Jessica Alba keeps her eye on the prize

News Hour:

It’s not easy being Jessica Alba. In less than five years, the Honest Company, the consumer products maker founded by the actress turned entrepreneur, has hit unicorn status–and raised more than $200 million from outside investors. The Los Angeles-based company now sells more than 100 products in the health, baby, and beauty categories and will expand its cleaning products line in 2017, Alba said onstage at Martha Stewart’s American Made Summit in New York over the weekend.

Like many entrepreneurs, Alba got the idea for her company from a personal need–for safe baby, personal and home-care products–that she says couldn’t be met in the marketplace. What her company boils down to, she says, is the idea that everyone wants to live a happy, healthy life.

While that is the nexus of a great business idea, it’s just the beginning. Maintaining focus on a concise value proposition as you develop your product, form partnerships and market to customers is the difficult part. Especially if, like Alba, you’re also entertaining an acquisition and often the only woman in the room.

Here are four ways Jessica Alba says she keeps her eyes on the prize:

1. Don’t try to be all things to all people.

Frustrated with a lack of regulation on chemicals in baby and personal care products, Alba decided to create her own that fit higher standards. Like many entrepreneurs, she figured if she wanted them, there must be a larger audience out there. Besides, when you’re your own target audience, it’s easier to tap into the core of what your customers want.

“Know what you’re doing that no one else is doing,” she advises, and don’t try to be everything to all customers. For example, her company’s priority is safe ingredients, not necessarily a Made in America message. Even though some of her products are manufactured domestically, she says when it comes to sourcing she cares more about what’s going into a product than where it’s made.

2. Create concise, but agile, messaging.

The best messaging is quick and clear, Alba says. “If people have three seconds, in the aisle or on Instagram, what’s going to catch their eye?” Depending on the audience, perhaps it’s the right colors or the words ‘organic’ or ‘local.’ Stick to those simple pillars, but remain agile enough to partner with like-minded, but perhaps unexpected, individuals or businesses. For example, an organic baby food brand might not need to work with a food blogger, Alba says. A beauty blogger who loves organic skin care might be willing to try out organic baby food if she, and her typical reader, is a mom.

3. Be a social media early adopter.

Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest. These are the four social platforms Alba says are most effective at reaching 25- to 35-year-old moms. But since you shouldn’t post the same thing on all four platforms, it’s important to be familiar with what makes each unique. Pinterest and Facebook both allow for direct sales to customers. Specifically, Alba discussed how the Honest Company has been using the new Facebook Live features. Alba says a simple video shot with her handheld iPhone while she went back-to-school shopping at Target has reached over a million people.

Stewart chimed in to say her team has also been using Facebook Live. She likes that businesses can field questions from customers in real time. Both women advise getting in the habit of making one or two simple videos per week, and keep an eye on the data. Notice how long viewers stay engaged and what content elicits comments and questions. And if you can, experiment with flattering lighting.

4. Own your expertise and delegate what you don’t know.

Alba serves as the Honest Company’s Chief Creative Officer and often makes presentations on the company’s behalf, but says she still doesn’t understand how to put together a business plan. That’s a job for Brain Lee, her co-founder and CEO who also co-founded small business legal resource and fashion subscription service

In addition, Alba isn’t an expert on the science behind the safety of the chemicals in her products. That’s where the company’s third co-founder, Christopher Gavin comes in. He is the former CEO of nonprofit Healthy Child Healthy World, from which the company mines research to inform its process and website content.

However, Alba is well versed in what a mom wants when it comes to the safety of her family. She says being a woman, creating a business for women, makes her the expert in what is often a room full of men. She says in her experience, that’s been an advantage–as long as she does her homework and has the business acumen to support her creative ideas, of course.

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