How this 27-year-old is Building an E-commerce Unicorn in Southeast Asia by Empowering Traditional Sellers
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It was 2014. Like any other tourist in Bangkok, Ankiti Bose, along with four friends, was picking up bargains in the popular Chatuchak market. She noticed something unique. None of the products the small and medium-sized enterprises offered in the 250-plus shops was available online. Bose had an idea.
She and friend Dhruv Kapoor pooled in $10,000 and established Zilingo, a fashion e-commerce platform that aggregates small fashion retailers of Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta on to a single platform. “These small sellers were situated in large markets but had little to no access to digital platforms or anyone who could help them digitize their businesses and allow them access to customers all over the world. We learned of their (sellers’) stories, and this propelled us to dig even deeper,” says Bose, who spent three years working in venture capital and management consulting at Sequoia Capital and McKinsey and Company.
The rise and rise
Within three years, Zilingo, a play on "zillion", raised almost $82 million. Following an $18 million Series B by Sequoia Capital India and Burda Principal Investments in September 2017, the startup announced its $52 million Series C, which had a new investor Amadeus Capital, in April last year to double down on Zilingo’s growth. Early last year, it launched Zilingo Asia Mall, an extension of its B2B segment, to the US and Europe.
Over the last 12 months, the company has grown over 11 times in revenue. Earlier this week, the company announced it has raised a Series D round worth $226 million, taking the funding tally till date to $308 million. The Series D is provided by existing investors Sequoia India, Singapore's Temasek, Germany’s Burda and Sofina. Joining the investor club for the first time is EDBI, the corporate investment arm of Singapore’s Economic Development Board.
Zilingo currently serves over 20,000 merchants and retailers that sell apparel, accessories, bags, shoes and lifestyle products across B2B and B2C segments across Southeast Asia. Most of their business comes from B2B solutions, which provide a B2B sourcing marketplace to merchants, financial services, and tech tools for digitizing their business.
Technology to the rescue
Bose believes what makes the company so special, and the reason it has half a million active users in Southeast Asia, is that the platform is a “full-stack commerce platform” for fashion, beauty and lifestyle merchants, and it gives the shopper the opportunity to buy indie brands with a click of a button.
“Our core expertise is building tech products and services that connect and integrate the fashion and beauty supply chain so that businesses have all the tools they need to get online and scale effortlessly,” adds the 27-year-old.
They employ artificial intelligence (AI), for instance, when it comes to personalized product recommendations, image search and personalized landing pages for customers. They also use AI and machine learning to forecast and predict fashion trends. “One of the most interesting ways in which we are using AI is to assist sellers in properly digitizing their products and making them ready to sell online,” says Bose.
What’s in store?
Bose’s journey hasn’t been the easiest. From not finding enough strong role models, fighting several stereotypes to not being recognized as equal stakeholders, she has seen it all. “But it has certainly been rewarding,” she confesses. Zilingo’s senior management is 50 per cent women, and women are well represented throughout the organization.
The company has also started a scholarship for merchants in Indonesia that aims to provide an opportunity for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs to upskill themselves in today’s digital and global economy.
As for expansion, Bose has her eyes set on the Philippines, at the moment.
“Apart from launching in new markets, we’re also looking at scaling our merchant platform to include more brands and sellers and launching some key business verticals to support the ecosystem.”