Two is company!

By: | Updated: February 14, 2016 12:43 AM

For them, every day is Valentine’s Day. As the world celebrates the spirit of togetherness, we profile a few couples who have proved that spouses make for great partners, not just in the personal sphere, but in entrepreneurial journeys as well.

Swati & Rohan Bhargava
CashKaro, a cashback and coupons site  
Cashing in on their dreams

SWATI AND Rohan Bhargava, while living in London in 2009, stumbled upon the concept of ‘cashback’—it was something of a novelty then—when they were booking a flight to the Maldives for their honeymoon. To their surprise (of course, a pleasant one), the couple got R25,000 as cashback through a UK portal. “We loved the idea and thought it was so simple and easy. However, we felt there was a huge gap in the market, so we launched PouringPounds.com (a cashback and voucher site) in the UK in 2011,” says 33-year-old Swati, a native of Ambala, Haryana, who graduated from the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2005. She then worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, London, for the next five years.

In April 2013, the couple came back to India to start CashKaro.com, a cashback and coupons site. “We believed the cashback business model would be a great product fit for India, as people here love saving and are naturally inclined to seek ‘extra’ whenever they shop online,” adds 35-year-old Rohan, who was working for a hedge fund management company, Aladdin Capital, in London before coming to India. The couple, who met at the LSE, are now based in Gurgaon, Haryana. “We were great friends for many years and eventually realised there was more to it. We dated for a year before getting married in April 2009,” he adds.

CashKaro is currently working with over 1,000 online retailers, including popular sites like Amazon, Paytm, Jabong, ShopClues, etc. It has over 10 lakh registered users and over five million page views every month. “We are driving 7,000 transactions per day for our partner retailers and have already generated over R550 crore of sales. So far, we have given over R25 crore in cashback and expect to cross R1,000 crore in gross merchandise value in the next few months,” says Swati, who thinks working with one’s spouse is a great idea. “The best part is that we both get to live and realise the same dream on a daily basis. Since Rohan and I work together, it becomes even more enjoyable and we are able to grow as a couple.”

Rohan concurs, “I am lucky to have Swati as my partner in this entrepreneurial journey. She is an astounding leader and shares the same passion as me. She has this unique quality of unlocking others’ potential as well. As a husband-wife duo working together, we spend a lot of time together and I think it is this mutual understanding that has helped us grow.”

Kunjal & Dhirender Nirwani
CraftGully, an online craft supplies store
They crafted a successful business venture

FOR MUMBAI-BASED Kunjal and Dhirender Nirwani, launching a start-up was a big decision. It meant leaving promising careers—while Dhirender is an MBA with extensive experience in digital media, including stints at several top Indian portals such as Shaadi.com and Sharekhan.com, Kunjal is a graphic designer—for an uncertain future.

“Each start-up goes through its cycles of ups and downs, but it is at those times that having a partner who understands and shares both the professional and personal aspects of life matters,” says 36-year-old Kunjal, who met Dhirender in 2006 at People Interactive (the company behind Shaadi.com). They have been married for nine years. “Since we understood each other’s working styles, things got a lot easier when we decided to start CraftGully (in 2014),” she adds.

In India, it is difficult to find craft-related quality supplies, something that Kunjal experienced herself. And this was the genesis of CraftGully, which caters to everyone “be it a professional, who makes exquisite handmade creations for sale, or a hobbyist,” says 42-year-old Dhirender, whose last role was with IBM India as country leader, developer relations.

“We have delivered to every region in India, including Lakshadweep and the Andamans, and continue to grow at a very good pace. And this gives us the reassurance that we are on the right track,” Kunjal says.

Dhirender has a piece of advice for budding husband-wife entrepreneurs who want to launch a start-up together: compartmentalising is essential. “It is very easy for your work life to spill over into your personal life (and vice-versa). And this should be minimised as much as possible. It is, of course, impossible to totally avoid it… we still struggle with it,” he says.

Commenting on the future, Dhirender says they have a lot of plans for CraftGully and 2016 should see some of them being rolled out. “Hopefully, we’ll also manage to fit in a vacation somewhere in between,” adds Kunjal.

Mohita & Manu Indrayan
612 League, a clothing brand for pre-teens by kidswear company
Indian Clothing League
They tied the knot—professionally as well

LIKE MANY traditional families in the country, Mohita and Manu Indrayan had an arranged marriage (they met through a newspaper matrimonial ad) in 1998. However, that didn’t come in the way of realising their common dream.

Indian Clothing League, the parent company of 612 League (a brand for ‘pre-teen children’, or six- to 12-year-olds, also called ‘tweens’), was born in 2008 when Manu realised the growth potential in the branded garment market in the kidswear segment. It was Manu’s second business venture after having started the company Indian Yarn to manufacture synthetic yarn in 1996. He sold it in 2012.

The couple, based in Gurgaon, Haryana, started Indian Clothing League with a small manufacturing facility of 10 machines in Ludhiana, producing about 100 garments a day. “Today, our manufacturing units (in Ludhiana) boast state-of-the-art technology with the ability to produce 135,000 garments per month. The turning point came when Shoppers Stop decided to stock our products. The brand has indeed come a long way. 612 League is one of India’s top kidswear brands today with many awards and recognitions to its credit,” says 45-year-old Manu, who studied engineering from BITS Pilani, Rajasthan, and pursued an MBA from IIM-Bangalore. He worked for Chicago-based accounting firm Arthur Anderson in its financial consulting division in Delhi before launching the start-up.

The company earned a revenue of R2 crore in the first year of operations itself. The figure reached R71.15 crore by 2014-15. Now, the company is all set to achieve its next target of R100 crore in 2015-16. “We are hoping to achieve 30% growth in the next year (2016-17). In fact, the brand plans to double its turnover in the next three years,” offers Manu.

But as life partners, launching a start-up was not easy. “We were under the constant scrutiny of our parents and family members. Since we both come from traditional family backgrounds, there was always scepticism that the wife working full-time may lead to negligence on the domestic front. However, our mutual understanding and belief in our ability to create a business of this scale enabled us to face the challenges and put all speculation to rest,” says 40-year-old Mohita.

Manu owes his success to his wife’s unwavering support, but cautions that “one of the characteristics of a venture founded by a married couple is that you cannot keep work away from home and vice-versa.” He says, “On most occasions at home and even during vacations, we end up getting sucked in work talk. Sometimes, we feel that our children might get neglected, but we try to make them a part of this journey as well to maintain a balance.”

Shaifali & Sundeep Holani

EasyFix, a home repair and maintenance services provider

Mr & Mrs ‘fix-it’

ALMORA-BORN Shaifali Holani (nee Agarwal) got the idea for EasyFix, a ‘one-call home repair service’, when she moved to a new flat in Gurgaon a few years ago and had to struggle for almost a month to get some utilities fixed. “Getting home repair and maintenance work done is an inescapable requirement of most households, and I thought there’s no reason for the experience to not be better. And I decided to take on the challenge,” says the 28-year-old founder-CEO of the Gurgaon-based company, which started in 2011.

With the idea in hand, Shaifali approached her circle of contacts in 2011 for initial seed capital and found it in Sundeep Holani, the founder and CEO of her former employer, Channelplay, a retail marketing services company, which Sundeep started in New Delhi at the age of 28 years in 2006. Today, Channelplay has over 5,000 employees across the country.

Sundeep not only provided Shaifali the seed capital, but Channelplay’s support functions such as HR, finance and technology as well. He also came onboard as a director. As the company grew, love also bloomed and Shaifali and Sundeep got married in March 2014.

Starting from south Delhi in 2011, EasyFix now serves all of NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Kolkata and Jaipur. “EasyFix maintains a pool of quality and safety-checked professionals, who are extensively trained in soft skills. It finds the best technician for a customer’s problems, ensures he reaches on time, behaves properly and charges fairly. It also provides a service warranty under which customers get a free ‘fix’ in the rare case when a problem is not solved the first time. Customer feedback is taken after every call,” explains Shaifali, who feels a great partnership starts with trust, both professional and personal. “You should believe that your partner is great in what he or she is doing and there is no way you can do it better. Also, defining clear accountability (preferably with timelines) and having no ego (at least when it comes to work) are important issues. As both of us are working with just one objective to make it (their professional and personal lives) a success, we trust each other to make the right decisions,” she says.

Monica Jain & Pushpinder Singh
TravelKhana, a food ordering platform for rail passengers
Getting a taste of both worlds

FOUNDED IN January 2012 in New Delhi by Pushpinder Singh, TravelKhana tracks trains in real-time and ensures fresh food is delivered to the passenger at the railway station of his/her choice. “Once a passenger buys the train tickets, there is very little that technology has to offer (with regard to food on trains). Witnessing the huge gap between demand and supply, and having faced this problem several times while travelling ourselves, we thought of offering a solution to travel enthusiasts and thus was born TravelKhana,” says 45-year-old Singh, who started his career with Tata Steel as a software engineer and has been part of organisations like IT services firm Interra IT and telecommunications firm Sprint Communications before he took the entrepreneurial plunge with TravelKhana.

It was while working at Interra that Singh met Monica Jain in 1997, an MBA from IMT Ghaziabad. They got married a year later and she ‘officially’ joined TravelKhana in 2014. The couple live in New Delhi. “Our target audience is any traveller who is on the move and desires to have delectable food, while not compromising on freshness and hygiene. We are growing 15% on an average month-on-month. We have successfully served about 1.3 million customers so far,” says Singh, adding, “Today, we are present at 100 locations. We have also recently partnered with the Indian Railways (unannounced as of now) and will soon be on the e-catering platform of the IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) as well.” Additionally, TravelKhana is also planning to launch a similar service for bus travellers soon.

To make it hassle-free, Singh and Jain have ‘divided’ their roles at home, as well as work. For example, while Singh takes critical strategy-related decisions, Jain is responsible for operations. “However, division of roles does not mean that we do not know what is happening in the other person’s area of operation. As far as decisions are concerned, I take the lead. At home, it is more of a matter of mutual consent,” says Singh, an IIT-BHU, Varanasi, and BITS-Pilani, Rajasthan, alumnus, with over 15 years’ experience in the software sector.

Jain adds, “Ever since we got married, Pushpinder wanted to start something of his own and I have always encouraged him. We both were collectively ready to face hardships while ‘starting-up’. We had to sell off properties to make this happen. As budding entrepreneurs, we only have one message to give: always be ready to take the plunge and never hesitate to take bold decisions.”

Upasana Taku & Bipin Preet Singh
MobiKwik, a mobile payments platform
For this couple, hard work pays

AT THE age of 29 years in 2008-09, when faced with a choice to spend his savings on an expensive B-school degree from a top university in the US or use the money to launch a start-up, IIT-Delhi alumnus Bipin Preet Singh chose the latter. It was a decision that saw him making a difficult shift from hardware to software, learn programming from scratch and start MobiKwik, a mobile payments platform.

On the other hand, Upasana Taku worked as a senior product manager with online payments company PayPal in Silicon Valley (2006-08), and prior to that with HSBC in San Diego in the US (2004-06), where she acquired a strong background in the payments sector. Upon deciding to return to India in late 2008 and contribute to the ecosystem back home, she met Singh in 2009.

“We met through a mutual friend. It was the time when I was thinking of launching my own venture. Upasana was very encouraging and asked me to take the plunge. That was a turning point for us, as within six months of starting MobiKwik in 2009, Upasana, too, joined the company as co-founder. In February 2011, we got married,” says 36-year-old Singh, who spent most of his childhood in Rourkela, Odisha, before moving base to New Delhi. The couple is based in Gurgaon now.

MobiKwik is one of India’s largest independent mobile payment networks, connecting 25 million users with over 50,000 retailers. “We are now powering payments for the IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation), Uber, Meru Cabs, Big Bazaar, OYO Rooms, Zomato, PVR, Archies, BookMyShow, Grofers, Domino’s, eBay, ShopClues, Myntra and MakeMyTrip. The company has raised close to $30 million in funding till now from Sequoia Capital, American Express, Tree Line Asia and Cisco Investments. For financial year 2015-16, we are expecting to clock a turnover of R3,000 crore,” says 36-year-old Taku, who also works as the director of the company.

When the couple started, they had to face some challenges, as work started flowing into their personal lives as well. But over time, they learnt to balance things out. “By the end of a work day, all key discussion points related to business are usually exhausted, leaving time for us to focus on other matters,” says Singh. “It’s very rare for us to bring personal matters into the workplace. In fact, many times, we come across colleagues and business partners, who express surprise on learning that we are married,” adds Taku.

Ashwini Asokan & Anand Chandrasekaran
Mad Street Den, an artificial intelligence start-up
The duo who broke out of their comfort zones

YOU’RE A designer and he is a neuroscientist. How did Mad Street Den happen?” is a question Ashwini Asokan gets asked all the time. One shouldn’t be surprised. While Asokan comes from a background as varied as visual communication, dance, music and design—or arts—Anand Chandrasekaran has a background in neuroscience, neuromorphic engineering and artificial intelligence (AI)—or science in a nutshell.

However, it turned out to be a good combination for AI and thus was born Mad Street Den in 2013. The Chennai-based computer vision-based AI start-up powers businesses across the globe in fashion, retail, IoT, robotics, gaming, among others. In fashion, some of the portals powered by Mad Street Den include Craftsvilla, Voonik, YepMe and Kaaryah.

In January last year, Mad Street Den closed a $1.5-million seed round to bring technology developed in labs to consumers in a useful way. Investment management company Reservoir Investments’ Exfinity Fund and investment firm GrowX Ventures provided the capital, which Mad Street Den is using for hiring and to work with partners to license and use its AI tech in apps and services.

Talking about their professional lives, 34-year-old Chennai-based Asokan, who has previously worked with Intel Labs, says, “We push each other fiercely beyond our comfort zones. First off, it’s hard to ‘start-up’. It’s even harder in an area, which is in such early stages… no one can tell what’s going to happen in the field, leave alone the market. To some extent, we’re going in blind and that involves taking heavy risks. However, both of us never shy away from taking risks. It’s either ‘go big’ or ‘go home’ for us.”

While Asokan holds the whip on deadlines, Stanford alumnus 36-year-old Chandrasekaran, she feels, paces himself really well. “He reminds me every day that this is a marathon, not a sprint. It comes easily to him, as he’s an academic. I’m a product person. Life is a delicate balance between never-ending brainstorms and deadlines. It’s not easy at all,” she says.

But since they have known each other for so long, being married for 11 years, they don’t take squabbles seriously. “We fight fiercely for 15 minutes and then we are back to talking and laughing like nothing happened. It’s our big motto: it’s not personal, get over it,” she adds.

Ankita & Aman Jain
GoPaisa, a cashback and coupons site
Their thoughts clicked, so did their biz ideas

LIKE ALMOST every Baniya or Marwari family in the country, Ankita and Aman Jain’s parents were overly keen to get them married at the earliest, even when the couple itself was not very keen at that time. “Truth be told, had our parents not pushed us, we probably would have still not got married,” says 25-year-old Ankita, who was born and brought up in Surat, Gujarat, and is now based in New Delhi.

Ankita met Aman, a Delhi University and University of Nottingham, UK, alumnus at a common friend’s wedding in Mumbai in 2011. They tied the knot after dating each other for over a year in 2013. “When we met for the first time, we instantly hit it off over an age-old debate on the importance of marketing vis-a-vis finance. While Aman was from the finance world, I was a full-fledged supporter of the marketing camp. We kept on meeting and calling each other after that, during which time Aman discussed his life in the UK, where he discovered the concept of online cashback and how a similar model could be adapted for the Indian market,” says Ankita.

And that was the genesis of GoPaisa, which was launched in 2012 by the duo. The company helps in putting the money back into the consumers’ pockets by way of ‘cashback’ across sectors. GoPaisa.com earns commission from online retailers for referring customers to them, and the same commission is used to give some cash back to the users.

“This gives the brand partner an inherent advantage of motivating the consumer to make the transaction by way of customer loyalty and acquire customers at a relatively low cost. To avail the cashback offers, all the user needs to do is click out from the GoPaisa page to a partner retailer’s page, and then shop normally. Within 24 hours of placing an order, the transaction is tracked back in the GoPaisa account and a user earns his or her cashback,” explains Ankita.

With a user base of 9.25 lakh, GoPaisa registered over 1,00,000 app downloads within a span of just two months of its launch. It generated sales of over

R85 crore during Diwali last year—the figure was less than R1 crore during the festival the previous year. The website and the app are cumulatively getting over 6,000 new users every day, adds Ankita.

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