Jessica Alba on Being Brave, Dealing With Self-Doubt and Overcoming Major Breakdowns
The co-founder of The Honest Company discusses the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, what she's learned and what she sees happening next.
Editor’s note: Builders Series features no-holds-barred in-depth interviews with female leaders in different industries to give you insight into what successful women have done to push through feeling stuck, frustrated and uncreative in order to build incredible brands and businesses.
A lot of entrepreneurs, myself included, have enjoyed watching Jessica Alba’s pivot from the big screen to co-founder of The Honest Company. While she is still an actress, she is also a leading businesswoman, having landed the cover of Forbes’ “Self-Made Women” issue and being named in the top 20 of Fast Company’s "Most Creative People in Business." She’s also an advocate and a New York Times bestselling author.
She was at the top of my list of women to interview on their journeys as builders, so dive in below to learn about the ups and downs of founding The Honest Company, what she’s learned and what she sees happening next.
What have you built, and what inspired you to build it?
A mission-driven company that offers more than 100 safe and effective products – across a range of categories including diapers and baby, personal care, household cleaning and beauty – designed for families everywhere.
The idea came from my authentic experiences as a conscious consumer and a new parent. Making a happy, healthy home for my loved ones became my priority. Like many entrepreneurs, I saw there was a need that wasn’t being met, so I had to create the company I was looking for.
Were you born a builder, or did you have to learn to be one?
I am a born builder. I grew up pretty fearless with an understanding that if you want something in life, you have to be creative in going about achieving it. You’re not always going to have an easy path to success, but if it’s important enough you’ll figure out a way to make it work.
Who was the first woman you looked up to, and why?
That would undoubtedly be my mom and my grandmother, who are some of the toughest and most resilient women I know. When it comes to building my business, I’ve looked to lessons learned from Eleanor Roosevelt. Her perseverance in the face of insurmountable challenges was really inspiring. She didn’t let any hurdles get in her way, 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.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
Having the courage and tenacity to believe I could start a consumer products company. Pitching Honest to potential investors was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced, but even in the face of rejection, I was constantly motivated by my desire to create this company. No one had any expectations of me in business, and it made me more fearless.
When have you broken down, personally or professionally, and how did you break through?
A lot of my major breakdowns happened before I started the company. I hit many roadblocks, false starts, had to find the right business partners and spent time and money on different iterations of the business that didn’t come to fruition. It took about four years of struggling before I was able to find the right business partners to even start Honest and get it off the ground. In hindsight, I realize that each lesson that I learned during these years brought me one step closer to making Honest a reality. With every challenge comes an opportunity to grow and learn.
What makes you doubt yourself, and how do you manage it?
I’ve had to get over my own insecurity about not having the typical business trajectory or schooling. My education has always come from learning as I go, and jumping into tasks headfirst, whether it be in entertainment or in business. I’ve overcome that by leaning in and being realistic about what I’m good at and not good at, and making a point of partnering with people who have experience and expertise in fields that I don’t.
How do you know when to leave someone or something?
I sometimes second-guess my gut when it comes to parting ways with a person or an idea. Even if I have a gut feeling or an inkling, I need to have a lot of evidence to point me in a new direction. It takes me a long time for me to wrap my head around leaving, so there has to be many different ways that it sinks in -- it’s not something that happens immediately or linearly.
How do you practice being brave?
Anytime I step outside of my comfort zone and into unknown territory, that feels brave to me. It’s brave to know that you're not always going to be successful, but you do it anyways.
Knowing what you know now, was it worth it?
What can you see yourself building next?
Building Honest into a truly global brand. That means continuing the journey of taking Honest from what was once a startup into a brand that meets the everyday needs of the modern customer who cares about quality, transparency and effectiveness -- no matter where they live.