Indie Fashion Marketplace: Q&A with Ankiti Bose, Co-Founder and CEO of Zilingo

Interested to buy  indie fashion from Thai markets such as Chatuchak and Rod Fai Market, as well as Singapore’s Bugis Street and Haji Lane online? Zilingo is the answer! 

Ankiti Bose, CEO of Zilingo, founded her company in October 2015. Despite the saturated e-commerce market, Ankiti believed there was an untapped niche in the physical indie retail market. She has created a business model that is not only sustainable, but mutually beneficial for Zilingo and their partners.

LadyBoss gets the low down with Ankiti on how Zilingo is growing regionally.

We offer products from indie brands, ensuring that they do not get left behind in the race to digitalize, while also giving international consumers access to these great products.

Q: Tell us more about Zilingo. How long you’ve been doing it, and who your customers are? 

A: Zilingo was founded in October 2015, and will be turning two at the end of the year! We founded Zilingo with the aim of bringing indie fashion from Thai markets such as Chatuchak and Rod Fai Market, as well as Singapore’s Bugis Street and Haji Lane, to online consumers such as you and I. With just the press of a button, customers are able to make purchases easily, from sellers scattered across Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. Our customers consist of millenials in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia, with over 70% of our users being women.

Q: What sparked your interest in retail/e-commerce? Tell us more about your inspiration behind Zilingo despite the competitive e-commerce market. 

A: Through my travels in Southeast Asia, I fell in love with the beauty of the products crafted by small designers and the depth of the infinitely large, labyrinthine markets. Even though these sellers were situated in large markets, it was unfortunate that they had little to no access to digital platforms aside from Facebook, and this in turn meant that they were not maximizing their sales to its fullest potential.

Together with my co-founder & CTO, Dhruv Kapoor, and 3 other friends, we spent weeks in Chatuchak and Pratunam in Bangkok, Bugis and Haji Street in Singapore, Pasar Baru in Jakarta. Immersing ourselves in these markets really showed us the stories of their sellers, and it inspired us to dig deeper.

After doing some research, we noticed that other e-commerce platforms tend to only offer products from well-known brands, brands that most consumers were already familiar with, and this is where Zilingo steps in to fill the gap. We offer products from indie brands, ensuring that they do not get left behind in the race to digitalize, while also giving international consumers access to these great products.

Q: Who are Zilingo’s popular retailers? How is Zilingo successful at getting small retailers to go online?

A: Some incredibly popular sellers on Zilingo are local Singaporean brands such as Ash Label and Ferlicious. We also have several smaller international and regional brands that are using Zilingo to cater to the market here in Singapore.

Instead of charging the small sellers an amount to be listed on Zilingo, like how many of our competitors do it, we only impose a percentage fee for each transaction that goes through. This means that sellers are not losing money, before they even start to make money, which makes them more willing to sign on with us. At Zilingo, we are able to provide them with back end systems that simplifies their online onboarding. This includes our seller’s app, which helps sellers to easily integrate onto our platform in a simple interface that uploads products, manages inventory, schedules pickups, cataloging, and even customer care and marketing.  This frees them up to do what they do best – crafting great products. This is especially helpful for small sellers as they usually lack the manpower to manage everything otherwise.

Instead of charging the small sellers an amount to be listed on Zilingo, like how many of our competitors do it, we only impose a percentage fee for each transaction that goes through.

Q: Tell us more about how Zilingo is growing since it was first set-up? 

A: Zilingo saw booming growth in 2016, with us expanding internationally- we are now in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and shipping globally with a focus on Australia and Hong Kong. In 2016, our team also grew from just 9 to a strong team of 70. We’ve grown from having 100 merchants on our platform to over 3500 in 15 months.
We are so excited about what 2017 has in store for us, and we are looking to expand our pool of sellers, as well as exploring new markets aggressively.

Q: How is Zilingo different from other online retailers that we know? 

A: Zilingo addresses a market traditionally dominated by huge fashion businesses. Small and medium-enterprises have been traditionally ignored in the big, fast paced world of online-commerce. Big players partner with big brands, and small players lose out. Zilingo meets the needs of such smaller vendors, by providing them with a reputable and reliable platform to gain traction and increase awareness among a much larger consumer pool compared to physical walk-in traffic.

Positive feedback motivates us, but negative feedback motivates us even more.

Q: How do you maintain customer satisfaction in Zilingo?

A: We keep our customer experience fresh, and we cater our website to our younger shopper demographic. We keep the website very trend-focused, constantly updating the product discovery experience with new content. We want consumers to feel like they’re surfing a social media feed when they reach our site – there’s always something new to see.

We readily welcome feedback from our valued customers, in fact, we love it. Positive feedback motivates us, but negative feedback motivates us even more. Negative feedback we receive are quickly assessed and rectified, to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

We are also always exploring new ways of increasing customer satisfaction. For example, we have simplified our website’s checkout portal, to ensure that customers are able to pay for their items easily and without hassle, using any number of payment methods ranging from ATM and Kiosk payments, to Credit & Debit card, net-banking and CoD (Cash on Delivery). With many stating that the payment experience plays a huge part in affecting their overall experience, we are exceptionally conscious about that.

Q: In terms of sales & marketing, how do you reach your customers, and what works? 

A: I think a lot of e-commerce companies don’t think deeply about their demographic. For instance if my users are Millenials and Centennials and they consume media in the form of Snapchat, Instagram or Youtube, then what is even the point of trying to sell it to them in any other format they don’t naturally engage with. We decided to go heavy on on-site content, social media and to focus on our edginess as a brand. It’s paid off very well!

Q: Where do you see the future of Zilingo? Any plans in the near future?

A: We are looking to expand our team, and capabilities around the world. We want to establish ourselves as a dominant e-commerce player. Ultimately, we see ourselves as a platform for all fashion sellers and designers, and their gateway to online commerce. We are one of the few companies in the region to have invested heavily on building tech infrastructure for sellers. From inventory management to pickup scheduling to leveraging our ecosystem for working-capital loans, cataloging and logistics – we provide all of that. Our vision is that every fashion seller uses Zilingo for their transactions, and every buyer thinks of Zilingo when they want to shop for fashion & beauty products. Not just in Singapore but across the region!

Q: Tell us about your Number 1 business challenge? 

A: Scaling up a marketplace comes with its own set of challenges as far as fulfillment is concerned. As a marketplace, we try our level best to ensure that all our partners, sellers, logistics providers and other services providers do everything they can to deliver the best service to our buyers. However that’s also what keeps me up at night, we hate letting our customers down and it’s an inevitable part of running on online business.

Our vision is that every fashion seller uses Zilingo for their transactions, and every buyer thinks of Zilingo when they want to shop for fashion & beauty products. Not just in Singapore but across the region!

 Q: As an entrepreneur, what motivates you personally?

A: Let me tell you a story. 24 months ago a student graduated in Bangkok and had big dreams of starting her own business. She had no capital, no prior experience, no access to marketing tools or any technology, infrastructure or logistics. She knew how to make beautiful products, that’s all. Coming from a humble background, her expectations were humble too – but through the Zilingo seller ecosystem and all its services, she now does over 20,000 dollars (SGD) of sales every month. Her life has changed and we are a big part of it. I think aggregating small and medium brands and merchants across Asia is both a rewarding job that gives me a lot of joy, but also a sensible, smart business. That kind of motivation can keep me going for decades to do everything I can to build this company into a large, global business.

Q: What would be your advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs keen in starting a business in e-commerce?

A: I think women make incredible leaders however we have unique problems such as not finding enough strong role models, fighting a ton of stereotypes and not being recognized as equal stakeholders. Women entrepreneurs too face the same issues and I always swear by my 5 golden rules for fellow women in tech:

– Be really good at what you do, if your talent is obvious, it’s very hard to justify discrimination

– Call out instances of discrimination clearly. Your voice needs to be heard for people to see there’s a real problem that needs addressing.

– Try to fix the role model gap. Make sure that our younger colleagues and our daughters and our nieces know that they can be whatever they want to be and have strong role models in us. Scientist, engineer, mathematician, actress, painter, homemaker – whatever they choose is possible despite stereotypes. It’s worthwhile to be hopeful of future generations and to help prevent horrible biases even before they form.

– #Sheforshe – Stop demeaning other women. Stand up for what’s right. Don’t say “you fight like a girl”. Be a support system for other women in the ecosystem! It’s so simple.

– #Heforshe – Men can be great allies and amazing feminists. Men who are both feminist and in a position of privilege are in the best position to make change happen quickly. Tap them for help. It’s them who can actually make a material difference when you are discriminated against, assaulted or simply dehumanised in ‘locker room talk’.

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