In 2020, as the Covid pandemic raged on, most of the world was in quarantine and more turned to online shopping.
But Chrisanti Indiana did something unexpected: it expanded its e-commerce business offline.
Sociolla, a beauty and personal care e-commerce startup, had only two brick-and-mortar stores in Indonesia in 2019. He said that by the end of 2021 that number had increased “10 times”.
“Many people have told us that it was a very brave move to truly open an offline presence while everyone else is closing their offline stores. [during the pandemic],” he added.
But it was a “well calculated” move for Social Bella, who runs Sociolla.
We know it’s time for us to really prepare to make sure we can serve more and more consumers after the pandemic.
Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla
“We know it’s time to really prepare to make sure we can serve more and more consumers after the pandemic.”
Looking ahead was the right move for the 31-year-old actress. Her online and offline approach has turned her e-commerce startup into a multi-million dollar beauty conglomerate.
It has raised nearly $225 million since 2018 and has drawn an impressive roster of investors that includes East Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Temasek and Pavilion Capital.
Social Bella co-founder and chief marketing officer, Indiana, tells CNBC Make It how he took his Jakarta-based startup to the next level.
Fighting counterfeit products
The idea for Sociolla came about in 2015, when Indiana returned to Jakarta after studying in Australia.
The makeup addict realized that in Australia international brands have easy access to a wide variety of beauty products. This was in stark contrast to Indonesia.
“There were a lot of options for me but then I came back and there was basically none left,” Indiana said.
“There wasn’t a platform that had it all – I needed to find specific vendors on social media, ask friends who could help buy the product for you. [when they are] abroad.”
What made matters worse for her was the proliferation of fake makeup products online, sometimes sold for a “small fraction” of the original price.
I still vividly remember that there were many similar sellers on the Internet, especially on social media, claiming that their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean, is it 99% real?
Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla
“I still vividly remember that there are many similar sellers online, especially on social media, claiming that their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean, 99% authentic?”
Indeed, locally produced fakes are very common in Indonesia, 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 previous year.
Indiana was stunned to see friends buying these products.
She said, “Skin care, makeup. It’s something you put on your skin. That’s weird to me.”
Determined to build a space where consumers can buy safe and authentic products, Indiana teamed up with her brother and friend to launch Social Bella with $13,000 in startup capital.
“Since we started, we make sure we only work with authorized distributors or brand owners,” Indiana said.
Building an ‘ecosystem’
Sociolla may have started out as an e-commerce platform, but the trio had bigger dreams.
Social Bella has since expanded beyond offline stores – it’s also a distributor for beauty and personal care manufacturers worldwide.
“We have become joint partners of many global brands in Indonesia. We not only help them distribute their products to Indonesia, but also 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 collected more than 2.5 million reviews for nearly 36,000 products, The company added.
Indiana said the “beauty journey” for customers goes beyond just putting things in their shopping carts and checking them out.
“We realized that there are a lot of touchpoints that really matter… Finding the right products for you isn’t just about going to the store and picking it up. You’ll be sure to read reviews, talk to or talk to your friends. Google first,” he added.
“Soco gives them access to tons of product reviews before purchasing them.”
On top of that, Social Bella also runs the Beauty Journal, a lifestyle website, and Lilla. Online retailer for mothers and babies.
It’s all part of building the “ecosystem” business, as Indiana calls it.
We want to make sure we scale up and reach more and more consumers. If Social Bella becomes a unicorn, that’s a bonus
“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 – now with more than 30 million users across all business units, Social Bella said it has sold an inventory of 12,000 products from 400 brands worldwide.
Indonesia’s next unicorn?
Over the past two years, Social Bella has expanded aggressively from just three Sociolla stores in Indonesia in 2020 to 47 stores there today and 16 stores in Vietnam.
While most of the expansion is happening during the pandemic, Indiana said it’s always been part of its e-commerce platform plan, with or without quarantines.
“To actually create a seamless omnichannel experience… because we believe we serve the same customer, whether they shop offline or online,” Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia honors award said.
“They can choose to click and collect, or they can have their purchases delivered to their home. This allows them to shop the way they want.”