When the Covid pandemic was raging in 2020, much of the world was in lockdown and more turned to online shopping.
But Chrisanti Indiana did the unexpected: she expanded her e-commerce business — offline.
Her beauty and personal care e-commerce startup, Sociolla, had just two brick-and-mortar stores in Indonesia in 2019. By the end of 2021, that number grew “10 times” more, she said.
“A lot of people actually told us that it’s a very bold move to actually open an offline presence, while everybody was closing their offline stores [during the pandemic],” she added.
But that was a “well-calculated” move for Social Bella, which operates Sociolla.
We know that this is the time for us to actually prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic, we can serve more and more consumers.
Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla
“We know that this is the time for us to actually prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic, we can serve more and more consumers,” she added.
Looking far ahead turned out to be the right move for the 31-year-old. Her online and offline approach transformed her e-commerce startup into a multimillion-dollar beauty conglomerate.
Since 2018, it has raised around $225 million, and drawn an impressive list of investors that include East Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Temasek and Pavilion Capital.
Indiana, the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Social Bella, tells CNBC Make It how she took her Jakarta-based startup to the next level.
The idea for Sociolla came about in 2015, when Indiana returned home to Jakarta, after studying in Australia.
The makeup junkie realized that in Australia, she had easy access to a wide range of beauty products from international brands. That was a stark contrast to Indonesia.
“There was lot of options for me, but then I came back and there’s basically none,” said Indiana.
“There wasn’t a platform that had it all — I had to find specific sellers on social media, ask friends who can help purchase the product for you [when they are] overseas.”
What made matters worse for her was the online proliferation of counterfeit makeup products that were sometimes selling at “a fraction” of the original’s price.
I still remember vividly in my mind that there’s a lot of like sellers online, especially on social media, that claim their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean, 99% authentic?
Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla
“I still remember vividly in my mind that there’s a lot of like sellers online, especially on social media, that claim their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean, 99% authentic?”
Indeed, locally made counterfeits in Indonesia are rife, thanks to cheap labor costs and materials. According to a local report, Indonesian authorities seized illegal cosmetic products worth $9 million in 2018 — twice the previous year’s amount.
Seeing friends buying these products left Indiana perplexed.
“It’s skincare, it’s makeup. It’s something that you put on your skin. It’s just bizarre for me,” she said.
Determined to build a space where consumers can get products that are safe and authentic, Indiana teamed up with her brother and friend to launch Social Bella, with a starting capital of $13,000.
“Since we started, we ensure that we only work with authorized distributors or brand owners,” Indiana said.
Building an ‘ecosystem’
Sociolla may have started off as an e-commerce platform, but the trio had bigger dreams.
Social Bella has since gone beyond offline shops — it’s also a distributor for beauty and personal care manufacturers worldwide.
“We become an associate partner for a lot of global brands in Indonesia. We help them not only to distribute their products to Indonesia, but we also help them understand the market,” said Indiana.
On top of that, the business also operates Soco, which Social Bella says is Indonesia’s largest online review service for beauty products. Soco has amassed more than 2.5 million reviews for around 36,000 products, the company added.
The “beauty journey” for customers goes beyond putting something in their shopping carts and checking out, said Indiana.
“We realized that there’s a lot of touch points that are really important … finding the right products for yourself is not just about going to the store and picking it up. You will make sure that you read the reviews, talk to your friends, or Google first,” she added.
“Soco makes sure that they can access tons of product reviews before they purchase products.”
On top of that, Social Bella also runs Beauty Journal — a lifestyle website, and Lilla, an online retailer for mothers and babies.
That’s all part of building the business “ecosystem,” as Indiana calls it.
We want to make sure that we are scaling up and reaching more and more consumers. If Social Bella becomes a unicorn, it’s a bonus
“We want to … to serve more and more women, not only in beauty and personal care, but also in other industries.”
The startup appears to be on the right track — it now boasts more than 30 million users across all its business units, said Social Bella, selling an inventory of 12,000 products from 400 brands worldwide.
Indonesia’s next unicorn?
Over the last two years, Social Bella expanded aggressively, growing from just three Sociolla stores in Indonesia in 2020, to 47 stores there and 16 stores in Vietnam today.
While much of the expansion took place during the pandemic, Indiana said that had always been part of the plan for the e-commerce platform, lockdowns or not.
“It’s actually to create a seamless omnichannel experience … because we believe that we are serving the same customer whether she shops offline or online,” the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia honoree said.
“They can choose to do click-and-collect or … she can also deliver the purchases to her home. It’s making sure that she can shop the way she likes.”