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An Inside Look at The Honest Company with Founder Jessica Alba

by Rahim Kanani | rahimkanani | Rahim Kanani Media Group, Inc
Sunday, 14 September 2014 20:04 GMT

Credit: flickr/JD Lasica | Actress Jessica Alba, co-founder of The Honest Company, at TechCrunch Disrupt in September 2012.

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We receive up to 5,000 calls a day and, unlike any other family brand, we use that information to pivot and iterate on product and process constantly,” explained Jessica Alba, founder of The Honest Company. In an interview, we discussed the founding of the company, its evolution over the years, the increasing trend of organic products more broadly, challenges she faced along the way to success, and much more. 

Jessica Alba is founder of The Honest Company, which offers eco-friendly baby diapers, wipes, bath and body care products, and non-toxic cleaning products. Alba is also a Golden Globe-nominated actress whose career includes roles in films such as "Fantastic Four" and "Little Fockers," as well as television series like "Dark Angel," "The Office" and "Entourage."

What was the experience or moment that gave rise to the idea of The Honest Company, and what was the original vision when you launched in January 2012? 

When I was pregnant, my mom recommended a baby detergent that made me break out in a rash when I tested it. My mom used this product when I was a kid, but I realized that if I had this reaction, then how could it be safe for my baby? The more I looked into eco-friendly family products, the more “greenwashing” I discovered: Packaging and promises implied they were non-toxic and natural, but they used fragrance and ingredients that were anything but. Now that we have so much information about the harmful effects of toxic chemicals on children’s growth and well-being, I wanted to create an option in the marketplace that parents could trust to make better, safer choices for their families.

The Honest Company is the only family goods brand serving the complete range of household needs with products that are totally safe and non-toxic, accessible in price and availability, truly effective and designed to change the perception of eco-friendly style. I was advised to start with only one product, but I knew from my own experience that to serve families and establish the vision, we would need a broader selection. We created and produced 17 products for launch and we continue to make everything that we sell.

In the last couple of years, how has the company evolved or expanded, and to what do you credit that growth and success? 

Like our kids, we’ve grown so much in such a short time. Since our initial product offering, we’ve launched the health and wellness category and expanded our existing categories to offer over 80 products. After two years in business, our latest investment round has brought us up to $52 million in funding. Our first year revenues were around $12 million. Currently, we’re reaching north of $50 million in revenue with a run rate to do over $100 million. We now have just under 300 employees in our new office and a new customer service center helping to take us to the next level.

Finding the right partners has been key to our continued success. With Christopher Gavigan, Brian Lee and Sean Kane, I’ve found partners that complement my skill set with their own expertise to maintain the clarity of the vision we’ve established from the beginning.

As a social media user, I’ve also seen how maintaining an organic connection with our Honest parents through tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest affects our business on a daily level. We get honest feedback about how our products change families’ lives for the better, alleviating symptoms of chronic respiratory illness, allergies and dermatological issues. Consumer communication constantly inspires us to improve and innovate in ways that address the way families live today. We receive up to 5,000 calls a day and, unlike any other family brand, we use that information to pivot and iterate on product and process constantly. 

How would you characterize the trend of organic products more broadly, and why do you think more natural options are taking hold in the minds of consumers? 

With so much research on the harmful effects of toxic chemicals available to the parents and the public at large, we’re now informed consumers and there’s just no turning back. Legislative solutions to protect our most vulnerable citizens are at a standstill with congressional gridlock and corporate influence, so consumers are making ourselves heard through the marketplace. With The Honest Company, we’re providing a better, safer choice that’s affordable, effective and stylish enough to be seen in your home with the rest of your decor. For so long, eco-friendly options came with judgment or were seen as a compromise. We’re offering a real alternative to that.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome since launching the company, and what were some of the lessons you learned the hard way?

I believed that there was a real opportunity for my idea, but I had to overcome a lot of self-doubt about establishing and running a business. I wanted to ensure I did my research on the marketplace to support my experience and partnered with people who were clear about creating a sustainable business model, which took years of rejection and patience. I like to say I went to the business school of Brian Lee and every day has been a learning experience.

At the company, we like to say we’re honest, not perfect. We really listen to our customers and our internal teams to pivot as quickly as possible when it comes to addressing any challenges. For example, we heard a lot of feedback from parents about our wipes, which were a key item for our launch. We knew how much it meant for the business as well as the brand to do them right, so we pulled the wipes, reformulated and re-launched them within four months. We listened to our audience and now they’re a bestseller.

When you think about what it means to be a responsible company in the 21st century, what comes to mind?

Consumers are not only more informed but also more conscious than ever. We want to know where our money goes and we want to know that companies pursue purpose as much as profit. The Honest Company is a certified B Corporation that prioritizes sustainability and social responsibility in our business model. We believe that as members of the community, we’re here to make it better together. To date, we’ve donated over 1200 employee hours, 536,000 products and have helped 50,000 families in need. We hope that kind of data may one day be as eagerly anticipated as a company’s quarterly earnings.

Finally, looking ahead to the future of The Honest Company, what kind of ambitions do you have for the company over the next 5 or 10 years?

The Honest Company is looking forward to being the number-one trusted global family lifestyle brand for the new generation of consumers: they’re totally diverse and connected in every possible way. As this generation continues to evolve, we’ll continue to innovate and address their needs. We only want to be more accessible to more families and give more children an opportunity to thrive and contribute to their communities in their own way. We’re strategically launching new product categories and partnering with brick and mortar retailers like Target to extend the reach of our digital-based business. With every new product category we’ve introduced, we’ve seen such a positive response that shows how much of a lifestyle this can truly be.