Zilingo sacks CEO Ankiti Bose: how the saga unfolded

A little over a month ago, reports emerged that Singaporean ecommerce firm Zilingo, one of Southeast Asia’s most celebrated startups, had suspended its Indian-origin cofounder CEO Ankiti Bose pending an investigation into alleged financial irregularities. Earlier today the company said it has sacked Bose, who has denied the allegations against her and argued she is being unfairly targeted.

Also in this letter:
■ Zerodha founder on what Indian startups should be worried about
■ Global venture funding set to fall 19% in Q2 2022: report
■ Elon Musk denies he sexually harassed flight attendant in 2016

Zilingo fires its cofounder and CEO Ankti Bose after probe

Singapore’s Zilingo has fired CEO Ankiti Bose for alleged financial irregularities, capping a dispute between the company’s shareholders, board and the founder.

Bose had been suspended from the company on March 31.

Statement: “Following an investigation led by an independent forensics firm that was commissioned to look into complaints of serious financial irregularities, the company has decided to terminate Ankiti Bose’s employment with cause, and reserves the right to pursue appropriate legal action,” the company said.

The statement added that after Bose was suspended as CEO, she brought to the board’s attention certain harassment claims but these did not include a complaint against any Zilingo investors or their nominees. It said the company hired a top consulting firm to look into the claims.

We reported on May 4 that the company had appointed Deloitte to look into the allegations by Bose, who worked at Sequoia Capital India before starting Zilingo.

Bose’s response: Bose issued a statement saying she has been suspended for the past 51 days on the basis of an ‘anonymous whistleblower complaint’ and she has now been informed about her employment being terminated on grounds of insubordination, among other things.

“I was suspended on the basis that the company had instructed Kroll to investigate the complaint. I have neither seen the Kroll nor Deloitte reports and not been given sufficient time to produce any documents requested by them. Any report that comes out post my termination would be vitiated as it seems to be instructed by conflicted parties… we will pursue our rights against this witch-hunt to the full extent of the law,” Bose said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Catch the detailed timeline here | Timeline: How Zilingo fired cofounder and CEO Ankiti Bose

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Timeline: How Zilingo fired cofounder and CEO Ankiti Bose

Fired employee

After a stint at Sequoia Capital India, Ankiti Bose cofounded Zilingo with Dhruv Kapoor in 2015. The ecommerce firm went on to become one of the most successful tech startups in Southeast Asia, and Bose was celebrated as one of the most promising female founders of a tech startup.

Then in early April, reports emerged that Zilingo had suspended Bose as CEO pending an investigation after alleged financial irregularities were found during due diligence for a new round of funding. Just over a month later, she was sacked.

Here’s a look at how the saga unfolded:

April 12: Bloomberg reports that Bose was suspended until May 5 after Zilingo shareholders found alleged financial irregularities in the company’s accounts while it was in the midst of raising $150-200 million from investors. The report says Bose was called to a meeting with three board members on March 31 and told about “serious” complaints about discrepancies in accounts and mismanagement.

Bose calls the company’s actions a “witch hunt.”

April 14: Sequoia Capital India’s Shailendra Singh steps down from the company board amid the investigation.

April 19: Zilingo’s board discusses replacing Bose as CEO, Bloomberg reports.

May 4: The board appoints Deloitte to launch a probe into Bose’s claims of sexual harassment, which she made after she was suspended. Cofounder and chief technology officer Dhruv Kapoor pens a note to employees, defending the company.

May 20: Zilingo fires Bose and says in a statement that it “reserves the right to pursue appropriate legal action.”

Zerodha founder explains what Indian startups should be worried about

Nikhil Kamath, Zerodha

Nithin Kamath, founder of Zerodha, has been outspoken about the challenges facing the startup community. Kamath took to Twitter to discuss the Indian startup ecosystem’s long-term viability in light of present market conditions.

He claimed that the focus has always been on valuations rather than sustainability, and that the global reset is currently improving things. The top reasons for firms failing, according to Kamath, include misjudging the market size, establishing unreasonable expectations, and chasing valuations.

Quote: “Not every business is VC’able or can be valued at $10mil, $100mil, or $1bil. Sustainability is more important than valuation. Misjudging the market size and opportunity, then setting wrong expectations and chasing valuations are probably the biggest reason why startups fail.”

Let the numbers talk: Kamath illustrated his point by relying on the expectations among some fintech startups who think the market opportunity for demats is 40 crore (25% as in developed countries) vis-à-vis nine crore actual demats. Kamath said that there are only six crore unique demat accounts and those with over Rs 10,000 number less than three crore.

Global venture funding set to fall 19% in Q2 2022: report

Funding slowdown degrowth

According to a CB Insights report, global venture funding for startups is expected to drop 19% in Q2 2022 from the previous quarter due to tightened liquidity and a global crash in technology equities.

Gloabl slowdown

Downturn: According to the report, there will be an estimated 6,904 deals in Q2, down 22% from the previous quarter.

  • Asian startups, which have so far raised $12.7 billion, will see the biggest drop, with funding set to plunge 31% this quarter.
  • US-based startups are also expected to see less investment, with funding projected at $61 billion.
  • European startups will see a 16% drop in funding, the report said.

“Fintech, digital health spaces, and retail tech are set to witness the sharpest fall — with funding in retail tech declining by 50%, the highest,” the CB Insights report said.

asian startups funding

Troubled times: On Thursday, Silicon Valley’s famed startup accelerator Y Combinator advised founders of all its portfolio firms to plan for the worst and prepare for an economic downturn by cutting costs and extending their runways in the next 30 days.

ETtech Deals Digest

Warehouse robotics and automation company GreyOrange, AI-driven business-to-business (B2B) marketplace Fashinza and Lenskart subsidiary Neso Brands were among the startups that raised funds this week. Here’s a look at the top funding deals of the week.

Deals Digest

Elon Musk denies he sexually harassed flight attendant in 2016

Elon Musk

Elon Musk took to Twitter late Thursday to refute a report that he sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private jet in 2016.

Tell me more: According to a Business Insider report, Musk’s SpaceX paid $250,000 in 2018 to settle a sexual harassment allegation by an unnamed private jet flight attendant who accused Musk of exposing himself to her and making other inappropriate advances.

The article quoted an anonymous person who said she was a friend of the flight attendant. The friend had provided a statement as part of the private settlement process, the report said.

The flight attendant came to believe that her refusal to accept Musk’s proposal had hurt her opportunities to work at SpaceX and prompted her to hire a lawyer in 2018, according to the report.

Politically motivated? Musk, who is in the midst of a contentious effort to buy Twitter, tweeted on Friday morning, “The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens – this is their standard (despicable) playbook – but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech.”

Today’s ETtech Top 5 newsletter was curated by Zaheer Merchant in Mumbai and Arun Padmanabhan in New Delhi. Graphics and illustrations by Rahul Awasthi.

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