Ankiti Bose – the super-achiever CEO of Zilingo, the multi-national start-up in the e-commerce space
How is an achievement’s worth measured? Is it simply being valued at some figure that has been pre-set and seems attractive to the world? Is it by doing something that few could have managed to do in a challenging environment? Or is it by being a woman achiever in a male-dominated world?
Meet someone who answers in the affirmative to two of the three posers and almost succeeds in a ‘Yes’ to the third. She’s Ankiti Bose – the co-founder and CEO of Zilingo.
What is Zilingo?
- Zilingo is a technology and commerce platform in the fashion industry.
- Founded in 2015 by Ankiti Bose and Dhruv Kapoor, it is today headquartered in Singapore with operations spanning Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, Australia, India and the United States.
- The company employs over 500 staff representing more than 20 different nationalities, and works with close to 50,000 partners across the fashion supply chain.
- These partners comprise manufacturers, retail merchants, distributors, indian and global brands.
How did Zilingo start?
Ankiti Bose was on holiday in Bangkok with some friends. Casually she happened on her visit to the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market to take note that many of the small and medium-sized shops she visited had had no online presence. It stayed on in her mind. Shortly afterwards when the China–United States trade war resulted in United States retailers leaving China, it allowed thousands of start-ups to take advantage of the situation and enter that business space to expand into America. Thus was ‘Zilingo’, a technology and commerce platform for fashion retailers born, established in 2015 by her and Dhruv Kapoor , who later married her.
What was Zilingo’s area of expertise or field of business?
At 23, enterprising and full of ideas Bose left her position as investment analyst at Sequoia Capital in 2015 to launch her own company, Zilingo. Zilingo, started as an e-commerce platform offering B2B focused services.
The company started off as a long-tail fashion marketplace taking advantage of Southeast Asia's growing internet connectivity to bring small merchants from the street markets of Bangkok and Jakarta into the e-commerce fold, supported by the distribution, cataloguing and financing services that Zilingo had begun to offer.
The modus operandi?
Whilst on one hand there was investment to be done in improving access to the internet, Bose also recognized another need. Retailers were not trained in financing, scaling-up, website design and procurement nor were they well equipped to compete with large global players despite having the potential if given the slight push by a professional hand.
After strengthening its own distribution capabilities, Zilingo expanded focus towards B2B opportunities across the supply chain with an eye on service opportunities the platform could offer to transform a disoriented or fragmented, inefficient, cash and tech-strapped value chain into a profit-making venture.
The focus towards B2B opportunities started with a suite of basic products to help merchants and manufacturers manage their e-commerce business. This initially included inventory management and sales tracking, and today the company has graduated to more advanced services as financing, sourcing and procurement. It still continued with its original venture of identifying upcoming fashion trends.
2016 saw her move to Singapore, where she developed Zilingo software and supply chain solutions.
And the funding?
The company began with seed funding from Sequoia India and raised an additional $8 million in a Series A funding round in September 2016. It raised an additional $18 million in 2017 in a Series B round and $54 million in a Series C round in 2018.
Eyeing Bigger Game
Zilingo expanded its activities internationally.
- Developing software and other tools, it allowed vendors to access factories from Bangladesh to Vietnam. Cross-border shipping and inventory management was enabled as well
- Since 2018, Zilingo has also worked with financial technology firms to provide working capital to small sellers so they can buy raw materials to produce goods.
- Zilingo created a system whereby a deal that was brokered through it or a sale made vide its platform received its fair due monetarily. This did away with a lot of third party mediation and cuts during a transaction that other brands and companies faced.
- Ankiti had envisioned making the fashion-industry a more level playing field for all and towards this end the system worked nicely.
- Her Indian roots still strong she worked to source Indian fabrics for Californian factories as well as opening offices on the West Coast and East Coast.
Woman Empowerment – a strong inclination towards it
- At Zilingo Bose started a program to train women in Indonesia to create clothing, recognising that in Indonesia almost 40% of women leave the workforce after they get married.
- Bose is actively involved with programmes to support and mentor women entrepreneurs.
- Next, she is setting her sights on continuing to empower females in fashion, a cause which is close to her heart.
- Besides the fact that workers in fashion tend to be female, about 60 per cent of the merchants who work with Zilingo have at least one founder or partner who is female, notes Bose.
- “Our business in general is such that it empowers women, so as long as we strive to do better each day, I think we’re going to keep helping more and more females. That’s an important personal purpose,” she says.
- This mission is evident in the organisation as well. “We have women’s circles, which is where we come together and talk about issues that are holding us back from leaning in more,” she says.
- The company also holds female-specific coaching sessions to equip women with skills to navigate their careers.
- “The challenges women face are different from men. Most struggle with expectations of managing their home and children versus what they’re expected to do at work. So, managers and coaches have to keep that in mind—it is incredibly important that there’s empathy for the expectations that women have to meet.”
- Ankiti Bose says that 60 per cent of its business partners and suppliers are helmed by women
- Her secret, she says, is that instead of taking offence when she is mistaken for the underling, she chooses to focus on her goal of empowering the underdog through her work.
- “Gender inequality is a systemic issue, so I think it is more important that we focus on making more women successful. When more people see women leading, this view will no longer be commonly perpetuated,” she told a newspaper.
- September 2019 - Zilingo was shipping to eight countries with seller hubs in Hong Kong, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, and having added 5,000 new merchants in the previous twelve months.
- By mid 2019 - the company had generated 80% of its revenue from its B2B operation of matching brands with suppliers in Southeast Asia and South Asia, and with aggressive posturing to expand in the United States.
- In 2019 - the company had raised $226 million in a Series D round from existing investors Sequoia India, Burda Capital, Sofina with Singapore's sovereign fund Temasek Holdings joining the tech-platform's capital table.
- Zilingo had started off as a mobile-first eCommerce marketplace and today has expanded into a B2B tech-platform, with services spanning different offerings for players across the fashion supply chain.
- Noted for its seller management platform created in 2016, zilingo was simply a fashion ecommerce marketplace that helped small retailers and long tail brands formally organise their business, through online distribution, inventory management tools and APIs for logistics.
- By 2018, the startup had evolved its seller management tool to become an additional income generator for the business, with merchants being able to cross-list across Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia versions of the site, and distribute globally.
- The platform had also begun offering financial services from third parties, a “style hunter” that aggregates upcoming trends from fashion watchers and icons, product sourcing and content and photography services-and Zilingo's captive seller base expanded to include professional fashion sellers, SMEs, brands in Southeast Asia and B2B businesses globally through Zilingo's "Zilingo Asia Mall" platform.
A look at her personal side too.
- Born 1992 in Mumbai, she had her schooling from Podar school, Mumbai. Graduated in Economics and Mathematics from St.Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Only child of her parents, her Father is in an oil company in Mumbai, her Mother was lecturer in a University once.
- Completing college she joined McKinsey, Bangalore and was there from 2012 to 2014 as a management consultant.
- She then joined Sequoia Capital in Bangalore and was an Investment Analyst.
- On a trip to Bangkok with friends in 2014, she observed that Chatuchak market had no Internet presence. That was her cue.
- In 2014 she met Dhruv Kapoor an IIT graduate at a party who was working as a gaming engineer in Kiwi Inc. in Bangalore. They decided to join hands in a venture. In a few months, both left their jobs.
- They decided to start their own company with savings and investors’ money to start Zilingo in 2015.Within 4 years Zilingo almost became a Unicorn business (start-up valued at $1 billion or more).
- It is headquartered in Singapore with Ankiti Kapoor as CEO, with Dhruv Kapoor in Bangalore as its Chief Technology Officer.
- A unicorn is what most people in the financial world call a startup that is privately-owned with a valuation exceeding $1 billion. Net worth of Zilingo is $970 Million.
Awards and honours
Her awards and honours include:
- In 2018 Ankiti and Dhruv were in ‘Forbes’ as the most influential in business under 30.
- In 2019 Ankiti figured in the list of most influential and inspiring young people under age 40.
- 2019 The Bloomberg 50
- 2019 Business Worldwide Magazine Most Innovative CEO of the Year – Singapore
- 2020 Ankiti features in Singapore 100 Women in Tech List
- Ankiti Kapoor was the first Indian woman to co-found a Unicorn business.
Ankiti Bose’s voice
“If I go to a meeting with a male colleague, most people will automatically assume he’s the senior one, or that I’m the assistant. It’s not super easy to be a woman on the ground in the commerce or trade business,” says Bose. She is 23, exuberant, full of dynamism, yet faces this stigma that will probably be all too familiar to many women.
Still, she has not let this obstacle stop her from growing the company to its US$970 million valuation today—just $30 million short of the magic US$1 billion figure to be termed a unicorn. Its backers include US venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and Singapore state investment company Temasek Holdings.
With strong views and inclinations towards “equal opportunities for everyone” she has been instrumental in espousing causes as simplifying fashion’s complicated supply chain or championing gender equality.
“We realised small businesses have many more problems. For example, when they source goods from factories, there are agents that destroy their margins. Or they do not have credit history for loans. It’s super unfair as everything is stacked up against them,” she says, giving a glimpse of her human angle as well.
Today, while the e-commerce portal still exists, the bulk of Zilingo’s business comes from its B2B services, which connects over 75,000 small and medium-sized businesses to more than 4,000 factories.
Most of these businesses are located in Southeast Asia as well as India and China.
On top of this, the company also provides its merchants across the supply chain with software and financial services to assist them in making the transition to the digital space.
In the longer term, while Bose predicts it will take up to two years for the economy to recover, she is confident Zilingo is well-placed to thrive in a post-Covid world.
“This is such a long crisis and it’s making us all stay at home and think hard about our lives and become very thoughtful about retail. So now more than ever, we need companies that will straighten out the supply chain so that there are no leakages. We will play the role of the digital backend to make the fashion industry more tech-enabled and transparent,” she says.
“It’s impossible to physically do business now, so I think only the digital businesses will overcome the challenges, survive and become stronger.”
Bose also believes Asia will be the first part of the world to recover from the crisis, hence it makes sense to focus efforts in this region.
She is placing her faith in the resolute response of governments in Asia, including China, India and Singapore.
“I think Asia will bounce back fast. We’ll adapt very quickly to the changes that need to happen and will emerge stronger out of this crisis.”
She has also sprung into action to help the company’s partner suppliers pivot their businesses. To counter the decrease in fashion manufacturing, Zilingo is working with factories to transform their production lines to make personal protective equipment, which is currently in short supply globally.
Ankiti Bose’s Zilingo Will Supply Personal Protection Equipment for Hospitals Across India, Indonesia and Singapore
Ankiti Bose or Ankiti Kapur, she has certainly made us raise a toast in her name, considering that at such a young age she has dared what even seasoned campaigners would hesitate to attempt. She may have missed becoming a Unicorn in 2019, but what is a Unicorn when for us she is several notches above it already. An inspiration despite her young age, definitely it must be because She’s Different.