Jessica Alba had a few things to teach business students about entrepreneurship. Honestly.
The actress visited Bovard Auditorium on April 15 to talk about The Honest Company, which makes healthy, non-toxic products for families and households.
Alba, who launched the business with partners Brian Lee and Christopher Gavigan in 2012, spoke at the invitation of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and the USC Speakers Committee, as part of Greif Center co-director David Belasco’s class on the entrepreneurial mind-set.
Alba (Sin City, The Fantastic Four) never thought she would start a business. It wasn’t until she was married and pregnant with her first daughter that she began to realize just how toxic everyday products were.
When she couldn’t find truly non-toxic products for her baby, she decided to make them herself and sell them online. Fueled by the love for her children and certain that other parents would respond, she started pitching the idea. It was a real education, she said.
“People told me not to bother going up against the huge, established multi-national corporations that were selling these products. People also thought my idea already existed,” she recalled, adding that such a notion proved there was a market for such products.
And yet she was turned down by investors, including Lee, a serial entrepreneur and e-commerce guru she specifically targeted because of his work with e-commerce sites.
Let’s get serious
She also faced her own celebrity, which, she said, plays better in Los Angeles than in Silicon Valley.
“I could tell they were practically giggling at me when I walked in the door,” she said. “Like, ‘Look at the pretty actress who thinks she wants to start a company. How cute.’ ”
But she was serious. She went back and did more market research. She whittled her 55-page project down to 10 pages and returned to meet Lee, who by then had become a father himself and understood the need for a company like Alba’s. He signed on, and investors started paying attention.
The Honest Company currently has 250 employees and $150 million in revenue. It has been valued at $1 billion, she said, and has recently partnered with retail organizations like Whole Foods.
I pitched this idea to smart people with different business backgrounds and let them poke holes in it.
Alba told students wanting to start their own companies to be humble, to assemble a strong team and to accept early criticism well.
“I pitched this idea to smart people with different business backgrounds and let them poke holes in it,” she said. “Until they all said, ‘Hey, this is a good idea,’ it wasn’t ready.”
Greif, founder of the Greif Center and a seasoned entrepreneur, was impressed.
“She has the passion and the drive it takes to be a successful entrepreneur,” he said. “She didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and kept at it until she got the results she wanted.”
At the end of the Q&A conducted by student Savannah Roach, Belasco called on his students to line up and tell Alba what they each took away from the talk.
“Get a seat at the table, and let the boys take the notes,” one young woman said.
“Surround yourself with smart people,” another student offered.
“You guys, as students at USC, will have a much easier time of it than I had,” she said, adding that The Honest Company was hiring.
“Anyone need an internship this summer?” she asked. “Talk to us.”