When Jessica Alba first started pitching her idea for the Honest Company in 2009, a lot of people wrote her off. It wasn’t like other starlets were running serious startups, and no one really believed she could do it. She heard again and again: “Why don’t you just make a perfume?” Alba had to persist past the naysayers and the doubters for three years before she had the right partners and resources to launch the brand in beta in 2012.
These days, those who passed on Alba’s early pitch are surely regretting it. The company’s $1.7 billion valuation has qualified it as a “unicorn” in the startup world, and at just five years old Honest has only hinted at its potential for product and market expansion. It’s clear: Alba, her co-founders and their investors are sitting on one of the greatest success stories in business history.
Looking in from the outside, it’s easy to take Alba’s achievement for granted. But let’s remember that like any of us, she’s had to overcome a ton of obstacles to build her business according to her vision. There’s a lot we can learn from taking Alba’s lead and walking right through that door she’s holding open. Ahead, three essential lessons from her success.
Jessica Alba didn’t build the Honest Company alone, but she did have the vision for it. At the foundation of her empire is her real passion and experience as a mom, which drove her to pursue something no one thought was possible. As the story famously goes, Alba had been cleaning her newborn’s clothes with a detergent her mother suggested when she broke out into a rash on her arm. She was appalled to learn the detergent’s ingredients had changed radically since childhood, and that harmful chemicals could actually be found in many of her household products. Not about to expose her baby to toxic ingredients (many of which were banned in Europe) she struggled to find safe, effective and beautiful alternatives. There had to be a better way.
Even though Alba was already a multimillionaire, she wasn’t interested in creating products for an exclusively high-end audience. She wanted moms who shopped at Costco and Target to be able to afford to shop Honest, and didn’t think they should have to go to Whole Foods to find something safe. In fact, Alba herself didn’t want to have to go to Whole Foods for regular purchases of diapers, soaps and cleaning supplies. Like any busy mom, it would make her life much easier to simply have these staple items delivered. Alba’s mindset aligned with the average American mom, so her message resonated on a mass scale. Part of what’s earned Honest Company such a high valuation is that so many customers became subscribers, providing predictable, repeating revenue and upfront cashflow.
Honest Company has continued to grow despite some product missteps. More important than always getting it right, the company isn’t afraid to admit to being wrong. Alba and her team learned how to course correct early on, when customers complained about their first plant-based baby wipe. Once feedback reached Alba, sales and production on the product came to an immediate halt. The team was able to respond quickly, going back to the drawing board and introducing a new wipe within weeks, which has since become one of Honest’s bestselling products. It’s this kind of commitment to providing the best that creates deep brand trust, allowing Honest to effortlessly expand into the beauty category and weather controversial press critiques. Women who shop Honest know that at the end of the day, Alba and her team won’t let them down.