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Why this 27-year-old is happy she worked a corporate job before starting her $1 billion business

Karen Gilchrist

Many of us would love to be the kid who dreamed up a multimillion-dollar business idea in their college dorm room, becoming an overnight success without ever working a "real job."

The reality, though, is that those teen proteges are few and far between. But that's okay, according to major fashion start-up founder Ankiti Bose, who says she's happy she worked a corporate job before going it alone.

In fact, that day job is what got her where she is today, Zilingo's CEO told CNBC Make It. It gave her the chance to watch and learn.

"The fact that I was working in venture capital and consulting before that definitely played an important role in shaping our opinions in what would work and what would not work, what would build a sustainable business," Bose said of the early years she spent working an office job.

To be sure, the 27-year-old is still remarkable.

Bose quit her job in 2015, just before her 24th birthday, and along with her co-founder Dhruv Kapoor has spent the last four years building a e-commerce platform that's valued at nearly $1 billion, to help Southeast Asia's independent retailers sell their products online.

As of February this year, Singapore-headquartered Zilingo had 7 million active users globally and a valuation of $970 million. That puts Bose on course to become India's first woman to co-found a $1 billion start-up.

Ankiti Bose, co-founder and CEO of Zilingo

But it was her time spent observing Asia's burgeoning tech scene — first as a management consultant at McKinsey, and later as an investment analyst at Sequoia Capital in Bangalore, India — that first gave her that "aha" moment, said Bose.

"I think it gave Dhruv and I the opportunity to travel around the region and really understand what consumers want," she said of her corporate role and Kapoor's job as a software engineer.

Bose said that as an investment analyst, she followed the emergence of e-commerce powerhouses such as Amazon, Alibaba and Flipkart in major economies like the U.S., China and India. Yet it also highlighted to her the dearth of options for sellers in Southeast Asia — one of the world's largest fashion manufacturing markets.

"Despite everything that was happening in India and China at the time, Southeast Asia was the one market which was growing really fast and had the maximum room for a product like ours," said Bose, who first spotted the opportunity on a trip to Chatuchak market in Bangkok, Thailand.

"Everybody was solving for access to the internet, but what about everything else that goes on before you actually sell the product?" Bose continued, listing common hurdles for retailers, such as procurement, design and financing.

"We said hey, what about if we plug all those gaps for merchants."

Zilingo's senior management team, including co-founder and CEO Ankiti Bose (center).

Four years on, Bose has retained that keen sense of observation. She says she continues to watch the industry and her competitors closely, in order to stay ahead of the curve.

"I think every three or four months, I learn a new thing that I had no idea was happening," said Bose.

"There's a new company, there's a new 23-year-old version of Ankiti that's trying to change things, and I'm absolutely paranoid about that. I think that's what I'm scared of the most."

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