Swati Bhargava is the CEO and Co-founder of Cashback & Coupons website, Cashkaro.com. Cashback is a very popular concept in the West & Cashkaro.com is pioneering the same in India. Its the only Cashback site in India that has successfully raised external funding of $750,000.
Swati had worked at Goldman Sachs London in Investment Banking for five years before starting UK Cashback business Pouring Pounds with her husband Rohan. After UK’s success they expanded to India as Cashkaro.com. Ever since its launch in India, last year, Cashkaro has managed to get 2.5 lakh members from across the country, had clock more than 1000 transactions across brands and categories and have driven over Rs. 25 Cr of sales to ecommerce partners.
We caught up with Swati Bhargava, for a quick chat to know the reasons behind its launch in India, challenges faced and expansion plans of the company in India.
Inc42: From launching Pouring Pounds to bringing Cashkaro in India, how has been overall journey as an entrepreneur? What made you launch Cashkaro in India, is it the market opportunity? Do you think India is a hot market for cashback and coupon sites?
Swati: It’s been a great journey and we are completing a year of operations soon! Rohan and I are happy we started off on our own. We each picked up and learnt important points from our backgrounds and culminated it into starting Pouring Pounds (launched 2011) in the UK which is the parent company for Cashkaro.
Yes, India is a great market for us. Cashback sites have done really well in the West so that served as a great example for our venture in India. In fact, India being a larger market overall and a population of people who are likely more price conscious means that the scope for growth here is even greater. Also daily deal sites only provided savings on bespoke experiences, massages, restaurants etc. but not everyday savings so Cashback was a great model to get into. Cashback helps:
a) An effective and high ROI way of driving sales to ecommerce sites
b) incentivising people to shop online by way of discounts & savings.
The model has been tried and tested. When you apply this to the Indian market, the opportunity is huge, supported by the fact that we in India love savings! We value money and why won’t we want to save money when it is so easily possible.
Inc42: How has been the traction on the platform since in its launch in the country? What’s the Month on Month growth rate?
Swati: It’s been great and today www.cashkaro.com is the No. 1 cashback and coupons site in the country. We already have over 2.5 lakh members from across the country in just a year of operations. We clock more than 1000 transactions across brands and categories. So far, through Cashkaro, we have driven over Rs. 25 Cr of sales to ecommerce partners and growing!
Inc42: Please share about the customer demographics.
Swati: All online shoppers are our primary target – this often includes online savvy people in age-group 18-35 years and many students who save money on recharge, books, and pizzas to young professionals, mothers and frequent travellers. Our members largely come from Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Kolkata and an increasing number from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities like Jaipur, Chandigarh, Bhopal and Lucknow. We are also trying to educate people who don’t shop online about the benefits of doing so.
Inc42: As there are other platforms operating in the same space, how would you differentiate Cashkaro from them? What are the factors which make you stand-out from them?
Swati: Yes, there are few others in the space, but we are the pioneers. We are the first to cross the Rs 1.5 Cr mark in cashback paid to members and that too within just an year. What gives Cashkaro an edge over Coupon-only sites is the added “Cashback” element that our member can earn. Shoppers not only come to our site for Myntra coupons, Jabong coupons they love the fact that Cashkaro gives them additional Cashback on top! This makes the savings from Cashkaro more than double compared to Coupon-only sites as now members can get both Cashback and coupons in one place. We believe that once you shop through Cashkaro you will almost never shop at a coupon site again.
Also, Cashkaro stands out because of many reasons. I have listed some of them below:
1) We have direct and great relationships with many of our retailer partners which helps us pay higher Cashback to our members compared to other sites
2) We are truly No.1 in the Cashback space – Within the first year of launch itself we already get the highest traffic across all sites, drive the most Sales & have paid the highest Cashbacks to members
3) We have a large team of 30 people which ensures all our various verticals are well-managed and customer service is prompt. If any of our members have Cashback issues or queries we have a dedicated team to resolve these, in fact we are known to provide great customer service. Many of the other sites are often run by much smaller teams who are not able to offer the same level of support & attention to members.
4) Our technology is all built in-house and we have a great & experienced team with CTO having over 14 years of experience. This enables us to continuously keep coming up with new enhancements and products to add more features on Cashkaro.
Inc42: As of now how many merchants/websites are listed on the platform?
Swati: We started with around 100 e-retailers and have grown since then. Today, we partner with 500+ online retailers, including leading brands such as Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra, Paytm, Yatra.com and many others. We are in talks with prospective e-retailers all the time.
Inc42: What’s your monetisation model?
Swati: It’s simple. We get paid commission for every sale from our retailer partners like Myntra, Jabong and we pass Cashback from that. The balance we retain after passing Cashback is our profit.
Inc42: What were the major challenges you faced in launching the platform in the country and what are the present day challenges in running it up?
Swati: When we started out, only coupon sites existed in India. We had to ensure that our concept was understood by potential partnering e-retailers first, and only then could we speak to customers. Building partnerships with e-retailers took us roughly 6 months before we started out. We took risks and worked with third parties and developers who all over-promised and under-delivered. We also had to put in processes that ensured retailers paid commission on time and play fair, so that our customers get paid on time.
Hiring good talent was a challenge – both finding good talent and retaining them if you are just starting out and revenues take time to come.
Lack of seed funding in India – investors want to put money in once you start making money but that’s when you may not even need it! We raised money in the UK so somewhat were able to overcome this issue.
But today, we realize that those learnings have paid off well and helped us grow customer and partner base.
Inc42: Last year, Cashkaro raised a funding round, how did you utilized it? When are you planning to raise next round of funding?
Swati: I won’t be able to comment on future rounds of funding, but yes, we are the only Cashback site to have received external funding ($750,000), in India. With this, we were able to invest in growth and market much more aggressively. This has also enabled us to pay Cashback faster to our members as we are able to deploy funds and plug gaps for working capital as and when needed. This makes user experience at Cashkaro much better.
Inc42: Anything new we would be seeing on the platform in the coming month?
Swati: Definitely, we are always in innovation mode! Apart from some exciting offers and contests that we will be running as part of our first anniversary celebrations in April, you can expect a few developments in the coming months. We will increase focus on expansion into international markets in 2014 and a distinctive mobile app is also on the anvil. However, our long term aim is to create a single platform which is the best way for anyone to shop online, which delivers convenience of price comparison & product wise sorting and provides best price by giving Cashback & Coupons both in one place.
Inc42: What are your targets for the next year?
Swati: We aim to cross the Rs. 5 Cr mark in cashback paid to members by end 2015.
Inc42: How do you see ecommerce in India will grow in the next five years? Which categories according to you will lead the race?
Swati: I think we have been able to answer all the doubts associated with the ecommerce businesses in India. We are a growing e-commerce market and as per studies by IAMIA & IMRB, the number of online shoppers in India will grow 60% by 2015 to reach 39 Mn and size of the ecommerce market will be at $70 Bn. These are not small numbers to start with, and will only grow more from here on. We have already witnessed the success of ideas like Cash on Delivery, and with advantages such as having a large young population, increasing internet penetration, growth in T2 and T3 cities, online businesses will see a rise. Fashion and electronics will continue to take a large share of the pie as it is already doing. I think there is a lot of growth to come from niche sectors like health and beauty, baby care and insurance.
Inc42: Any tips/advice for the startups planning to venture in this space?
Swati: We welcome competition and it will be great to see cashback being recognized as the big wave in online businesses. So follow your heart, work hard and really believe in what you have set out to achieve as a startup or an entrepreneur – because while being an entrepreneur is fun it also gets really tough at times. So you need your inner belief to keep you going!
Swati is an alumnus of London School of Economics (LSE) and graduated with an Honours in Mathematics & Economics in 2005. She was also shortlisted for the Asian Woman of Achievement Awards in the UK.