When the Covid pandemic raged 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.
Its beauty and personal care e-commerce startup Sociolla had just two stores in Indonesia in 2019. By the end of 2021, that number has grown “10 times” more, he said.
“A lot of people actually told us that it’s a very bold move to actually open an offline presence when everyone was closing their offline stores [during the pandemic],” she added.
But this was a “well calculated” move for Social Bella, which operates Sociolla.
“We know this is the time to really prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic, we can serve more and more consumers,” he added.
Looking far ahead proved to be the right move for the 31-year-old. Her online and offline approach turned her e-commerce startup into a multi-million dollar beauty conglomerate.
As of 2018, it has raised approximately $225 million and has built an impressive list of investors that includes East Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Temasek and Pavilion Capital.
Indiana, 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 to Jakarta after studying in Australia.
The makeup lover realized that in Australia, she had easy access to a wide range of beauty products from international brands. This was in stark contrast to Indonesia.
“There were a lot of options for me, but then I came back and there’s basically none,” Indiana said.
“There wasn’t one platform that had it all — I had to find specific sellers on social media, ask friends who can help buy the product for you [when they are] overseas.”
What made matters worse for her was the online proliferation of fake makeup products that were sometimes sold at “a fraction” of the price of the original.
“I still remember vividly in my mind 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, local imitations in Indonesia are widespread, thanks to cheap labor costs and materials. According to a local report, Indonesian authorities seized $9 million worth of illegal cosmetics in 2018 — double the amount from the previous year.
Seeing friends buying these products left Indiana confused.
“It’s skin care, it’s makeup. It’s something you put on your skin. It’s just weird to 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 $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.
Since then, Social Bella has expanded beyond offline stores — it’s also a distributor for beauty and personal care manufacturers around the world.
“We become a partner for many global brands in Indonesia. We help them not only distribute their products in Indonesia, but also help them understand the market,” said Indiana.
In addition, the business also operates Soco, which Social Bella says is Indonesia’s largest online review service for beauty products. Soco has collected more than 2.5 million reviews on approximately 36,000 products, the company added.
The “beauty journey” for customers goes beyond putting something in their shopping carts and checking out, Indiana said.
“We realized that there are many 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’ll make sure you read the reviews, talk to your friends or Google first,” he added.
“Soco makes sure he can access tons of product reviews before he buys products.”
Additionally, Social Bella also runs Beauty Journal — a lifestyle website, and Lilla, one online retailer for mothers and babies.
It’s all part of building the business “ecosystem,” as Indiana calls it.
“We want 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 has 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 took place during the pandemic, Indiana said it was always part of the plan for the e-commerce platform, lockdown or not.
“It’s really about creating a seamless omni-channel experience… because we believe we’re serving the same customer whether they’re shopping offline or online,” said the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia honoree.
“They can choose to click and collect or … she can also have the purchases delivered to her home. It makes sure she can shop the way she likes.”