By Renuka Methil
One of America’s most successful self-made women, Hollywood actor Jessica Alba’s journey to entrepreneurship began 13 years ago. Her business, The Honest Company, debuted on the Nasdaq in May this year. In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, the Los Angeles-based star speaks about living consciously, taking ownership and her new YouTube series, Getting Honest.
Q. Being a newcomer to business when you first started, how did you pick up the tricks of trade and enterprise? What were the significant challenges?
A. One of the biggest challenges I faced early on was doubting myself – doubting that I could do it if I didn’t have a business degree. I navigated through it by listening, learning and trusting myself on what matters most. I think there is also this assumption that starting a business is easy when you are a celebrity, but success in one industry doesn’t necessarily open doors in another. I had the drive and I had the idea, but I still needed the funding and the infrastructure. When I was pitching room after room of (mostly) men to raise initial seed funding, I was also pregnant with my second child. Some thought I should be a spokesmodel for other brands, others thought I should start smaller. That’s the part of business where being an actor helps: rejection. The more I was rejected, the more I honed my pitch. I am also really driven by my curiosity, I’m constantly asking questions and I surround myself with people who have different strengths than I do, so I’m always learning and growing.
Q. The Honest Company has just debuted on the Nasdaq. Where do you see it in the next five years?
A. We are currently in a quiet period… What I can say is we are excited to be able to continue to shift the clean lifestyle conversations in the industry – driving our mission forward – inspiring everyone to love living consciously. We made the decision to become a public company because it will help enable us to do just that – driving further accessibility and product innovation, so that we can meet consumers however they want to shop – every day, at every age and through every life stage. The possibilities for an ‘Honest’ world are significant.
Q. What were your own learnings, and the things you would do differently if you had to do it all over again?
A. I think that when you are building a business, doing something you truly believe in, you just want everything to be perfect from day one, but that’s impossible to achieve. The process of building a business is complex and comes with a lot of trial and error. You learn to pivot as yougo.SolookingbackonwhatIwoulddodifferently, I would try to be a little kinder to myself in the process. I’m such a perfectionist and I was learning on the job so I was really hard on myself if something didn’t go exactly as I thought it should.
Also, I know now that I didn’t need to be insecure about being the only woman at the C-level. I think if I did it all over again, I would really own that this business was my idea and be proud of that. It took me a long time to stop being shy and apologetic and take more ownership over the conversation. I started this company, I had the vision and I brought the right people together to make it happen.
Q. What are the top three challenges facing female entrepreneurs?
A. The first is a lack of representation. When you don’t see people like yourself in the room, it can be hard to feel like you deserve to be there. That creates a feeling of insecurity that can hold women back.
Secondly, women get less funding from investors. Not only do they get funding less often, but when they do, they get fewer dollars. There’s a comfort level investors have with what they know and they are used to seeing male entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately, when it comes to investment, it’s not just about having a great idea or a great business, it’s about whether or not you can get the people in the room to believe in you and women have historically been at a disadvantage.
Finally, there’s an unfair expectation around ways women should and should not act. There are social norms that people associate with women and a way they expect women to behave. In business, however, to get things done, you need to be assertive and exhibit boss behavior – it’s what moves the needle but society doesn’t necessarily appreciate this type of behavior when it comes from a woman. The way people want to see women act doesn’t always align with the traits you need to push your idea, vision and business forward.
Q. Be it cinema or business, what are the fundamental traits that you need to bring to the table to shine in both?
A. You have to be prepared and bring your best self to work everyday, but you also have to be able to go with the flow and pivot when necessary.
Q. With Covid-19 lockdowns, how did your business fare?
A. The Honest Company was built around the ethical values of transparency, trust, sustainability, and a deep sense of purpose. As part of these values, we have always been focused on the importance of omnichannel and accessibility; during the Covid-19 lockdowns, this approach helped us to maintain the strength of our business. We manage an agile global supply chain of highly- qualified, third-party manufacturing and logistics partners that allows us to scale quickly and effectively. Because of this, we were able to mitigate disruptions caused by the pandemic.
As an essential business, we were able to get our products to our customers regardless of Covid-19 lockdowns due to our omnichannel strategy. Additionally, as a nimble, modern company with internal labs, we have the ability to pivot quickly to adapt
to and meet the consumer’s needs through modern innovation. Because of this, throughout the pandemic, we were able to pay close attention to trends and respond as they evolved, shifting focus toward sanitization, wellness, and self-care. In fact, in less than six months after the onset of Covid-19, we created and launched a new Stay Safe cleaning collection, a complete set of cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting solutions. We will continue to take a similar approach as everything continues to open back up as well.
We also continued to prioritize our community and give back efforts. During Covid-19, these efforts focused on our ongoing partnership with Baby2Baby as well as our March of Dimes partnership. I am proud to say that since the launch of the company, we have donated over 25 million products to families in need.
Q. Are there any upcoming personal creative projects, besides new films?
A. During Covid, I launched my YouTube channel and a series called, Getting Honest, where I sit down with guests from different industries and we have intimate, funny, raw, real conversations about whatever is on our mind at the moment. We often do something fun, like a skincare or makeup routine, while we are chatting. It’s a really casual but entertaining way of talking about all the things – motherhood, business, health, family, etc. I’ve had some amazing guests like Alex Rodriguez, Kate Hudson and Molly Sims and many more to come. It’s been such a fun, creative way to create this community and use my platform to have really honest conversations around what matters most to people.
Q. What does the word ‘impact’ mean to you?
A. It means making a difference and leaving the world better than you found it.
Q. You were the official spokesperson of the ‘for Tomorrow’ project for sustainable innovators with UNDP and Hyundai. Your advice to the next generation of female leaders on the African continent?
A. As I reflect back on my own journey, I wish someone had told me early on that no one would give me permission to lead or to challenge the status quo. So my advice to the next generation of female leaders is don’t wait for someone to give you permission. Trust your gut and, if you believe in your idea, go for it. Don’t let one rejection stop you from achieving your goals. In fact, let the hurdles motivate you. And always remember what the great Eleanor Roosevelt said: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”