Cashing in

A career in the City can give you many options, including starting your own business. Hannah Langworth speaks to Swati Bhargava, ex-financier and founder of cashback website Pouring Pounds

Swati Bhargava is only in her mid-twenties, but is already onto her second successful career. After spending five years at a leading investment bank, she left to set up her own cashback and voucher website, Pouring Pounds. Everyone loves a bargain, so the first thing I ask her is to tell us a bit more about what her business is all about. Says Swati: "We have a tie-up with about 2,500 retailers, currently including Expedia, Vodafone, Trainline, Hotel.com, Debenhams, and Tesco. They pay us commission on every sale that we bring to them through our website and we then pass most of this commission back to the user as a cashback. With Hotel.com for example, you get a 6 per cent cashback - if you spend £500, you get £30 back - as real money in your bank account, or you can donate it to charity instead through the site if you want to."

Pouring Pounds has approximately 25,000 users today, but was only set up five months ago. What made Swati decide to set up this particular business now? "In the last year or so the deals market has really been booming with Groupon, and people are copying their idea a lot. So we thought: Groupon is great and offers good discounts, but why not set up something that offers savings on the things you need, like travel tickets, a mobile phone contract, breakdown cover, or books? We offer discounts on things that people regularly buy rather than restaurants and massages. And we thought we should do it now because we're living in a time when people care about saving money."

Firm foundations

Swati started the business with her husband, Rohan, and they employ a team of six people based in India who deal with day-to-day website content management, and they're also working with an Indian website development company on a new version of their portal. Swati tells me that, like her, Rohan has a background in finance, having worked in asset management and in the hedge fund business before setting up Pouring Pounds - and I then ask Swati to tell me more about her own background: "I grew up in a small town in India called Ambala, north of Delhi. It was one of those places where nobody has really been abroad, and coming to London and working at an investment bank was not something I ever imagined. But when I was 16, I was selected by the Singaporean government to go to Singapore for two years and do my A-Levels. After that, I got a scholarship to the LSE where I studied mathematics and economics. I graduated in 2005, and started in a graduate role in banking right after that. I did four years in the structured products team, and then moved to the executive office where I spent a year working with the bank's two co-chief executives in Europe to manage their client engagement efforts."

Swati feels her time in banking provided a great basis for what she does today: "If I had to go back, I would still do my time there and then start a business, rather than going for it straight away." I ask her why. "You get a lot of confidence in dealing with very senior people. So when I speak with the CEOs of really big companies now we're talking not quite as equals, but there's no inhibition. The brand name is also great, because when you say you worked at a well-known investment bank people take you more seriously - otherwise you're just another start-up. Due to our finance backgrounds, our partners trust us to get our numbers right." She also highlights the importance of the basic abilities that working in any big and successful business teaches you: "It really does give you a lot of skills, even simple things like Excel and PowerPoint - and if you are proactive in whatever job you do and entrepreneurial within its realms, it teaches you a lot that you can carry with you."

Swati also values the guidance she received from the individuals that she worked with during her time in banking: "A couple of my ex-bosses have been great mentors - they always encouraged me to do what I really wanted to do. I'm still in touch with them, and we're all good friends."

Flying high

Apart from her ex-colleagues, Swati nominates Justine Roberts, the founder of hugely successful parenting website Mumsnet, as an inspiration. She goes on to flag up how helpful commerce and entrepreneurship networks have been to her fledgling business. "I think my first starting point was LinkedIn, which is so powerful today. Setting up our partnerships, our marketing - we did a lot of it on there. People respond on LinkedIn - it's a professional network where everyone is in a mindset of helping each other. Our company is also a part of Microsoft BizSpark, a programme run by Microsoft for technology start-ups that they feel are promising, and I would encourage people to look at what they offer. And anyone looking to go into business needs to get on Twitter - we had so many "tweet-ups", and found you can really make a connection with journalists, and people in general, through the site."

What does the future hold for Swati and Pouring Pounds? The business is currently making enough profit to cover its costs, but Swati admits that if they want to spend more on advertising and marketing external investment will probably be required - the business is currently self-funded. Says Swati: "We're looking to do our first round of funding pretty soon - we're looking at angel investors." Alongside financial plans, the business as a whole is also progressing: "I think our next development will be the new version of the site, which comes out in two months. Longer term, we're looking to take the business to the US and India - we know it's a scaleable model."

Before we end, I ask Swati what she has on offer today for students. She reels off a list of deals: "£100 cashback on 3 Mobile, 10 per cent off iPads and Kindles at Viking, 25 per cent off French Connection, Mango, Warehouse, or Coast. And two for one Pizza Express vouchers!" Phones, gadgets, food, and fashion. Sounds like this banker turned entrepreneur has found the perfect mix.

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