From one mom to another, Jessica Alba rejoins Salt & Nectar today to share the lessons she’s learned about starting The Honest Company and offers meaningful advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs for getting started, turning a business dream into reality, and balancing it all with family life.
Salt & Nectar: You’ve mentioned how being a mom inspired The Honest Company mission and its products, but how has being a mom prepared you to run the business?
Jessica Alba: I think having to put yourself second is one key component. For me, being a mom is about putting my children and their wellbeing first. In running a business, it’s also never about my interests or me; it’s about the company and every decision we make is from the point of view of how to best serve Honest. Therefore, being comfortable putting another’s interest above your own is something all moms and successful entrepreneurs have in common and both do on a daily basis. Multitasking is another way being a mom prepared me for starting my own business. You have to multitask as a parent to get anything done…from preparing breakfast and lunch at the same time as you’re getting your kids dressed and leaving for school, to giving them baths at same time you’re preparing for dinner, and more. When you’re starting a new business, you’re doing 50 different things at once and you’re wearing several hats. Parents can’t stop halfway through making their kids lunch or drop them off half way to school, just like in business you can’t start 50 things and not complete any of them. Multitasking is key and doing it well is an art I hope to master one day.
Salt & Nectar: Many moms have great ideas for a business concept but don’t know where to start and aren’t really sure if it’s something that could become profitable. What’s your advice for putting it in motion?
Jessica Alba: Surround yourself with experts in your field of interest and ask questions! Learn from them. After gaining as much knowledge as you can about the marketplace and the opportunity, you should then target partners who can help you convert your idea into something tangible. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and try to build a team that complements your skill set.
I am not an environmental specialist. I am mom who cares. So no matter how much research I did and continue to do on eco-friendly and non-toxic living, I am not an expert in biochemistry. I found an expert in that field for creating the formulations for the products I envisioned. I also found experts in forming start-up companies and running e-commerce businesses. As a mom who relies on convenient online shopping, I knew the Internet offered new opportunities to build a brand and get product out there. I partnered with Brian Lee [co-founder of LegalZoom and ShoeDazzle] and Sean Kane [former PriceGrabber.com executive], who built the business model around my idea. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
Once all these pieces are in place, you will then be in a proper position to raise capital and launch your company. Despite being in a rough economic climate, there are still venture investors, private equity groups, banks, and individuals who are looking to give money to moms, women, and small businesses with unique ideas.
Salt & Nectar: You told us that when you first pitched the idea of eco-friendly products, people suggested that you instead focus on clothing, fragrance, and lines that are more typical for celebrities to launch. Despite this resistance to your concept, you weren’t deterred. Any advice for moms for staying the course after they receive the first of possibly many “NOs”?
Jessica Alba: It ultimately took me three years to see Honest come to life. I think it’s a good thing if the road doesn’t prove to be easy because you’re forced to defend why you’re doing it, what your intentions are, and refine your strategy. If I didn’t get so much initial pushback, I wouldn’t be as confident about Honest being on the right path today. In hindsight, the rejections were a blessing in disguise and I feel it was through that experience that I was able to assemble the best team possible to bring Honest to life.
Salt & Nectar: It’s no secret that the business world is male dominated. How did you prepare for and overcome the obstacles that women and moms are more likely to face when starting a company from the ground up?
Jessica Alba: It is intimidating. Because I’m an actress and because I’m a mom, I definitely encountered people who were like, “Oh geez, what does she know?” But I do know about diapers, I do know about housecleaning, and I do know that I want to put safe products on my child and use safe products in my house.
And, yes, it’s a fact that men have historically dominated the business world across almost every sector and category. Hopefully we will look up in a few years and see a more diverse landscape. But not to be deterred, we also must remember that women currently control 89% of household spending. So I know we have a better understanding of consumer behavior and desires, giving us a competitive edge. Reflect this in how you position and speak about your company. Find the hard facts and real data to back up these sentiments that as women we know what households want and need. This will lay the foundation and help open the door, but once you step inside move beyond those statistics and deliver a forward-thinking, original business plan.
Salt & Nectar: What are your recommended must-have resources for mompreneurs (besides Mary Poppins)?
Jessica Alba: I often fantasize about finding more hours in a day. Truly, having a good support system and people that can give you reliable and constructive criticism—whether an online community, family and friends, your partner—is a must. My husband Cash has been integral in my development as an entrepreneur. He listens to me vent, gives constructive criticism, and often helps me look at things from other perspectives. It’s important to have people who challenge and question you but also motivate you to find solutions.
Salt & Nectar: You must be great at juggling—handling your career as an actress, your work at Honest, and your role as mom. Any time management tips for other moms?
Jessica Alba: Because I start work the moment I wake up (I check my phone for new e-mails, my daily schedule, and other appointments), my mind is already moving a mile a minute and I find that I can’t focus on things in order to get out the door on time. So I pick my outfit out, Honor’s outfit out, and Haven’s outfit out the night before. I like Haven to have homemade baby food if I can do it, so I set aside time on Saturday or Sunday to make it for the entire week. For Honor, I cook her meals so I can use an ingredient for a few days. If I make broccoli or cauliflower, I make enough for different meals—sauté it in olive oil one day, serve it cold with cucumbers the next, blend it with marinara sauce or meatballs the following day, and finally stir fry it in ten minutes. It’s really about making efficient, creative use of your time.
Salt & Nectar: Although the company is only three months old to the public, you’ve been working on it for over three years. Based on the lessons you’ve learned as a mompreneur, what are your top three tips for moms out there looking to start a business?
Jessica Alba: Understanding the marketplace for your business is key. Realistic business expectations and coming to terms with the fact that it may be too much of a lofty dream and tailoring it appropriately. Sticking to your guns. If someone can persuade you to depart from you idea, it’s a sign that the business might not be the right fit for you.
Salt & Nectar: Any other secrets to your success as a mompreneur?
Jessica Alba: One secret is recognizing, accepting, and embracing that your business is always going to be a work in progress. The initial resistance to my idea made me take this huge concept I had and hone and edit it along the way to better reflect the realities of the economy, the marketplace, and even the requirements of the product formulations. Recently I found e-mails that I exchanged with people a few years ago—even a year ago—about my ideas, and it’s funny how much things have evolved from then. The values of Honest are the same as what I always wanted to create, but the scope of our focus is different. And today it’s expanding faster in areas that I didn’t anticipate penetrating until next year, like personal care. Another tip, which goes hand-in-hand with the first, is be nimble, listen to your customers, and respond to them by investing in and delivering products they want. All companies need to have a real dialogue and connection with the people they are serving and they should be prepared to iterate on their product based on the feedback they receive.