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Meet the IITian who is improving efficiency in the $3 trn fashion industry

Dhruv Kapoor, Co-Founder and CTO (second from left) and Ankiti Bose, Co-Founder and CEO (seated, third from left), with key team members of Zilingo
Four years ago, during a house party in Bengaluru, Dhruv Kapoor, an engineer at gaming studio Kiwi Inc, had a conversation with his neighbour Ankiti Bose who was an investment analyst at venture capital firm Sequoia. Both had reached a point in their careers where they wanted to create their own start-up. But they had contrasting skill sets and had done different kinds of work. “But we had a very common vision (about) the future of technology and commerce,” says Kapoor. Later, after many similar conversations, the duo quit their jobs and in 2015 launched their own start-up, Zilingo, a commerce and technology platform that powers the entire fashion supply chain. A lot has changed for Kapoor in these four years. Early last year the firm raised $226 million from marquee investors such as Sequoia, Sofina and Temasek. The funding valued the firm at about $970 million.

What differentiates Zilingo is that instead of focusing only on India, Kapoor and Bose identified the whole of Southeast Asia as their target market. “What struck us is that Southeast Asia has this incredible ecosystem that very few people from India had explored,” says Kapoor, the 29-year-old co-founder and chief technology officer of Zilingo. “When you look outside the boundaries of India, you see these incredible markets. These are also countries which proportionally have a far higher middle class than India and have fairly high per capita GDP (gross domestic product),” says Kapoor.  

Also, what convinced them to target these markets in 2015 was the high level of smartphone and 4G penetration there as well as the opportunity of unsolved problems such as online payments and financing. They also observed the lack of tech-enabled commerce platforms for selling and buying goods. But there was a high demand for such solutions.

“For us as Indian founders, it was a pretty big leap of faith to take because we weren't well acquainted with the Southeast Asian market,” says Kapoor, who along with Bose spent many months in markets such Thailand and Indonesia doing their research. “We were on the ground in Thailand, literally  going  door-to-door and meeting small sellers and were working with translators to understand how they do business.”  

Fashion is an over-$3-trillion industry, in which a majority of retailers struggle with meeting consumer demand for fast, on-trend and responsibly produced products due to inefficiencies and information asymmetry.

Singapore-headquartered Zilingo is addressing these problems by creating a full-stack technology platform that makes the supply chain fair, transparent and connected. An alumnus of IIT-Guwahati, Kapoor who also had a stint at internet company Yahoo, led conception and development of the company’s numerous proprietary software tools and technologies to shape the retail and supply-chain tech for consumers and merchants. He is building these innovations with the help of 180 engineers who work at the firm's technology and innovation hub in Bengaluru.

The Zilingo platform is at the centre of the company’s supply chain innovation, and enables businesses to buy and sell goods in bulk; access financing, logistics, and other services. It also sources apparel from its network of factories; and help them track and optimize their production process. The company has built a global network which consists of 6,000 factories and 75,000 businesses. Besides Southeast Asia, Zilingo now has customers in the US, Europe and Australia, where brands traditionally lack transparency over the supply chain and manufacturing processes. 

Last December, Zilingo, acquired Sri Lanka-based software-as-a-service company, nCinga Innovations, for $15.5 million in a cash-and-stock deal. The acquisition would help Zilingo scale up its global supply chain capabilities. It would also help drive the adoption of the manufacturing execution system (MES) software across Zilingo’s global network, enabling access to previously untapped markets. An addition to Zilingo’s technology stack, the MES software automates operations on the factory floor by enabling access to real-time data on the go. The firm also plans to leverage its global manufacturer network to increase distribution of the software- specifically for core fashion manufacturing markets such as Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Turkey.

“It is incredibly hard for managers and factory owners to track...the quality level and the defects and nCinga’s team sets up tablets which enable the managers to track defects and throughput of each production line,” says Kapoor. Additionally, using the Internet of Things, a technology where devices communicate with each other intelligently, line managers and owners are able to completely digitize the factory. These include live dashboards within the factory and mobile apps that provide critical insights. 

“This (insights) is to the extent that whenever there is  a defect, a line manager can actually see where the defect is happening, while the garment is getting manufactured and he also gets a heat map about where most of them are taking place.”

Kapoor says increasing penetration of smartphones and 4G connectivity, Zilingo’s vision is to drastically improve the supply chain. “We can transform how people are doing commerce and that's the journey we are on.”


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