[100 Emerging Women Leaders] From an analyst to the CEO of a unicorn - the journey of Zilingo’s Ankiti Bose
The story of how the Southeast Asian B2B ecommerce brand Zilingo started has been told multiple times and in different ways. But to recap again, the idea fell into place when its co-founder and CEO, Ankiti Bose had visited Thailand’s Chatuchak Weekend Market, a 15,000-stall bazaar, which is one of the largest in the world.
Then an analyst at Sequoia India, Ankiti felt there was a need for these sellers to sell their products online. It led to the birth of Zilingo in 2015, that she started with Dhruv Kapoor, whom she met at a party the same year.
Today, a unicorn valued at a little over a billion dollars, Zilingo is touted as one of the largest B2B ecommerce players in Southeast Asia. Zilingo in 2019 had also started offices in New York and Los Angeles, and started working with factories in California to source fabric from Asia.
Ankiti along with Dhruv Kapoor, founders of Zilingo
A Woman CEO - of a unicorn
Ankiti is a tech celebrity of sorts in Southeast Asia, because she is one of the few women in the industry to run a company of this size. And by 2017, the ecommerce startup had built teams across countries, including Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, the US and India (the startup has a tech team working out of Bengaluru).
To date, Zilingo has raised $308 million in funding. It touched the $100 million transaction flow in January 2020. But, all this was not plain sailing for Ankiti.
“Of course, I have had my challenges. Many people took time to take me seriously. Seeing a young 28-year old talk to factory managers and workers isn’t the norm. Many wondered if I would even be able to run a business, but they quickly learnt otherwise,” says Ankiti.
She adds that biases will always be there, but it is important for women to push themselves and be out there. “I am one of the privileged few who has a support system but there are many women who face these biases and still push back,” she acknowledges.
Today, Ankiti prefers to understand the thought process behind the bias, and work around it. “I just focus on my journey, and what needs to be done.”
From ecommerce to supply chain tech
“We hadn’t envisioned Zilingo to be a supply chain tech company. I was looking at Zilingo as an ecommerce marketplace. But the more we interacted with the sellers, the more we realised that more than just being able to sell their products online, there were multiple issues from logistics, supply, finance. Thus, we thought there was a larger play as an ecommerce enabler,” says Ankiti.
What Zilingo does is offer an end-to-end cloud platform which connects the manufacturer to the brand directly, also giving them a tech platform providing analytics and financial services. Zilingo provides resources you need at a very competitive rate because we can aggregate across thousands of merchants, she says.
The need for digitisation
Speaking on its phenomenal growth, Ankiti says, “Even if you are an independent designer with a very special style, we can help you. Many MSMEs are our cloud factories where we provide leased facilities and bring in technical hardware and software to increase their capacity utilisation. Nowhere in the world has a horizontal ecommerce company also cracked fashion."
Commenting that it’s a unique, high margin category which is highly dependent on fast-moving cycles and has its own nuances, she says, unlike buying detergent or electronics, fashion is much more about one's choice, individuality, and trends. "It requires a different approach than the rest of ecommerce.”
She agrees that what has helped today is the focus towards digitisation.
“It has been a tough two years, several SMEs and MSMEs were hit hard, they have been stuck with inventory, and have been pushed to look at digitisation. But many have sailed through.”
Today as a CEO, Ankiti has also pushed to ensure there is diversity in her organisation.
Advising women, she says,
“Don’t be afraid or shy to ask your worth. If you feel that you deserve a certain salary or a certain role, think of the right reasons and approach the leadership for it. I have noticed women do not demand a pay or a position as men do. Set your eyes on the goal. Push your way into meetings and make yourself heard.”