Money & Career

Jessica Alba on turning your big idea into a business

By: Andrea Karr
Jessica Alba The Honest Company

Christopher Gavigan and Jessica Alba Author: Andrea Karr Credits: Getty Images

Money & Career

Jessica Alba on turning your big idea into a business

By: Andrea Karr

Jessica Alba built a $1 billion business, The Honest Company. Here's how it all went down—according to Alba and her business partner, Christopher Gavigan.

It all began in 2008 when Jessica Alba was pregnant with her first child. She used baby detergent to prewash onesies that she'd received as gifts and developed red welts on her skin. When she researched the ingredients in the detergent on the Internet, she realized that so many of her everyday products—from laundry detergent and floor cleaner to hand wash and shampoo—contained petrochemicals, formaldehydes, flame retardants and irritating fragrances.

The kicker? There were no products on the market that were safe, affordable and pretty to look at. "A lot of people want a safe and effective product, but often alternative products don't work," says Alba. "They smell like someone made them in their backyard and are five times more expensive."

So Alba decided to take matters into her own hands. With the help of Christopher Gavigan, the former CEO of non-profit organization Healthy Child Healthy World and author of the bestselling book of the same name, she launched The Honest Company, now with a valuation of $1 billion.

Here are Alba and Gavigan's tips for creating a successful business on your own from the seed of a great idea.

Tip #1: Know the purpose of your brand and what makes it special. 

"In a lot of those early brand conversations, Jessica was really adamant about brand and tone and getting the personality right," says Gavigan. "We’re in a highly commoditized market place in the categories that we’re in, so how to you stand out? How do you matter? What’s the reason to believe in the brand outside of getting the product right?"

In the case of The Honest Company, the products are cute enough to put on your bathroom counter, and the mission is to "ensure that everyone has access to safe and healthy products so they can live a better life, globally," says Alba.

Tip #2: Find great business partners.

"I knew my strengths and weaknesses and what I could bring to the table," says Alba. "I went and sought out people who were experts in their respective fields and together we have a really strong team. So it’s Christopher, who is the expert in the safer, better-for-you ingredients, and the dangers of certain ingredients and chemicals. Brian Lee created the first e-commerce business model and I knew I wanted to launch the business online with a subscription business." Lee was also in charge of raising venture capital. "Then I needed a day-to-day operator to manage all of the different teams to make sure that we are delivering product on time and our customers are happy and we can keep the lights on and pay the rent. So it's important to have all of these different partners to complement what I can bring to the table, which is overall vision."

Tip #3: Nurture talent.

One of the biggest challenges when starting a new business is finding talent and investing in that talent, even if you can't afford to pay big salaries from day one. "In the beginning, you don’t have the money to invest in people who have been doing it for a long time. You have start-up money. So it’s tough," says Alba. Christopher adds, "the only thing you can give them is your time and continually invest in the belief story and the growth story and the vision." You have to care for your employees and help them to believe in the mission, because that's the only reason they'll stick around if they don't have a big pay check to start.

Tip #4: Put your customers first.

Listen to your customers and stay in communication with them, say Alba and Gavigan. "I personally call about 15 customers a week just to listen and talk—the ones that are having problems and the ones that are great successes and the ones that just recently joined," says Gavigan. "You learn so much from talking to them and we use our social platform almost like a chat platform, so extracting, listening and turning that information back to the product development team."

Alba also believes in creating a community. "It’s not just about people buying our products," she says. "It’s about giving them information and educating them. The info that we have on our blog and how active we are on social media is just as important as making stuff that people can buy."

The Honest Company just expanded to Canada in over 700 retail locations (Indigo, Loblaws, Sobeys, Canadian Tire, Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Bed Bath and Beyond and West Coast Kids), so give the products a try and send in your feedback via Facebook or Twitter!

And in case you're curious:

Jessica Alba's favourite product is the Organic Healing Balm, $15, available at Indigo. Christopher Gavigan loves the Honest Laundry Detergent, $20, at Indigo.

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