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21Feb2017

Naaree Interviews Swati Bhargava, Co-founder, CashKaro.com

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Swati Bhargava is the Co-founder of CashKaro.com, India’s Largest Cashback and Coupons site. CashKaro is backed by the honorable Mr Ratan Tata and by Venture Capital firm, Kalaari Capital.

Along with her husband and Co-founder Rohan Bhargava, Swati has built CashKaro to become India’s largest Cashback site. The couple launched CashKaro.com in April 2013 and pioneered the concept of cashback in India.

Swati is an alumnus of the London School of Economics (LSE) and has worked at Goldman Sachs London within the Investment Banking division and at the Executive Office for 5 years before starting her entrepreneurial journey.

She represented India at the coveted Blackbox Connect – Female Founders Edition 2015 – powered by Google for Entrepreneurs program from April 27 – May 8, 2015 in Silicon Valley, California.

Swati was awarded at the India’s first Digital Women Award for category- Best Service Offering Company in the E-commerce Industry and recognized as one of the top 10 women entrepreneurs by Iamwire.com. She was also honored amongst 4 women trailblazers in Indian ecommerce industry by Economic Times

Swati is an active speaker at many high profile events such Ad:tech, TEDx, TieCON, Economic Times Conferences among others. Along with her husband, Swati has positioned CashKaro as the fastest Cashback site in India with 500% growth over last year.

Naaree.com caught up with Swati to find out the secrets to her success, and her tips to help other women entrepreneurs succeed in their ventures.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? Did you always love it or was it something you got into?

My biggest inspiration has been my husband & Co-Founder of CashKaro.com, Rohan. Since I was comfortably working at Goldman Sachs London there were no initial plans to go the entrepreneurial way but I always wanted to do something of my own! There were thoughts turning into ideas and ideas taking the form of functional plans.

Finally, Rohan & I decided to quit our jobs and put all our energy into our Cashback business idea. We conducted thorough research in the field of Cashback as we saw a lot of potential in that area. That is how, with a lot of hard work and a little luck, we started Pouring Pounds in UK in 2011.

While the business was booming in UK, we realized that the E-commerce industry was thriving in India as well. It seemed like the perfect time to introduce the Cashback concept in India. So, in 2013, we decided to enter the Indian market and thus, CashKaro was born!

When do you know that it is no longer just an idea in your mind, and that you can really turn it into a lucrative business?

For a growing E-commerce market like India, the potential for Cashback sites was huge. The biggest take away has been that people are always inclined towards SAVINGS and GREAT BARGAINS.

Over the years, online shoppers have really grown smarter and 80-85% of them typically look for discount coupons & cashback offers before making a purchase. This paradigm shift in consumer behavior gave a kind of an assurance to our business idea.

We were convinced that online shopping, when supplemented with accessibility to products and best deals across categories, will certainly define Indian shopping in the near future.

Lastly, the burgeoning Indian e-commerce industry is projected to reach $100 billion by 2020. It is believed that Affiliate marketing will account for about 20% of these sales, making the market size for CashKaro about $20 billion. More and more E-commerce companies are banking on the affiliate marketing model to lower their cost of customer acquisition.

So, when you see that the numbers are in your favor and people are enthused about the idea of associating with you, you just know that you are setting up for greatness and that it’s not just an idea anymore.

What learning lessons can you share from your startup experience?

Firstly, Perseverance is of the essence. Entrepreneurship is not a walk in the park. You are going to face disappointments.

What matters is that you never give up. You have to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and just keep going. We may not realize this in the moment, but everything actually does happen for the best.

Secondly, put your heart and soul into hiring. Even if it takes longer than you would have expected, wait for the right people to come along. Hire top notch talent who are expert in their roles and get an unflinchingly strong team together.

Finally, Agility is the key. The digital market is incredibly fast paced and you have to be equally agile in order to keep up with the trade. You have to be on your toes constantly and create a robust and active system.

What are some challenges that you faced initially when you started out? Do you have some examples to share and advice to women entrepreneurs on overcoming them?

Whenever you decide to delve into something novel, especially a new business model, there are bound to be certain challenges, whether you’re a man or a woman. So yes, we did face some challenges initially. Although there were no real deal breakers, these were the main issues we had to overcome:

Hiring the right people. It’s the biggest challenge a startup faces. There is a dire need to find people with the same passion and zeal that you possess. If they lack the drive you have, then they don’t fit into your idea. You need to know how to recognize good talent and then retain it by all means.

Educating our users and retailers about the concept of Cashback and affiliate marketing. People needed to understand why they should put their faith in the company. Again, being a novel idea, there was a lack of knowledge about it in India.

Establishing the fact that as a woman, I could strike a balance between family and work. That could only be proven through sheer persistence and hard work. At the end of the day, it showed in our unit metrics and the challenge became redundant altogether.

The lack of seed funding in India. The investors here will only make a significant investment once your company has started making money. This makes acquiring seed money a hurdle for startups.

What are all the things that a woman entrepreneur needs to keep in mind? i.e. apart from your great idea, what do you need to be armed with?

People have this stereotype embedded in their minds that women lack knowledge when it comes to technology. Consequently, they think women won’t be able to stick it out in a career revolving around technology.

So, we need to arm ourselves with complete technical know how about the area we’re working in and everything related to it. We need to play to our strengths and emerge victorious in the uphill battle that entrepreneurship is.

Do women entrepreneurs find it tougher to get funding for businesses? If yes, why do you think that is?

Honestly, yes they do. This is again related to the fact that investors think a woman won’t be able to balance work and family life. Or, they might not have enough knowledge or perseverance to last in the market.

In these cases, you need to stand your ground and have complete confidence in your idea. Speak out confidently about the idea and people will begin to trust it as much as you do.

Is it beneficial to have a mentor when you’re starting out on your own? What does a mentor bring to the table?

Yes, it is always beneficial to have a mentor by your side especially during the commencement of your business. A mentor plays a huge role in introducing you to the challenges you will face as an entrepreneur.

He can help you connect with the right people that belong to his current network. He can help you learn from his experiences so you can sidestep the mistakes that he made when he started out.

In my case it was Paytm’s co-founder, Vijay Shekhar Sharma. I will always value everything he did for me.

How did you recruit your first team? How difficult was it to get people on board during the initial stages?

As I mentioned before, hiring is one of the biggest challenges a new entrepreneur can face. For almost two years, I did all the interviewing myself as I had to ensure the right people were joining the company.

Only recently did we bring an HR on board. We took the generic routes like portals and agencies to find people but we made sure that each person we hired shared the passion and zeal we had. We couldn’t accept anything less than that.

What would you describe as your biggest moments of success in your business?

As is the journey of any start-up, a lot of small events turn into moments of success.  However, funding from Mr. Ratan Tata has probably been the most heartening moment up until now.

In November 2015, we also raised Rs 25 crore in a Series A funding round led by Kalaari Capital, one of the biggest venture capitalist firms.

So we can see that we’re headed in the right direction and with the same zeal and fervour, will continue to tread on this extremely worthwhile path we’ve created for ourselves.

 

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