I love a good business success story, not just because I love business and people succeeding but because there’s always something in someone’s else’s story that can inspire others. A kernel of truth. A gem of knowledge. Something that has the opportunity to resonate with you and set you off on a great tangent.
I’ve known Jessica Alba was a movie star – I remember her being in Dark Angel and then in the Fantastic 4 blockbusters – but I hadn’t realised what an amazing business woman she was too. Possibly because I’m not a buyer of her products – but millions and millions are.
In this great Forbes article (read it here), I found out that Jessica Alba launched The Honest Company in 2012. And it’s not some little hobby business for her – in its first year, it made $10m in revenue. Three years later it hit $150m. Whoa!
So what niche has Jessica gone for? The niche of parents mindful of what products they use on their little darlings. A big niche indeed! So The Honest Company sell safe, non-toxic, mostly organic products. Products like soap, sunscreen, lip balm, nappies, multi-vitamins – 150 different products all up.
I enjoyed this read not just because it’s a positive business story but because there are a lot of good lessons in Jessica’s journey.
Starting with the fact that it’s not just Jessica’s journey…
Lesson one: Get clever people involved. A-players who are just as focused on getting the company to fly as you are. Jessica’s co-founders include a web-savvy businessman with sizeable successes under his belt, a former leader of non-profit Healthy Child Healthy World, and someone with plenty of experience selling products online. All experts in their field with the experience and knowledge to make The Honest Company a quick success. The lesson here is that once you get to a certain size, you shouldn’t be muddling away, wasting your time on things that other people can do better. Once you’re at a certain point in your business, it’s actually cheaper to pay others to do things for you that you’re not great at, while you spend your time doing what you are good at. Don’t spend a full day or two battling away trying to bang out a newsletter – get someone else to do it in half the time who will make it look professional and reflect well on your business. Don’t spend a full week trying to write the text for your website – get a copywriter in who can do it for you and who knows the ins and outs of SEO. If you can assemble a team (either staff or contractors) who know their stuff and are all passionate and excited about taking your business to the next level, you’ll get the business firing on all cylinders a lot faster.
Lesson two: Listen to what it is you want as a consumer – chances are others will want it too. Then you have to figure out if enough of them do to make a profitable market for you. Jessica wanted “cute diapers” – nappies with a print on them. No one offered them and she couldn’t figure out why not. She wanted non-toxic products for her babies, who had the same sensitive skin she had growing up, but she was finding it a mission to hunt them down. So she made her own. And then she thought that surely she wasn’t alone in her search for safe and chemical free options and so she started work on The Honest Company. If you listen to yourself as a consumer or customer, not only can you find what it is people really want, you’ll also give yourself another factor in success: you’ll be passionate about what you’re doing because, for you, it’s meaningful. Meaningful work beats profit-driven work every time, hands down. (And it’s not to say that meaningful work can’t be profitable – it should be!)
Lesson three: Keep pushing if you believe in your product. Most businesses are not as simple as having an idea and then launching. Many times you’ll have to convince people that they should take a punt, that your idea is a good one and the world needs it. You’ll have to convince the best talent that yours is a business they should believe in and join. Like Jessica did. She wanted to work with web entrepreneur Brian Lee, but he wasn’t interested when she first approached in 2009. So she did her research and went back to him, armed with document after document. Once she finally convinced him of the value in her proposition, he relented. So do what you can to be convincing – research as much as you can so you know what you’re talking about. Make sure you do your market research and SWOT analysis. But don’t dilly-dally or your niche might be taken by someone else…
Lesson four: Think about how you can make your product a subscription service. As a mum of a newborn, Jessica would often find herself running out or running low on essential products, such as nappies – often during the middle of the night, when running down to the supermarket was less than appealing. So The Honest Company offer a monthly delivery of nappies and wipes, straight to the consumers door. Not only is this good for regular sales, it also brings the cost of marketing and advertising right down around acquiring new customers Repeat customers are the holy grail – what can you do to ensure they repeat? How can your business sign them up to receive their product every week/month/quarter? Break your industry mold – see what you can offer to your customers as a regular subscription.
Lesson five: Get someone high-profile to help you launch using their mega database, A-list if possible! Jessica’s huge social media following obviously did a lot of good at getting her business pumping. Ok, so this isn’t possible for most of us. But you can always look at a joint venture – see what other companies have a good synergy with what you’re doing and see if you can come up with a win/win situation in order to utilise their database of customers. Think of people with the same target but a non competing product and talk to them – see what pain points they have that you could possibly help with. It’s easier to take on a new market with an established company there, holding your hand and making the right introductions.
Lesson six: Be clear on your value proposition to customers. What is it you offer? Jessica’s value at The Honest Company is very clear: they offer parents peace of mind. What do you do? In one sentence?