At just 34 years old, Jessica Alba built The Honest Company into a $1 billion household products empire, raking in $150 million in revenues in 2014 and with a public offering on the horizon.
Alba’s stake in the company she conceived in her kitchen in 2008 gives her a net worth of some $200 million, making her one of Hollywood’s richest actresses — and she’s just getting started.
As always with these sorts of profiles, some of Alba’s words of wisdom didn’t make it through the editing process. Here are five lessons for would-be entrepreneurs, culled from the cutting room floor:
1. Refine your idea.
When Alba first decided to seek out a business partner, she approached web entrepreneur Brian Lee, a friend of her husband who’d successfully launched LegalZoom.com and ShoeDazzle.com. Her problem: she had ideas, just lots of them, and hadn’t narrowed down her proposition. She wanted to create a whole universe of nontoxic products — maybe even apparel — and hadn’t settled on diapers and wipes as the way into a shopper’s home.
“I pitched Brian a 50-page deck that had really too much going on,” she says. Fast forward to 18 months later, and she met Lee with a concise, 10-page PowerPoint, honed to reflect a much more succinct brand identity and offering. Says Alba: “Brian got it.”
2. Hire your weaknesses.
Alba knows her strengths when it comes to The Honest Company. “I really love the marketing aspect and the design aspect,” she says. “And the overall brand vision. That’s where I have my hands in the most.”
Her company cofounders come with a variety of experience Alba herself just doesn’t have — and she isn’t ashamed to admit it. There’s Lee, with his dot com success stories; Christopher Gavigan, one-time head of nonprofit Healthy Child Healthy World with years spent in environmental activism; and Sean Kane, a longtime executive at discount retailer PriceGrabber.com, handling operations.
“You never want to be the smartest person in the room,” says Alba.
3. Don’t rush to market.
The Honest Company now has 120 products on sale, but they’ve been meticulous about expanding the line, knowing a brand can become diluted pretty quickly.
Alba says the company’s feminine care line of tampons and sanitary pads, launching in July, has been a year and a half in the making.
“Finding the right manufacturer, making an original product, testing it…that was all challenging,” she says. “People can feel safe using our product. And they want it. People asked us for it.”
4. You don’t have to spend big on advertising or marketing.
Of course, Alba knows her celebrity has been a factor in the success of The Honest Company: she’s been both a cofounder and a face, “trying to yell from the rooftops,” as she put it. But she and her team have always taken advantage of relatively inexpensive marketing tools, like Facebook, versus big national campaigns.
“We’re still quite scrappy, and we’re tight with money,” she says.
And of course, she knows nothing works as well as word of mouth from friends and peers when marketing to Millennial moms. If a product doesn’t work, they won’t buy it, and they certainly won’t recommend it.
5. You can help solve ‘nonprofit’ problems with a for-profit model.
Alba has lobbied for the overhaul of chemical testing regulations more than once. She remains frustrated that the legislation in place — the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act — allows for 80,000 chemicals to remain in household products untested.
But she knows she can make more of a tangible difference with The Honest Company than she ever could knocking on doors in Washington, D.C.
“I looked at a social injustice that was a reality, and I tackled it where I could have tackled it in a pretty conventional nonprofit manner,” she says.
“I went about it in creating a for-profit business around a non-profit issue. I just felt like it would be a more sustainable way to address the issue. If government isn’t going to change that they regulate and operate, giving people a real viable option and letting them vote with their dollars is pretty strong.”
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