In 2012, Jessica Alba co-founded the Honest Company with the goal of providing baby and home products made with ingredients that wouldn’t be a mystery and were ethically sourced. The company would help customers and their growing families make informed and healthy choices.
Today, Honest sells more than 100 consumer products that are available online and in more than 17,000 North American retail locations, with expansion into Europe on track for 2019. Alba and her team have raised $503 million in venture capital funds, including a $200 million round in 2017 that valued the company at under $1 billion.
The Honest Company has donated more than 14.7 million diapers and more than 2 million home products to families in need and more than 15,000 employees volunteer hours through its Honest to Goodness program. The company has also joined forces with organizations including Baby2Baby and Mount Sinai.
We caught up with Alba, who is also the New York Times bestselling author of The Honest Life, to ask her 20 Questions and find out what makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
Every day is different so it really depends on what I have going on. Usually, I kiss my kids and my husband and then I get the kids ready for the day. I cook them breakfast, do their hair, make sure they have everything they need for school. Then once the family is all ready, I’m either off to the gym or off to work.
2. How do you end your day?
I end the day with my family. Usually, I cuddle the kids for bedtime — I sing songs, read books, talk about their day and give the baby the bottle.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
When I read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, it really opened my eyes to how often business models need to change. No matter how much success a business has, the model constantly needs to be evaluated to protect that success. Even the most successful businesses are fragile and vulnerable. It’s not enough to rely on having a great product that people love. The supply chain and operations need to be in place to support the business growth.
When I launched The Honest Company, I thought we were the only ones going through some of these things, but Phil Knight made me see things in a whole different way.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way by Robin Gerber. She was such a strong woman. Her unwavering integrity and perseverance in the face of insurmountable challenges was really inspiring. She was so committed to the need for social justice and had such a clarity of purpose that she pushed through against all odds. Seeing the impact that she has had gave me an incredible amount of hope and determination that I could be successful.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
When I’m with my kids, I try not to think about work. When I’m at work, I stay focused on what’s going on in the office. When I’m with my husband for a date, he’s my priority. I also like to give my brain mini breaks. If I’m in back-to-back meetings, I’ll take a break and walk around the office or go to the bathroom, just to give myself a minute to recharge.
6. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always knew I wanted to be an actress. The passion for business came later when I knew I needed to start The Honest Company.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
Kindness goes a long way. Working with people who are condescending really limits a person’s ability to thrive. When you don’t feel heard it’s impossible to stay motivated. Having experiences with people who don’t let employees have a voice taught me how important it is to ensure you give everyone, no matter their title, space to feel heard.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
James Cameron was one of my early mentors, and he really taught me the importance of filling gaps and finding solutions to problems, regardless of whether you’re the most experienced or qualified in your own mind. He motivated me to go after everything I want and believe in.
When I decided to launch The Honest Company, I didn’t have any background in business, but I saw a need in an industry I felt passionate about, channeled James’s advice and started my own company.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
When I lived in Australia as a teenager it really opened my eyes and gave me a global perspective. It was the first time that I understood what it meant to be a global citizen. I started watching BBC and reading foreign newspapers and began to understand that there is so much more going on in the world then what we see day to day.
10. What inspires you?
Our customers inspire me. Every time we receive a letter about how The Honest Company has changed someone’s life, it inspires me to keep striving to further The Honest Company’s mission, helping people live happy, healthy lives.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
The Honest Company was my first business idea and it certainly wasn’t easy getting it off the ground. I don’t have a typical business background or degree, so I had to learn everything on the fly and I had to get over my own anxiety about not having the typical business trajectory or schooling. I doubled down on what I knew from my experience and made a point of partnering with people who had experience that I didn’t. It took time to refine my concept and find co-founders who believed in the mission as deeply as I did, but I knew this was a company that needed to exist and I didn’t stop until it did.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
Acting taught me so much. Most importantly, I learned that if you really want something you go after it and figure out a way to make it happen.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
Surround yourself with people that have different areas of expertise. As a startup, we all did everything and we were really scrappy. But as the business has grown, it’s been so important to have people that are experts in specific areas of the business. Not everyone is good at everything and it’s important to recognize and celebrate that.
14. What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
Just trust that someone who’s done it before knows what they are doing. If your gut is telling you that something is off, even if they’ve been there and done that, trust your gut. Even if someone has been successful in business, it doesn’t mean they are always right and it doesn’t mean they are relevant today. Business changes so quickly. Just because someone was successful before doesn’t guarantee they will be successful again.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Drink lots of water and get enough sleep. You are much more productive when you’re hydrated and rested.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
I don’t think there’s anything surprising that I use. I have apps for news, music, meditation, social media — all the normal things.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
It means work efficiently and be present when you’re at the office. But when you’re not at the office, be present doing whatever it is you are doing, whether that’s spending time with friends and family, or doing something that you love. Taking care of yourself and giving yourself a mental break is so important. If you don’t prioritize taking care of yourself you will burn out.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
Time management is key and you need to be very protective of your time. You can’t say yes to everything.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I ask questions. I’ll reach out to friends who work in different categories and see how they’ve tackled a challenge. It’s helpful to get perspectives outside of your industry and your business. Diversity in thought is so important.
20. What are you learning now? Why is that important?
I’m always learning. The Honest Company is constantly teaching me, especially when it comes to scaling the business. There’s a fine line knowing how fast to grow — the combination of art and science is key. With growth comes challenges, but I’m learning that challenges don’t define you. They provide you with an opportunity to grow and learn. They also allow you to be better prepared for the next challenge, whatever that may be.