As the Covid pandemic raged in 2020, much of the world was in quarantine and turned more 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 only two brick-and-mortar stores in Indonesia in 2019. By the end of 2021, that number has grown “10 times” more, she said.
“A lot of people actually told us that it was a very bold move to actually open an offline presence, while everyone was closing their offline stores [during the pandemic]”, she added.
But it was a “well-calculated” move for Social Bella, which operates Sociolla.
“We know this is the time to actually prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic we can serve more and more consumers,” she added.
Looking far ahead proved to be the right move for the 31-year-old. Her online and offline approach transformed her e-commerce startup into a multi-million dollar beauty conglomerate.
As of 2018, it has raised around $225 million and has drawn an impressive list of investors that includes East Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Temasek and Pavilion Capital.
Indiana, co-founder and CMO of Social Bella, tells CNBC Make It how she took her Jakarta-based startup to the next level.
Fight against counterfeits
The idea for Sociolla was born in 2015, when Indiana returned home to Jakarta, after studying in Australia.
The make-up addict realized that in Australia she had easy access to a wide range of beauty products from international brands. It was a stark contrast to Indonesia.
“There were a lot of options for me, but then I came back and there were basically none,” Indiana said.
“There wasn’t a platform that had everything — I had to find specific sellers on social media, ask friends who can help you buy products [when they are] abroad.”
What made matters worse for her was the internet proliferation of counterfeit makeup products that were sometimes sold for a “fraction” of the original price.
“I still vividly remember that there are many similar sellers online, especially on social media, who claim that their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean, 99% authentic?”
Indeed, locally produced counterfeits in Indonesia are widespread, thanks to the cheap cost of labor and materials. According to a local report, Indonesian authorities seized $9 million worth of illegal beauty products in 2018 — double the amount from the previous year.
Seeing friends buying these products, Indiana was left confused.
“It’s skin care, it’s makeup. It’s something you put on your skin. To me, it’s just bizarre,” she said.
Determined to build a space where consumers can get products that are safe and authentic, Indiana teamed up with her brother and a friend to start Social Bella, with $13,000 in seed capital.
“Since we started, we’ve made sure we only work with authorized distributors or brand owners,” Indiana said.
Building an ‘ecosystem’
Sociolla may have started as an e-commerce platform, but the trio had bigger dreams.
Social Bella has since gone beyond offline stores — it’s also a distributor for beauty and personal care manufacturers around the world.
“We become an affiliate partner for many global brands in Indonesia. We help them not only distribute their products in Indonesia, but also help them understand the market,” Indiana said.
On top of that, the company also operates Soco, which Social Bella says is Indonesia’s largest online beauty product review service. Soco has collected more than 2.5 million reviews for around 36,000 products, the company added.
The “beauty journey” for shoppers goes beyond putting something in their shopping cart and checking out, Indiana said.
“We realized there are a lot of touch points that are really important… finding the right products for you isn’t just going to the store and picking up. You’re going to make sure you read reviews, talk to friends or Google First,” she added.
“Soco ensures that they can access tons of product reviews before they buy the products.”
On top of that, Social Bella also runs Beauty Journal — a lifestyle website, and Lilla, an online retailer for mothers and babies.
It’s all part of building a business “ecosystem,” as Indiana calls it.
“We want to … serve more and more women, not only in beauty and personal care, but in other industries as well.”
The startup appears to be on the right track — it now boasts more than 30 million users across its business units, Social Bella said, selling an inventory of 12,000 products from 400 brands worldwide.
Indonesia’s next unicorn?
Over the past two years, Social Bella has 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 happened during the pandemic, Indiana said it was always part of the plan for the e-commerce platform, lockdowns or not.
“It’s really about creating a seamless omnichannel experience… because we believe we serve the same customer whether they shop offline or online,” said the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia awardee.
“They can choose the click and collect option or … she can also have the purchase delivered to her home. This ensures she can shop the way she wants.”