Fashion marketplace Zilingo bullish about fintech play, offline retail

Zilingo co-founder and CEO, Ankiti Bose. Photo: Zilingo

Singapore-headquartered fashion marketplace Zilingo might look to establish its own financial services arm to offer services such as loans and payments to its merchants, its co-founder and CEO Ankiti Bose, said in an interaction.

“We’re already extending financial services to our merchants through third parties – both loans and payment services. In the long term, yes, we might want to develop some of these services in-house,” said Bose in an email interaction with DEALSTREETASIA.

This portal had reported that Zilingo is in talks with its existing investors to raise close to $80 million for its Series D, which could value the startup at over $500 million. Bose declined to comment.

While e-commerce is all the rage, some industry players have been investing their capital into brick-and-mortar/offline retail, including JD.com-backed Pomelo and Singapore-based Love Bonito. Bose noted the shift from online to offline, where businesses are diversifying their presence through omni-channel.

“Retail is definitely evolving from exclusively online or exclusively offline to an omni-channel space where online and offline retail both need to be equally significant and present. We are very positive about offline as well!” she said.

The meteoric rise of Zilingo, which has raised a total of $82 million in the past three years, has surprised the regional startup ecosystem. Following an $18 million Series B last September, the startup announced its $52 million Series C this April to double down on Zilingo’s growth.

Bose, a former analyst with McKinsey & Co and Sequoia Capital India, founded Zilingo in Bangkok in May 2015, along with Dhruv Kapoor, who is also the startup’s chief technology officer. The startup started off as a seller management platform to give online presence to small, offline merchants.

It now serves over 20,000 merchants and retailers across B2B and B2C segments across Southeast Asia, with more than half of Zilingo’s business coming from its B2B operations, said Bose. This April, the startup launched Zilingo Asia Mall (ZAM), an extension of its B2B  segment, to the US and Europe.

“If Amazon is the ‘Everything Store’ then our ZAM B2B platform is the ‘Everything Manufacturer,’ using technology to make an industry that’s traditionally very friction-ridden into one that’s more accessible than it ever has been to Western fashion markets,” said Bose during the launch of ZAM in April.

Could Zilingo maintain its growth momentum and emerge as another unicorn in Southeast Asia? If the Series D goes through, it may well be.

Edited excerpts:

What prompted the relocation of your HQ from Bangkok to Singapore?

We have always been a Singapore HQ company. Our love affair with small designers and stores started with Bangkok – and it will always be our first true love! That’s our birthplace as entrepreneurs, where we shed our blood, sweat and tears and did all the grunt work. Our learnings there are invaluable and we will carry that forward to every market.

Now, with our footprint in six offices in five countries, Singapore serves as a convenient location for our HQ. It helps that Singapore is a stone’s throw away in terms of collaborations with other MNCs and partners in the region.

Raising money is no easy feat but Zilingo has done it again and again. What made your investors double down on Zilingo?

We’ve been fortunate to have very supportive investors who have faith and believe in the Zilingo team and the potential of our business. We’re a full-stack platform, vertically integrating the fashion and beauty supply chain, essentially changing the landscape and potential of how technology can serve businesses in the region. This is a compelling and powerful business and we’re proud to have a ninja team that executes our vision with speed. The goal is to continue to generate value for both merchants and consumers and keep raising the bar.

Again, so much capital raised in such a short amount of time. How do you ensure it is spent carefully and efficiently?

We are here to build a sustainable business and that’s what is embodied in every team involved in Zilingo. Planning ahead of time and creating awareness of how we invest is vital and we couldn’t do it without having sound advisors. The ethos of the company and our DNA is to remain an efficient business as we scale.

How many merchants do you have using the platform and how does Zilingo make itself a preferential platform for these merchants? And what’s the split between B2B and B2C operations? 

We have over 20,000 merchants using the Zilingo platform. Zilingo provides end-to-end business management for these merchants. Everything from fabric sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, e-commerce, financial services and even digitising their offline inventory. More than half of our business comes from our B2B operations.

Zilingo has recently launched ZAM in the US and Europe – how has the traction been so far? What are some of the challenges in the West? 

Traction in the US and Europe has been very promising and reassuring. Quality and best in class service levels are critical for these markets and we’re able to provide that through our full-stack platform for businesses. At the same time, retailers in the US and Europe don’t have access to be competitive, on trend fashion and beauty supply and are very keen to source from Asia because of the wide options and pricing of the manufacturers in this region along with our stamp of approval and control over quality and delivery.

We see Pomelo and Love Bonito moving from online to offline with the opening of brick-and-mortar stores. Is this what Zilingo have in the pipeline as well?

Retail is definitely evolving from exclusively online or exclusively offline to an omni-channel space where online and offline retail both need to be equally significant and present. We are very positive about offline as well!

As Zilingo main audience are retailers – is there any plan to develop your own financial service eg. payment arm?

We’re already extending financial services to our merchants through third parties – both loans and payment services. In the long term, yes, we might want to develop some of these services in-house.

When you first started the company back in 2015, have you envisioned it to come this far? What’s your current biggest challenge in growing Zilingo?

I was sure that we wanted to change the way the world looks at and deals with Asian supply. I don’t think any founder is ever sure how big their company could be, but yes, we’ve had the vision of building a huge platform for merchants that solves all their key problems. The challenges are many when you take on such an ambitious and audacious vision – scaling efficiently, hiring key people and so on.

For e-commerce players that are just starting out – what’s your word of advice to them?

Chase your dreams unabashedly but be open to learning, focus on healthy metrics, but, most importantly, on your own and your team’s growth and things will fall into place. E-commerce can be a cruel business, make sure you have a sound business model which can last through tough times.

You have in the past mentioned that it’s not a ‘level playing field’ for women entrepreneurs. Could you elaborate on that? What kind of hardships did you have to face as a woman entrepreneur?

Yes, it is definitely not a level playing field for women. To begin with, exemplary women are less in the focus compared to men – so it’s not easy finding role models to look up to and learn from. There are a lot of biases and stereotypes that you’re subjected to as a woman and everything from what you wear to the colour of your lipstick is under scrutiny.

If being a woman was hard enough it’s even harder when you’re a woman entrepreneur. But if more and more of us take on this challenge and set examples for girls and mentor young women, things will change for sure.

Also read:

Zilingo in talks with existing investors to raise $80m Series D funding

E-commerce marketplace Zilingo raises $54m led by Sofina, Sequoia, others
 

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.