Brian Lee Initially Turned Down Jessica Alba, Then Raised $27 Million For The Honest Company
Jessica Alba (yeah, that Jessica Alba), Christopher Gavigan and Brian Lee teamed up last year to address the fact that mainstream baby products can be full of nasty chemicals and there are a lot of parents who aren’t down with that. Up until recently their weren’t choices beyond cloth diapers for eco/chemical conscious parents but The Honest Company has come out with a whole line of products that can be delivered right to their customer’s doors. Products that are free of nasty, baby and earth polluting ingredients.
This wasn’t Brian Lee’s first project, though. Brian has two previous successful startups under his belt, successful enough that he got to turn down Jessica Alba when she first came to him with the idea. (Seriously: rock star status.) He got started Legalzoom.com, which was with Robert Shapiro. Then he moved on to Shoedazzle.com, which was with model and reality show star, Kim Kardashian.
Keep reading to learn more about Brian’s background and what advice he has for all you other entrepreneurs out there.
Where did the idea for The Honest Company come from?
The idea actually was from Jessica Alba, my partner in the business. She came to me three years ago with the idea but I was tied up starting and running ShoeDazzle. She kept at it, she kept working on the idea and about seven or eight months ago I decided to jump in and help her out.
So you’ve been around for about seven or eight months now?
We actually launched about five months ago.
That’s really impressive. Just looking at the website it seems like you guys have a full-blown operation going.
Yeah, it’s been a very fun and fast ride for the five of us.
A lot of the startups we focus on tend to be on the smaller scaler so would you consider your company to be a startup still even though it’s pretty large?
I wouldn’t say it’s very large; it’s still very much in startup mode.
I saw that you guys just raised $27 million in Series A funding. That’s pretty impressive. Where did that funding come from?
Do you think that having a celebrity name and face associated with you guys helped with raising the money or do you think that’s totally irrelevant?
In terms of raising capital, I think it’s really about the overall team and the ability to execute.
Let’s get some facts! How many people do you guys have working for you right now?
We have about 30 people right now, doing work across the board: customer support to technology to web products to physical products… warehouse consultants, logistics.
Have they been with you the entire five months you guys have been operating or is this more since you’ve raised funding?
They’ve been with us for at least the last three or four months.
And your background is in tech?
What got you interested in the tech world in the first place?
It was pretty simple, actually. I was an attorney and I got an idea with my co-founder from LegalZoom to make legal services more accessible to the masses and basically use internet software to make that happen. That was back in 2000.
And from there you caught the startup bug?
Yeah. (laughs) We actually couldn’t raise any capital for the company; it was a pretty difficult time for internet businesses so we raised a very small amount, probably about $15,000 and started our business out of our condo.
Are there any lessons you took from that which you’ve carried with you as you’ve moved forward in the startup world?
Oh, absolutely. I was a part of LegalZoom for the first eight years of it’s lifecycle and I’ve learned some really valuable lessons. The first lesson is to make sure you’re working with the smartest people. You always want to work with people you consider to be smarter than yourself.
That’s lesson one. Lesson two is to always keep a positive outlook because you’re always going to hit bumps in the road. Just keep chugging away and understand what the overall mission is and keep trucking toward that mission.
Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs trying to get things going? You’ve clearly had some pretty impressive successes.
You never know if it’s going to work unless you try. I’m always a big fan of entrepreneurs who just go out there and do it as opposed to people who sit there and wonder, “What if I can’t do that?” You’re never going to know unless you try.
One thing that I hear a lot about is the idea of the “entrepreneurial spirit.” Would you say that go get it attitude is an essential part of that? How would you define entrepreneurial spirit?
I think entrepreneurial spirit is a willingness to try something and to see whether or not it’s possible. Most entrepreneurs that I know who are highly successful don’t look at blocks. They look at how they’re going to get around them.
So a block becomes something that pushes you forward instead of something that holds you back.
Can you talk a little bit about the charity component of The Honest Company?
Absolutely. We’ve always been big proponents of giving back to the community. We have a program where we donate diapers and baby essential products to inner city kids in need through an organization called Baby2Baby.
And those products are from your company?
That’s right. I’m not sure if you knew this but mothers in the inner-cities cannot use their welfare checks to buy diapers and baby essentials so we’re happy to help.