How a 27-Year-Old CEO Built a Near $1 Billion Fashion Startup in Southeast Asia
Zilingo Pte’s path to becoming a fashion platform with a valuation approaching $1 billion began in December 2014 when Ankiti Bose, then an analyst at Sequoia India, chatted with a neighbor at a house party in the Indian tech capital Bengaluru.
Bose, then 23, and Dhruv Kapoor, a 24-year-old software engineer at gaming studio Kiwi Inc., quickly realized they had complementary skills and similar ambitions to build their own startup.
Four months later they had quit their jobs, and each had put in their $30,000 in savings to found Zilingo, an online platform that allows small merchants in Southeast Asia to build scale.
On Tuesday, the Singapore-based company said it raised $226 million from investors including Sequoia Capital and Temasek Holdings Pte. The latest financing valued Zilingo at $970 million, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information is private. That makes 27-year-old Bose among the youngest female chief executives to lead a startup of the size in Asia.
Female founders remain rare in the global startup world. Of the 239 venture capital-backed startups around the world worth at least $1 billion, only 23 have a female founder, according to data from Pitchbook in May last year.
“We were a bunch of twenty-somethings with nothing except this dream and we decided to chase it,” Bose said.
Bose is now part of a group of founders in Southeast Asia who are capitalizing on the region’s rapid adoption of smartphones and rising incomes. Online shopping in the region reached $23 billion in 2018, according to a report by Google and Temasek. It’s expected to exceed $100 billion by 2025.
Zilingo posted revenue of S$1.8 million ($1.3 million) in the year ended on March 31, 2017, up from about S$434,000 since its inception though March 2016, according to the company’s most recent filing with Singapore regulators.
Revenue grew 12 times in the year ended March 2018 and fourfold in the April to January period, according to the company. Kapoor holds the title of chief technology officer.
The company started off by helping small merchants sell to consumers, and has since expanded into new areas. As the founders dealt with thousands of small sellers, they realized that many lacked access to technology, capital and economies of scale.
So they expanded, developing software and other tools to allow vendors to access factories from Bangladesh to Vietnam and also help with cross-border shipping and inventory management.
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.
Listings are provided for free with the company charging a commission of between 10 percent and 20 percent on orders.
Some of Bose’s early inspiration came from a visit to Bangkok’s popular Chatuchak market, which features more than 15,000 booths selling goods from across Thailand. She realized the sellers didn’t have sufficient opportunities to expand.
Since setting up its first presence in Thailand and Cambodia in 2015, the company has grown to have offices in eight countries with 400 employees. It operates fashion e-commerce sites in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines and is preparing to launch in Australia soon.
Source : Bloomberg
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