A Singapore-based company, backed by $82 million raised to date, is now looking to make its mark in the U.S. market with its pitch to influencers and entrepreneurs looking for help building and scaling a brand.
Zilingo, started in 2015, earlier this year closed on a $54 million Series C. Sofina, Burda Principal Investments and Sequoia Capital India led the round, which also included new investor Amadeus Capital.
The Zilingo business is best described broken down into two parts. One arm is business-to-consumer, linking mostly Asia-based merchants with consumers. The other is business-to-business and helps companies with their sourcing and other needs by linking them with Zilingo’s stable of manufacturing partners.
“If you think about the big brands today, there is this entropy happening [with] sales. If you think about Maybelline or L’Oréal or Zara, all of these brands have been for the last few decades solid, huge brands that have taken decades to build the kinds of sales they have. However, if you look at what’s happening right now, Kylie Cosmetics took only  months to reach $420 million,” said Ankiti Bose, who founded Zilingo with Dhruv Kapoor. “Similarly, if you look at Fenty Beauty by Rihanna or Kate Hudson’s athleisure line or you look at any other influencer or celebrity-run labels, what’s interesting is that they’ve taken a lot less time to actually monetize their brands.”
Bose acknowledged not everyone is a Jenner or a Rihanna with access to the best of the best on the back end to leverage their brands. Zilingo is pitching itself as the tool to help people crack branding, sourcing, warehousing and other key aspects to building and scaling a business, she said.
“We’ve taken the core strengths of Zilingo’s B2B and B2C business and put it together into one playbook, which we call private label as a service,” Bose said of the company’s B2B service, which it calls Label By Zilingo.
The company in the U.S. is working with five influencers — none of whom have yet been disclosed — who represent a mix of what Felicia Moursalien, Zilingo Americas and Europe head and vice president of operations, characterized as social media influencers, gamers and musicians.
While the company is going after influencers, it’s also going after smaller businesses or individuals in the U.S. who want to produce more limited quantities at competitive rates mixed with the ease of working with English-speaking representatives.
“The main value we’re trying to plug is you could take your creativity and you could become an apparel or accessories entrepreneur in a way that wasn’t as easy before,” Moursalien said.
Bose reported that the company has done $500 million in annualized sales since its October 2015 start, with roughly $300 million of that being generated from the business-to-business services. About 10 percent to 12 percent of that $300 million is coming from the U.S. and European Union, which Bose said they would like to grow as the business makes greater pushes in those markets.
It’s been mostly organic growth, but the company is now funneling some $16 million to $20 million over the next 12 to 15 months, Bose said, to drive that growth and there might be an additional capital raise to support that. Much of the capital investment would go toward an investment in an influencer or celebrity brand, she said, where Zilingo then becomes a co-owner in the business in exchange for its supplier relationships, brand building expertise and the risk that would be taken on with inventory.
More and more businesses have dabbled in collaborations with influencers to tap their follower base or, in some cases, helped others establish their own lines. The collaborations are good test cases for consumer demand, but they’re not long-term business models for an influencer, Moursalien argued of what makes Zilingo’s pitch to those individuals unique from other options in the market.
“The status quo is… you are an influencer and you’ll do a brand collaboration,” Moursalien said. “The problem with that is you get a short-term revenue boost into your pocket but you don’t have anything in the long term…. You should have ownership. You should have a stake so I guess the pitch there is you don’t need to only do brand endorsements that maybe at the end of the day you get $10,000…. That’s not a long-term, sustainable business plan. That’s the key around our pitch: Do you want to be a business person and go further with your brand or do you want to keep selling other people’s stuff?”