Actress Jessica Alba co-founded The Honest Company in 2011, to make eco-friendly baby and home products. Three years later, the company just announced $70 million in new funding at nearly a $1 billion valuation, and is looking toward an initial public offering. Alba, one of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in 2012, spoke with Fortune about Honest Co. and what it's like to raise money from venture capitalists as a celebrity.
What goal did you set out to accomplish when you founded the company?
I really found a problem that needed to be addressed and no one was out there doing it, but it makes so much sense. It makes sense to have safe, healthy non-toxic products. All my friends were at an age where they were thinking about starting a family and a lot of them had a difficult time getting pregnant. There are a lot of hormone disruptors in cleaning products and things that are off-putting to your hormones. Then it was like this ripple effect of people not wanting to be sick and wanting inexpensive products that looked good and worked well.
Did you ever think your idea would grow into a brand worth nearly $1 billion?
I really didn’t put a dollar amount to it. My goal was to reach as many people globally [as possible] and really redefine the idea of a family brand. I didn’t have any values or limitations on the possibility of what that was.
How do you think your role at the company would change after a potential IPO?
I am still quite hands-on and I still micro-manage probably a little too much. The details are what set us apart and me being meticulous about the details matters. It makes us feel different to everyone else out there. As long as I am the customer, I am going to be involved in marketing, packaging and design. I don’t see my role changing a whole lot, but I guess I won’t be packing boxes anymore. In the beginning, we were packing our own boxes and doing initial product tests by throwing them around in a parking lot to see if they would break. Now we have people to do those things properly. (Laughs)
Do you think your celebrity status helped you or hurt you when you went out to raise funds for Honest Co.?
When I go into rooms and talk to venture capitalists, I approach it really as a mom and as a consumer. I have a decent amount of knowledge on ingredients and toxic chemicals. I can dive deep on it and I have the day-to-day of having two kids. We are a lifestyle brand that is catering to customers like me. I am the millennial mom. It makes sense when I am in the room talking about the brand and the product. A lot of [venture capitalists] are men and have wives and they say, “My wife does the exactly the same thing.” They can all relate to the needs and desires and what was out there and having a brand that really spoke to me as a modern woman.
What about when it comes to marketing the brand?
I get free marketing. I have an authentic relationship with media. When I go on The Tonight Show or Ellen or some other show, I have already been on there seven or eight times so it is nice to be able to have that relationship with media and I do have that connections so it has saved on costs.
How do you juggle Honest Co. with your acting career and your family?
It’s an imperfect balance and I am not sure if I do it very well. I spend most of my time at the office, but my kids' health and well-being is my priority. I talk to my [business] partners about my responsibility with my children. I have worked around board meetings and conferences. With email, I am still involved in the process of design and it is easy to share files with Dropbox. I can still work on product development that way.
What’s it like to shoot a movie while running a company?
I have a movie out now called Sin City. You shoot it for six days over five months. That is all it took. Movies don’t really take that much time. I can go for a week and come back. It is really not time-consuming like a television show where you are on set 14 hours a day, five days a week for ten-and-a-half months. It is a difficult balance and I feel a bit crazy sometimes.
What is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about you and the company?
People think we are a baby company. We are a lifestyle company and it is about living a healthy life. A lot of journalists think we are a baby company just because we sell diapers and wipes, but we are really expanding into categories that are really adult focused.
Is turning the company into a lifestyle brand one of your goals with the latest round of funding?
Definitely. We want to get into beauty and skin care and we are also looking into home. We are exploring building out our deck and thinking about how we can build these products in an affordable price points in all these categories. We are also thinking about international expansion and going into China and Europe.
What’s the best advice you got along the way when building Honest Co.?
If you are going to fail, fail fast and move on. Learn from your failures and move on. There are several failures that we had along the way. We didn’t even test our website when we launched. We didn’t have the technology to really change orders in the first month or two. What you got is what you got, if you didn’t like it you got a full refund. We learned through our mistakes. Luckily, there hasn’t been anything that we haven’t been able to learn and move and grow from.