Get inspired by Swati Bhargava, who talks about her love for mathematics, the cashback market in India, her passion venture CashKaro, and her entrepreneurial learnings.
Swati Bhargava’s life story is an inspiration to every young girl who dreams big. An ambitious girl from the small town of Ambala, she topped the Haryana board exams, went on to study at the prestigious London School of Economics, worked at Goldman Sachs, and is today a successful entrepreneur. She’s the brain behind unique businesses CashKaro and EarnKaro, which she runs with her equally talented husband Rohan Bhargava. Her company has bagged Series A funding from investors such as Ratan Tata and Kalaari Capital. She is also the Global Chapter Chair of H2 India, a global leadership network, and has been featured in the Fortune 40 under 40 list.
In this interview, she talks about her love for mathematics, the cashback market in India, what it is like working alongside her husband, her passion venture CashKaro, and her entrepreneurial learnings, among other things.
Q. A lot of students are intimidated by mathematics. You, on the contrary, are incredibly talented. When did your fascination start? Could you tell us something about your love for numbers?
I always enjoyed studies when I was growing up. I never perceived them to be something I had to do out of compulsion. I’ve always been someone who makes the most of every opportunity, and even though I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, I knew my studies, and particularly mathematics, was allowing me to expand my skill-set. I never approached maths as just another subject one had to study. I loved how it enabled me to come up with solutions backed by logic, which is very much the crux of what I do today.
I quickly realised I had a knack for numbers and I actually topped the Haryana 10th board exams by scoring 100% in maths, which paved the way for my future. Thereafter, I studied Economics and Mathematics from London School of Economics, and went on to pursue my career in investment banking.
Q. How did studying at London School of Economics shape you?
Looking back at my university days, I owe my alma mater a lot. I was always very academically oriented while growing up, but LSE helped to holistically shape me into the person I am today. I learnt the importance of putting myself out there, immersing myself into experiences without worrying about success or failure. It taught me that no matter what happens, I’ll always come out smarter and more knowledgeable than I was before.
I always made sure to take and learn from every opportunity I got. I actually presided over the Business Society in LSE, which was the biggest club of students in campus with over 3000 students. I definitely learnt a lot about leadership from there. With great people, friends, and professors to guide me through it all, LSE has been monumental in giving me the confidence to take the bull by the horns and begin and run two successful cashback businesses – CashKaro and EarnKaro – with my husband Rohan.
Q. You first started a cashback business in the UK. What learnings did you bring from there while launching CashKaro in India?
When Rohan and I decided to embark on this entrepreneurial journey together in 2011, we decided to start a cashback venture based in the UK called Pouring Pounds. Thanks to its success and the amazing response we received there, it only made sense to bring the business model in the country where people are big on savings! I still remember Mr Ratan Tata’s words to us at our first meeting, “You’re giving free money in a country where people love to save. What’s not to love?”
By 2013, we were ready to launch CashKaro in India. The fact that the Indian markets were witnessing a transition from being predominantly offline to online, helped us grow quickly and aggressively. The key was to resonate with our customers and have a strong connect with them. It was essential to onboard partner websites that are trusted and loved all over the country, while making sure there was no language barrier, and that our product was user-friendly.
Q. Can you enlighten us about the cashback market in various economies?
People tend to think that the concept of cashback is relatively new. But it has been around for quite some time. As and when more and more economies started going online, the idea of cashback started gaining popularity. Rakuten, a Japan-based e-commerce website, was one of the first to drive sales for third-party websites by offering cashback in 1997. With the onset of the digital era in the early 2000s, more individuals started recognising the merit in investing in online marketing and advertisements. Quidco is another example based in the UK that really leveraged an early mover advantage by adopting this concept in 2005.
If you consider the socioeconomic impact of the online e-commerce industries, 15 years ago you probably would have brushed it off as a trend that will die down soon. But now, if you sit down and analyse the policies of every country, everyone wants to move online and invest more in technology than ever before. And if you think about it in the Indian context, this year has proven to be the biggest accomplishment for affiliate marketing’s contribution to Indian e-commerce and opening up the user funnel. Cashback creates a win-win situation for the customer, the affiliate channel, and the partner e-commerce website – and it will only keep gaining momentum.
Q. What is CashKaro aiming to achieve in the Indian market? How does it work?
As India’s largest cashback and coupons website, CashKaro aims to bring the best deals and ultimate savings for users. With digital and affiliate marketing gaining stride in our country, we plan to establish CashKaro and EarnKaro as two beacon models for the same. We aim to truly be the benchmark of what affiliate marketing can achieve in the Indian e-commerce sector, while gaining a loyal and strong user base. For CashKaro, our focus is to continue penetrating the deeper pockets of India and acquiring more users. I am happy to say that we have already embarked on this journey and over 45% of our users today are from tier 2, 3 and 4 cities.
At CashKaro, we say #YouGetMore Hamesha. That’s exactly what we have done for over 5 million happy users. CashKaro is your one-stop shop to get access to the best coupon codes and extra cashback on all online orders. To avail of great deals and extra cashback via CashKaro, one just needs to sign in to the CashKaro app/website and find the e-commerce site they wish to shop at. They can shop as usual on the site and earn extra cashback from CashKaro, on top of all existing discounts and offers.
We have tied up with 1500+ sites such as Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra, Swiggy, and more. When you visit these sites via CashKaro and shop, you earn cashback. The amazing thing is that this cashback is real money that can be transferred to your bank account. You can also redeem CashKaro cashback as Amazon or Flipkart gift vouchers.
Q. What have been the key achievements of CashKaro since its launch?
One of the first key achievements would be our Series A funding from investors like Mr Ratan Tata and Kalaari Capital. This really motivated us and pushed us to work harder than ever to break into the Indian e-commerce market and establish CashKaro as a household name. To date, we have helped millions of users save over Rs 500 crore. One of our biggest achievements has been the inception of EarnKaro, our partner business through which we aim to bring affiliate marketing to the masses.
Q. What is EarnKaro and how does it work?
To put it very simply, you can earn real money by recommending products to your family, friends, colleagues etc. Well, with EarnKaro, you can get paid for it. EarnKaro is India’s first social cashback app. Once you register on it, you get access to an array of deals from different categories such as fashion, beauty, health, food, recharge, home appliances, etc. from top websites like Amazon, Myntra, Ajio etc. You can pick your favourites and share the links with anyone in your social network through WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Once a purchase is made through your link, you’ll earn a profit in your EarnKaro account.
Q. You husband is also your business partner. What’s it like working with him day in and day out? Where do you draw the line between work and personal life?
Well, if we weren’t in this together, I think I wouldn’t have understood Rohan the way I do. Of course, sharing the workspace and our personal space can get complicated. But since we have defined roles at work and great communication, I think we make a stellar team. I handle the investor relations, marketing, PR, and partnerships, while Rohan is heavily invested in building the best possible product for our customers. He has a great passion for technology and dives deep into it every chance he gets.
Rohan is the most amazing person I know. I know this can seem a little biased, considering he’s my husband, but his energy, positive attitude, and big heart make him a true inspiration for me. He is an exemplary leader in every sense, and I cannot imagine running CashKaro without him. He is the Ying to my Yang.
Q. Most women shy away from money matters and managing their own money. What advice can you give them to take control of their finances?
Firstly, I think educating women on managing their own money, how to spend and save, is of paramount importance. You only tend to shy away from things you don’t know, so it’s important to create this awareness to instil confidence in them. There are resources available online such as Savvy Women that are doing a great job at easing this knowledge gap. What I love the most about Savvy Women is that it provides relevant information in a simple manner so that every woman can comprehend and use it to make smart financial decisions.
Secondly, certain steps like identifying unnecessary spends, making sure you’re financially secure with an emergency fund in place, investing in SIPs and gold, etc. helps take away the constant stress of not having control over your finances and paves the way for confidence.
Q. What have been your learnings? What advice will you give to other women entrepreneurs?
When it comes to learnings, I like to think being an entrepreneur has taught me the 4 P’s – prowess, persistence, patience, and positivity. Taking the first step and deciding to run a business in itself requires courage and confidence in your abilities. When I quit my prestigious job at Goldman Sachs, I didn’t have time to give in to self-doubt as I needed to focus on the bigger picture. Having belief in your vision and trusting yourself to see it through is essential. The most important thing is to not give up, no matter what challenges you face. It is rightly said that all good things come to those who wait.
Obviously, in the beginning, you will not have your dream team. Patience and positivity play a key role here. I make it a point to begin my day with positive affirmations and encourage my team to do the same. Also, investing time and effort to build the right team and a culture you can look back and be proud of, is something most people tend to overlook. Lastly, I would just say that you are an entrepreneur first and then a woman entrepreneur. So take the calls that a good entrepreneur would, that’s all you need to think about. Use your heels to shatter those glass ceilings, nothing else.