The Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok is known as a shopping paradise for both tourists and locals alike.
It’s a huge market with over 10,000 stalls, selling almost everything under the sun — from food and drinks, vintage clothing, home decor goods, books, plants, and even pets.
When Ankiti Bose visited Chatuchak on a holiday, she was compelled to try and replicate the experience of browsing Southeast Asia’s bazaars on a smartphone.
She wanted to build a product that could level the playing field using technology, and empower businesses in the fashion and beauty industry.
Fast forward to today, the 27-year-old helms Zilingo as its Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Invested US$60K In Their Early 20s
Back in Bengaluru, India, Ankiti met neighbour Dhruv Kapoor at a house party in December 2014.
When they chatted at the party, both of them realised that they had similar ambitions to build their own startups.
At that point, Ankiti was an analyst at venture capital firm Sequoia India, while Dhruv was a software engineer at gaming studio Kiwi Inc.
Four months later, the two of them quit their jobs and invested US$30,000 each to start up Zilingo, an online platform that helps small fashion vendors in Southeast Asia join the e-commerce foray.
Both Ankiti and Dhruv was only aged 23 and 24 respectively when they founded the company, but neither think that their young age posed as a barrier.
“It was clear from our professional backgrounds that we had complementary skills. If there was any duo that could make this idea work, I was sure it would be us,” said Dhruv, who is now Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Zilingo.
Zilingo started off as a fashion marketplace in 2015, but it has rapidly evolved from a business-to-consumer (B2C) to business-to-business (B2B) platform.
“We help business owners scale their enterprise and in turn, their livelihoods. That will always be our focus,” said Ankiti.
In Southeast Asia, Zilingo faces off with rivals other e-commerce players like Zalora, Lazada, Shopee, Love Bonito, Pomelo and Tokopedia, on top of global platforms like ASOS.
Ankiti told Reuters that adopting a purely B2C model will mean that the only way to win is through price wars and discounting.
“Instead, what we are trying to do is lower the cost of procurement for these merchants and add services on that layer there, which is basically before it even gets to the merchant and they try to sell it online.”
Helping Small Merchants To Scale Their Business
Zilingo connects businesses across the entire supply chain and empowers them with everything they need to run a business.
Their suite of in-house tools initially include the basics like inventory management and sales tracking, but they have since expanded to deeper services like financing, sourcing and procurement, and a ‘style hunter’ for identifying upcoming fashion trends.
Since last year, Zilingo has also worked with fintech firms to provide working capital loans to small sellers so they can buy raw materials to produce goods.
Sellers can upload their listings on the platform in any language, using any currency of their choice; and immediately start selling at zero cost.
But based on product categories, Zilingo do charge them a commission ranging from 10 to 20 per cent on the value of orders.
On top of that, sellers also have to bear the cost of pick-up and delivery charges for every order, which are determined by Zilingo’s logistics partners based on its weight, size, and destination.
Zilingo also has a wholesale side to its platform, called AsiaMall, that allows global merchants to buy wholesale from Asian suppliers.
Ultimately, Zilingo focuses on the long tail of merchants (merchants who deal with niche products) and help them maximise their reach through various tools and strategies.
“The fashion and beauty supply chain is fragmented and businesses are hungry to grow, but don’t always have the tools they need to do so. We build [our platform] putting the merchant at the centre of our business, and this helps ensure we’re always adding value to the entrepreneurs we serve. We currently have over 27,000 businesses using the platform,” said Dhruv.
They’ve Expanded Beyond SEA
When merchants go online for the first time, Dhruv noted that they are likely to encounter a set of different problems — same like those faced by well-established brands — so this presents Zilingo with a very unique challenge.
It is thus important for them to build products that introduce machine learning and data science effectively to SMEs while also being easy to use, get adopted, and scale quickly.
Currently, Zilingo serves merchants and customers through its B2B and B2C services across 15 countries — Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Australia, China, India, Bangladesh, South Korea, Hong Kong, USA and Brazil.
Although they’ve expanded their footprint beyond Southeast Asia, Ankiti said that it still remains their focus region because it is a “high potential market for Internet and technology businesses”, especially since it has a high smartphone penetration rate.
“A large percentage of women in the region also work and have purchasing power, which makes it a huge market opportunity that we wanted to tap. And of these countries, Indonesia is the largest in terms of absolute market size,” she added.
Zilingo Valued At US$970 Million
In February 2019, Zilingo raised US$226 million in a Series D funding round from existing backers such as Sequoia Capital, with the addition of Temasek Holdings as a new investor.
According to Ankiti, this new injection of funds will be used to invest in long-term value building across the supply chain and expansion into new markets.
This latest round also brings their total funding to US$308 million, which makes Zilingo one of Southeast Asia’s highest-capitalised startups.
In fact, the company is currently valued at US$970 million, according to insider information. This means that Zilingo is close to reaching the coveted ‘unicorn’ status, once it hits a valuation of US$1 billion.
In terms of revenue growth, Dhruv did not reveal exact figures, but shared that their company revenue has grown by 4 times over the last 12 months.
Business Times reported that Zilingo earned S$434,000 from inception to March 2016, and that the number has since soared to S$1.8 million in just a year.
Zilingo also said that their revenue grew 12 times in the year ended March 2018.
While their net income is in the “hundreds of millions” of US dollars, Zilingo is unfortunately still not profitable yet. However, Ankiti did express to Bloomberg a “plausible” chance for the company to turn profitable by June 2019.
Since setting up its first presence in Thailand and Cambodia back in 2015, the company has now grown to have offices in eight countries with over 400 employees.
All these achievements are no mean feat for a company that is only about 3 years old, so what’s their secret to success?
Ankiti humbly says that “there isn’t really a secret to success apart from investing in what [they] truly believe in”.
When asked to impart a piece of advice to fellow entrepreneurs, Ankiti said that they have the power to everyone have the power to “dictate [their] own bottom line”.
“Grow a thick skin and navigate with confidence and empathy [instead of] fear or anger. Do something you love, then be the best at what you do.”
Featured Image Credit: Zilingo