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.

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