On November 14, Jessica Alba sat down with Marie Claire’s Editor-in-Chief, Sally Holmes, for an insightful conversation at MC’s 2022 Power Trip summit, a networking conference designed to bring together some of the country’s most influential businesswomen to connect, inspire, and collaborate.
During the discussion, the founder and Chief Creative Officer of The Honest Company talked the audience through the “really, really not easy” journey of taking her company from the private sector to a publicly traded one in 2021. “It was a really brutal experience. They really do try to throw as many banana peels in front of you as humanly possible," Alba said. "And I would say that there's probably no one better to navigate banana peels than a woman in business.”
“We get these things thrown at us, left, right, and center. And it's about getting the team motivated to power through and push through as much work as it was. 'Cause it's a brutal amount of work.”
The entrepreneur also opened up about her experience as the youngest Latina to ring the Nasdaq bell, her strategy on guiding a publicly traded company, and more. Read on for highlights from Alba during her conversation with Holmes, below.
On Alba’s relationship to her work after more than 10 years:
“I used to be in parallel with the business, but as I've developed over the years my person, my inner self, my connection to my soul, I guess, my identity isn't as tied to the health of the business. I realize how, as much as you want to control everything down to the nth degree, when you bring in partners—and certainly when you take other people's money—it will inevitably take on a life of its own.”
She continued: “So it basically was a lesson in partnering with people that have as much integrity as you do. And I just thought that was interesting. When you think about business or life or anything that you want to do where you inevitably have to be in partnership with someone else, even friendship, you can be your whole self bringing your authentic self to the table every day. But are they? And so I think with me in the business… I was so hard on myself for so long and then I got to a place where I gave myself some grace. Like, I can only do so much. I can’t make up for others' lack of.
“I used to be, up until not too long ago, wildly uncomfortable with taking in anything that was good. I felt so undeserving. So I think that's another thing: Maybe when there [are] so few of us at the table in those positions of power, especially—you know, we do make up 50 percent of the population—but we're so wildly underrepresented in business in a lot of power rooms. You don't see yourself, you feel like maybe you don't deserve to be there. And that's fake news, right? It's the conditioning that we're used to, that we grew up with, that we have to unwind. ...It's been an amazing journey and very fulfilling. It's cool. It's cool how it can take on so many different waves as you grow.”
On guiding the strategy of a publicly traded company with expansion:
“I guess the strategy as a public company is: What it is privately? Which is, what are the biggest sectors that affect your health in the biggest way? So you look at market share and you're like, Is this gonna be a $2 million business or is it a $50 million business?”
“And if you're gonna put out the same amount of effort, go after the $50 million business rather than a $2 million business, because it's just a better ROI at the end of the day. And then, can you really differentiate, can you really stand up against competition? Is there a real reason for you to be there? And can you do it at a price that's within reach? Because there [are] a lot of things we can do for, like, a million bucks, but if you're trying to make it accessible, can you scale the idea? And so that's usually how we approach the strategy, and regardless of whether the investor base is in the public or private [sector], that pretty much gets their buy-in.”
On what it was like to IPO:
“I would say that if you have a peaceful, relaxing life and you sleep well at night, don't take your company public. But who has that? No, I'm kidding. No, it's actually important for us to take our companies public. It's actually necessary. Between 2013 and 2020, there were over 2000 companies that went public and only 18 of them had female leadership. That's wild. ... How is this happening? What year is it? What day and age? What's going on? How can we move past this? And [the answer is], Oh wait, cause all of the power still sits where it sits. And so the only way that we can change that is if we are in those positions of power.”
She continued: “You just can't believe that this is how people, companies go public. Cause a lot of it feels really like archaic. ...You just have to get some really awesome young people that have the energy to not sleep that much and then get some really creative, and very intelligent creative people… I would say it was probably a handful of people that really pushed it over the edge. But it was, man, it's really, really not easy. And the process is so wild and hasn't been updated in way too long. It's sort of like the electoral college, just real outdated.”
On what it felt like to ring the opening bell:
“This is not where I'm most comfortable," said Alba of the opening speech she made at the bell-ringing ceremony when The Honest Company celebrated opening their initial public offering in 2021. "I like when someone's giving me some lines. I can remember those lines and use a little bit of emotion into it to keep it moving. But...I realized in that moment, that [this speech] was like a call to action, but also a way to show up for a community of people that for the most part have never been on that stage.”
On the future of direct-to-consumer shopping:
“I felt like it was easier to control my destiny launching a D-to-C brand. And I would say I recommend...having your foundational principles in D-to-C, because there's nothing like that ownership, right? It's sort of like the flagship store. Imagine your flagship being online. And so take care of that and no one can take that away from you and it's sort of like your nucleus then anything else can happen from there.
“But ultimately you have to be where the consumer wants you to be. And so if the consumer wants you to be in brick-and-mortar, go to make sure you have that. If they want you to be in a retail channel, make sure you're there. Frankly, I don't think we should be too married to any model. I think social commerce is actually 10 years behind where it should be frankly. And that's probably where it's all going anyway. But when you control the relationship with the consumer, you just have so much more power and you can test and learn a lot more. You don't have to rely so much on others for innovation.”
On Alba’s advice for leading a team that is majority men:
“It doesn't matter if it's a bunch of men or a bunch of women, I think it's hard to move everyone in the same direction, period. You need to inspire people to want to bring their best selves to work every day. And I think micromanaging isn’t great. I'm so guilty of it, [but] then they all sort of load every challenge in front of you and you keep fixing it. And as a founder you can't help it, you know? But the more you can allow [your team] to learn as they go and don't punish them for making mistakes and encourage them to learn from them… I think gender doesn't matter in those cases."
She continued: “I'm not going to lie and say that I'm not constantly dealing with male stuff. Mansplaining and all the things… I laugh about it now. I definitely used to get my feelings hurt every time it happened. And then I was always kind of mad and then, through meditation, I have found more grace in their experience and knowing that they literally know that nothing else. They were— they grew up with machismo or toxic male, you know, men. And that thing was their sort of raising. And they are in relationships with women who are, for whatever reason, deciding not to be an equal earner in the household. And so they can't help but behave the way that they do. So you don't have to be so upset every time they do annoying things and you just allow for it to be what it is, but then also establish firm boundaries."
On how she would introduce herself:
“I'm a terrible speller. I'm an amateur chef. I think I dream big. I'm a dreamer and I believe in people, I do. And I believe in goodness and I have hope. My job, I think, is probably to unlock as much of that as possible. Whether that's through telling stories and entertainment or telling stories through products, right? And maybe that's how I would describe myself. And a very imperfect mom. But, my kids still tell me their secrets, so that's cool.”
Brooke Knappenberger is the Editorial Fellow at Marie Claire, where she writes across the board from books and celebrities to fashion and beauty. As a pop culture junkie, Brooke obsessively consumes and writes about the latest movie releases, streaming TV shows, and celebrity scandals. Brooke is a proud St. Louis native and is currently living in New York City. Outside of work, you can find her either jamming out to Drake, reading a Sarah J. Maas novel, or shamelessly online shopping.
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