In 2020 when the covid pandemic was spreading, most of the world was in lockdown and a lot of shopping was done online.
But Crescenti Indiana did the unexpected: She expanded her e-commerce business offline.
Her beauty and personal care e-commerce startup, Sociola, had only two brick-and-mortar stores in Indonesia in 2019. By the end of 2021, that number will increase “10-fold,” she said.
“A lot of people told us that it was a very bold move to actually open an offline presence, while everyone else was closing their offline stores. [during the pandemic]” she added.
But it was a “well thought out” move for Social Bella, which runs Sociola.
“We know that it’s time for us to really prepare … to make sure that after the pandemic, we can serve more and more consumers,” he added.
Looking too far 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 conglomerate.
Since 2018, it has raised nearly $225 million, and has drawn an impressive list of investors that includes Eastern Ventures, Jungle Ventures, Temasek and Pavilion Capital.
Indiana, Social Bella’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, tells CNBC Make It how she took her Jakarta-based startup to the next level.
The idea for Sociola came in 2015, when Indiana returned to Jakarta after studying in Australia.
The makeup junkie realized that Australia has easy access to a wide range of beauty products from international brands. That was in stark contrast to Indonesia.
“There were a lot of options for me, but then I came back and there were basically none,” Indiana said.
“There was no platform that had it all – I had to find specific sellers on social media, ask friends who could help buy the product for you. [when they are] Abroad.”
What made it worse for her was the online proliferation of fake makeup products that sometimes sold for “a fraction” of the original price.
“I still remember clearly in my mind that there are so many 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 due to cheap labor costs and materials. According to a local report, Indonesian authorities seized $9 million worth of illegal cosmetic products in 2018 – double the amount from the previous year.
Indiana was perplexed to see friends buying these products.
“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 place where consumers can get safe and authentic products, Indiana teamed up with his brother and a friend to start Social Bella with an initial capital of $13,000.
“Since we started, we make sure 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 gone beyond offline stores — it’s also a distributor for global beauty and personal care manufacturers.
“We have become a collaborative partner for many global brands in Indonesia. We not only help them distribute their products in Indonesia, but 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 accumulated over 2.5 million reviews for nearly 36,000 products, Company added.
The “beauty journey” for customers goes beyond putting something in their shopping cart and checking out, Indiana said.
“We realized that there are many touch points that are really important … Finding the right product for you is not just about going to the store and picking it up. You read reviews, talk to your friends, or Google first,” he added.
“Soko ensures that they can access multiple product reviews before purchasing the products.”
On top of this, Social Bella also runs Beauty Journal – a lifestyle website, and Leela, a Online retailer for moms and babies.
It’s all part of building a business “ecosystem,” as Indiana calls it.
“We … want to serve as many women as possible, not only in beauty and personal care, but in other industries as well.”
The startup appears to be on the right track — it now boasts more than 30 million users across all its business units, Social Bella said, selling an inventory of 12,000 products from 400 brands worldwide.
Indonesia’s next unicorn?
Over the past two years, Social Bella expanded aggressively, growing from just three Sociola 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 e-commerce was always part of the plan for the platform, lockdown or not.
“It’s really about creating a seamless omnichannel experience … because we believe we’re serving the same customer whether he’s offline or online,” said the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia honoree.
“They can choose to click-and-collect or … they can even have purchases delivered to their home. This is ensuring that they can shop the way they want.”