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Millennial beauty startup Social Bella raised over $225 million

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

When the Covid pandemic raged in 2020, large parts of the world were locked down and more people turned to online shopping.

But Chrisanti Indiana did the unexpected: she expanded her e-commerce business – offline.

Her beauty and personal care e-commerce startup, Sociolla, had only two brick-and-mortar stores in Indonesia in 2019. By the end of 2021, that number will grow “10 times” more, she said.

“A lot of people actually told us that it’s a very bold move to actually open an offline presence, while everyone was closing their offline stores [during the pandemic]”, she added.

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

We know that this is the time for us to actually prepare … to ensure that after the pandemic we can serve more and more consumers.

Indian chrysanthemums

Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla

“We know this is the time for us to actually prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic we can serve more and more consumers,” she added.

Looking far ahead proved to be the right move for the 31-year-old. Her online and offline approach transformed her e-commerce startup into a multi-million dollar beauty conglomerate.

Since 2018, it has raised around $225 million, attracting an impressive list of investors that includes 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.

Fighting counterfeits

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

The make-up junkie 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 then I came back and there’s basically none,” Indiana said.

“It wasn’t a platform that had everything – I had to find specific sellers on social media, ask friends who can help you buy the product for you [when they are] overseas.”

Making matters worse for her was the online proliferation of fake makeup products that were sometimes sold at “a fraction” of the original’s price.

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

Indian chrysanthemums

Co-founder and CMO, Sociolla

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

In fact, locally produced fakes in Indonesia are widespread, thanks to cheap labor costs and materials. According to a local report, Indonesian authorities seized $9 million worth of illegal cosmetic products in 2018 – twice as much as the previous year.

Seeing friends buy these products confused Indiana.

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

Sociolla has expanded into brick-and-mortar stores. It now has 47 stores in Indonesia and 16 in Vietnam.

Social Bella

Determined to build an area where consumers can get products that are safe and authentic, Indiana teamed up with his brother and friend to launch Social Bella, with a seed capital of $13,000.

“Since we started, we have ensured that we 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.

Social Bella has since gone beyond offline stores – it is also a distributor for beauty and personal care manufacturers worldwide.

“We become an associate partner for many global brands in Indonesia. We not only help them distribute their products to 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 beauty product review service. Soco has collected more than 2.5 million reviews for around 36,000 products, added the company.

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

Social Bella

The “beauty journey” for customers goes beyond adding something to their cart and checking out, Indiana said.

“We realized that there are a lot of touch points that are really important… finding the right products for yourself isn’t just about going to the store and picking it up. You want to make sure you read the reviews, talk to your friends or Google first, ” she added.

“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, an online retailer for mothers and babies.

All of this is part of building the business’s “ecosystem,” as Indiana calls it.

We want to make sure that 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 track — it now has more than 30 million users across all its business units, said Social Bella, which sells an inventory of 12,000 products from 400 brands worldwide.

Indonesia’s next unicorn?

Over the past two years, Social Bella has expanded 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 took place during the pandemic, Indiana said that had always been part of the plan for the e-commerce platform, shutdown or not.

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

“They can choose to do click-and-collect or … she can also have the purchases delivered to her home. It’s making sure she can shop the way she likes.”

Social Bella aims to serve more female customers.

Social Bella

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