Entrepreneurs

Jessica Alba felt 'so alone' in the early days of her company

Actress Jessica Alba speaks at 'Inc. Presents: The Honest Company' during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at the Austin Convention Center on March 15, 2015 in Austin, Texas.
Heather Kennedy | Getty Images
Actress Jessica Alba speaks at 'Inc. Presents: The Honest Company' during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at the Austin Convention Center on March 15, 2015 in Austin, Texas.

Movie star-turned-business mogul Jessica Alba just celebrated the sixth birthday of her business, The Honest Company. The company — with its arsenal of products ranging from patterned diapers to organic belly balm — has pivoted Alba's reputation as one of an A-list actress to an established entrepreneur.

But at the beginning of building her business, despite her fame, Alba admits it wasn't easy.

"I just felt so alone on this journey," Alba says on the CNN podcast, "Boss Files with Poppy Harlow."

Alba admitted it was difficult to assert herself: "It's tough when you're the only woman in the room, in the board room" Alba says.

In the beginning, she was one of three co-founders, who were all men, she explains. She says there was a difference in priorities.

"It's not that they didn't want to [add women to the board]," Alba tells Harlow. "When you're thinking month to month about your financial goals, and that's more important than building a long-term vision and strategy, it's just a different mentality on how to build something."

She adds that her husband, Cash Warren gave her good advice when he reminded her of the importance of listening and learning, but Alba says, "there's also a point where you've got to put your foot down."

"You have to trust your gut and you have to know that diversity and thought is important," she says. "And also, I shouldn't be the only one who understands the consumer and cares about the consumer. But the issue was, you know the mindset was, that when you build something from nothing, is you're really having the business revolve around a business model, versus building a brand and being consumer-centric.

"So there was this tension," she continues, "which I think probably could be a healthy tension initially when you start something, but ultimately if you want to build something that's going to last, you have to build a brand and you have to think of the consumer first, and that's what I got back around to."

Last year, The Honest Company tapped former Clorox executive Nick Vlahos as its new CEO.

"That's how he thinks about building a brand," she tells Harlow.

In the past year, the company has gone through some shakeups, including a change in leadership and the elimination of 80 jobs in early 2017. Currently, while 65 percent of The Honest Company's 400 employees are women, only three of nine executives (including Alba) are female, CNNMoney reports.

So now, another change that is being implemented in the company is an increased effort in helping women within the company rise up.

"We're also creating a program inside of the company, so no matter where you come in, at any entry-level job or up, there's a path for you…to get you up to where you want to go in your life, and up to that C-suite executive capabilities," Alba says. "So we're going to have a curriculum, and a program and a mentorship in-house, inside of The Honest Company, for women specifically. It's necessary."

The Honest Company recently unrolled its first employee resource group, Women Excelling in Leadership and Living, according to CNNMoney.

Alba would also like more women on the the board. "[I]t's incredibly important ... it's everything," she says.

Alba, star of hit movies like "Fantastic Four" and mom to Honor, 9, Haven, 6 and Hayes, 1 month, started to form the idea of the The Honest Company around the time her first child was born in June 2008. Alba experienced an allergic reaction when using a laundry detergent marketed towards babies, so she started researching the chemicals in every day products, and even lobbied Congress for chemical reform. The company launched with 17 products in 2012, with sales reaching $10 million in its first year, Vanity Fair reports.

Now, Alba's company offers everything from "eco-friendly" diapers to bug spray, and typically lists out the ingredients used in its products as well as a list of chemicals that are not in the item. So far, The Honest Company has raised $303 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.

While the business has experienced success in its six years since launching, it's also faced setbacks. In October, with its Series E raise, the company saw a dip in valuation, Fortune reports, from $1.7 billion to less than $1 billion.

The business has also been slapped with several lawsuits and voluntary product recalls. One lawsuit alleged that The Honest Company misled customers over ingredients in a number of its products, and the company agreed to pay a $1.55 million nationwide class action suit in June 2017. Alba's company also settled in a second labeling lawsuit in June for an undisclosed amount. The company has also previously had to recall packages of baby wipes over concerns of mold and baby powder over the fears of skin and eye infections.

But, spoken like a true entrepreneur, Alba touts the value of learning from your mistakes. Self-made billionaires, including tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson have also preached the importance of failing every once in awhile.

"I think the most valuable lessons actually come from making mistakes and going down the wrong path. Now, making the same mistake three times, that's when you've some problems. But, you know, figuring it out for yourself, sometimes you just have to go through it. You can't always learn from other people," Alba says.

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