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.
Her beauty and personal care e-commerce startup, Sociolla, has just 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 have actually told us that it’s a very bold move to actually open an offline presence while everyone else is closing their offline stores [during the pandemic],” she added.
But it was a “well calculated” move for Social Bella, which operates Sociolla.
“We know that this is the time for us to really prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic we can serve more and more consumers,” she added.
Looking far ahead was the right move for the 31-year-old. Her online and offline approach turned her e-commerce startup into a multimillion dollar beauty conglomerate.
Since 2018, it has raised around $225 million and lined up an impressive list of investors that includes 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 arose in 2015 when Indiana returned to Jakarta after his studies 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’s basically none,” Indiana said.
“There wasn’t a platform that had everything – I had to find specific sellers on social media, ask friends who could help buy the product for you [when they are] overseas.”
Making matters worse for her was the online proliferation of counterfeit makeup products, sometimes sold at “a fraction” of the original’s price.
“I still remember vividly in my mind that there are many like sellers online, especially on social media, who claim their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean, 99% authentic?”
Indeed, locally produced counterfeits in Indonesia abound, thanks to cheap labor costs and materials. According to a local report, Indonesian authorities seized $9 million worth of illegal cosmetic products in 2018 – twice the previous year’s amount.
Seeing friends buy these products left Indiana confused.
“It’s skincare, it’s makeup. It’s something you put on your skin. It’s just bizarre to me,” she said.
Determined to build a space where consumers can find products that are safe and authentic, Indiana teamed up with her brother and friend to launch Social Bella, with a seed capital of $13,000.
“Since we started, we ensure that we only work with authorized distributors or brand owners,” Indiana said.
Build 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 is also a distributor for beauty and personal care manufacturers worldwide.
“We become an associate partner for many global brands in Indonesia. We not only help them distribute their products to Indonesia, but we also help them understand the market,” Indiana said.
In addition, the company also operates Soco, which according to Social Bella is Indonesia’s largest online review service for beauty products. Soco has collected more than 2.5 million reviews for around 36,000 products, the company added.
The “beauty journey” for customers extends beyond putting something in their shopping carts and checking out, Indiana said.
“We realized that there are a lot of touch points that are really important… finding the right products for yourself isn’t just about going to the store and picking them up. You want to make sure you read the reviews. read, talk to your friends, or Google first,” she added.
“Soco makes sure they can access tons of product reviews before they buy products.”
In addition, Social Bella also runs Beauty Journal – a lifestyle website, and Lilla, an 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 boasts more than 30 million users across all its business units, says Social Bella, which sells an inventory of 12,000 products from 400 brands worldwide.
Indonesia’s next unicorn?
Over the past two years, Social Bella has aggressively expanded, growing from just three Sociolla stores in Indonesia in 2020, to 47 stores there and today 16 stores in Vietnam.
While much of the expansion took place during the pandemic, Indiana said that has always been part of the plan for the e-commerce platform, crashes or not.
“It’s really about creating a seamless omnichannel experience… because we believe we serve the same customer, whether she’s shopping offline or online,” said the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia honoree.
“They can choose to do click-and-collect or … she can also have the purchases delivered to her home. This ensures that she can shop the way she wants.”