Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It’s the place where I’ve interviewed over a thousand entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And recently I had my second child, which means I’ve been hiding this a little bit but not too much, I’ve been chugging soda because I’m up nights a lot.
Christopher: You’re tired.
Andrew: I’m really just dealing with it.
Christopher: It happens.
Andrew: You know. You’ve got kids.
Christopher: I’ve got four.
Andrew: Four kids.
Andrew: So one of the things they tell you when you have kids is you have to enjoy your sleep before you have the kids because you’re not going to get much afterwards. I didn’t really pay attention to that. And then after you have kids, there’s this whole conversation that never existed before about things like what kind of detergent are you using.
I never cared about the detergent I was using. Whatever was cheap and actually advertised on television I was using. And then my wife, Christopher, said, “No, you can’t use that. You can use it on your own stuff, but if you ever wash our kids’ stuff, you need to use this specific detergent from The Honest Company.”
Christopher: I’m going to high five and hug your wife.
Andrew: She really … I don’t know what it is. One of my questions is going to be: Why does it matter? What would have happened to my kid if I didn’t use that? Well, today, I’ve got the cofounder of The Honest Company. His name is Christopher Gavigan.
The Honest Company makes diapers that a lot of people use that are supposed to be better for your kids, better for the environment. It’s a consumer goods company. It’s cofounded by the actress Jessica Alba, which is why it got so much attention. It emphasizes non-toxic household products to supply the world with ethical consumerism.
Christopher here is the cofounder. I invited him here to talk about how he cofounded and built up the company. This interview is sponsored by two companies, Toptal and HostGator. I’ll tell you more about them later. But Christopher, I’m rushing through this intro because there was something you wanted to say. What was it?
Christopher: I wanted to thank your wife and I wanted to say thank you for having me on the show. But you and your wife went through that great moment of awakening and transformation that every parent goes through and everyone can sympathize with. As a father of four, my most recent was born five months ago. You think that you’re numb or you’re experienced enough to not experience it and it happens every single time.
Andrew: Even after the fourth?
Andrew: I am a little bit more prepared now.
Christopher: Yes, of course.
Andrew: But I can’t believe that this is actually tiring me out. I’m a guy full of energy. But it’s tough. So let’s get back to the detergent. What is it about the detergent? I want to spend time about the company, but frankly I’ve been curious. What’s the deal with the detergent? Why does my kid need to have special detergent as opposed to whatever else we’ve got?
Christopher: We are living in a world where we know too much. The environmental heath scientist, toxicologist, the immunobiologist, the people who are focused on environmental health, internal health, general health in a broad sense, we have a lot of access to the data that is showing toxicants or certain chemicals or certain chemicals of concern in our environment. I’ll talk about the environment in a second and how those certain chemicals or certain toxicants are linked to certain disease states.
So it’s no longer a hypothesis or assumption, now we’re actually seeing direct correlation. As a group of people, as brands, as parents, as legislators, as advocates, advocates in the landscape, now the science is there that it’s too easy to … It’s too hard to actually not look at.
Andrew: You’re saying there’s some link between the detergent that my new baby’s clothes are washed in and his health down the road and potential diseases?
Andrew: There is?
Christopher: There was actually an amazing study this week and it was down by The Lancet and they showed that a $340 billion annual impact based on GDP and impact to the economy based on treatment and overall productivity impact based on certain chemicals, a class of chemicals and disruptor chemicals and how that impacts society just here in the United States, $340 billion. So there’s a health impact and then there’s a society impact. So everyone is looking for the smoking gun.
Andrew: I want you to be able to tell me, “Look, you use this detergent and your kid is going to lose his hearing by 14, guaranteed. Now stop.” But you’re saying there’s nothing like that.
Christopher: Unfortunately we live in a toxic soup. We live in multiple touchpoints and chemicals, and water is a chemical. It’s okay to talk about chemicals. We can demonize the ones that are of concern or that have been proven to be risky or have direct health impacts. But we also can’t demonize the world of chemicals. So brands that say chemical free, they’re actually causing fear in the marketplace.
So, as a brand, The Honest Company is really about smart, credible information, trusted information from the best of the best in these fields of chemistry and biology and toxicology and how do you deliver a precautionary approach. So, if we know certain classes and certain types and certain specific ingredients may have direct health impact, why are we going to use them? Let’s be precautionary.
Andrew: I’m sorry to interrupt, but usually people who talk like you end up with companies that sell little products at the little store on the corner, the one that actually has health food and also has the right detergent and nobody buys from it. You guys have built something massive. Can you say what your revenues are?
Christopher: I will say that we’re very successful and that we are over $100 million in revenue.
Andrew: I saw 2014 publicly reported, I think, $170 million. Is that accurate?
Christopher: It’s more accurate than you imagine. We’re doing very well. The company is thriving because we are talking to people like you. We are talking to parents who are leaning in to a conversation around credible information around a positive solution. People just want to know what they can do. So it’s not about the corner store and is that person credible enough. But now it’s about a transformative brand that is here to say it is not about one product, it is about this trust portfolio. So, how do we–
Andrew: I saw. You guys started out caring about my kid. Now I see honest beauty, which my wife can wear better makeup, healthier makeup. Let me ask you about the founding of the business. I read that Jessica Alba had this idea when she was … I think she was pregnant at the time and she was thinking, “How do I take care of my kids?” Am I right?
Christopher: So a backstory, I was the Executive Director and CEO of a nonprofit. I wrote a book called “Healthy Child, Healthy World” at the time. She walked into that book launch party in 2008 and was almost eight and a half, nine months pregnant and said, “Oh my goodness, I just had a horrible reaction to a laundry detergent, the baby laundry detergent in the marketplace. If it’s giving me hives and a breakout rash and skin irritation, what could it possibly do to my baby? I’m more susceptible and vulnerable,” she does. She’s one of those people that has had some of those health challenges over her lifetime. But she said, “If it’s happening to me, then what?”
So she went online like all parents do. But they’re not weekend toxicologists. They don’t know who to believe, who to trust, where to turn to. But this organization that I was heading was really how do we take the science and translate it into the public. And a lot of the time–and this company is founded on it and Jessica was excited about this one question, “Tell me what to buy. Please, tell me what to buy.” So, at that book launch party, she said, “Please, just tell me what to buy.”
Andrew: So there was no business at the time. She was just coming to you as a guy who had been studying this, “Tell me what to buy.”
Christopher: Yes. I heard her question. I heard thousands, tens of thousands of other parents asking the same exact thing. So this company is really a nights and weekends project, because Jessica like kept coming back to me, “Please, we’ve got to start something. We’ve got to do something. What can we do to solve for this massive need set in the consumable space but how do we build with more integrity and purity and more attention around human health?”
You see a lot of green brands or sustainable brands focused on the environment. What about my internal environment? What about my home? What about my body? What about what goes inside my mouth? That was really the–
Andrew: I get that. I hate to admit it, especially when you’re talking about a baby, I care more about that than I care about the world environment. It’s like someone’s going to solve the world environment. It’s on me to make sure my kid doesn’t get these weird rashes. I heard when you guys got started, the idea wasn’t to create products. It was to recommend products. Am I right? Was it going to start out that way?
Christopher: No. It as always … during the maturation of the brand, Jessica and I worked nights and weekends, was, “Can we do it? Can we work to this level of unwavering commitment of being uncompressing and unapologetic on our standards? Can we build to these scientific and these chemistry standards that we have? That was a challenge. So going to contract manufacturing groups and R&D groups and chemistry groups and saying, “I have an idea about our product. Can it be built? Ultimately we found the brand stuff was widely exciting and we were incredibly–
Andrew: Creating a brand.
Christopher: Yeah, creating the brand.
Andrew: Don’t take this the wrong way, but why you? I’m looking at your history. You have a history of caring about this. But you don’t have a history, as far as I can tell, of manufacturing products. You don’t have a history of putting things on the shelf, do you, fighting for shelf space?
Christopher: Well, why not me? That was the–
Andrew: Because you don’t have that.
Christopher: Here’s the thing. You imagine it’s really hard to get on store shelves. You imagine FTC, EPA, USDA.
Andrew: I didn’t even think of all those.
Christopher: But you imagine they’re the gatekeepers. They’re not.
Andrew: They’re not?
Christopher: No. So you are outsourcing your trust to a marketplace of retailers and brands. There’s no real strong federal regulation around what is in the marketplace outside of food and pharma. That’s it. So, for me, come with the idea, find the experts, the formulation science experts and R&D experts to build the product and build it in such a way that is meeting a purity and a safety standard that we are easily unmatched in. I truly believe we’ve got some world class standards.
Andrew: You were going to launch with 17 products.
Christopher: We launched with 17 products.
Andrew: You did. Even people who knew you guys and cared about you guys said, “Why don’t you start with one or something less?” Why go to 17?
Christopher: And that was where Jessica and I felt that initially when we were having conversations with investors and folks, it wasn’t about one product. It wasn’t about this singular change the market and disrupt the market with one individual thing. It was this idea that trust and this trust portfolio is that one thing and it was this honest lifestyle.
So people can choose to live an honest lifestyle and choose to invite these. They have minimal affinity and loyalty. How can we be that one brand, that one source, that one trusted place that they turn to? If you can earn trust and really cultivate that, then you’ve got an opportunity and emotion to build out over time.
Andrew: I see. It sounds like you’re saying, “If we’re going to create a health food restaurant, then we can’t just sell falafel. Then we’re proving falafels are what people want or don’t want. We actually have to have a wider menu to see whether people care about healthy food.”
Andrew: Maybe falafels are not the best example there. I should say, “We can’t just sell kale salad.” How did you come up with the 17 products? What kind of market research went into it?
Christopher: You know it was the products we felt were some of the dirtiest in the new parent, new baby, new home, new family landscape. It was the ones that we did something that also–one of the ones that we want, our four founders. It was Jessica and I and then we brought Brian Lee and Sean Cane and we all joined together and held hands and said, “This is what we want to do. What are the products that are resonating for us as new families and new babies?” We all had kids under the age of five at the time.
And then what are the products that we feel that are the consumables? So you’re cycling in and out of these products, especially with a new baby–diapers, wipes, shampoos, lotions, cleaning products around your home, laundry detergent. You’re powering through these things and you’re doing it unknowingly exposing yourself and your baby to certain things that could and may and have shown to be risky.
Andrew: That’s interesting that you were looking for consumables. You didn’t want to create the changing table. You wanted to create the wipes on the changing table. The changing table is purchased once. The wipes are fit multiple times. Was there any product that fit your framework but you said it’s actually not a good fit once you investigated it?
Christopher: Yeah. We looked at–as we tracked along those first two years, we did some collaborations and co-brands in the durables space–so the mattresses and the cribs and the baby carriers and some of the toy space. As much as we have a thoughtfulness around the design–the brand was safety, efficacy because you’ve got to have effective, performance-driven results at the end of the day.
I can get anyone to buy anything once, says every great brand leader, but repeat is the golden ticket. Can they love it enough to want to repeat it? And so design is this big imperator, but design only takes you so far. It goes back to these things that people are cycling through and touching intimate times, intimate places on a daily basis.
Andrew: Did you start out selling–actually, before we get to selling, creating it–did you just find companies that already were making diapers and say, “We need diapers. Here’s our specification?”
Christopher: So, yes. In the early days, it was find the people that are doing the build and walk in with these books of rationale as much as this is what we need you to source and who to source it from. This is why we believe it. So there was a lot of trial and error early. There was a lot of testing and retesting and compatibility testing and safety testing.
Andrew: Now I can see why you’d be so useful. It’s not like you had experience going into a manufacturing before, but from what I read about you going back in time, you’re the guy who cared about this, who would know what to look for, what to put into it, what actually was honest.
Christopher: For me it was being precautionary–so, using these clean bio-based chemistries we knew existed, but how do you drive a level of purity and knowing safety as well as how do you bring some of these innovative bio-based and plant-based and plant-sourced technologies that existed in the world of raw materials. Some of the BASF and Dow and DuPont, they have amazing technologies that just go untapped because there’s no demand on them. So, how do you bring some of these elements that in green chemistry do exist that now you’re going to put some demand on.
Andrew: I’m looking at an early version of your site from when you guys launched, roughly 2012. I see the products we talked about–the diapers, the soaps, the detergent–what’s interesting is under the how it works section, it says you tell us whether you have a boy or a girl, choose your bundle and personalize the monthly delivery. You were thinking selling online and you were thinking monthly recurring interactions from the start.
Christopher: That’s how the brand launched. Honest.com for the first 18 months was the only platform that we sold through. It was buy a bundle, which is a collection of products for a set price that a person could really tune to their demand needs based on time or they could drag and drop certain products within their need set over that time. I actually need laundry detergent this month. Oh, next month I don’t need it but I need shampoo and body wash it. So the ability to customize it based on their needs.
Andrew: Where did that come from, that insight?
Christopher: That was Brian.
Andrew: Brian Lee?
Christopher: Brian Lee.
Andrew: Brian Lee, one of the best entrepreneurs on the planet who’s hardly known outside of the business world, right?
Christopher: Really thoughtful on how you really craft the online relationship but really thoughtful on people need a level of cycle engagement and people need it to be aligned with their values but aligned with how they consume online. They want it to be in a repeat cycle fashion.
Andrew: Your sales pages today, I can’t really find the landing page from before, but today they have the smarts of the best info marketer out there–get rid of all the stray links, focus the copy, clear headlines. Even as I was eating my lunch yesterday, investigating you guys, on any page I was on I knew exactly what I was getting with beautiful design.
Christopher: That’s good to hear.
Andrew: The thing that I–and that’s what makes it feel really comfortable and doesn’t make it feel like some info product. The thing I’m wondering is most product companies don’t have that insight, don’t know how to create those kinds of clear landing pages, that clear sales process. Where did you guys get the in the beginning?
Christopher: In the beginning for us it was–again, this is an audience that needs storytelling and the younger audience needs a level of transparency that they feel like they don’t get anywhere else. Sometimes we tell too much. Some of our landing pages and product pages, a traditional marketer and traditional product person is like, “You’re saying way too much.”
I think that’s okay. I’d rather over-pontificate and over-communicate and really tell more about our products and really drive this idea that we’re building relationship, we’re learning from you, we’re engaging you with a lot of copy.
Andrew: I’ll give an example. I was looking at baby formula. There wasn’t just baby formula. There was a picture of you holding a baby talking about how your wife couldn’t produce as much milk as–
Christopher: That was the Facebook Live.
Andrew: Was it on Facebook Live?
Christopher: It was on Facebook Live and then I told my personal story about it.
Andrew: Yeah. I just read it. I read it on your site somewhere. I actually talked about it last night while my wife was pumping for the new baby. I said, “Here’s what happened.” You talk about that and then you say, “If I have to supplement it with formula, here’s what I was looking for and this is why I created it.” It was really, really interesting that you did that. What I’m wondering is do you guys A/B test that. Do you guys have someone who’s an outside marketer who–no? That’s just the way you believe? It’s your philosophy going it?
Christopher: What I really want to articulate in this idea, I think what is the magic and some of the reason why people respond to it humbly and I’m so appreciative is this level of humility and humanity that we just try to get across. We’re still a small brand. We’re still really trying to tactically do those things and executionally those things that are emotional, that are truthful, that are a little bit deeper, traditional CPG would never do. We don’t really think about competitors. We think about what do we need? What do we want?
A lot of it’s yes, we’re getting bigger and we’re understanding what the consumer insight is, but we’ve got 3,000 to 6,000 touchpoints a day, calls, emails, live chats, just from our customer service group. So that relationship is really an educational platform, but it’s a huge listening device if you’re able to capture it well enough, which I think we’ve done a tremendous job is listening and how that funnels back into product development.
Andrew: I want know how you do that. I do see your phone number constantly on the site. I actually have this thing that turns all phone numbers into highlighted links so that I can call. Your phone numbers definitely stand out. But first let me talk quickly about my sponsor and then I’ll get back into asking you how you take all the data from emails, from phones, from chat, etc. and then use it and not be overwhelmed by it.
My first sponsor–I forget which one I said–but I’m going to go with Toptal. Do you know about Toptal?
Christopher: I don’t. Tell me about it.
Andrew: I’ll tell you about them. They’re fantastic. This is a company that said it’s really hard for anyone who’s a great developer to stay working in Mountain View and working in San Francisco where I live. The commute is just–
Christopher: Send them to Playa Vista. We need them.
Andrew: Is that where you guys are? Right. So here’s the thing. They said these guys shouldn’t have to work there. They should work wherever they want, and then if a company needs to hire developers, they can come to us and we’ll hook them up and as long as they’re happy working remote with these great developers, we’ll introduce them. So you get people who used to work for some of the best tech companies in the world who are now as part of Toptal’s network–
Christopher: I’m taking notes?
Christopher: I’m taking notes.
Andrew: Yeah. That’s the thing. I’ve found that this is the company that most of my interviews write down. Toptal–they were backed by Andreessen Horowitz. They’re producing phenomenal revenues. They’re a strong company because they tapped into something that was really needed. So, all these developers are part of their network. When you need a developer, you go to Toptal. You tell them what you’re looking for, how you guys work, what software you guys use, what you program in, what the vision is for the business.
They match you up with a great developer who is like part of your team, whose like in the office if that’s the way you work. If you use Slack, HipChat, Skype, whatever it is, that developer is in there and is part of it. And you can work with them part-time, full-time. People have hired full teams of developers just to get through a big project and those developers are working on the team with you.
Andrew: Here’s the link if anyone wants to use it. This was created by a Mixergy fan who then created a company and came out to do an interview and then became a sponsor years later. He’s giving us a great deal you can’t get anywhere else. The deal is if you’re a listener of Mixergy, you’ll get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours and that’s in addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks. Here’s the URL to get that. Go to Toptal.com/Mixergy. They branched out into design and so many other things.
Christopher: Nice. I love that idea.
Andrew: Yeah. Me too. So how do you make sense of all this? How do you take what comes in on the phone, what comes in via email, what comes in–I thought I saw chat, I can’t find it right now–how do you use it? What’s your process? I want to learn from that.
Christopher: So one of the things we have done well is we have this crazy idea and this level of hubris and ignorance that we could build out some of these internal systems. Customer service we built out our own fulfillment center. We built out all the major teams and functions. But those two are really special because it really gets you into the customer experience.
So the customer service team, we have over 115 people in total. We have some folks in Austin. We have almost 50 folks here in the headquarters. Those are groups that outside of, “Hey, I want to manage my bundle or manage my shipping,” that’s fine. That’s basic. It is a platform to educate and to listen. So I built out this entire backend system, it’s called the Honest Product Grade, which is really this tremendously rich database of information of if someone asks a question, how do I answer it?
Andrew: So if I call up this number on your site–by the way, I’m on a page here where I see the number three different places, at the top kind of in faint, in the center underneath the product–I’ve never seen a company actually want this many phone calls–and on the bottom.
Christopher: Call us. Exactly.
Andrew: But if I call up and say, “How many ounces of milk should a newborn have, milk or infant formula should a newborn take in, in the morning?” you guys would know that.
Andrew: That’s what you’ve built.
Christopher: Yes. So we’ve built a big, robust educational group that services you but then also is a–so, in our backend, well-developed, well-engineered system. We have these specific portals where you essentially log people’s comments and then given our data science team here, we can query those comments and drive that back to the insight groups and the product development and brand management groups working on that product.
If they’re saying, “What are the products that people–Honest wants to create a new product. What are the ones in this category that people are liking?” We get comments all the time on, “Oh my goodness, this specific diaper didn’t solve my needs.” You can do QA on it. You can do product development on it. You can really drive against design and efficacy and specific ingredient types. You can also hear about innovations in the marketplace you aren’t having and how to educate against those. So, it’s a really, really robust system.
Andrew: I see. If you hear a lot of people say middle of the night, diaper leaks and you hear it often enough, you know whether it’s a boy or girl diaper that happens more and then you say, “Let’s go in and take a look at why boy diapers are doing this?”
Christopher: It might be a batch that’s gone bad. It might be a sizing issue. It might be, “Well, how aren’t we communicating a certain size for a certain boy or girl, certain type of child and how do we stop it?
Andrew: This is very intimidating. I have to in my head keep reminding of myself of this course that we did on Mixergy where an entrepreneur said, “You don’t have to track it all. Every email system, every customer service system has tagging.” She said, “Just tag it. If you do that, that alone will allow you to go back in and see where you get the most complaints.
Christopher: Yeah. Look, our team is responsible for going back there in there and looking. You could not go back and look, but we feel like all that customer history being built on this platform since day one, it’s too good not to go back and look.
Andrew: And if I happened to on a phone call say, “Is there some kind of cream because my baby’s face is drying out?” They give me a solution and I say, “I wish there was something like that for me because I go running.” If I say that a lot as a guy, you might say–or if a lot of people say that a lot, a lot of men say that–you might then say, “If we’re going to start with men’s products, what should we look for? A lot of them have dry skin.”
Christopher: We hear a lot around certain categories. So, categorically we hear about men, we hear about pets, we hear about out foods. Categorically we hear a lot of requests, but once you drive into some of that data, you can get some insights there.
Andrew: Do you have an example of an insight that is non-obvious that I wouldn’t even come up with an example it touches because it’s so different, so powerful?
Christopher: I would say let’s look back at our early–we’ve gotten some iterations on our wipes. So you look at the marketplace of wipes and they fall under a certain size parameter, right? It’s usually in the 6 x 5 range. The first set of wipes we launched, we were like, “Okay, we’re going to meet market standard and that seems like a good size. The marketplace seems to know what they’re doing.”
Andrew: Because everyone else seems to be doing it.
Christopher: Well, we launched ours. So the size was off. We heard from a lot of parents, including men, “It’s not fitting my hands. It’s not covering my hands.” So now we have one of the largest wipes in the marketplace. Then from a thickness perspective, we heard time and time again that we use a plant-based cellulose and the plant-based cellulose, the initial version we used was a 45 GSM. There was a level of opacity and transparency that it didn’t give you full belief that it was going to work, like, “That might actually absorb and hit my hand and I don’t want that action on my hand.”
Christopher: So we went in and quickly redesigned and reworked that wipe to really drive thickness, to really drive size, and now we’ve got such a beloved wipe in the marketplace. It’s one of the parents’ favorites.
Andrew: I see. And that’s different from others, different from what you would have expected and it’s from listening to feedback you were getting. What about tying back? I know you guys bought a lot of ads. When you buy an ad, you can tie back the cost of the ad to the revenue you generate from the ad and know whether that investment was worthwhile.
When you’re empowering people to stay on the phone with your customers and answer questions that they couldn’t take those answers and then go buy from your competition, how do you know whether it’s worth spending that money on those call centers, putting the phone numbers up. What’s the way you do it?
Christopher: That is a great question. I think there’s an internal friction here on what are the KPIs and what does the data say and what’s the brand halo and brand love? That art and science, I don’t think there’s always a clean equation. Your viewpoint is continually changing. But I think we have got a long-term view here that if you’re going to build something really special and really magical, you have to invest in it and you have to invest in the customer, the emotion, you have to invest in doing the right thing for the long haul. We do.
There’s an internal friction. Don’t get me wrong. We believe that by not being attentive to the data but don’t always be driven by the data and be driven by what you feel is right, so some of that software stuff is going to get you farther longer.
Andrew: When there’s tension, is it specific people who are much more data oriented and others who are much more halo oriented?
Christopher: For sure.
Andrew: Which side do you come on?
Christopher: Oh, I’m like the halo master.
Andrew: I see. So how do you justify it?
Christopher: How do I justify it?
Andrew: When you argue with someone.
Christopher: There’s anecdotal feedback that you can continually pull. Go on our social channels, listen to–I roll 20 phone calls a week with our customers and I continually hear where we’re thriving, where we’re struggling. I’m asking some of these questions where I feel I’m getting specific answers on specific areas like this we’re talking about. But I think there is that dial of brand love, that if you’re really in tune with your customer, you’re going to know if you’re winning and losing and I always want to double down and just do the right thing and believe that’s going to work.
Andrew: So we talked about how you started out as basically a mail order company with a good website. Then you went into stores. Why go into stores? Why not keep it as an online business?
Christopher: Well, as founders, this idea that if we’re going build this iconic brand, accessibility matters and 90% of commerce happens indoors.
Christopher: Still. So, if you’re going to be accessible and you’re going to be omnipresent, you’ve got to show up. The retailers that embraced our philosophy but embraced this idea that we’re going to bring the portfolio and it’s not going to be just the laundry detergent that’s going to compete against the sea of laundry, it’s how do people walk up to this shelf set and say, “Oh, here it is. I know I’m in a place of commitment around ingredient quality, around design, around this idea of transparency.” So that shelf display was really important for us to have committed to early.
Andrew: Do I have this right, Whole Foods and Costco were the first two retailer distributors?
Christopher: Actually, it was a small boutique here in Los Angeles called The Pump Station. Then it was Costco. Then it was Whole Foods. Soon thereafter it was Target. Now it’s Nordstrom’s and Buy Buy Baby and Bed Bath & Beyond and a host of mom and baby boutiques around the country.
Andrew: How hard was it to get in there at that point?
Christopher: It was surprisingly a little bit more seamless than I imagined it to be. But I think there was an excitement around this large set, this large shelf set of this brand that has made a commitment towards human health as opposed to, “It’s got a widget for a unique consumer occasion.” I think that was different. Still, the early conversations with Target. It was selling it in at an executive level because there needed to be a huge commitment.
Andrew: Because they needed to make a huge commitment?
Christopher: Huge commitment–I’m asking for four feet, four by eight feet. They’re judged on the square inch. How are you going to commit that much space?
Andrew: Did you bring in someone with more experience there to talk to them, to understand what would persuade them? No?
Christopher: It was the four founders in a large conference room. I love Target. It’s such an amazing partner. But they are amazing at not showing their cards. So we all walked out of the meeting like, “That was the worst meeting. We flubbed it.” We got calls a couple weeks later saying, “Let’s do this. Let’s really invest in each other.” We were delighted.
Andrew: How much practice did you guys do before?
Christopher: We had a tight deck. We knew our points and we …
Andrew: Was there one point you were especially proud of that was especially persuasive?
Christopher: I just think it’s hard to deny when you’ve got this great intersection of passion and purpose. That’s what this brand is. I think when you connect with the brand and understand why we believe it to exist in the marketplace, it’s hard to deny that passion.
Andrew: So expressing that passion was important to you.
Christopher: Super important.
Andrew: I always worry–
Christopher: Passion and this idea that hey, we’re an education company but we’re going to execute. We’re going to deliver on time. We’re going to have amazing product. It’s going to be high quality. It’s going to solve and really delight.
Andrew: Were you creating your own products or were you still–you were?
Christopher: Since day one we were creating our own products.
Andrew: You were working with outside companies to manufacture, though, right?
Christopher: For sure. That’s how 98% of the marketplace has done, use outside manufacturers to batch and fill stuff.
Andrew: I didn’t know that. Do you still use outside manufacturers to batch and fill? You did? Okay. I see. You already had it done. How much was having a celebrity cofounder helpful in that in getting into stores?
Christopher: I don’t think it was much about Jessica’s celebrity as much as Jessica’s ability to articulate her own story as a mom. She said, “I am the customer. I am this millennial young person. Yes, I am noteworthy, but let me ground you in my own struggles and my own challenges and my own hopes and dreams.” That really resonated early and allowed us to–there’s no doubt she has allowed us to get on certain news platforms and media platforms that a normal brand would struggle to get on. But it was her story really resonated because it was so personal.
Andrew: Does it feel a little weird sometimes when your cofounder and your wife sometimes have the same name?
Christopher: It does. My ex-girlfriend is also Jessica. I’ve had three daughters and I didn’t name any of them Jessica.
Andrew: I bet. I was so proud when I read one of the stories on your site and you mentioned Jessica and I go, “I know it’s his wife. People are going to think it’s someone else. But I’m inside. I know it’s his wife.” I kind of feel like there’s something about storytelling that makes people feel like they’re inside. You guys are really good at the storytelling. Do you have any process for passing that on internally at the company for including that in your marketing?
Christopher: That’s a good question. I just sat down with the–we launched in 2012 and I just sat down with a group of 13 people who are still here from 2012, was super proud. The group calls themselves the OGs and they’ve got a lot of ownership and range and connectivity in the company. Like every great brand, you have your growing pains. Do we have a process? We’re moving quickly, but I’ve got to say, we’re struggling like every other brand struggles, keeping the culture alive, keeping the humility.
Andrew: What do you do to keep that culture alive and the humility and someone who worked with you guys asked me to also ask about the startup feel that you guys find very important. How do you keep it all alive? What’s your process?
Christopher: We don’t have a process.
Andrew: That’s one of the things you need to work on now.
Christopher: And being consistent with it. I think we try to–the four founders are constantly trying listen and really be super attentive to the old guard, if you will, as well as the new folks you’re bringing in. Onboarding is incredibly–that’s one thing we do really well is onboard in a very consistent fashion.
Andrew: How do you do that?
Christopher: There’s a founder’s lunch. There’s a sit down with me. There’s a sit down with Jessica. They get a certain way that the first week, they’re sitting down with customer service and listening to the customer and understanding some of the customers’ needs. There’s a big walkthrough. There’s an onboarding process. There’s usually an onboarding lunch. So there are these things that certain groups have catered to, but everyone has a certain path that they walk along.
I do have to say there’s no doubt we can get better with more consistency around the strategy and more consistency around the transparency of, “Here are the metrics that matter. Those metrics are continually changing, but are the metrics that matter and here’s how this month, this quarter, this year we’re going to hit them. We’re really working on fine tuning that process now.”
Andrew: What are some of the metrics that you care so much about that you pass on to everyone in the company?
Christopher: I think it’s certainly relevancy in the marketplace. So I think we look at yes, you look at revenue but yes, look at number of doors you’re opening. You look at some of the relationships you’re building. So, for me and Jessica who do a lot of outward facing PR and media, who are we talking to both on the media side at moments like this where we can broadcast our message, some of those touchpoints? How are those meaningful?
I think some of the other metrics that we think about are the metrics are the metrics that are internal-facing, so the number of projects that leave both products that are in the pipeline, products both on the engineering and some of the other teams that are meaningful and really trying to celebrate those wins and we are really now that the brand is growing and teams are starting to grow, it’s really having the internal touchpoints that matter to the larger strategy.
Andrew: As you’re talking, everything is so big. We’re talking about a company that fairly young and from the beginning it just got really big. I’m so curious at what point did you feel overwhelmed. How did you learn how to manage? But let me do a quick sponsorship message and come back and ask you about that. And was there a period when you were overwhelmed? Was there a coach that you went to? Was there someone that used an advisor?
All right. But the second sponsor is a company called HostGator. People who listen to me have known that I’ve been talking about HostGator for web hosting for over a year now. The reason I do it is because it works.
If you’re listening to me, I’ll give you an example of someone heard me it must have been about a year ago talk about HostGator. And I said look, it’s so easy with my guest, who was the founder of Lob at the time, to create a site where anyone can send out a postcard or a letter. Just type it on a website and send it out. It doesn’t take any coding to do it.
This guy heard me, this guy named Ed Riefle. He’s living in Alaska at the time and said, “I’ve never started a company before. I feel a fraud listening to Andrew and not being an entrepreneur. So let me try it. What’s the worst that can happen? I won’t tell Andrew if it fails.” So he did it. He went to HostGator. He created a website. He then just installed WordPress.
Then he went to create Gravity Forms to create a form where someone could type in their name, the body of their letter, the address that it goes to, etc. The payment system was all through Gravity Forms. It was just a plugin for WordPress. Zapier took that data and sent it over to a company called Lob, whose founder I was interviewing, who said we empower anyone to send mail in to anyone else.
He hooked this thing up and he had a business. I said, “Is this business even working out or is this a playful thing?” He said, “You know, Andrew, I don’t have any experience with real estate people but they’re starting to use this thing. So I want to figure out how to actually grow it for real estate people.” So this little experience actually took off for him. You can see his website if you’re listening to me. It’s PostalZen. Lots of people have listened to me in the past. Actually, let me go over to PostalZen. Let’s see if he’s still up.
Christopher: It’s still up.
Andrew: Is it? Let’s see. Yes. It’s still up. It does not look beautiful. He does not have your design.
Christopher: We’re got some great designers. Jessica is a massive champion of that. I wish I was a designer. I could probably be one in another life because I have so much time and attention on it.
Andrew: You do? You care about that.
Christopher: I’m fanatical about it.
Andrew: You know how I can tell you care about it? First of all, the product–and I have to tell you that when you tell me about all the different contaminants in products, I can’t tell whether you’re for real or not, I hate to sound so shallow, but the product just looks really good. It looks clean. I feel like, “I trust them. I’m not going to go and research.” But here’s how I can tell you are–the books over your shoulder rare so perfectly aligned in a little pyramid. That’s you doing it.
Christopher: Yes. I’ve got everything from “Lactivism” to “The Interviewer.” I have a text book on children’s environmental health, “Our Stolen Future,” which is one of the greatest environmental books of all time. Yeah.
Andrew: I can see that. And I can see how it translates to–your assistant did a phone call with me yesterday. I liked her. She spent two minutes. She just wanted to make sure that we could connect via video Skype. I thought, “They must have been together forever. She understands his rhythms.” So I went to LinkedIn to look her up. She’s been with you less than a year, a few months, right?
Andrew: So what’s her process for making–well, let me close out this ad. HostGator is where Ed created his site. If you hate your hosting company, you can switch to HostGator. If you’re on WordPress, they’ll even switch for you. Here’s a special URL where you get a deep discount and you get to be associated with me, which means I will make sure that if you have any problems, I can help out.
It’s HostGator.com/Mixergy. HostGator.com/Mixergy–whatever you transfer or created, I would love to see it. Here’s my personal email address, Andrew@Mixergy.com. I used to be chicken about showing my email address. I said, “It’s going to be flooded.”
Christopher: I’m going to share with you mine. I share it all the time.
Andrew: You do?
Christopher: Please email me.
Andrew: What do you want to hear?
Christopher: First of all I want to hear where we’re failing. Where aren’t we solving for your needs? Where are opportunities that you think we can go and should go? I’d love to hear people’s stories about products and how they have solved or not solved their needs. And then I think you got to my assistant specifically because–she’s not my assistant. She’s someone who works for the company.
Andrew: Oh, she does. What’s the deal? How do you get someone who’s just a few months in to say, “I have to actually make sure this connects? It’s a little touch but it’s going to be important?”
Christopher: I think everyone knows that I am a control enthusiast. People know that I’m a bit wacky like that. But we have really–the talent that we bring in, I’ve got to say, is pretty outstanding because they realize that we get a lot of demand and a lot of inquiry. But they realize the brand is something special. Yes, we’re making amazing things and yes, we’re trying to change the world. But there’s also this level of integrity, passion and persistence that we can do anything and we should be able to do it better. So we’re not the perfect company. We’re The Honest Company.
Andrew: How does it express itself in you in a way that you set the tone as a leader for the company? What’s one way that you do that?
Christopher: That I set the tone for the company?
Andrew: Is it the books over your shoulder?
Christopher: Everyone should read my book when they walk in this door, but I would say that I am–I tried to be present in a positive way. I think that sounds super lame.
Andrew: Put some flesh on that.
Christopher: It’s interesting. I just came from a meeting. It was a large conference room. Just how someone walks into a room and their energy and how their head is and just physical nature, how that can transform into a positive or negative experience. I was watching some people in like, “They could have done that better.”
Andrew: I noticed you did that with me. It was a little bit challenging when we started. I told you at the beginning, “I’m going to hit this interview with a couple of ads.” We needed a little rhythm, which we didn’t get until–it takes a while, right? It’s kind of an artificial experience where we’re supposed to sit here as strangers and have a conversation that’s so good people want to listen to it.
But it was your smile and just your presence that made me say, “This guy’s got a unicorn. He’s built a billion-dollar company I’m assuming, right? But it’s okay. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. He’s going to be okay if I say the wrong word or if I accidentally say, “Aren’t you only successful because Jessica Alba is famous?” And that put me at ease, which then allowed me to be better. You’re saying that’s part of who you are intentionally.
Christopher: Yeah. I’ve done a lot of interpersonal therapeutic work and a lot of self-care and self-growth.
Andrew: What kind of self-growth and interpersonal work did you do to get to this?
Christopher: So I have an environmental science background. That’s what my bachelor’s is in. But I also went to school and I did a lot of work in behavioral psychology and family and child psychology.
Andrew: Did you get a PhD in it?
Christopher: No. I wish. I was on my track and I realized that a larger goal was to solve for this health crisis, this epidemic health crisis around children. I was working with children and family and home in very therapeutic settings. A lot of it for me was I could bring in more healthful, conscious choices into their life and watch behaviorally them change.
Andrew: What’s your inner work to get there? It feels like you’re a guy that’s doing great, like you naturally came out of the womb like this. I saw, that’s the one time your eyes actually squinted at me like, “Andrew, what are you talking about?” Where were you and what did you do to get to where you are today?
Christopher: I do a lot of meditation. I do a lot of time with my family. My family is my source of energy. My wife is a tremendous pillar of strength for me. She’s awesome and I could have never done any of this without her because she’s someone who is genuinely really good to her core. I think if you surround yourself with good, smart people that rubs off. And then a lot of my time is really only reading and engaging with people that can feed my soul. So a lot of it’s intellectual stuff and a lot of it is podcasts and smart people like you. How do I get little tidbits and ingest those emotionally.
Andrew: Is there someone who is especially useful and who you read?
Christopher: Seth Godin for me is kind of a really strong pillar for me.
Andrew: He’s such a good guy too personally. He got me going doing video. He was the first video that I did.
Christopher: No way.
Andrew: We were just chatting. He pushed me to think about video. I said, “All right. I think we can do video.” He became the first video guest and he helped me a lot.
Christopher: I think he couches it in business, but he’s got a lot of great deep, deep life lessons.
Andrew: Yeah. What about meditation? How has that helped you?
Christopher: I think what meditation gives you is a place to train your mind.
Andrew: How? How does focusing on your breathing help you–by the way, I’m a meditator, so I’m not coming in with such a skeptical point of view.
Christopher: Your mind–I think everyone is naturally, especially in a world where we live today where divicism, tons of inputs–you constantly want to jump, jump, jump and be an active listener to your own internal dialogue and own internal brain and brain waves. I don’t use any headspaces in these apps and what not because I feel like that is another thing to rely on. But I do a fair amount of yoga.
I try to work out at least once a day, even if it’s in front of my TV at night watching “Sportscenter” doing sit-ups and pushups. For me, the meditation gives me a time and a space to just be with myself. I am a very critical person of myself, so I have to really shut that down, otherwise I feel like I’d be super critical and of the world. If I could turn my critical nature off of myself I could really release that from my outward–
Andrew: I see. So, bringing it to this conversation, if you weren’t focused on this conversation, your mind might wander to, “What am I doing next? What happened earlier today?” because you had a meeting before this. Is might go to, “Did I see the right thing?”
Christopher: You’re in tune. You’ve got to be an active listener, right? You’ve got to be someone who’s really sinking. You’re not doing your job and you do that phenomenally well.
Christopher: I think that is really important. People want to know that you are listening and in tune with the conversation.
Andrew: And it’s hard in conversation because I really could be doubting what I said five minutes ago or thinking about do I need to bring this up? Am I on track? I need to learn how to focus and by focusing on my breath, I’ve learned how to tune everything else out that could be crowding my mind while I’m focusing on my breath.
Actually, I don’t focus on my breath. I hate to admit it. I do use a little bit of a tool. I use these beads. So, by bringing it back to a bead and moving it, bringing it back to a bead and moving it, I’ve learned to train my mind to come back to one point of focus.
One thing I noticed–you mentioned your wife. I went back to see, “Is this a guy how always cared about kids, always cared about the environment?” I go back in history and do a Google search and yeah, you did. That’s where I got the PhD thing. At one point there was an article that mentioned you were getting a PhD. Did you ever feel back when your wife was more well-known than you or more successful than you, did you feel like–did you have to feel like what you were doing was okay?
Christopher: I had to give myself permission to struggle and to find my way. I had to be okay with not being successful. Look, she is a person that herself is quite successful. She comes from pedigree and people that are extremely successful. For me, I needed to give myself permission to focus on children and family and health and wellness and this idea of betterment and toxicity because I knew that for me, that was my core belief and value and principles. So, I just had to allow that and say, “Okay, if you stay true, you’re going to be okay.”
For me success is an internal metric, like yes, you’ve got tangible success. Yes, the brand and the people–that’s fine, but how do you feel about yourself and do you feel like you’re on the right path? I feel unequivocally I’m like wildly enthusiastic about what I do. That feels so good every single day.
Andrew: Even before this company.
Christopher: Although before this company in the nonprofit space, the thing I struggle with there is it’s limited resources, so you’re continually grappling. Business is limited and fleeting, but it was in the NGO space, I wish it wasn’t nonprofits weren’t held as, “Oh, that’s charity. That’s nice.” No. They are like earth shattering in what they do in certain areas. You should be held up and promoted. Just like teachers, “Oh, teachers, that is a nice job.” That is not a nice job. That is a critical job to the world, to society, to humanity. Why don’t we embrace and celebrate those people. I think for me I had a larger challenge with the sensibility of how people held it.
Andrew: Yeah, that they don’t appreciate the significance of it and you’re doing this thing. My wife was in the nonprofit space and she felt all the things you’re talking about and she realized in the for profit space, people have a lot of impact. What if we could use some of this impact and recognition to do good in the world. That’s what her career is.
Andrew: I’ll close this out with this thing I promise we’d get to that I hadn’t yet. You’re managing a lot of people. You’re running a high growth company. How did you learn how to do that? Where did you get the ability to do that?
Christopher: I don’t think–my father was a tremendous manager. Number one, he had to manage four boys, Irish Catholic, East Coast family with four boys. My mother was tremendous at doing that. I think management is again, it’s naturally intuitive to someone.
There are certain skills and certain set of processes and behaviors you can learn but I think you’ve got to like doing it. I think you’ve got to like people enough and believe people enough and you also have to have this idea that you aren’t always the smartest person in the room. You might feel like it or have a different viewpoint, but you have to embrace people’s specialness and their uniques and that has to be okay.
I see a lot of managers struggle with managing people because they’re managing for problems and they just want solutions, but they just want to do it on their own and there are ways to get other places faster. I enjoy the management and I enjoy the somewhat emotional therapeutic element of management.
Andrew: The conversations that have to do with what’s going on with them.
Christopher: Yeah. Sometimes it’s not as efficient as I’d like. There’s a lot going on and I want to be more efficient. But I think there are breakthroughs that happen with people and ultimately whatever you’re trying to be successful with when you do–it’s that concept of slowing down to hurry up.
Andrew: Yeah. Well, I didn’t know much about you before because I couldn’t find a lot of articles specifically about you. Your cofounders have got a lot of attention on them. I’m so glad that I got to talk to you today and actually get to know you.
Christopher: Thank you for having me. Thank you for finding me. How’d you find me?
Andrew: I actually wanted to understand more about your company. And I said, “This is completely out of my world. I’m in the tech startup world. I know how to get to the founder of Airbnb if I wanted to. I could email him. I don’t know how to get to this world but I want to understand it.”
At the time, I had very surface level understanding of your business as a business. But the more I dug into it, the more–and I think anyone who’s listening to us should look at it this way. Just go to Honest.com and look at how Honest presents its material. The storytelling that I told comes out throughout in blog posts, in descriptions, in little tiny details.
The landing page that greets someone–I sometimes open up your homepage in an incognito window just because the way you great new users is different from other people who are trying to sell something online. It’s much more of an understanding that we are strangers to you and we’re going to start a conversation and I may not even know what Honest is about because someone came over and told me to go check it out.
The landing pages for individual products, so well done and of course the design, I can’t begin to understand, I don’t have your eye for it. But there’s something that, especially when you see it person, makes you feel like I trust this company. So, the more I got that the more I want to understand, “How did you do it? How did you particularly do it?” I think I got some of that here. In an hour, I think we did a lot and it was a fun conversation.
Christopher: Yeah. I agree. Thank you for seeking us out and acknowledging the fact that we are on this road to do it better. It’s incremental growth and we’re trying hard. We want to please people. We want to be–this idea of being disruptors in a marketplace for me is bullshit. I want to give peace of mind. I want to give people this sense of pleasure and satisfaction and delight and I think that is hard to find in a marketplace of these consumables that we’re around in our daily lives every single day.
Andrew: Christopher, my mother in law is staying with us. Wait until she reaches for the other detergent and I make my wife proud by not–
Christopher: You have to tackle her.
Andrew: No. Tackle is not going to make my wife love me more. But if I explain to my wife, the beaming that she’ll do. All right. If I explain to my mother in law when my wife is listening–
Christopher: And to your listeners, Christopher@Honest.com. Ask me anything, reach out. I’d love to hear from you.
Andrew: Thank you. I appreciate you doing this, Christopher. Thank you all for being a part of it and to my two sponsors, HostGator.com/Mixergy and Toptal.com/Mixergy. Thanks for supporting this. Bye, Christopher. Good meeting you.