She built a startup that raised millions, shares 3 tips

How Indonesia's counterfeit problem fueled a multi-million dollar beauty business

Launching a startup with no business experience can be daunting.

But that didn’t stop Chrisanti Indiana – who was just 24 when she co-founded Social Bella.

“You have nothing to lose, that’s the benefit of starting young,” Indiana, now 31, told CNBC Make It.

The Indonesian beauty and personal care retailer has raised around $225 million since 2018, attracting an impressive list of investors including East Ventures, Jungle Ventures and Temasek.

The business started out as an e-commerce platform called Sociolla in 2015, but has since expanded to 48 stores in Indonesia and 13 stores in Vietnam.

Indiana tells CNBC Make It how she turned her startup into a multi-million dollar beauty company.

1. Be agile

When running a business, adapting to change is key, Indiana said, especially when you least expect it.

Like all businesses around the world, Indiana’s had to contend with the Covid pandemic, which coincided with her company’s fifth anniversary, she said.

“We had a lot of fun in 2020 … we planned a lot of campaigns and events, and then the Pandemic hit. It was really terrible,” Indiana said.

“There was a lockdown and the mood was very different. Not only for the customers, but also for the staff.”

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“You have nothing to lose, that’s the benefit of starting young,” said Chrisanti Indiana, who launched her startup Social Bella when she was 24 years old.

As chief marketing officer, Indiana quickly led a change in direction during a “very confusing time”, by embracing online events and shifting their focus from makeup to home self-care.

“It was a steep learning curve because you also have to manage the team, making sure everyone is OK and letting them know we can get through this together,” Indiana said.

“It’s about making sure you’re agile enough to go through dynamic changes.”

2. Do what is right

The idea for Sociolla emerged in 2015, when Indiana discovered the online proliferation of counterfeit makeup products in Indonesia.

Those products were sometimes being sold for a “fraction” of the original price, she said.

The e-commerce platform was Indiana’s solution to the problem – through it, consumers can find products that are safe, authentic and certified by the Indonesian authorities.

“Since we started … we make sure that we only work with authorized distributors or brand owners.”

When you have a business, you want it to succeed. But at the same time, you also want to make sure that you are doing the right thing.

Christi Indiana

Co-founder and CMO, Social Bella

But that approach wasn’t easy, especially when awareness of the authenticity of beauty products was low at the time, Indiana said.

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“When you have a business, you want it to succeed. But at the same time, you also want to make sure you’re doing the right thing,” she said.

“It was a challenge to educate the consumers that cheap does not always mean better.”

But that strategy seems to have paid off. Social Bella now more than 30 million users across all its business units, according to Indiana, selling an inventory of 12,000 products from 400 brands worldwide.

Social Bella started out as an e-commerce platform called Sociolla. It has since expanded to 47 stores in Indonesia and 16 stores in Vietnam.

The business also has the eye of investors – the most recent fundraising round, led by US private equity firm L Catterton, was $56 million.

“It’s been a long journey but I’m very proud that we chose to do the right thing from day one to today.”

3. Choose the right leaders

Although she was never a young entrepreneur, Indiana admitted there were “a lot of things” she didn’t know about running a business.

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That’s why Indiana attributes part of Social Bella’s success to the diverse backgrounds and expertise of its co-founders.

Indiana, who has a background in the creative industry, is in charge of branding and marketing – while her brother and president Christopher Madiam, who studied computing, brings technical knowledge.

John Rasjid, CEO of Social Bella, has a financial background.

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

Social Bella

“It was very important to me that I have my two co-founders, we support each other and we have a great dynamic.”

Her brother Madiam, who has been Indiana’s role model since she was young, is a particular source of strength, she said.

“He always pushes me to grow, learn and take on challenges with an open mind and a positive attitude,” she said.

“It’s easier to tell people nice things they want to hear, but Chris has always been honest with me. And that’s one thing I’m very grateful for.”

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