The trajectory of Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba’s careers is strikingly similar in two key ways: Both started acting at a young age, achieving success in the entertainment industry before leaving to found their own successful lifestyle companies. Paltrow’s wellness-focused Goop and Alba’s ethically-minded Honest Company — which has been valued at $1.7 billion.
Paltrow and Alba appear together on Apple’s new reality show, Planet Of The Apps, as two of the show's four judges. In addition to hearing pitches from contestants, the two serve as mentors to app developers looking to earn venture capital funding. The show stands out because of its portrayals of strong, successful women who are making it in all areas of tech — women who are developers, mentors, and venture capitalists.
Last month, Refinery29 sat down with Alba and Paltrow at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood to talk about running businesses, mentoring young women, and dealing with sexism in the workplace.
What were some of the challenges of transitioning from successful film careers to running your own businesses?
Gwyneth Paltrow: "Well, for one, I had to learn a completely new skillset. I had to learn a whole new language. It was sort of like a crash course in business — a mini, self-taught MBA. My business is really multifaceted, so it can be very complicated because we have our e-commerce, our media, and our apparel — and we all have to be extremely integrated."
"I did a lot of reading and a lot of asking questions. I have some really amazing mentors — Brian Chesky at Airbnb and Bob Iger [from Disney] — that I rely on heavily and that I call all the time. I kind of set up my own mini, virtual school."
Jessica Alba: "I think the challenges are that you don’t really have a background in business and you’ve never done it before, so you’re learning as you’re going. But I think the asset is that in entertainment you’re so used to dealing with rejection and people pushing against you, that you have a thick skin."
"Actors are very creative in their ability to figure out their own path. When you’re in a scene, and there’s no real way to get from beginning to end, you have to find it with whoever you’re doing the scene with and the director. It’s really about collaboration and making it work. I think that all of that actually really helps when you’re an entrepreneur because the day-to-day is similar."
In the past few months, there's been high-profile coverage of women being interrupted by men in various workplace settings. Most women are familiar with the experience. Have you ever had to deal with it?
JA: "Interruption is the least of it."
GP: "My experience with that sort of sexist stuff was when I was younger. I remember when I was a young actor and I was at the craft service table getting a snack in between scenes, and the producer told me to stop eating. It was so hurtful...I have endless crazy, sexist, illegal things that bosses tried to do or say to me. I was told in interviews not to sound so smart because it made people think I was arrogant."
"Now, I’m in a situation where I’m in control of my company, the decisions that are made, and the strategy."
JA: "Even in business now, I’ve been in rooms where people have just wanted to talk to me about frivolous things, and talk to my business partners about the real nuts and bolts of the business. Yet I was the one that came up with the idea and brought them on as cofounders."
"People had the perception that I was just a celebrity face that partnered with a serial entrepreneur. But in fact, I was the entrepreneur that brought another serial entrepreneur on to fulfill the needs of the business at the time. This last year [has been about] changing the dialogue of who I am at the company, what I do, and how involved I am in the day-to-day business."
How have you done that?
JA: "I started doing more press about the real business stuff that I’m involved in. Instead of allowing [reporters] to only focus on how I got the idea for the company and being a mom and having kids, I got into [things like] how to pivot a company, how to become omni-channel, and how to think about distribution and the margin structure of your business."
"I sort of took the backseat until a few years ago, because I didn’t want my business partners to feel overshadowed by me. I did get a lot of attention because of how I came to the table. But now I realize how important it is, especially for my kids, to see a strong mom who speaks about the important things that matter to the day-to-day business."
What made you want to come on Planet Of The Apps as mentors?
GP: "I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my business in front of more people. And I thought that it would be well-executed. I liked the idea that it was going to be an Apple show, and we were going to be the first Apple show. I think we all like firsts — it’s a risk that’s worth taking."
"Plus, I thought it would be a really good learning opportunity. I think that when you are coaching somebody or mentoring them, it’s a time where you really take stock of your own failures and successes. You crystalize what you’ve done, and articulate it. So you think about, 'Oh, I made this mistake. Interesting. I want to do this better sometime.' It was a time of self-reflection, in a way."
JA: "If I can lend my knowledge and share mistakes that I may have made in the beginning or the breakthrough moments that I had later in my career, and apply those things to someone else’s business and help prod them to their next stage, I want to."
"I get asked by a lot of entrepreneurs to help them with their businesses. So this was just a platform where I was in a more formal setting for that to happen versus how it normally happens, which is kind of off the cuff, or haphazard, or random."
What have you learned from the women you worked with on the show?
GP: "I had a couple of young women who were incredibly smart and driven. Lauren [Farleigh], from Dote, has such an agile mind, and is so articulate, and can handle anything that comes at her. She really keeps her cool — and she’s young!"
"I feel very inspired by strong, articulate women who have an idea and come to the table and are able to present it. You get a lot of wind in your face when you’re a girl, as Jessica was saying. I loved how unflappable [the women I worked with] were."
JA: "I’m impressed with how they took in what we said. Regardless of whether they got funding from the VC firm in the room, they’re all still growing their businesses. I could see how you could feel like, 'Oh this is the end. If I don’t get funding, I’m going to give up.' But all of them have powered through and are still cracking at it, which is cool."
"Both of us have a lot of female entrepreneurs that are friends in our lives. I think that's what’s weird about most of the press out there in business and technology. They all just sort of talk about men, and then the one token girl who started a company. We’re involved in day-to-day businesses, and our friends are all women — and they all have companies. It’s not as weird for us."
What was challenging about filming?
GP: "It was both strange and nice to be on set in this format I had never done before...Sometimes, when I’m nervous, I can’t get my thoughts out, and this was all on camera and it was real questions. It took me a minute to adjust. I definitely felt like a fish out of water."
JA: "Me too. It was challenging because we’re also running our businesses, and having camera crews inside your company while people have a job to execute is disruptive."
"Every time the camera went by everyone was like, 'I hope I’m not on it!'”
Planet Of The Apps is available to Apple Music subscribers on iTunes.