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Swati Bhargava managed to win scholarships for the most reputed institutes in the world and working with Goldman Sachs, only to launch her own successful business!
A small-town girl, from a middle-class family living in Ambala, always dreamt of going abroad and making it big in life. Little did she know that she would one day achieve all that she had wanted.
Meet Swati Bhargava, co-founder of CashKaro, who fought the odds and started a venture with her life partner six-years-ago.
“My parents’ zeal to work and meet all our needs always inspired me,” Swati says. Her father, Ravi Dhawan, runs a business in agricultural implements in Ambala. While her mother, Renu Dhawan, opened an NGO, Akshdha at the age of 55.
Swati Bhargava lived with her parents till she was in Class X. That’s when the studious young girl won a scholarship from the government of Singapore and went to live in the city-state.
The Singapore Airline Scholarship, given to 25 students from across India, includes the academic fee and living expenses for two years. Bhargava was the only girl in her batch.
After her schooling, she bagged another scholarship to the London School of Economics (LSE) from the university itself. Here she pursued a BSc (Hons) in Mathematics and Economics. This grant covered 80% of her tuition fee and to fund her living expenses, she worked part-time.
Bhargava says, from living in a small town to studying with students from 171 countries, her world changed and only for better.
She grabbed every opportunity that came her way, and soon became the chairman of business society, a student body with 3,000 members.
“At LSE, investment banking hits you from all sides. And I was fascinated by it. It was the best way to earn the money that you invested,” she says.
While Bhargava was at LSE, she did her summer internship at Goldman Sachs in London, in 2005, and she was offered a full-time role as an analyst there. She worked in that role for three years, then in credit structuring and sales team, within the investment banking division, for four years.
Later, she moved to the executive office as an associate. This involved managing client engagements and relations for the co-CEOs of Goldman Sachs International, Richard Gnodde and Michael Sherwood.
Bhargav gained confidence by working closely with the senior management. “For the five years at Goldman Sachs, I was working from 8am to 5am. And I soon realised that, if I had to work so hard, I would rather do it for myself and for something that I own. My body had certainly given up and I needed a break,” Bhargava says.
In 2010, she finally called it quits at Goldman Sachs. “In many of the paths that I took, I was the only woman on it. Be it my Singapore days or at Goldman Sachs, where I was the only woman in the team along with seven boys. You just need to hold your ground and know what you are doing to make the most of those experiences,” she adds.
Yes, she was exhausted and needed a break, but she was equally ready to start on a new career. Around the time, in 2009, Bhargava met and married Rohan.
“He had always been very entrepreneurial,” she says. Rohan started his career with an asset management fund Washington Square right after completing college in 2004. He grew the asset base from $50 million to $750 million over five years. Bhargava’s husband also worked for two years at Aladdin Capital, a large US-based hedge fund, where he led a $1-billion acquisition of Solent Capital.
In 2011, the couple launched their first start-up Pouring Pounds, a B2B cash-back business. “We had used a cash-back site in the UK and were surprised by it. We had not yet used a shopping site that directly transfers funds to your bank account. I told Rohan that we should do something more in the same field,” says Bhargava.
They invested their savings in it. The UK-based cash-back and voucher website today works with 2,500 popular brands such as Tesco, Debenhams, M&S, Expedia and Argos.
“We thought that this would do remarkably well in India, as people always are always looking for ways to save money in our country. And that is when CashKaro happened, in April 2013,” she says.
Back then, CashKaro had a small one-room office in Gurugram and a team of five people. In the six years of their existence, CashKaro has offered cash-back on over 1,500 sites including Amazon.in, Flipkart, Shopclues and Myntra.
Today it has 2.5 million registered users. A customer can save at least Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 on an average a year, the founders claim. “We have given almost Rs 1 billion cash-back to our customers in real time till now!” says Bhargava.
When a user visiting CashKaro clicks on a tab leading to an e-tailer such as Amazon or Flipkart and shops, the e-commerce site pays CashKaro a commission for driving the sale. CashKaro gives upto 80% of this commission to the user as cash-back and keeps the rest.
It seems simple enough but getting here hasn’t been easy. Bhargava says there were several meetings with the investors and retailers to build CashKaro.
She says, they introduced the concept of cash-back in Indian e-commerce and it took a while to educate people about it worked. “In the first three months we saw a lot of organic growth, though Rohan and I were still in London, but we visited India frequently. I remember how we told our friends in London that the website is doing great and they supported us financially. I did numerous meetings in 48 hours and we closed at $750,000 dollars, this was our angel round from UK investors,” she reveals. This made the couple confident that the business will fare better if they move to India.
CashKaro drew its next investment in 2015, from Kalaari Capital, raising Rs 70 million. “After raising our series A from Kalaari, I spoke to Vani (Kola, the MD and founder of Kalaari Capital) and requested if she could arrange a meeting with Ratan Tata. She did help and we got 15 minutes with him.
“Towards the end, when I asked him about our business, he said, ‘You’re giving free money to people who love to save, what’s there not to love?’” That’s how the duo raised their funding from Ratan Tata the same year.
From leaving London for India and having Skype calls with their team to moving base, Rohan and Swati Bhargava have given everything to make their coupon site work.
Last year, CashKaro clocked revenue of Rs 230 million and more than Rs500 million. The cash-back site has driven ~Rs 20 billion as GMV, to both larger sites such as Amazon and up and coming players such as NNNOW, Ajio, Teabox and Coolwinks.
“If you look at countries such as China, they have big cash-back companies; I don’t see a reason why we can’t be that for India. I feel that it is the right market to be bullish about,” Swati Bhargava said.
Bhargava’s journey may have started in a small room in garage, but it started with a girl who had big dreams and who achieved them.
Picture credits: YouTube
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