Starting Up With Jessica Alba: An Interview with The Honest Company Co-Founder Brian Lee

June 27, 2012

4:00 pm

When Jessica Alba is in your startup, there isn't much question as to who's the face of the company (tie goes to the “Sexiest Woman Celebrity” as determined by Victoria's Secret 2007).  In many cases, adding a celebrity to the mix is a cheap attempt at catching some bonus media and consumer attention.  This is not the case for The Honest Company, an e-commerce site and subscription service offering non-toxic and natural baby and family products.  “It was Jessica's idea,” admits Brian Lee, veteran entrepreneur and co-founder at The Honest Company.

The Honest Company Co-Founder, Jessica Alba

This isn't Lee's first time including a celebrity co-founder…or the second.  His previous venture, ShoeDazzle, added the clout of Kim Kardashian.  Before that it was Robert Shapiro (one of lawyers to successfully defended OJ Simpson) and LegalZoom.  But adding Alba to the mix, according to Lee, goes well beyond star power:

“Jessica is extremely dedicated and focused on our mission of creating a healthier, more sustainable future for all children. The amount of effort she is putting in is directly correlated to The Honest Company's success to date. I truly enjoy working with someone with her energy level.”

And like Lee's previous venture, this Los Angeles-based startup is taking full control of the product life-cycle, a trend that he expects to expand elsewhere.  By doing so, The Honest Company not only produces a safer product, but guarantees a more sustainable process throughout.  Some of these listed practices include: employing warehousing facilities that use natural daylight and energy efficient lighting, incentivizing eco-friendly transportation (i.e. bike riding or mass transit), and utilizing electronic and fully automated management systems to dramatically reduce waste.

Tech Cocktail caught up with Lee to learn more about The Honest Company and entrepreneurship.

The Honest Company Co-Founder Brian Lee and Family

Tech Cocktail:  What most enticed you into the baby-products industry?

Brian Lee:  I have two young children, a 3 year old boy (Davis) and 1 year old girl (Madison). Like all parents, I want the best for my children. I can eat McDonald's burgers, but I won't feed McDonald's to my kids. Why? Because inherently, I know that fast food burgers are not the healthiest choice.

After meeting with Jessica Alba, and hearing her pitch, I realized that the baby industry needed a revamp. Toxins are pervasive in current baby and family products in the marketplace. These toxins are leading to some very bad effects on our children, such as autism, childhood cancers, and obesity. I felt the need to make a difference and help create a product that was a healthier choice for families, free of harmful chemicals, with superior performance. We are doing this not only for our own children, but for all children.

Tech Cocktail: Will we ever see a celebrity-less Brian Lee startup moving forward?

Lee:  Not every business needs to work with a celebrity. It makes sense when the celebrity is directly relatable to the product. Everyone knows that Jessica Alba has two beautiful young children and wants the best for them. Mothers understand that and relate to that. If I were starting, let's say, a new ad distribution platform, I don't think working with a celebrity would make sense.

Tech Cocktail: Do you believe controlling the entire product life-cycle will be a more common trend moving forward?

Lee:  Most definitely. Gone are the days when you can simply open a retail store online and sell other company's goods. The days of starting a direct competitor to Amazon are over in my opinion. But with the proliferation of Internet access, we are in a window of time when one can launch a brand 100% online. You do not need to open a store in a retail mall, or sell your products to a big box retailer, in order to create brand awareness.

By controlling the entire product life-cycle, you gain margins that were difficult to attain in a traditional brick-and-mortar supply chain. I fully suspect that Amazon, at some point, will create their own branded goods, similar to the way Costco has Kirkland and Whole Foods has 365. At The Honest Company, because we control our entire chain, we can spend more on our ingredients and bring cost savings to our customers.

Tech Cocktail: Can being a high-exposure entrepreneur ever be a detriment? Are there any advantages to startups who are more off-the-radar?

Lee:  I am not sure I would consider myself a high profile entrepreneur. I do like to keep off the rada,r and I like to simply execute on a vision and mission. It strikes me as odd when you have people copying models that we create, but so long as they are simply copying, they are not leading and they are not innovating. I think the key to any company's success is in innovation.

Tech Cocktail: What's the top piece of advice you'd offer to entrepreneurs?

Lee:  Believe in what you are doing, more than anyone else believes. You will hit bumps in the road, and only a true believer will make it through. Also, surround yourself with the smartest people you can work with. No one can build a sizeable business alone, you need the right team in place to help you. My father's key advice to me when I co-founded LegalZoom, “If you think you are the smartest guy on your team, you are in trouble, son.”

Tech Cocktail: One quirky fact about you and/or The Honest Company team that we might not know.

Lee:  We love taking photos of our children and plastering them on the walls at The Honest Company. It reminds all of us why we do what we do.

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.