When the Covid pandemic raged in 2020, much of the world was locked down and more turned to online shopping.
But Chrisanti Indiana did the unexpected: it grew its e-commerce business – offline.
Her beauty and personal care e-commerce startup, Sociolla, had just two physical stores in Indonesia in 2019. By the end of 2021, that number had grown “10 times” more, she said.
“A lot of people told us that it was a very bold move to open an offline presence, when 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 it’s time for us to really prepare… to make sure that after the pandemic, we can serve more and more consumers.
Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla
“We know now 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 turned out to be the right decision for the 31-year-old. Her online and offline approach has transformed her e-commerce startup into a multi-million dollar beauty conglomerate.
Since 2018, he has raised approximately $225 million and built an impressive list of investors including 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.
Fight against counterfeits
The idea for Sociolla was born in 2015, when Indiana returned home to Jakarta, after studying in Australia.
The makeup 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 I came back and there were hardly any,” Indiana said.
“There was no platform that had it all – I had to find specific sellers on social media, ask friends who can help you buy the product [when they are] abroad.”
What made matters worse for her was the proliferation of counterfeit makeup products online that sometimes sold for “a fraction” of the price of the original.
I still vividly remember that there are many similar sellers online, especially on social media, who claim their products are 99% authentic. What does it mean, 99% authentic?
Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla
“I still vividly remember that there are many similar sellers online, especially on social media, claiming their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean, 99% authentic? ?”
Indeed, locally made counterfeits in Indonesia are commonplace, thanks to labor costs and cheap materials. According to a local report, Indonesian authorities seized illegal cosmetics worth $9 million in 2018, double the amount from the previous year.
Seeing friends buying these products left Indiana perplexed.
“It’s skincare, it’s makeup. It’s something you put on your skin. It’s just weird to me,” she said.
Determined to create a space where consumers can get safe and authentic products, Indiana teamed up with her brother and friend to launch Social Bella, with a seed capital of $13,000.
“Since we started, we’ve been careful to 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 gone beyond offline stores – it’s also a distributor for beauty and personal care manufacturers around the world.
“We become an associate partner for many global brands in Indonesia. We not only help them distribute their products in Indonesia, but also help them understand the market,” Indiana said.
In addition to this, the company also operates Soco, which according to Social Bella is the largest online beauty product review service in Indonesia. Soco has amassed over 2.5 million reviews for approximately 36,000 products, the company added.
The “beauty journey” for customers goes beyond putting something in their cart and checking out, Indiana said.
“We realized that there are a lot of touchpoints that are really important…finding the right products for yourself isn’t just about going to the store and picking them up. You’ll be sure to read the reviews, talk to your friends or Google first,” she added.
“Soco makes sure they can access tons of product reviews before buying products.”
In addition to this, Social Bella also runs Beauty Journal – a lifestyle website, and Lilla, a online retailer for mothers and babies.
It’s all part of building the business “ecosystem,” as Indiana calls it.
We want to make sure that we grow 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 — it now has more than 30 million users across all of its business units, Social Bella said, selling inventory of 12,000 products from 400 brands globally.
The next Indonesian unicorn?
Over the past two years, Social Bella has grown 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 has taken place during the pandemic, Indiana said it has always been part of the e-commerce platform’s plan, lockdown or not.
“It’s really about creating a seamless omnichannel experience…because we believe we’re serving the same customer whether they’re shopping offline or online,” said the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia winner.
“They can choose to do click-and-collect or… she can also deliver the purchases to her house. It’s making sure she can shop the way she likes.”
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