It was an unusually warm and sunny day in August when the whole campus of ISB was buzzing with the excitement of Swati Bhargava visiting for a fireside chat with the students. The session was due to begin at 12 noon and Bharathi (my fellow EVC Club Core Committee member) stood in the reception waiting for Swati to arrive. At 11:30 am, a car promptly pulled up and there she finally was.
Being a part of the Core Committee of the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club at ISB was challenging. In a community full of students who were there to get the best corporate jobs and salaries possible, it was hard to make them see how entrepreneurship didn’t need to be the last option and how for many of them, it was perfectly fine to pursue their passions. As the Core Committee, one of the most effective ways we try to emphasise this and inspire students is to bring in as many established as well as upcoming entrepreneurs to speak to the students directly. An obvious choice for this purpose was Swati Bhargava.
As she stepped out of the car, she greeted us with a bright, cheerful smile, which immediately put us all at ease. She seemed as excited as we were, to be at ISB, for this session, and asked to be shown around campus with child-like curiosity and wonder. She patiently waited in the campus’ Atrium, having a cup of tea with us while we waited for the students to walk into the venue and be seated. I was to be the moderator of this session, and was suitably nervous about it. She sensed that and put me at ease by telling me some trivia about herself, and even speaking about a common friend that we had.
The clock struck noon, and we walked her into the room filled with about 50 students eager to know her story and the rise of Cashkaro We began the session by asking her a few questions about her personal background, and how she decided entrepreneurship was the way forward for her. It was quite fascinating to listen to her story of a small town girl making it big in Singapore and then in London, purely by her own intelligence and hard work. It wasn’t every day that one got to speak to someone who was a mathematics wizard and one who had rejected an admission offer from The Oxford University. The humility and frankness with which she narrated her personal story warmed everyone’s hearts, and instantly made everyone connect with her story.
Talking about her professional journey, she spoke about how she had one of the most coveted jobs at Goldman Sachs and despite getting promoted she felt her calling was elsewhere. She spoke about how the simplicity and ingenuity of the cash-back model fascinated her and how she went about setting up her first company Pouring Pounds with her husband, Rohan. She then explained how they decided to move back home to India, and set up Cashkaro.com.
One of the highlights of the session was the story of how Swati met Ratan Tata and how he was this stoic, reserved man who didn’t say much at that time to her. The audience enjoyed the part where she said that she got a picture with him and that’s what she felt was the win of the day. She animatedly spoke about how elated she was when she realised her company would be backed by none other than Ratan Tata himself.
The most important takeaway of the session, however, was Swati’s unique perspectives of her entrepreneurial journey and how they made her the person she is today. She spoke about how she was no longer unfazed by failure and how the multiple struggles she faced while setting up her company gave her the confidence that she could face any challenge that would come her way. She mentioned how she would continue to implement her multiple ideas and keep trying to succeed as an entrepreneur and keep picking herself up regardless of the number of times she fell while doing it. She also spoke about how loyalty meant everything to her as an entrepreneur, and how much she valued people who stuck by her through the start and during the rise of her companies, even when they didn’t need to.
The session ended with her kindly agreeing to take pictures with the organizers and some students from the audience, and Swati seemed game to sit through another session and speak to students who were unable to attend the first one.