Tech IPOs aren’t common in Asia—China aside—but a young e-commerce startup in Southeast Asia is aiming to buck that trend.

Zilingo was only founded in 2015, but its brief life has already seen it raise more than $300 million, pivot from the cut-throat world of consumer e-commerce and get close to a $1 billion valuation. Added to all of that, it is led by 27-year-old Ankiti Bose, who is likely to become the first Indian woman CEO of a unicorn business.

Bose dreamed up Zilingo whilst working as an analyst for Sequoia India. Exposed to Southeast Asia’s rapidly growing startup ecosystem via the firm, visits to Thailand inspired her to start a business – the idea was to bring the thousands of vendors who sell fast fashion items at locations like Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market online.

Today, major global investors are interested in Zilingo. But not for its street fashion. Instead, it is Zilingo’s pivot to seller services, including working capital loans, and an ambitious goal to connect fashion brands with Asia’s supply chain that is piquing attention.

E-commerce was its launchpad, but now it appears at odds with its future strategy.

Zilingo has been earmarked as a future billion-dollar business for some time, and its Series D round was on track to crack that milestone, but for an unexpected hitch. DST Global, the global investment firm that’s backed prominent companies like Facebook, Twitter and Xiaomi, was all set to lead the round but the deal fell through, according to an industry figure with knowledge of discussions. DST may well commit in the future, the person said, but the uncertainty left existing investors without a new lead for the round. Ultimately, the round did close at $226 million from existing investors at a valuation of around $950 million.

But Zilingo is not without its share of suitors. Earlier this month, Zilingo held “exploratory” discussions with SoftBank over a potential investment via its Vision Fund, which is beginning to deepen its focus on Southeast Asia, according to a senior industry figure. PE fund KKR, too, has held talks with Zilingo over a potential investment, the person added. The firm, which claims over $205 billion in assets under management, has already dipped its toes into e-commerce SE-A through Emerald Media—a fund which led a $65 million investment in aCommerce, a startup that helps brands figure out their online strategy.

If Zilingo can pull it off, this pivot, with all the attention it’s getting, could do more than just create one new unicorn.

“They have done a fantastic job of manoeuvring from a competitive and low-margin business to less competitive and much larger market,” a prominent VC told The Ken anonymously. “Zilingo went from one billion-dollar idea to a company that can have three or four business units each of which can be worth over $1 billion.”

Zilingo CEO Ankiti Bose [Image: Rise/Flickr]

The e-commerce iceberg

The most visible side of Zilingo is its e-commerce marketplace through which sellers, typically small businesses, reach consumers.

AUTHOR

Jon Russell

Jon Russell is Southeast Asia editor for The Ken based in Bangkok. Originally from the UK, Jon moved to Thailand in 2008. He’s passionate about telling thoughtful business stories, and tracking the impact of the internet in his adopted home of Southeast Asia.

View Full Profile

Read this story. Subscribe Now

This story is available across both editions. Subscribe to the one that’s most relevant for you. Questions?

Pick an edition

MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500

Subscribe
MOST POPULAR

Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120

Subscribe
 

Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50

Subscribe
 

Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20

Subscribe

Questions?

What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.