When the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, most of the world was in lockdown and turned to online shopping.
But Chrisanti Indiana did the unexpected: he expanded his e-commerce business – offline.
His beauty and self-care e-commerce startup, Sociolla, has only two brick-and-mortar stores in Indonesia in 2019. By the end of 2021, that number will grow “ten times” more, he said.
“Many people told us that it is a bold move to open an offline presence, as everyone else is closing offline stores. [during the pandemic]” he added.
But that was a “well calculated” move for Social Bella, which operates Sociolla.
He added, “We know this is the time to really prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic, we can serve more customers.”
Looking ahead turned out 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 industry.
Since 2018, it has raised about $225 million, and has attracted 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 Mee It how she took her Jakarta-based startup to the next level.
The idea for Sociolla came in 2015, when Indiana returned home to Jakarta, after completing his studies in Australia.
A makeup junkie understands that in Australia, it is easy to find many beauty products from international brands. That is very different in Indonesia.
“There were a lot of options for me, but I came back and there weren’t any,” Indiana said.
“No platform has it all – I have to find sellers directly on social media, ask friends who can help buy the product for you. [when they are] overseas.”
Worse for her is the online proliferation of fake makeup products that are sometimes sold at “a fraction” of the original price.
“I still remember clearly in my mind that there are so many online sellers, especially on social media, who say that their products are 99% true. What is that? mean, 99% true?”
In fact, these scams are common in Indonesia, due to the low wages and prices. According to local reports, Indonesian authorities seized illegal cosmetics worth $9 million in 2018 – double the amount of the previous year.
Seeing friends buying these products made Indiana confused.
“It’s skin care, it’s makeup. It’s what you put on your skin. It’s just weird to me,” she said.
Determined to create a space where consumers can find good and quality products, Indiana teamed up with his brother and a friend to start Social Bella, which has a starting point of $13,000.
“Since we started, we’ve been making sure we work with 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 gone beyond offline stores – it is also a distributor for beauty and personal care manufacturers worldwide.
“We are becoming a partner for many international brands in Indonesia. We help them not only distribute their products in Indonesia, but we help them understand the market,” said Indiana.
On top of that, the business also operates Soco, which Social Bella says is Indonesia’s largest online search service for beauty products. Soco has collected more than 2.5 million for 36,000 products, the company added.
The “beauty journey” for customers goes beyond adding items to their shopping cart and checking out, Indiana said.
“We understand that there are many factors that are very important… finding the right product for yourself is not just about going to the store and picking it up. You have to make sure that you read reviews, talk to your friends, or Google first,” he added.
“Soco makes sure they can get as many product reviews before they buy a product.”
On top of that, Social Bella also runs Beauty Journal – a lifestyle website, and Lilla, something online retailer for moms and babies.
That’s all part of building the business “environmentally friendly,” as Indiana calls it.
“We want to … serve more women, not only in beauty and personal care, but in other industries as well.”
The startup seems to be on the right track – it now boasts more than 30 million users across all its business units, Social Bella said, selling 12,000 products from 400 brands worldwide.
Indonesia’s Next Unicorn?
In the past two years, Social Bella has expanded significantly, growing from only three Sociolla stores in Indonesia in 2020, to 47 stores there and 16 stores in Vietnam today.
Although most of the expansion took place during the pandemic, Indiana said it was already part of the plan for the e-commerce platform, lockdown or not.
“It’s about creating a seamless omnichannel experience… because we believe we serve the same customer whether they’re shopping online or offline,” Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia honoree said. .
“They can choose to do click-and-collect or… and he can have the items delivered to his home. He makes sure he can shop the way he wants.”