The First Time Jessica Alba Pitched Her Now-Unicorn Startup, It Failed. Here's How She Pivoted
From "not very promising" to a $1 billion valuation.
If you want to nail your investor pitch on the first try, learn from a wildly successful founder’s early days. Jessica Alba’s startup The Honest Company is a veritable success — approaching over $350 million in sales during a year in which many companies struggled — but venture capitalists turned up their noses to the idea at first.
In 2009, Alba had a real issue: She couldn’t find baby products for her newborn that were guaranteed to be safe and eco-friendly. After having an allergic reaction to one of the allegedly baby-safe detergents she bought, she developed her idea the same way many successful entrepreneurs get started: She pitched building the solution she herself wished was on the market.
Alba pitched serial entrepreneur Brian Lee on her idea, who reportedly passed after saying it wasn't “very promising.” The feeling that others don’t see potential in you or your business idea is a familiar frustration for budding entrepreneurs. At the time, Alba remarked that she felt nobody took her seriously as an entrepreneur, or even believed in her idea, even though she knew there would be demand.
But just five years later, The Honest Company reached unicorn status, valued at over one billion dollars. What changed in those five years that let her take her failed pitch to becoming a success story?
To perfect your pitch, experiment
Fast forward to 2012. Alba is now in Washington, lobbying for an update to reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. Buoyed by her growing knowledge on the subject, she went back to Lee and pitched him again.
This time, her deck was much more concise, down to less than 30 minutes from start to finish. In a world where most entrepreneurs give up after a rejection or two, Alba instead had spent the years between their two meetings pitching her idea to friends, getting holes poked in her positioning,and answering each and every supply chain question that arose.
Another change had happened over the last three years: Venture capitalists like Lee, whom she was pitching, had all started young families. Alba’s pitch was rock solid, and as an added bonus her prospective investors wanted the product themselves.
Lee said yes to the second pitch and helped Alba secure additional investments. The first year The Honest Company was in business, it reported an astonishing $12 million in revenue, a number that has only increased each year. After facing initial rejection on her pitch, Alba’s decision to persevere has led The Honest Company to dramatic success.
How to push past initial failure
Failure is part of every entrepreneur’s journey. When you care deeply about an idea, it can feel hard when you encounter people who don’t share or see your vision. Here are a few tips to stay the course when things aren’t going your way at first.
Surround yourself with loving criticism
Alba recruited friends at every step of the way who served as her sounding board. These people didn’t baby her and give her false hope; they asked the hard questions that exposed each and every possible weakness. Rely on trusted friends and confidantes to give you tough love, and your pitch will come off stronger to those who will have the final say.
Know what your customer wants
At first, everyone told Alba she should start with one product, then expand once that was successful. But this didn’t gel with Alba’s vision of a complete line of baby-safe products; the founder knew parents who wanted clean products wanted a brand that could provide multiple solutions.
Ultimately, Alba ignored the conventional advice and launched with 17 products, which many people believed was too many. But because she didn’t compromise on that, either to venture capitalists or herself, the launch was a total success.
Believe in your idea
Alba knew from personal experience that this was an idea with solid demand. There was a real gap in the market that she herself experienced, and she believed in her ability to fulfill that demand. She just needed to convince investors. That self-belief helped her overcome failures and turn negative feedback into fuel to grow even further.
You will almost certainly encounter pushback, like Alba did, no matter what stage you are in your entrepreneurial journey. By bolstering yourself with the knowledge that your idea is good regardless of how others may value it, you will give yourself the strength to continue when you don’t succeed right away.
One of the hardest things to overcome as an entrepreneur is staying positive in the face of rejection. When you encounter failure, think of founders like Alba who have persevered to bring their visions to life. Get help from those you trust the most, blaze your own trail and you’ll soon see movement toward turning your dreams into reality.
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