bhargava, it is important to believe in the idea. She feels that the journey is not easy and at many point one can question your idea. But it is important to be convinced about it.
She feels that one should never be afraid to ask a question and be proud of their idea. “I meet entrepreneurs who are so timid and shy about their product. I don’t understand the reason. People should not be afraid in putting out their ideas in front of others,” she explained.
She believes in the immense power of networking and according to her, networking can help build great brand ambassadors for a product.
This post was originally published on e27