Meet India’s first woman on course to co-found a $1 billion start-up at 27

Ankiti Bose and Dhruv Kapoor

Ankiti Bose is a young fashion junkie, and also set to become the first Indian woman to co-found a $1 billion company.

In just four years, her Southeast Asian e-commerce site Zilingo has grown into a global platform with over 7 million active users. After the latest investment in her brand, the business is now valued at $970 million.

“It was 2014 and I was on holiday with some friends, some ex-colleagues actually, in Bangkok, ” Bose told CNBC Make It.

“We were in this market called Chatuchak,” she said, referring to the capital’s iconic weekend market. With more than 15,000 stalls and some 11,500 independent merchants, it is the largest weekend market in the world.

“I was like ‘wow, this stuff should be online!’ But they just couldn’t sell online, they didn’t know how to. That was the inception,” said the CEO.

At the time she was 23 years old and working with venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. She decided to base Zilingo in Singapore to help independent and small fashion and lifestyle retailers sell directly to consumers.

She chose the location due to it being one of the largest manufacturing hubs but locals don’t sell their products directly online.

“It was a bit of a David and Goliath idea,” said Bose, now 27, referring to the Biblical parable of the young boy who took on — and defeated — a giant.

Each seller is then vetted by Zilingo for authenticity, pricing and then they are approved to be on the portal and the way they make money is by charging merchants a commission between 10% and 30% for each sale.

That tech know-how came in via the other partner just by chance in the form of Dhruv Kapoor, a then 24-year-old software engineer, who turned up with a neighbour for drinks at her flat in Bangalore at that time.

“So here’s this guy, sitting on the couch in my living room having a beer, and he’s talking about back-end, and what he does with gaming and analytics and this and that. And I say ‘hey, you know what, I’ve been thinking about this thing, what do you think about it?’”

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Within six months of the inception, they decided to take it forward by pooling in their savings of $30,000 each and quit their jobs to pursue this fulltime.

“Most people that start companies together know each other for years, they’re dorm mates or whatever,” acknowledged Bose. “But we just hit it off and we knew that what we wanted to do together was the same.”

Once the company hits the mark of a billion, it would make Bose the first Indian woman founder to enter the unicorn club.

“Creating a unicorn is extraordinarily impressive. Becoming a role model for hundreds of millions of young women who aspire to follow in your professional footsteps is invigorating,” Eskesen told CNBC Make It. “The success of Ankiti Bose illuminates how women can transform industries as leaders and innovators.”

“We don’t put as much emphasis and importance on some of the more glamorous labels in our industry,” said Bose. “But I still think it’s a huge achievement for us and the team and it just helps us think more about how big and audacious this whole thing can be.


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