When the Covid epidemic broke out in 2020, most of the world was locked down and more on online shopping.
But Chrisanti Indiana did the unexpected: he expanded his e-commerce business – offline.
Her beauty and personal care e-commerce startup, Sociolla, has only two brick-and-mortar stores in Indonesia in 2019. By the end of 2021, that number has grown “10 times” more, he said.
“A lot of people have told us that it’s a really big move to actually open an online store, when everyone is closing their online stores. [during the pandemic],” he added.
But it’s a “reasonable” move for Social Bella, which runs Sociolla.
“We know that this is the time when we really prepare … to make sure that after the epidemic, we can serve more customers,” he added.
Looking ahead proved to be the right move for the 31-year-old. His online and offline approach transformed his e-business startup into a multi-million dollar beauty conglomerate.
Since 2018, it has raised approximately $225 million, drawing an impressive list of investors including East Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Temasek and Pavilion Capital.
Indiana, the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Social Bella, told CNBC Make It how he took his startup in Jakarta to the next level.
The idea for Sociolla emerged in 2015, when Indiana returned home to Jakarta, after studying in Australia.
Australian jewelry makers have found that it is easy to find many beautiful items from international brands. That is a big difference with Indonesia.
“There were a lot of options for me, but I came back and there was nothing,” Indiana said.
“There was no platform that had everything – I had to look for sales on social networks, ask friends who can help buy the product for you. [when they are] out.”
What made it worse for him was the proliferation on the Internet of counterfeit products that are sometimes sold at “a fraction” of the original price.
“I keep in mind that there are many sellers on the internet, especially on social media, who claim that their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean? what, 99% true?”
In fact, local computer production in Indonesia is booming, thanks to cheap labor and material costs. According to a local report, Indonesian authorities seized illegal cosmetics worth about $9 million in 2018 – twice the previous year.
Seeing friends buying these products made Indiana sad.
“It’s skin care, it’s makeup. It’s something you put on your skin. It’s different for me,” she said.
The desire to create an opportunity where consumers can find products that are safe and reliable, Indiana worked together with his brother and his friend to promote Social Bella, with a start of $ 13,000.
“Since we started, we make sure that we only work with authorized distributors or owners,” said Indiana.
Building an ecosystem
Sociolla may have started as an e-commerce platform, but the three had big dreams.
Social Bella has since gone beyond direct stores – it is also a distributor for beauty and personal care around the world.
“We become a supporting partner for many international brands in Indonesia. We help them not only distribute their products in Indonesia, but we also help them understand the market,” Indiana said.
On top of that, the company also operates Soco, which Social Bella said is Indonesia’s largest online beauty search service. Soco has collected over 2.5 million reviews for approximately 36,000 products, added the company.
The “beautiful journey” for customers is more than putting something in their shopping cart and checking out, Indiana said.
“We found that there are many touch points that are very important … finding the right products for yourself is not just going to the store and picking them up. Make sure you read in reviews, talk to your friends, or Google first,” he added.
“Soco makes sure they can get a lot of product reviews before they buy the product.”
On top of that, Social also runs Bella Beauty Journal – a lifestyle website, and Lilla, who online store for mom and baby.
That’s all part of building the business “ecosystem,” as Indiana calls it.
“We want to…serve more women, not only in beauty and personal care, but also in other businesses.”
The startup seems to be on the right track – it has more than 30 million users in all its businesses, says Social Bella, selling a search of 12,000 products from 400 brands in the world whole.
Indonesia’s next unicorn?
In the past two years, Social Bella has expanded, growing from only three Sociolla stores in Indonesia in 2020, to 47 stores there and 16 stores in Vietnam today.
Although much of the expansion happened during the pandemic, Indiana said it was still part of the plan for the e-commerce platform, locked or not.
“The point is to create an omnichannel experience … because we believe that we are serving the same customer whether he buys online or offline,” said a the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia honoree.
“They can choose to do click-and-collect or … he can also have the purchases delivered to his home. It ensures that he can shop the way he likes.”