Millennial’s beauty startup Social Bella raised over $225 million

How Indonesia's counterfeiting problem spurred a multi-million dollar beauty business

When the Covid pandemic broke out in 2020, most of the world went into lockdown and more people turned to 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.

“Many people have actually told us that it’s a bold move to actually open an offline presence, while everyone else is closing their offline stores. [during the pandemic],” he added.

But that was a “well-calculated” move for Social Bella, which runs Sociolla.

We know that this is the time when we really prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic, we can serve more consumers.

Chrisanti Indiana

Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla

“We know that this is the time when we really prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic, we can serve more consumers,” he added.

Looking ahead has been the right move for the 31-year-old. Her online and offline approach transformed her e-commerce startup into a multimillion-dollar beauty conglomerate.

As of 2018, it has raised nearly $225 million, and has secured an impressive list of investors including East Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Temasek and Pavilion Capital.

Indiana, Social Bella’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, told CNBC Make It how he took his Jakarta-based startup to the next level.

Dealing with fakes

The idea for Sociolla came about in 2015, when Indiana returned to Jakarta, after studying in Australia.

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The makeup junkie realizes that in Australia, he has easy access to a wide range of beauty products from international brands. That was a big difference in Indonesia.

“There were a lot of options for me, but then I came back and there wasn’t one,” Indiana said.

“There is no one platform that has it all – I have to find specific sellers on social media, ask friends to help buy the product for you [when they are] abroad.”

What makes it worse for her is the online proliferation of fake makeup products that are sometimes sold at a “fraction” of the price of the original.

I still remember clearly in my mind that there are many similar sellers online, especially on social media, who claim that their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean, 99% authentic?

Chrisanti Indiana

Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla

“I still remember clearly in my mind that there are many similar sellers online, especially on social media, who claim that their products are 99% authentic. What does that mean, 99% authentic?”

In fact, locally made fakes are widespread in Indonesia, thanks to the cheap cost of labor and materials. According to a local report, Indonesian authorities seized illegal cosmetic products worth $9 million in 2018 — double the amount of the previous year.

Seeing friends buying these products confused Indiana.

“It’s skin care, it’s makeup. It’s something you put on your skin. It’s weird to me,” she said.

Determined to build a space where consumers can get products that are safe and authentic, Indiana collaborated with his brother and friend to launch Social Bella, with a starting capital of $13,000.

“Since we started, we have made sure that we only work with authorized distributors or brand owners,” said Indiana.

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’s also a distributor for beauty and personal care manufacturers around the world.

“We have become a partner with many global brands in Indonesia. We help them not only distribute their products in Indonesia, but we also 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 review service for beauty products. Soco has gathered more than 2.5 million reviews for about 36,000 products, the company added.

Social Bella was founded in 2015 by Chrisanti Indiana, his brother and president Christopher Madiam (left) and CEO John Rasjid (right).

Social Bella

The “beauty journey” for customers is more than putting something in their shopping cart and checking out, Indiana said.

“We realize that there are many touch points that are very important … finding the right products for yourself is not just about going to the store and getting them. You make sure you read the reviews, interact with tell your friends, or Google first,” he added.

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“Soco makes sure they have access to tons of product reviews before they buy products.”

On top of that, Social Bella also runs Beauty Journal — a lifestyle website, and Lilla, a online retailer for mothers and babies.

That’s all part of building the business “ecosystem,” as it’s called in Indiana.

We want to make sure we scale and reach more consumers. If Social Bella turns out to be a unicorn, it’s a bonus

“We want … to serve 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 business units, says Social Bella, which sells an inventory of 12,000 products from 400 brands in whole world.

Indonesia’s next unicorn?

In 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 most of the expansion took place during the pandemic, Indiana said it was always part of the plan for the e-commerce platform, lockdown or not.

“It’s really to create a seamless omnichannel experience … because we believe we’re serving the same customer whether he’s shopping offline or online,” the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia honoree said.

“They can choose to click-and-collect or … he can also have the purchases delivered to his home. This ensures he can shop the way he wants.”

Social Bella aims to serve more female customers.

Social Bella

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