Some people may say that a 30-year old Chief Operating Officer of one Asia's leading online retail platform, is a little too young for the job.
Yet, Giulio Xiloyannis perhaps, has played an instrumental role in propelling Zalora to become an e-commerce powerhouse and one of Asia's leading online retail platforms.
Whip-smart and modest, Xiloyannis saunters into the interview room - held at the group's 470,000 square feet e-fulfillment hub, wearing a blue blazer over his Zalora t-shirt.
“Our challenges at Zalora have changed a lot over the years. When we first started, the challenge was going into a meeting with big fashion groups - and their questions would be 'what is e- commerce'? 'Does anybody even shop online in Malaysia?'”
We have to develop local leaders and they would be stronger than us because they will understand our local customers much better than us
“The challenge these days are very different,” says the British-Greek-Italian. "Nowadays, it is not so much about convincing brands to give me products but making sure that when I buy these products, I can sell them fast enough, and that I buy the right ones."
"We have to be selective now as it has become a lot more about (brand) optimisation than just about getting the brand on board."
The fashion retailer made big moves to fill the e-commerce void in Southeast Asia in 2012, with Malaysia selected as its regional e-fulfillment centre.
Xiloyannis had a quick rise up the corporate later. He moved to Kuala Lumpur from Milan to take up the role as Zalora marketing director in 2013. Within five years, he was promoted to become the COO - certainly has come a long way from when he starting selling shoes on eBay at fifteen.
“Many of us, when we started the company, came to Malaysia with e-commerce learnings from either the United States or Europe. We applied those learnings here.”
“But we realised we had to develop local leaders and they would be stronger than us because they will understand our local customers much better than us.”
“So, that’s certainly one of our first priorities - that is to build local leaders,” says Xiloyannis when asked his leadership style.
Malaysia, according to Xiloyannis, is one of the countries Zalora invested most in talent, growing its employee base by more than fifty percent in less than two years.
“As we grew with the brand, we refer to ourselves as 'coaches' throughout the years - and I still believe in taking that approach," says the University of Pisa finance graduate.
“As a coach, it also means that sometimes you have to disappoint somebody on your team. You have to be firm and strict. It is a competitive industry but my belief is that we are coaches rather than COOs.”
Zalora, founded by Rocket Internet and Swedish investment firm Kinnevik AB, is in most Southeast Asian countries, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
Xiloyannis says the group has no plans to go into new markets at the moment but will focus on expanding its product range.
It’s not about geographic expansion; it’s about getting closer to the customers and giving them more of what they want
“It’s not about geographic expansion; it’s about getting closer to the customers and giving them more of what they want."
“We want to offer everything in fashion. However, it doesn’t mean that we’ll go into the super luxury segment. I feel like those customers are already well taken care of," says Xiloyannis.
"Brand acquisition is still a super big component for us. So, we are talking to a lot of international and local groups. We are bringing a lot of brands exclusively into the countries that we are in - whether it is the Missguided Group, River Island or Abercrombie and Fitch. We are in talks with Forever 21 and Boohoo from the UK."
Part of Zalora's localisation strategy is through partnerships with local designers.
"We also keep investing in five to six emerging local designers every year to build brands with them," says Xiloyannis, citing Jovian Mandagie as a good example of a local designer who did very well on the platform.
Almost 70 percent of Zalora's customers are female, and he says they have 'grown' with the brand since its inception six years ago.
“A huge portion of our customer base have become mothers while shopping at Zalora," he says. “And now they don’t want to just shop for themselves. I hope to eventually have the kids line brought in before the end of the year. Although, it will be beautiful to have it by Hari Raya.”
“But my buyers and brand acquisition guys are looking at me saying - 'Giulio you are dreaming! It’s too soon!' But let’s see if we can make it," he says with a smile.
"Our hope is that by 2021, we will ship from Malaysia at least one item for every family in Southeast Asia. The 100 million (item) mark is what I'd say we would want to get to," he adds.