SXSW: How Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company defied skeptics

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photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman
photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman

photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman

Date/time: 5:00 p.m. Sunday
Panelist: Jessica Alba, actress and The Honest Company Founder; Brian Lee, CEO of The Honest Company; Lindsay Blakey, Features Editor at Inc.
The gist:

When actress Jessica Alba was pregnant with her first child, Honor, she got an allergic reaction from a laundry detergent. With a baby on the way, she dove into research about toxic chemicals like never before.

When she shopped for products she thought were better, it turned out that only the packaging was better not the ingredients, she says.

So she set out to create The Honest Company, which would offer people safe, non-toxic products. But people didn’t get it at first, she says.

“It took three years of people not getting it,” Alba says. “It was too big of an idea…My pitch was long and confusing.”

Hollywood’s reaction? “Why not make a perfume instead?”

Frustrated but not defeated, Alba kept refining her idea and condensing the pitch. She reached out to CEO Brian Lee of LegalZoom and ShoeDazzle, but he rejected her idea at first too.

“The first time she approached me I didn’t have children,” Lee says. “Once I did, I saw the way my wife changed her behavior, making organic purees for the baby…” He began thinking about all the other women doing the same thing. “The first time you hold a child, you realize that you are responsible for this being for the rest of your life. That was the epiphany for me. It’s not that I wanted to (help start the company), it was that I needed to.”

In 2011, The Honest Company launched and is now valued at nearly a billon dollars. It’s expected to expand internationally later this year.
Takeaways:

Branding the company became more than a just a name, but a lifestyle. Alba says the original name was Love & Honor, inspired by her daughter. “But that just sounded too bridal,” she says. With a name like Honest, the company seems to be held at a higher standard, Lee says. “We’re not a perfect company,” he says. “We’re an honest company, and we want to be as open as possible.”

Part of the The Honest Company’s business strategy is to put employees first. When hiring one of the factors they consider is the “airport test,” where they try to gage whether that employee would be pleasant to be with if you were stuck with them at an airport for six hours. The likeability test has been important to the company’s growth.

The company made many mistakes at its inception from not testing the website until 20 minutes before its launch to faulty laundry pods that kept breaking in freezing temperatures. Customers complained about the first baby wipes the company made, which weren’t thick or big enough. It was a freak out moment, Alba says. They took what customers said to heart and fixed the issues quickly, a key to keeping the customer’s trust.

When asked to give advice to other businesswomen, Alba said to be prepared with answers for everyone’s questions because everyone will poke holes at your idea. “Think about how you are going to be different. Really know your strengths and weaknesses and surround yourself with people who can support your weakness.”
Fun Fact: Alba was stumped when a festgoer asked her, “What’s your spirit animal?”  “Whoa, I’m in Austin,” she said with a laugh. Lee answered that Alba would be a unicorn. Alba said their company’s spirit animal would be a butterfly.

Hashtags: #sxsw #honestco


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