tv Bloombergs Studio 1.0 Bloomberg May 12, 2019 3:30am-4:01am EDT
haslinda: hello. i am haslinda amin in singapore. she is the face behind one of the hot new startups in asia, an e-commerce fashion platform valued at nearly $1 billion. still in her 20's, ankiti bose is today's high flyer. in the world of asian e-commerce, there are few more fashionable than ankiti bose. the company she started with a friend and a dream is on its way to becoming a unicorn.
zilingo began as a way for small fashion merchants in southeast asia to connect with consumers, but like so many others, the key to its growth has been evolution. zilingo gives the region's fashion world access to technology and capital. listings are free, with the company charging commission on sales. other tools allows vendors access to factories from bangladesh to vietnam. based in singapore and raised in india, bose's zilingo is targeting companies big and small. it has the backing of investors like sequoia and singapore's estate investment fund. ? haslinda: ankiti bose, welcome to "high flyers." ankiti: thank you for having me. haslinda: now zilingo was born at a house party. two friends drinking beer and discussing a business
proposition. ankiti: yes. actually we weren't even friends then. we were just neighbors. and my friend invited my cofounder's friend over for a beer. then he showed up. and they even brought their own beer, which is great. and we started chatting. and we had this common mission. and within a few weeks, we decided we wanted to work together. haslinda: what was the thinking behind it? i know that it was inspired by your visit to a market in bangkok. ankiti: i was astounded by what these small designers and merchants were doing. i saw the market and it hit me in the face that there is so much talent, so much design talent, entrepreneurial talent, but not enough ways in which they can digitize that and keep
up with large brands online. and we thought, hey, you know what? we can build for something for these guys and this could be a large business. let's do it. haslinda: how do you scale then? for our viewers not quite familiar with the market, it is a flea market, a weekend market basically. ankiti: yes. it is a beautiful weekend market in bangkok. it has 8000 small guys. the first question was how do you do something for these people that can actually can help them to scale. and most of these designers and small merchants in the flea market, they have never used a complicated system. i quickly realized you have to save people money or make people money, and if you can make them money and make them more and give them greater access to opportunities and customers, you can get on board with that pretty quickly. haslinda: great idea, but you were 23 when you had that idea.
i mean, as much as it is an advantage, but when you are trying to build a company, that must've been problematic? ankiti: it is definitely when i now think back, it was a difficult time in our lives, but in that moment, we were maybe five or six of us at the time, complete dreamers, completely idealistic. thinking, hey, it is such a big market. what can go wrong? let's try it. and we just went for it. haslinda: you pumped in $30,000. your money or your dad's money? ankiti: all my own. completely, yes. mine and my cofounders. haslinda: $30,000 each? ankiti: yes. but that was every last dollar of savings we had. to save that we were living like in shared apartments that were
filled to the brim, sharing beds and whatever. it was definitely because we knew that we wanted to put in our capital to do this, so we did that for a while. haslinda: funding is essential. not only are you young, or still young and was very young when you went to raise money, you are also a woman. ankiti: yes. haslinda: i know there were potential investors who told you straight off that there is no way they will be investing in you. ankiti: i guess what was uncomfortable for a lot of them was i was not setting my sights on something that seemed small enough or just achievable and i was saying things, numbers that were big, and i was asking for something. and i was asking for x million dollars. they were like, oh, how do you
know you can do this? so definitely it is not a level playing field. having said that, because there are so few women, the most support that i have had in terms of the mentors and the investors, the partners, the leadership in my own company, who have actually accelerated my own personal journey and that of zilingo, actually many of them have been men, incidentally. it is definitely not a level playing field, but it can't change unless there are helpful male allies and more women at the top. haslinda: what is the differentiating factor? what does zilingo bring to the table? so many platforms out there, fashion platforms, how are you different? ankiti: the main thing that we do that almost nobody else does in asia and in the world is be obsessively focused on the merchant. the merchant can be an sme, a designer. it can even be a bigger brand, but the majority of companies are focused on solving the problem of getting them more
customers. whereas we are obsessed about solving other problems that help them make more money. therefore what we are today is a supply chain platform and operating system for the supply chain, which does not exist in fashion at all. haslinda: startup founders often say they fail and fail a lot, but they have to fail fast. ankiti: yes. haslinda: given that you have been a founder for only four years, you must have had an accelerated pace of failure. ankiti: yes. haslinda: talk to us about your experience. ankiti: i think everybody sees the good things, right? people see growth in the news, funding in the news, collaborations, partnerships, the stuff that works. but for every one thing that works, nine things have not worked. like you said, when you grow fast and people see that you the built something in a short time, there have been more failures and an accelerated rate of failures as well. and i think it is incredibly important to grow a thick skin,
otherwise there is no way, something will get you down and you won't be able to get up. and that is scary. haslinda: what is the company's dna, and how much of ankiti bose is there in the company dna? ankiti: i would say a lot. [applause] and that has obviously a good and a bad associated with that. and as we were scaling, we were trying to be much more of a company that has core values that do come from the dna of the founders, but are scalable across geographies and businesses. haslinda: so what is the dna? ankiti: the core philosophy that we really hold true is that of courage and speed. when we say courage, we mean it is not just courage in the quintessential sense, it is also audacity.
it is that that idealism we started with. we don't want the baggage of experience and failures to ever stop us. if you have that fire in the belly and aligns with our mission and idealism, then you can create magic together. ? haslinda: the company is valued close to $1 billion, a unicorn, and you say that is not big enough. ankiti: when i say this is a 100 billion dollar opportunity, i am actually very serious. that is something that is achievable in the next few years. ♪
some of these glamorous terms that are used, like unicorn. having said that, it is a huge achievement for the whole team. but i think the opportunity the opportunity we are trying to chase is such a huge one, that -- global apparel is a multi-trillion dollar industry, so i think this can be a much, much larger company. haslinda: how much bigger? how quickly? you went from five people to 500. you are in eight countries, and you're looking for more. ankiti: i am an optimist. i think it can happen soon. the rate at which technology and access to capital is changing things, especially in developing countries, is astounding. when i say this is like a $100 billion opportunity, i am very serious that that is something that is achievable in the next few years. haslinda: you have seen
accelerated growth. i mean, you have achieved in four what some startups achieved in 10 even 15 years. where do you go from here? ankiti: it is important for us to keep in mind that now we are not just going in southeast asia in one or two businesses, but we are a global company now. we have eight offices in eight countries, and actually multiple offices in each of them. they are different cultures. they are different businesses. also, the zero-to-one phase and the one to 10 phase is done, and now it is about scaling up. haslinda: the business model has evolved as well. you started matching small vendors with customers, and now you are letting them have access to technology so that they themselves can scale. beingthemselves can scale. ankiti: absolutely. so when we started, the idea was a lot simpler but we got to , spend a lot of time with small merchants. we realized the problem was larger than we thought it was.
every single dollar of capital at that point was chasing how to make more consumers transact online. whereas these merchants were not able to expand their margins and keep up with the digitization. is this a problem of just access? of course, or is it not just access to consumers, but access to suppliers, access to manufacturers, access to fabric suppliers, so removing the middlemen from the supply chain, creating access to finance, so it is not just access to customers, but actually symmetry across the whole supply chain. haslinda: you get the merchants assets to technology, but you don't charge. what is the thinking behind that? it is different from other models? ankiti: yes. so fundamentally our platform, our software tools, sit at the point-of-sale of the factory, the manufacturer of the merchant, and across the whole supply chain.
if we go in at the outset until somebody who has been doing traditional business for decades and their entire family has been doing that, that you have been doing this wrong and you need to adopt my technology and pay me up front for it, there is going to be a lot of friction. fundamentally that would make it impossible for smaller businesses and new businesses to adopt it at the scale we would like them to, so we thought that the whole point of technology and finance in the new age is to create a level playing field. so how do you make the small guy had the advantages of the big guys? you give them technology for free, then you make money when they make money. and that fundamentally keeps them and you really honest and aligned on the mission together. haslinda: give us a sense of how it has impacted the lives of some of these merchants. ankiti: it is actually the most rewarding part of my job. i think it is to spent time with
merchants and really seeing their successes and failures and how we have helped them and where we have failed. one story that comes to mind is that of a lady in indonesia from jakarta. who had this vision of creating a line of products specifically for women for maternity. i kept, i put on my consulting hat. is this a big enough market? why did she want to do this? are my customers the right customers? our customers tend to be younger and 60% are female, but younger females. and she had this incredible vision for it. and we went for it. we decided we would support her. and as she went along, she obviously knew what she was talking about. she hit it right on the spot. she was spot on about that women wanted this in indonesia. so her business started scaling, but she had several problems financing and she was trying to go to china, bangladesh, and so on.
we helped her fill those gaps. we said, listen, don't worry about these other things. you focus on building the brand on what you want to sell to your customers. and from a few hundred thousand dollars a year, today she sells almost $6 million from a small place in indonesia. haslinda: you have disrupted the industry. have you thought how you may he that maybe you may be disrupted -- have you thought about how you may be disrupted not too long from now? ankiti: yes. it is my biggest paranoia that there is another 23-year-old thinking, how can this be made better? haslinda: and be done in one year instead of four. [applause] ankiti: that is the rate at which technology can change things that scale. that is what is fundamentally different about new age businesses, that they can do it fast, and do it well. haslinda: great start of
♪ haslinda: ankiti, zilingo is based in singapore, but you are international. you were born in mumbai. ankiti: that's right. haslinda: how was it like growing up? i know you were the only child, so you had all the attention in the world. [applause] ankiti: it was good actually. i was born in bombay, but grew up in many different parts of the country. so i had a very fascinating childhood. i was in the northeast of the country in a tiny state, which is like a tiny state, which is a great, beautiful part of the country. then i spent a few years near the foothills.
i moved back to bombay, where i finish the rest of my schooling and university. and that is where i also had my first job. haslinda: dad is an engineer. mom gave up her career as university professor to pay attention to your growing up here. ankiti: yes. i am eternally grateful for that. because we were moving around quite a lot, so she wanted to make sure i had the best experience and learning sort of environment, because she stayed at home. dad traveled a lot, but made it a point to be home on weekends no matter where he was. haslinda: great startup story, but you actually wanted to be a n astronaut. ankiti: yes. when i was 11 years old i was very keen on math and physics. and i actually did major in math and economics later in life. but i was very sure i wanted to be an astronaut, but before that i wanted to be a singer. and then i ended up doing
something entirely different. haslinda: you were trained in singing from the age of five. ankiti: nobody trained me to be an astronaut. i was being trained in classical music. and i was also taking lessons and dancing. i actually performed on stage as a child, which is fascinating, because that is still my secret aspiration sometimes. haslinda: and here you are, a successful entrepreneur with a company valued close to $1 billion. how have your parents reacted to it? have they been surprised? or did they see this coming? ankiti: i think until a year ago, they did not fully understand what we did and what was this business model and how things can scale this fast and how different it is from traditional business, or how
serious this is for me. i think over the last few months, they have actually made an effort, which i appreciate, to spend time with me and travel with me to go see our offices really try to understand why this matter so much, what is this mission, who are these merchants we are talking about, and i think now they understand. haslinda: you are one of a few female founders. when you take a look at the start up industry, out of 250 startups worth at least $1 billion, there are only 25 women founders. do you feel the pressure to be a role model? ankiti: i think it is important to take some of that pressure like willingly and be a good role model, because growing up, and then eventually starting up, i felt like i did not have access to or i did not see enough women of color in that pool of 25 out of the 250. that is a very, very small number. if somehow it helps to see people like you do well and be represented, because then you think you can do it too. haslinda: ankiti, where do you
go from here? do you see yourself as a serial entrepreneur now that you have been successful with a start up in a short period of time? ankiti: i think zilingo is not even 1% done. it is a huge market, huge opportunity. i want to go 100 x from here. that is clear to me. chris at the same time, it is and at the same time, it is important to alongside that have it's all some interest in paying it forward, right? the things we have achieved, making sure we are the right role models, investing in, making sure that marginalized communities, communities of women, are supported. haslinda: sustainability. ankiti: sustainability is a big factor. we have talked about how we are investing in sustainability and what happens, how do you make sure manufacturing is responsible, and how do you make sure sustainability and responsible manufacturing can coexist with good economics. so i think there are a lot of
goals. and we are trying to change the world. we are quite idealistic, so there is a lot to be done. and i think we are not even 1% done. so there is a long, long way to go for me. haslinda: a lot to be done, even from a personal perspective. you want to, i don't know, record some kind of album, perhaps? because of your love for music? singing. ankiti: i would love to. one of my personal 2019 personal goals is to cover a song and put it up on youtube. i'm trying to convince a friend of mine to play the guitar, and it is my dream to do a lady gaga cover. i know how hard it is. and i could have picked something a lot simpler, but she is my absolute favorite and she is so inspiring. haslinda: where do you find time for yourself amidst growing the company? ankiti: i, you know, i think maybe one and half years into this journey that one of my mentors just came up to me and said that you are busy all the time.
you are working 24/7, 365. you will fail if you don't stop and think and take a step back about what your doing every single day, and where you want to go a year from now, two years from now. and that is your job as ceo. it is about being in the balcony versus being in the dance in an opera. you can't always be in the dance. you can't see the dance and fix the things you can see you are doing wrong. so it is important to be in the balcony every now and again, with the ability to dance every now and then. haslinda: for 20-year-olds trying to be an entrepreneur, trying to be the founder of a company, what is the best advice you can give them? ankiti: i think i am a pathological optimist, so i always say if you think something is possible and you are seeing an opportunity, chase it. don't get bogged down by obstacles or by people telling you it is not possible, because the number of people that told
us we could not make it was very, very high. at some point we just grow a thick-skinned and started disregarding it. do your work really well and be passionate about your sense of purpose, and know where you are going with it and just go with it. don't let anything slow you down. haslinda: speaking of dreams, 10, 20 years down the road, where do you see ankiti bose? ankiti: i hope i made a positive shift in the industry i'm trying to affect. i am extremely passionate about, you know, merchants and manufacturers. and i spend so much time with them now. i hope i can make their life significantly better. i hope that i can make the lives of women and women better in some way, and i hope i have made that cover song. [laughter] haslinda: ankiti bose, thank you for being on "high flyers." ankiti: thank you for having me.
♪ jason: welcome to "bloomberg: businessweek." i'm jason kelly. joining you from bloomberg headquarters in new york. how boeing has focused on the bottom line said the company into a tailspin. -- sent the company into a tailspin. we take you inside the company and the decisions that led to the current crisis. plus, flipping homes has proved lucrative again, but